Argentina and Brazil prevail in medal round of beach volleyball at Pan Am Games

One of the favorites in the gold medal conversation, Brazil faced an upset in the semis by eventual gold medalists Argentina. Heading into the gold medal match, Argentina nearly faced their own upset, facing a very talented Cuban team.

Despite winning the first set by a 21-17 tally, Argentina endured a 24-minute long set that saw them lose by two points to Cuba in the second. Bouncing back from the loss and the windy conditions, Argentina only required 16 minutes to dispose of the Cubans in the third and final set.

In service, Cuba’s Lianma Flores had 21 attempts and 1 ace, while teammate Leila Martinez registered 25 attempts and 2 aces. Of note, Martinez would have a game high 18 digs. Argentina’s Ana Gallay would also have 25 attempts (and 1 ace), but teammate Georgina Klug exceeded them all with 29 attempts. Both would provide 12 digs, part of a balanced attack.

In the bronze medal matchup, the promising Canadian team of 22 year-old Taylor Pischke and 23 year-old partner Melissa Humana-Paredes were defeated by the Brazilian team of Liliane Maestrini and Carolina Horta. Of note, Brazil only needed 17 minutes to take the first set by a score of 21-9, while 20 minutes was required to complete the sweep against Canada, taking the second set by a 21-14 margin.

Horta would log 25 attempts, more than Pischke and Humana-Paredes combined (13 and 11). In addition, Horta had 10 digs, which matched the total of the Canadians, while her 6 service aces topped all competitors in the bronze medal match.

Pischke, who was a former star in the indoor game with the University of Manitoba had lamented that Brazil had successfully kept them outside of their game. Compounded by the windy conditions, and possibly still upset over the loss to Cuba in the semifinals, it made winning very difficult on this day.

For host country Canada, a podium finish looked highly possible. Winning their first four consecutive matches (against Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Costa Rica), Pischke and Humana-Paredes were establishing themselves as favorites to reach the gold medal game. As a side note, they had not even lost a set until their semi-final defeat against Cuba.

Displaying great sportsmanship, Humana-Paredes returned immediately after the match and acknowledged the fCanadian faithful, thanking them for their support throughout the Games. Had they managed to defeat Brazil, they would have made history as the first Canadian female duo to capture a medal in beach volleyball at the Pan Am Games.

Their defeat signifies the fourth time that Canada has advanced to the semi-finals of beach volleyball at the Pan Am Games, only to emerge without a podium finish. Considering their youth, their skills should only improve, ensuring that the elusive medal shall be proudly placed around their necks at the next Pan Am Games.

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I play tackle football because…

Candice Ward Photography

This year’s portrait project with the Calgary Rage Women’s Tackle Football team is a lot different then I have done in the past. This year, I wanted to capture this women a little more natural and realistic to how they look after they play. These photos were all shot right after their rainy home opener win over the Edmonton Storm on the May long weekend. When I say right after, I mean, still in their gear, sweaty and not made up. Many still had helmet hair, impressions of the helmet on their foreheads and swollen hands from making big plays. Each one of the these women exude an impressive level of confidence and it really shows through their photos. Each player was also asked to include the reason why they play tackle football. I play tackle football because… 3Esther4Shae-Lyn5Holly6Lindsay9Ferne14Ashley21Erin22Amanda23Kyla25Jenna28Lesley34Michelle51ConnieW55Venessa62Lauren65Robyn66Janet67Meghan88PamThank you to all 19 of you. I am extremely happy how these…

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AJ Lee’s retirement from WWE shrouded in controversy

As one of the most successful WWE Divas of the last decade, the retirement of AJ Lee is another black-eye for the world’s leader in sports-entertainment. Leaving after Wrestle Mania 31, it was a significant loss for the Divas division.

Rampant speculation online has led some to assume that the cause of this retirement is attributed to an ongoing legal battle involving her husband, former champion CM Punk. Of note, the legal issues surround frustrations with one of WWE’s corporate physicians and a misdiagnosis, followed by a subsequent distribution of medication.

The matter that truly compounds such Lee’s retirement is the fact that CM Punk was dismissed from the WWE on their wedding day in June 2014. Although this was stated on a podcast as a coincidence, obviously it was not the easiest situation for Lee to endure. Taking into account that she was never a cast member of WWE’s successful television program, Total Divas, this recent development could certainly lead to speculation as to why she was never involved. Considering the almost three years that WWE invested into developing her character (from Florida Championship Wrestling to NXT), there is almost the feeling that talent is treated as disposable.

In many ways, the suffering endured by Lee and her husband bears many similarities to Bret Hart and the sad turn his career took back in 1997. With family working in the company as well, it led to bad blood as some accompanied him to WCW. Sadly, it placed his brother Owen in a difficult situation as he was still contractually obligated to the company.

A tactic also used in mixed martial arts, the use of the word retirement was perceived as the only way to escape from her contract with WWE. Compounding this decision is the fact that she cannot work elsewhere until the remainder of her contract has expired. With very few other promotions offering a viable alternative, the next stage in Lee’s career may be one filled with frustration.

Messages on social media have already indicated that Lee may be engaging in a new career altogether, with a book deal in the works. Regardless, Lee’s wrestling career should not have faced such an abrupt and somewhat malicious ending. A three-time WWE Divas champion, she was also its longest reigning champion. Unfortunately, politics is an ugly reality in wrestling, and one that does not show much mercy.

100-year-old Mieko Nagaoka sets new record with sensational 1500 meter swim

Having recently turned 100 years young, Japan’s Mieko Nagaoka has successfully completed by the backstroke method a 1500 meter swim. Adding to her astonishing accomplishment is the fact that no other individual at 100 years has every completed a race at that distance. As a side note, she holds 24 titles in her age group from FINA (the International Swimming Federation) in short and long distances.

As the only competitor to participate in the age category of 100 to 104, Nagaoka would finish the race in a 25-meter long pool with a time of 1 hour 15 minutes and 54 seconds. Already a holder of 15 World Reocrds, the enthusiastic fans in attendance gave a rousing round of applause in recognition of her superb feat.

It was just two years ago that Diana Nyad swam from Cuba to Florida, capturing the hearts and minds of American sports fans, while challenging convention about age and athletic competition. Nagaoka’s latest feat adds to Nyad’s legacy, providing inspiration for elderly athletes the world over.

Of note, she only began to swim at the age of 80 as part of a rehabilitation program. Having suffered severe illness in her knee, the chance to get into the pool provided a form of therapeutic relief. It was also an effective method to remain in shape fue to her performances in Noh; a Japanese traditional dance. After establishing a national record in the 800 meter freestyle at 90, she would acquire the services of a coach.

At the age of 99, she would engage in a 1500 meter swim in an Olypmic-sized swimming pool. In addition, she would also write a book discussing her athletic efforts with the title: I’m 100 years old and the world’s best active swimmer.

Worth noting is the fact that Nagaoka is not the only centenarian in Japan that has made sporting history. Hidekichi Miyazaki is four years the senior of Nagaoka, and set a new world record in the 100-meter dash for an athlete over 100 years. Completing the distance in a record time of 29.83 seconds, the nickname Golden Bolt has only added to this athlete’s legend. According to Japan’s Ministry of Health, there are approximately 59,000 residents in Japan that are at least 100 years old. Of note, 87% of said residents are women.

With ambition in her heart, Nagaoka is not ready to turn her back on the sport. Hoping that her accomplishment shall be acknowledged the world-famous Guinness Book of World Records, she is eager to continue her exploits in the pool until the age of 105.

Real Women Real Football

Candice Ward Photography

I am very lucky to work with an organization like the Calgary Rage Women’s Tackle Football Team. Not only are the women on this team strong, determined women, they are also really fun, and interesting women. For this year’s portraits,  I decided to take a different approach and showcase the uniqueness of each player and a bit about them as individuals off the field, but how they remain united under the Rage name and love of football.

#3  Esther, Wide Receiver 

Esther is the first up because without her, these photos would not have happened. Not only did she act as an assistant on many of the shoots (or my voice activated light stand), she also did a lot of the leg work in getting clearance and lining up players. So thank you Esther!

Esther is a graphic designer and is also one of the most athletic people I know. She is…

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Three distinct athletes grace pages of SI’s 50th Anniversary Swimsuit Issue

As the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014, a trio of athletes graces its pages among the likes of models such as Kate Upton and Chrissy Teigen. While the highly popular issue gained criticism over the years for having nothing to do with sport, the presence of female (and the occasional male) athlete has brought a new element of popularity.

Since Steffi Graf turned heads as one of the first athletes to appear in the issue, it has opened the doors for many other athletes to follow. From Danica Patrick to Maria Sharapova to Jennie Finch, Natalie Coughlin once appeared in the issue adorned in nothing but body paint, the swimsuit issue has brought a venerable who’s who in female sport to a much larger audience.

In this year’s edition, three athletes from three very different sports and distinct backgrounds grace the pages. Former Notre Dame basketball star Skylar Diggins, part of the WNBA’s 3 to See Rookies in 2013 (also featuring Brittany Griner and Elena Delle Donne) revealed a warm, softer side beneath what fans know as a competitive and intense exterior. Hoping to bring the Tulsa Shock back in the playoff picture,

Diggins is highly popular for her fashion selections and red carpet pomp. The 23-year-old celebrated her appearance in the issue by going to social media. In a photo in which she is holding the magazine, the caption states “Surreal”.

A gold medalist at the 2012 London Summer Games, Alex Morgan has established herself as soccer’s girl next door. Having also made an appearance in the 2013 edition of the SI Swimsuit Issue, she is the only athletes in the class of 2014 to have appeared before. Like Diggins, she also shared her enthusiasm on social media, stating that she felt honored to be part of the anniversary edition.

The third athlete to be featured this year was certainly the least shy. Professional surfer Anastasia Ashley, who also dabbles part-time as a model, marks the second consecutive year that a surfer appears in the pages of SI Swimsuit. In 2013, surfer Alanna Blanchard graced the pages.

With a rapidly growing fanbase on Instagram, Ashley, who has published photos via social media in which she mimics Kim Kardashian with one of her infamous butt shots, does not exhibit any shyness in the SI Swimsuit edition. She has also openly talked about the sexuality of female surfers, most notably, in the Huffington Post.

Of note, Ashley is featured in some very risqué shots that are visible on the SI Swimsuit website, featuring photos of all three athletes not seen in the magazine. Among them, Ashley dons some see-through mesh tops, leaving very little to the imagination. As a side note, both Ashley and Morgan expose their bare backs in some photos.

While some sports fans may see the presence of these female athletes as controversial, this is a debate that will last for an eternity. The real topic of debate should be what the selection process is for the athletes that appear.

Perhaps a more unique approach could be utilized. Considering that many athletes have had to disrobe for calendars in order to raise funds for their sport or for charity, it would be refreshing if Sports Illustrated could help their cause. Featuring such athletes in their periodical while making a donation to an athlete’s charity of choice may be a more practical way of celebrating an athlete’s commitment to their respective sport.