Say hello to America's newest Olympic treasure

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Say hello to America's newest Olympic treasure

From Comcast SportsNet
LONDON (AP) -- Gabby Douglas believed two years ago, when she convinced her mother to let her move halfway across the country. Martha Karolyi became a convert over the winter, when the bubbly teenager with the electric smile developed the tenacity required to be a champion. Under the brightest lights, on the biggest stage, that belief shattered a glass ceiling. Even if the first African-American to win an Olympic all-around title didn't quite realize it. "I kind of forgot about that," Douglas said with a laugh. Don't worry, Gabby, the world is going to have fun reminding you. Douglas soared her way into history Thursday night, leading the whole way to climb a mountain paved by Ron Galimore, Dominique Dawes and a handful of others who showed the sport isn't just for the white or the privileged. "How inspiring is that?" said Natalie Hawkins, the woman who allowed her then 14-year-old "baby" daughter to move from Virginia to Iowa in 2010 after Douglas convinced her that she was good enough to compete at the top. She didn't have to wait long to find out. Douglas was still trying to get used to the feeling of having her second gold medal in three days around her neck when Oprah chimed in. "OMG I'm so THRILLED for Gabby. Flowing happy tears!!" Winfrey posted on Twitter. Karolyi, the U.S. women's team coordinator called it "history made" while Liang Chow, the coach who channeled Douglas' precocious talent, believes his star pupil is "ready to move onto higher things." She certainly looked like it on a flawless night in which Douglas grabbed the gold during her first event and never let silver medalist Viktoria Komova of Russia come close to wrenching it from her hands. Explosive on vault and exquisite on uneven bars, Douglas never trailed. Though she sealed the third straight women's all-around title for an American with a floor routine that delighted the O2 Arena crowd, it was her pretty set on beam that provided the difference. The event is a 90-second test of nerves, a twisting, turning ballet on a 4-inch slab of wood 4 feet off the ground. And for months, Douglas struggled to find a rhythm on it. She led the national championships after the first day, only to hop off the beam moments into her first rotation of the finals, opening the door for world champion and friendly rival Jordyn Wieber to claim the title. Wieber watched the Olympic finals from 20 rows up in the stands with the rest of Team USA after failing to make it out of qualifying. Teammate Aly Raisman never really recovered from a workmanlike set on bars and an uncharacteristic wobble on beam. Raisman ended up tying with Russia's Aliya Mustafina for third, but the steely Russian earned the bronze on a tiebreaker, a wrenching setback for the American captain, an integral part of the group that won the first U.S. team gold in 16 years on Tuesday. There were no such technicalities involved with Douglas, not even on the beam. She dazzled with a sparkling 15.5, never wavering, never wobbling, never losing focus. This was the same girl who was so out of sorts when the team arrived in London a couple of weeks ago that Karolyi ordered Chow to give her a little pep talk? Chow's message that day wasn't complicated. He urged Douglas to ignore the pain in her leg from a minor muscle strain and get down to business. "He just said that everyone has pain, so just go out there and you know, why are you focused on that?" Douglas said. "He said, 'You're at the Olympics, and put that behind you, and, if you don't push it now you don't have a chance, you'll regret it.'" She didn't. Not after winning her mother over with the idea her future lay in Iowa with Chow instead of her family's home in Virginia Beach. Not after those long days in the gym when she would ask herself, "Why do I have to do this?" only to go and do it anyway. And not after a little boost from Karolyi. The legendary coach made Douglas a surprising choice for the American Cup in New York in March. At the time, Karolyi said she just wanted Douglas to get some needed experience against a talented field. But she knew. She'd known for months. She'd seen it during the training camps at the Karolyi Ranch north of Houston, where Douglas started to showcase the world-class talent Chow had spent a year unlocking. Douglas went and won the whole thing that day at Madison Square Garden as an alternate, the asterisk next to her name officially making her ineligible for the title actually won by Wieber. Still, the message had been sent. Douglas was ready. "I foresee it," Karolyi said. "She charged every single competition she did better and better." By then, Douglas' mom was won over. She raised four kids largely on her own, and tearfully made the decision to let her youngest train with Chow. She doubted herself but looked at the list of "pros" and "cons" her eldest daughter wrote up, and understood go she had to let go. Just a little. Even if it hurt. "I must have lost my marbles," Hawkins said. "But she wanted this more than anything." And Douglas worked like it. Chow believes she just needed time to grow up. She's just 16. Funny, she certainly looked all grown up on Thursday night. On a night that would turn most girls her age to tears, Douglas smiled. She laughed. She acted as if she expected to be here all along. "She demonstrated she is an Olympic champion," Chow said. One that could have a major influence on her sport. Unlike some of her peers, Douglas looks like she's having fun out there. There is no drama when she competes, just joy. She has an energy that will make advertising executives swoon and likely turn her into a millionaire in the near future. But this was never about money. It wasn't even about breaking down barriers. It was simply about challenging herself. She never doubted she could be the best. Even when she was the only one who thought so. "I wanted to seize the moment," she said. History was just a bonus.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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0:41 - Michael Holley, Kayce Smith and Tom Giles recap their thoughts on drafting Jayson Tatum and trade rumors involving the Celtics.

6:21 - Ian Thomsen joins BST to discuss if it would be worth trading for Paul George as a one-year rental and if there would be a chance he could still around long-term if traded to Boston.

11:13 - Evan Drellich joins BST to talk about Rick Porcello’s outing, the Red Sox offense coming to life, and Doug Fister being claimed by the Red Sox. 

15:10 - Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely look back at the Celtics/Nets trade, what the assets have turned into, and if Danny Ainge has done a good job turning those assets into players. 

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold.