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.

Bears make front office changes

Bears make front office changes

The Bears announced in a press release on Wednesday that the team has made numerous changes in their front office this offseason.

One such move included the hiring of Brandon Faber as the VP of Communications. Faber was with the Blackhawks communications department since 2008, where his most recent position was Senior Director of Communications and Community relations. 

"The club created a new executive layer of SVP’s to better lead and develop various areas of business with a focus on innovation & strategy," the release detailed. "The club promoted Scott Hagel, Karen Murphy, Cliff Stein and Lee Twarling to the newly created SVP level. The Bears have also added three new members to the VP level, promoting Doug Carnahan to VP of Corporate Partnerships and Jake Jones to VP of Finance and hiring Brandon Faber as the VP of Communications."

Hagel has been promoted to SVP, Marketing and Communications after 20 years with the Bears. Murphy has been promoted to SVP, Business Strategy and CFO. She has been with the Bears for 17 years.

Stein has been with the Bears for 14 years and has been promoted to SVP and General Counsel. He is the legal advisor for all of the club.

Twarling, who has been with the club for 12 years, has been promoted to SVP, Sales and Customer Relations. 

Cubs keeping the faith with Jason Heyward despite season-long struggles

Cubs keeping the faith with Jason Heyward despite season-long struggles

The calendar is about to flip into August and the narrative around high-priced outfielder Jason Heyward is still the same.

The Cubs entered play Wednesday night with the best record in baseball despite their $184 million prize of the winter suffering through the worst offensive season of his career.

Among qualified MLB players entering Wednesday night, Heyward had the lowest slugging percentage in the game (.315). His OPS (.630) was the seventh-lowest among qualified hitters.

Those numbers have gotten significantly worse as Heyward has been mired in a major slump over the last two-plus weeks in which he's gone just 4-for-42 (.095 AVG) with only one extra base hit, zero RBI and a .275 OPS. 

Before Wednesday's game at Wrigley Field, Heyward was out on the field working with Cubs hitting coach John Mallee.

"It's pretty much what they've been working on for a while," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Again, like I've said, this guy's hit into some bad luck. Yeah there's been some ground balls, but he's had a lot of well-struck balls that have been caught.

"And with that goes your confidence. But they have a definite plan they're sticking with."

Maddon said the Cubs wanted Heyward to get to see the results of his work out on the field of play instead of just watching baseballs jump off his bat into a netting in the cage.

One of the main things the Cubs are working on with Heyward is making a conscious effort to get the ball in the air. 

They're also focused on his mindset through these struggles, trying to keep his spirits up.

"He's probably struggling a little bit," Maddon admitted. "It's not easy to go through what he's going through right now. But like I said, I'm certain he's going to come out the other side.

"I've seen a lot of good stuff work-wise recently. And I'm telling you, man, the new-fangled defenses have got him on ground balls up the middle a lot. He's been victimized by defense a bit."

Maddon has talked a lot this season about Heyward hitting into some tough luck — whether on line drives or just ground balls directly into the opposition's defensive shifts.

But it's not just luck. Heyward's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .273, which is 26 points below his career mark (.298), but there are 24 other qualified big-league hitter with lower BABIPs, including White Sox slugger Todd Frazier and his .200 mark entering play Wednesday.

Compared to last season — when Heyward hit .293 with a .797 OPS with the St. Louis Cardinals — Heyward's line drive percentage is up slightly and his groundball percentage is down significantly. 

But his soft-hit percentage is way up and his hard-hit percentage is down quite a bit.

All of the fancy stats can make the casual fan's head spin, but the gist is simple: Heyward has not been making enough solid contact. 

And he has not been making enough solid contact for four months now. 

Still, Maddon refuses to let any worry show publicly, even as he penciled Heyward seventh in the Cubs' lineup Wednesday, the lowest the 26-year-old has hit all season.

"I've been through this before with some really good players," Maddon said. "He'll come out the other side because he's good and he's working at it. I really like the plan of attack him and John have going right now.

"I'm very patient. I've done this for a bit. I was a hitting instructor myself. I know what it takes. You don't always get overnight results when you're trying to make some dramatic adjustments and that's exactly what's going on. 

"I know people are going to get less patient with it than I will or he will. But the biggest thing is that Jason doesn't get impatient. With the actual player himself, you never want him to be the guy to give up on what he's doing. If he doesn't, he's gonna break through.

"I have a lot of faith in him."

Food for thought on Bears training camp

Food for thought on Bears training camp

Bear-ly Possible?  Maybe Not…

As the Bears prepare to take the field for the first time in Training Camp-apalooza 2016, we present a little food for thought here that Leonard Floyd was too full to finish.  As Ryan Pace continues to build this roster, this team’s injury margin for error remains smaller than the Minnesotas, Green Bays, Carolinas, Seattles and Arizonas of the NFC.  Idle football off-season minds can start working with actual news and reality as teams charge toward the first full week of September.  But here are a few thoughts about this team that’ve passed between my ears over the past week or so, and you can decide whether I should’ve slathered the top of my head with sunscreen, too.

2nd and 3rd before 1st

As we anxiously await Saturday’s first contact practice at camp to see how Leonard Floyd stands up to attacking NFL linemen, the thinking here is guard Cody Whitehair and defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard will play a greater role for the Bears this season than their top draft pick.  Even with his role simplified compared to what it was at Georgia, there’s still a physical and mental learning curve that might not be as steep for the two guys in the trenches.  Whitehair started for four years at Kansas State, Bullard the equivalent of three at Florida, and many scouts believed both could’ve been drafted even higher than where they landed with the Bears.  I’m still confident Vic Fangio can turn Floyd into the player the team projects, and will make some impact plays in 2016.  I just think the steadier contributions will come from the other two.

White will be a Beast

….eventually.  Call him an “advanced” rookie because he had to settle for just being around the team, getting a knack for NFL life, as well as mental playbook reps and a month of actual on-field practice.  And that will help him now.  He had an big-target NFL body before his injury a year ago and that size and speed figures to win a lot of battles down the road, along with his share this season.  But his limited route tree he had at West Virginia has to grow, and how quickly that happens immediately affects the level of his impact this fall.  Is 65 to 70 catches (4-plus per game) too much to ask?  If….if…he, Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Zach Miller don’t miss significant time and those weapons are available options all season, White’s numbers could exceed that.

Top 10 “D”

Consider Coordinator Vic Fangio taking over a unit that had its two worst seasons in franchise history, and taking it from 30th overall in 2013 and 2014, to 14th in 2015.  And he didn’t have close to the pieces he needed.  So many square pegs for round holes.  Now, add Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as an inside linebacker tandem that can’t be surpassed elsewhere around the league.  Throw in an end who can anchor one side of the line in Akiem Hicks to pair with an ascending young nose tackle in Eddie Goldman.  Pernell McPhee’s knee needs to be ready, with Willie Young and Lamarr Houston rotating in.  With health, that’s a front seven to be excited about for the first time, post-Lovie.  Now, the secondary is another issue, needing Tracy Porter to stay healthy, Kyle Fuller to put it all together and Adrian Amos and a safety-to-be-determined required to make more plays on the ball.  Between the improved first two lines of defense and Year Two of defensive back tutorship under Ed Donatell, I’m sayin’ there’s a chance.

Four-win First

The Houston Texans are a better team than the Bears right now, and should be a better team this season.  But if they open the season without J.J. Watt (back surgery), Brock Osweiler feels the weight of $72 million ($37 million guaranteed) with a green receiving corps outside of DeAndre Hopkins, and the new-look Bears defense can create some chaos and uncertainty for the hosts, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Bears could steal that opener, depending on their health going in.  So after that?  It’s Philadelphia at home, what should be a dreadful Cowboys defense in Dallas, then Detroit at Soldier Field.  Of course, this franchise has to figure out a way to beat the Lions, which they haven’t done since 2012.  The biggest test to a four-win first month would seem to be the first one.  They pull that off, maybe that baby bear baseball team won’t steal all the attention come October.  If they get there.

In closing, I have not been sipping the Bears Kool-Aid that on-air partner Dan Jiggetts loves to swig.  But who knows?  Maybe I needed to shampoo with some of that sunscreen, after all.