Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Summertime on the Midway

'Cause tonight I'm gonna take that ride,
across the river to the Jersey side,
take my baby to the carnival, 
and I'll take you on all the rides...
-"Jersey Girl" (Tom Waits) 

The 2016 Summer Olympics shall begin in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in less than one month.  The United States Olympic Team shall feature incredibly skilled young men and women from all over the nation. Included among their number shall be a pair of sixteen-year-old Jersey girls. 

Sydney McLaughlin, who shall begin her senior year at Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey in September, is among the most highly-decorated track-and-field athletes that New Jersey has ever produced - and we have produced more than our fair share.   It takes longer to list all of her record-setting accomplishments than it does for her to complete the 400 meter hurdles, which is the event that she shall compete in as a member of Team USA in the Olympics.  

On Sunday night, at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, young Ms. McLaughlin crushed the World Junior record (athletes 20 years of age and younger) in her event, running 54.15 seconds (the former world-record time was 54.40 seconds) to place third at the Olympic Trials.  Truth be told, she is not accustomed to finishing in third place but even though her spot on the podium was a couple of levels lower than usual, it fit her beautifully for it secured for her a spot on the team.  She is the youngest American track-and-field Olympian since 1972.    And in case you missed her Olympic-berth-qualifying race on Sunday night, you can watch it here. Or, if you prefer, you can perhaps simply rely upon these good folks who watched the race at the Stage House Tavern in Scotch Plains (the man with the clean-shaven head is my favorite) to let you know exactly how she well she performed: 

The U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team shall, also, include a Garden State dynamo.  Laurie Hernandez is a sixteen-year-old gymnast from Old Bridge, New Jersey who is one of the five gymnasts who earned a starting spot on the 2016 Olympic squad.   Among the disciplines in which she excels is the floor exercise, which might explain why she looks completely at peace in this photograph, which appears to show her effortlessly tilting her head all the way back as if she is checking for a piece of gum on the bottom of her left foot - while in midair (!) - without a care in the world.  

The star of this year's American team is Simone Biles, who at eighteen years old is the only female gymnast to ever win three consecutive All-Around World Championships.  But if Old Bridge's pride and joy can rise to the occasion - as she is apt to do - the United States might be well-positioned to celebrate a team victory as well as any individual triumph young Ms. Biles might enjoy.  And if you doubt for one moment whether Laurie Hernandez is ready for her close-up, rest easy.  She most certainly is:

Presently, neither Sydney McLaughlin nor Laurie Hernandez is of legal driving age here in the State of Concrete Gardens - although the former shall celebrate her 17th birthday in early August.  If they should find Olympic success in Rio, neither of them will likely have to drive herself anywhere for quite a while.  During a parade up the Canyon of Heroes, the person getting honored rides on the float.  She does not drive the car... 

...not even when she crosses the river to the Jersey side. 



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