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  • Tatyana McFadden
    Photo by Joe Kusumoto
  • Will Groulx
    Photo by Joe Kusumoto
  • Kari Miller
    Photo by Frank Polich
  • Holloway
    Photo by Frank Polich
  • Becca Murray
    Photo by Joe Kusumoto

Just two weeks after the closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics, another set of games takes the same stage. On Wednesday, 4,280 Paralympians, elite athletes with physical and visual disabilities, will begin competing at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, an international multi-sport event with more than 20 sports over 11 days.

Some of the disabilities of the competitors include mobility difficulties, amputations, blindness, and cerebral palsy and some events are open to people with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

The All-Time medal tally for the Summer Paralympics Games as of Beijing 2008 shows Team USA winning by a landslide with 665 gold, 592 silver and 613 bronze for a total of 1,870 medals. In far second is Great Britain with a total of 1,420 and then Canada with a total of 947 medals. The first International Games for athletes with a disability were held in 1952 (at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in London) with only two participating countries and 130 athletes.

Born without a fibula in her right leg, Holloway had her right foot and ankle amputated at 20 months, but she still went on to play basketball and volleyball.

The games have since grown to include 166 countries. An estimated 2.2 million tickets will be sold (in contrast to 8.8 million for the Londomn Summer Olympics). The Olympics and Paralympics started sharing the same venue in 1988 (Seoul, South Korea), which is the same year the term "Paralympics" was adopted.

Although the Games are yet to be televised in the United States (a goal the National Paralympic Committees is working on), you can tune in online and catch more than 580 hours of coverage. Once you set your URL and get comfortable, stay there for a while because there's a lot to watch. NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) will air one-hour highlight shows on Sept. 4, 5, 6 and 11 at 6 p.m. After the games, NBC will broadcast a 90-minute special on Sept. 16.

U.S. Wheelchair Rugby Team (formerly known as Murderball): The full-contact rugby in wheelchairs is most known for the toughness and tenacity of the athletes, which was captured in the prize-winning documentary, Murderball, which detailed the rivalry between the Canadian and U.S. teams leading up to the 2004 Paralympic Games.

Because of the difficulty of marketing a sport known as "Murderball," the name was later changed to "Wheelchair Rugby."

The sport made its Paralympic debut at the Sydney 2000 Games.

The U.S. is a heavy favorite for gold, led by Will Groulx who was also part of the U.S. team when it won gold in Beijing in 2008 and who led the team in scoring in multiple matches. Groulx is a Navy veteran who was medically discharged after suffering a spinal-cord injury from a motorcycle accident in 2001.

You may recognize Groulx's name as he was nominated for an ESPY back in 2009 for Best Male Athlete with a Disability for his performance as a member of the undefeated USA Quad Rugby team in the 2008 Summer Olympics.

U.S. Women's Wheelchair Basketball: Also heavy favorites for gold, this team won the last two Paralympics in Beijing and Athens. The team has six returning players from the same team that won gold in Beijing so they mesh well and know how to take the ball up and down the court with ease.

They recently won gold at the Parapan American Games in Guadalajara after going undefeated and beating Canada by 38 points.

I had a chance to chat with Jeff Downes, Team Leader since 2007, to find out why this group of women who happen to be aiming for a three-peat in London are worth watching.

"Our team has had success since 2004 where we won the gold in Athens and then again in 2008 when we beat Germany in the final minute," he said. "We've always had a strong team — strength, speed and stamina — able to wear our opponents down, but the rest of the world is catching up. We've lost to some teams we should have beaten and I can assure you London is going to be a brawl.

"It's going to be very competitive and we're looking for some fun, high-scoring games."

You can follow the team and get updates on its Facebook page.

U.S. Women's Sitting Volleyball: This is the sport that amazes me the most, after I watched a demo a few months back in Times Square. Having won silver last year in Beijing with a loss to China, the team has high hopes of edging out China this year in London to claim gold. The sport began in 2003 and is now powered by the American duo of Katie Holloway and Kari Miller.

The 6-foot-3 Holloway was named MVP and the Best Spiker at the 2011 Parapan American Games. Born without a fibula in her right leg, Holloway had her right foot and ankle amputated at 20 months, but she still went on to play basketball and volleyball.

She was later recruited by college basketball teams which did not even realize she wore a prosthetic leg.

The 5-foot-6 Miller helped her team win gold at ECVD Continental Cup in Yevpatoria, Ukraine, and was named the tournament's Best Libero (defensive specialist) with 163 receptions. While serving in the military, Miller and a friend were in a car struck by a drunk driver. Miller lost both legs, one above the knee, the other below.

It should be a treat to watch these two athletes lead their team to a gold medal in London. Check out the rest of the team profiles.

April Holmes: Venturing into her third Paralympics, this will likely be Holmes' final appearance. Holmes has been dubbed "the world's fastest amputee" and holds world records in the 100-, 200- and 400-meters. In 2001, Holmes was involved in a train accident that resulted in the loss of her left leg just below the knee.

Holmes took her faith and worked towards a new goal of becoming a Paralympian and has been breaking records ever since.

In an accident at the Beijing Games in 2008, the spike on Holmes' left prosthetic leg got caught in the track causing her to tumble to the ground. While on the ground, Holmes took a competitor's spike to the face, but she still managed to force her bruised and bloodied body across the finish line. Just five days later, still in immense pain, Holmes competed in the 100-meter final.

Shocking even herself, she took gold, winning in a time of 13.72 seconds, just three seconds slower than the Olympic record held by Florence Griffith-Joyner.

The heart and soul, not to mention immense speed of Holmes should be at the top of anyone's list of why to watch the Paralympics.

Tatyana McFadden: This veteran Paralympian is in the games for her third time. McFadden first entered the Paralympic Games in Athens at age 15. Now 23, she says she's still a bit nervous.

"I'm very excited," she said. "I've worked for four years, every day, twice a day for two hours in each session with my main focus being on the Paralympic Games.

"Getting involved in sports saved my life. The Paralympics are athletes at an elite level, people with disabilities competing at their best — it's honoring, humbling, exciting, thrilling . . ."

As her bio states: "By all accounts Tatyana should not be one of the top female athletes in the world. She probably should not be alive. She was born in 1988 in St. Petersburg, Russia, with an underdeveloped spinal cord resulting in paralyzation below the waist and a hole in her spine, a condition know as spina bifida. When operated on immediately, spina bifida is rarely life threatening.

"Tatyana was left for 21 days before doctors operated. Only her innate strength of will kept her alive."

She was sent to an orphanage, "an unwanted disabled child." In 1994, Tatyana was adopted by American Debbie McFadden, who was working as the commissioner of disabilities for the U.S. Health Department.

Her new mother got McFadden her first wheelchair, and signed her up for swimming classes and then a Baltimore wheelchair sports organization to help build up her strength. Now, McFadden's an eight-time track world champion, three-time marathon winner and full-time student at University of Illinois.

She races with her sister Hannah in the 100-meters.

"Whether I bring home a medal or not, I'm going to put in 110 percent," McFadden promised. Famed for her strength, McFadden is also aptly nicknamed "Beast."

  • Bye, Britain! We already miss you.
    London 2012/Facebook
  • The American swimmers represent the best (Phelps, l) and worst (Lochte, secondto r) of what America had to offer at these games.
  • "Her Majesty thanks you for attending the 2012 Olympics and requests you pleaseexit the country in a swift fashion so that we may go back to business asusual."

Breaking up is hard to do: Wacky closing ceremony marks end of bittersweetOlympic romance

One last hurrah

I don't know if y'all are as bummed as I am about the London Olympics coming to a close, but I'm taking it pretty hard.

After nearly a month of watching NBC's melodramatic hyper-coverage of these superhumans and their physical exploits, it feels like this chapter of our lives has come to a swift close. It's the cruelest breakup because we knew it had to end the whole time. We would only have this bright, shining moment in the London sun.

Did we watch enough and catch all the best moments? Did the Olympics know how much it meant to us? Will we ever find an Olympics as good as this one?

It was thankfully less Shakespearean than Danny Boyle's opening ceremony, but it was no less dramatic or cathartic for those of us facing impending singledom.

Helping to ease the pain of this passing was the mixed bag of bizarre British performers past and present who sang or played (or lip synched) in Sunday's closing ceremony. It was thankfully less Shakespearean than Danny Boyle's opening ceremony, but it was no less dramatic or cathartic for those of us facing impending singledom.

Take That, The Pet Shop Boys, Jessie J and (thank goodness!) New Direction were all there to remind us that we are just obsessive American pop culture snobs who swallow up this over-romanticized hullabaloo with reckless abandon, just like our forefathers and foremothers.

It's in our nature to love the story of an underdog rising above all odds to claim victory, and we saw that all over these games. But we also love to watch an untouchable demi-god come in and trample all the rest of the puny humans below. These same tropes came to light again in the closing ceremonies themselves, with our musical superheroes getting back up and trying again to show us they still got it.

George Michael, Annie Lennox, The Who and the damn Spice Girls got themselves together enough to get up on that giant stage and let you know that they're still alive and happy to accept your money and praise. It may be a little slower, a little duller — like, say, a London Michael Phelps instead of a Beijing Michael Phelps — but you remember why you still cheer for them.

It was odd that we didn't see Muse play the song that was chosen as the official theme of the Olympics. Kate Bush was also chopped in the editing, leaving more room for a now-musical Russell Brand to sing a song from Willy Wonka. Those strange choices in the NBC editing room were really noticeable this year, as it seems we got far more volleyball and rowing than the events we want to see more of, such as Olympic trampoline.

Oh, and then the Pet Shop Boys played synthesizers while wearing silly pointed hats and capes. Some fashion models showed up to walk the runway. And an elderly Fatboy Slim was DJing from inside a translucent, light-up octopus for a while. So... y'know, that happened, too.

In that same way, Freddie Mercury got the honor he always deserved, leading the packed stadium in a posthumous call-and-response before everyone sang "We Will Rock You."

But it is the legendary performances that remind us what the Olympics is all about. Those accomplished athletes that continue accomplishing unheard of records, like Usain Bolt, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, and, yeah, Michael Phelps. They make us remember that there is something larger than life happening here.

In that same way, Freddie Mercury got the honor he always deserved, leading the packed stadium in a posthumous call-and-response before everyone sang "We Will Rock You." And John Lennon's giant head got reconstructed in the stadium while children showed off choreographed sign language skills to "Imagine." Clearly, the pantheon of British singers continues to affect the whole world.

Helping to ease the passing of this month-long affair with the London Olympics, we got a taste of the passion and excitement that Rio de Janiero is going to bring to the 2016 games. It won't be the same — mostly because Kate Middleton won't be there — but I think that somehow, we'll muddle through until we see all those polo players wearing their silly hats once more.

It sure doesn't hurt that we've got figure skater Johnny Weir wearing his glittery Vera Wang outfits to look forward to in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Maybe we can love again after all.

  • Usain Bolt left no doubt in the last leg of the 4x100 meter.
    Photo by Byrn Lennon/Getty Images
  • No matter how much they were promoted, U.S. stars like Hope Solo, Ryan Lochteand Serena Williams could not live up to Usain Bolt's greatness.
    Photo by Annie Leibovitz/Vogue
  • Michael Phelps
  • Usain Bolt managed to blow away the other fastest man in the world — again. Evenin the shortest race, Bolt leaves no doubt.
    Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Usain Bolt blows away U.S. bores: Bests smug Phelps, diva Hope Solo & Old ManCostas in Olympic run

Beyond the Boxscore

The Most Interesting Olympian in the World does not keep a secret girlfriend — who he promptly leaves behind to party with the guys. The Most Interesting Olympian in the World does not act like a petulant diva for years, almost tearing apart a team and an entire program, only to turn around and wax poetic about teamwork to Bob Costas with gold in hand.

No, The Most Interesting Olympian in the World just dominates. Every time. On the globe's grandest stage. Whenever it truly counts.

Usain Bolt only wins gold — in the most spectacular ways possible. He proves it for the third time in Saturday's 4x100 relay, turning a dead heat with the American team into another Bolt runaway in his 100 meters, the last 100 meters of these Games.

Bolt's Games.

​He didn't just blow away the other would-be fastest men in the world in these London Olympics. He lapped Michael Phelps, who couldn't capture everyone's attention the way he had in Beijing. He ran circles around Hope Solo, the U.S. Women's Soccer goalie who confuses being beautiful and talented with being charismatic — and dominant.

The loudest athlete in the Olympics is also the easiest to root for — and far more interesting than all the American stars driving another medal count romp.

Bolt is the athlete of the XXX Olympiad, and whoever took silver isn't even close.

For it's Bolt and then everyone else.

It's not so much that Phelps wasn't quite as spectacular in these games — he did still completely expose so-called rival Ryan Lochte as the reality TV-level "star" that Lochte himself is now scheming to become. Phelps was still great. But he came across as almost bored and burdened by the London Olympics, by his place in the sports world.

He "hid" his girlfriend until it was convenient for him, treating her like some sort of media pawn rather than a person. He talked endlessly about his need to get away and live a normal life — as if he hasn't benefited greatly from his time in the spotlight.

Then there's Bolt. He's as known and dissected around the world as Phelps, he's as hounded by international fame. Yet the Jamaican superstar embraces it, turns it into part of his act.

Few athletes in history grab the stage quite like Bolt. It's not just about the Lightning poses that are threatening to give Tebowing a run for its money. It's not just about the clowning with that ridiculous Olympic mascot. It's not just about fueling the legend talk that other athletes would run away from.

Bolt is so over the top, his bragging is more performance art than offensive.

No, it's about having fun with sports.

Remember that?

That's what beats at the heart of all of Bolt's showmanship and dramatics . . . fun. It's why the loudest athlete in the Olympics is also the easiest to root for — and far more interesting than all the American stars driving another medal count romp.

Bolt gets that big-time sports depend on an audience. It means little if you're running in an empty stadium. So Bolt makes sure everyone in a packed palace of a venue has a good time.

He's the one modern athlete who is capable of dancing the line that Muhammad Ali ruled for years: Bolt manages to be both the cockiest athlete in the Olympics and one of the most lovable.

It's hard not to leave a Usain Bolt race with a smile on your face. Whether you're watching it live in London, online for the real-time simulcast or as part of NBC's endlessly taped-delayed primetime show.

"I've done what I came here to do," Bolt says in the press conference after his third gold in three events.

What the 25-year-old Bolt's done is thrill the world with his unprecedented powerful speed. His almost cartoon-figure-like pull away from the fastest 100-meter field in history grabbed the Olympics by the throat and Bolt didn't let go until there was little left to decide in London besides how much Mike Krzyzewski tears up in his final Olympic press conference.

How fascinating is Bolt? How much has he utterly dominated these Summer Games?

Even IOC President Jacques Rogge cannot help but comment on Bolt, with the 70-year-old despot insisting that the runner is not a legend yet, that he must do more. Hey, Rogge's not stupid.

He knows he needs Bolt for Rio in 2016. That's how big of a superstar Bolt is. He makes any Olympics more compelling.

You have to be as old as Rogge or Costas to not appreciate Bolt. How can you not get a kick out of a guy who tries to run away with the official Olympic baton after the 4x100, drawing a scolding from the uptight race officials? Bolt is so over the top, his bragging is more performance art than offensive.

Yet there's Costas chiding in his best schoolmarm tone, "As great as Bolt is, it's hard to have a higher opinion of him than he does of himself" as NBC leaves the track and field venue for the last time.

Lighten up, Bob. No one gets more overblown than NBC itself. And Usain Bolt's made your overwrought, two-week TV show.

Bringing The Show

Bolt manages to talk big and preen without venturing into Reggie Jackson territory. Even when he's firing back at Rogge or making silly, angry statements about not respecting the University of Houston's own Carl Lewis, Bolt still comes across like he's having fun.

Hope Solo so desperately wants to be an edgy star, yet she still often seems lost in fame.

Contrast that with U.S. Women's Soccer star Hope Solo, who always seems to be bothered by something. After playing well in the Gold Medal Match against Japan (having been gifted a berth in the final by some horrendous calls against Canada in the semis), Solo still feels the need to tell Costas that this is the first time she's felt like she's been on a true team.

Really?

Is that because Solo destroyed other teams by whining about being replaced in goal? Or that she become so involved in a Twitter fight with Brandi Chastain, one of the women who made Solo's level of crossover stardom possible, that she kept the focus off the actual on-field play?

Solo so desperately wants to be an edgy star, yet she still often seems lost in fame. Michael Phelps sometimes seems to be wrestling with fame, happiest when he's tuning out the world and listening to the music blaring over his expensive headphones.

Usain Bolt has no such issues. There may be no one in the world more comfortable in his own skin.

Everyone wants to be The Most Interesting Olympian in the World. But only one superhuman is equipped to handle it.

There's Usain Bolt streaking across the London night, leaving everyone else behind.

It's OK to sit forward and stare. And just smile.

  • Ryan Lochte is probably thinking of disgusting candy when he bites down on thatgold medal. No?
    Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images Sport
  • Harry Potter Cockroach Clusters

The real reason Olympic athletes bite their medals: It's a disgusting, crazycandy thing

Trick or treat?

After seeing countless Olympians biting down on their hard-earned gold medals for photographers this week, I did some research into the possibility of finding actual edible Olympic medals.

Of course, the Internet will never let you down, and there are in fact plenty of recipes for edible Olympic treats. But, whoa, wait a Red Hot minute. There are so many other bizarre candy secrets just lurking on the web waiting to be discovered.

My rule is: If it sounds unusual, it's probably worth trying. Once.

Seeking out bizarre and disgusting foods is a hobby of mine that I would not advise to others. I find myself compelled by my findings that often prove equal parts amazing and repulsive. It’s a perilous journey, fraught with disapproving girlfriends and upset stomachs, but its reward lies in being able to provide knowledge of our discoveries to others.

With that said, I give you some of the world’s most disgusting candies:

Harry Potter Cockroach Clusters

Who could forget the obscure reference to cockroach clusters in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? A crunchy candy shell with a delightful gummy body and surprisingly realistic looking wings.

It's just how you never imagined cockroaches tasting. Unfortunately this treat has been discontinued. What a shame.

Genghis Khan Caramels

After conquering most of Eurasia and founding the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan died with but one wish unfilled: A caramel candy named after him. Nearly 800 years later, his dream has come true.

Unfortunately for Genghis Khan, all the good flavors were already taken by other famous conquerors, so he got stuck with Lamb Curry flavoring. Yep, Gengis Khan Caramels are a savory, sweet candy with a pronounced curry flavor.

Chocka Ca-Ca

It's not that this candy tastes particularly gross; I just find the packaging and presentation abhorrent. I mean, baby poop chocolate . . . in a diaper wrapper?

Come on, candy manufacturers.

Zit Popper Candy

One of the great things about candy is its ability to instantly recall childhood memories. These don’t take you that far back, but who doesn’t want to remember the days when your hormones started raging and your face began breaking out?

What better way to relive those awkward years than eating zit-shaped gummy candies with a gooey pus-like filling?

Dubbel Zout

Every time I sit down to savor a nice stick of black licorice, I like to have it heavily salted beforehand. Luckily, the Dutch have developed a lovely “double salt” licorice drop called Dubbel Zout.

For when you can’t decide between savory and bitter.

Jane Jane Tasty Tuna Tidbits

Believe it or not, tuna IS the main ingredient for these "tasty" Tibits, and its joined by fellow newcomer flavor: soy sauce.

The upside? This candy is, according to its website, “good for the brain development for everyone."

Formula Pee

It's pee-colored and tastes like lemonade!

Yaki Kaki Drops

The combination of unusual meat and sweet flavors remains a uniquely Asian trend. Need to get your oyster on the go? Yaki Kaki Drops allow you to enjoy this classic seaside flavor in a conveniently transportable hard candy form.

Hopefully, we'll get some more Olympic-inspired candy in place of these meat- and puberty-inspired "treats."

If for some reason you feel inspired to join me in mapping out our planet's most exotic food oddities, start online or in your own backyard. You never know what you might be able to find in the aisles at your favorite supermarket.

My rule is: If it sounds unusual, it's probably worth trying. Once.

The other Dream Team: Five reasons to love the U.S. women's soccer team as theygo for the gold

Olympic Gold

There's been a lot of hoopla around the U.S. men's basketball team at this Olympics — with University of Texas' Kevin Durant among a roster of one of the best basketball teams ever assembled — but so far, there's been precious little drama associated with the Dream Team 2.0 as it alley-oops its way to the medal rounds of the tournament.

If you want a combination of incredible talent, high energy and a flair for the dramatic in an American team at the Olympics, you've got one chance remaining to see them. They're the U.S. National Women's Soccer Team (or USWNT, for short), and they face a rematch of sorts Thursday afternoon in the gold medal game vs. Japan.

If you want a combination of incredible talent, high energy and a flair for the dramatic in an American team at the Olympics, you've got one chance remaining to see them.

Last year, at the FIFA Women's World Cup, the Americans lost to Japan in the finals after a dramatic run that included one of the all-time great games in U.S. soccer history — men's or women's. That game, a penalty shoot-out win over Brazil in the quarterfinals, included the indelible moment when Abby Wambach scored the tying goal with roughly a minute remaining in a two-hour match that sent fans through a spectrum of human emotions.

Thursday's game (viewable at Houston's usual slate of soccer-friendly bars, as well as on the NBC Sports Network and on NBC's online feed) starts at 1:45 p.m. and will be played in front of what's expected to be the largest crowd to ever watch a women's Olympic soccer match.

It'll be hard to match the drama of Monday's semifinal match against Canada, in which the USWNT won in arguably the most dramatic fashion possible. They went down 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 on three goals by Canadian captain Christine Sinclair, getting level each time, first on two remarkable Megan Rapinoe goals, and then on a penalty kick from Abby Wambach following a controversial pair of foul calls.

With about 30 seconds left in extra time, with penalty kicks looming to decide who would go to the gold medal game and who would go to the bronze medal game, Alex Morgan headed the winning goal into the sliver of space between the crossbar and Canadian goalie Erin McLeod's outstretched fingers.

If you're unfamiliar with the other Dream Team, here are some reasons to love the USWNT.

Hope Solo

The American goalkeeper has had an incredible tournament. With the exception of the Canada game and the 4-2 opening match against France, she's kept the other three U.S. opponents scoreless and maintained a remarkable goal-free stretch of 368 minutes over five games. The only thing she's lacked is diplomacy.

She Twitter-slapped NBC commentator and USWNT legend Brandi Chastain for criticizing the defending of a USWNT teammate during a broadcast, which is reminiscent of the time she publicly questioned her coach's decision to leave her out of the 2007 Women's World Cup semifinals. Solo was tested by Sinclair throughout the Canada game, and her frustration following the second and third goals was a dramatic departure from her usual in-control demeanor.

But if the game does come down to penalty kicks, there's no one USWNT fans would rather have in front of the net.

Goal-scoring acumen

Wambach and Morgan have typically been the women most likely to score for the USWNT with decidedly different styles. Whereas Morgan is quick and opportunistic, using her speed and instincts to get in great position, Wambach (who's averaged nearly a goal a game in almost 200 USWNT matches) is often the tallest, strongest player on the field, equally adept with her head and her feet.

Rapinoe has had a foot in nearly every American goal this tournament, scoring from long range and assisting teammates with ridiculously on-target passes. Sydney Leroux is thriving in her role as end-of-game substitute, bringing energy, chaos and another attacking option for the team.

Four women on the team have more international game experience than Landon Donovan, the most senior of the active U.S. men's players.

Terrific thirty-somethings

Captain Christie Rampone (37), Heather Mitts (34), Amy LePielbet (30) and Shannon Boxx (35) are stalwarts in the USWNT defense, with the leadership qualities and steadiness you'd want immediately in front of a goalie like Solo. And the senior players aren't just in the back: Wambach is 32 and midfielder Carli Lloyd turns 30 later this month.

Four women on the team have more international game experience than Landon Donovan, the most senior of the active U.S. men's players.

Moxie

This team has so much of it. Solo talked candidly to ESPN The Magazine about the 2008 USWNT's gold medal win in Beijing — to a TODAY Show blog writer's horror — recalling, "When we were done partying, we got out of our nice dresses, got back into our stadium coats and at 7 a.m. with no sleep, went on the TODAY show drunk."

Wambach was sucker-punched in the face during the team's second group play game against Colombia, kept her emotions to a low boil, and scored a goal on a play where she was knocked down. Then, after the game, she tweeted a photo of her black eye with the hashtag "#reversesmokeeye."

In an act of courage that transcends playing on the field, Rapinoe came out in an OUT magazine feature just before the Olympics, and is arguably considered the most valuable player of this tournament.

They're Americans, after all

The men's team wasn't able to qualify, and while other American teams are still in the medal hunt, there's just the right balance of we're-the-best confidence and willful suspense in the USWNT mix. The men's and women's soccer games are more similar to one another than men's and women's basketball, though some are chauvinistically critical of the women's game as being somehow less than the men's.

Pay that no mind. The USWNT is worth watching. And come Thursday night, they very well might have reason to party again.

Marlen Esparza snares the bronze as first U.S. woman to win a medal in Olympicboxing

Another first

A tearful Marlen Esparza won the first Olympics boxing medal by a U.S. woman Wednesday while losing her semifinal boxing match to Ren Cancan of China, 10-8.

The Pasadena native, who said the fight would be her last, had been the first American female boxer to qualify for the Games as women's boxing made its long awaited debut in London.

Esparza, who recently turned 23, won the final two rounds of the flyweight division match handily, but it wasn't enough to close the gap as Ren, who is a three-time world champion, had built up a big lead in the first three rounds.

"I thought I got away with it and won because I was only down by two going into the final round and I was finding my range," Esparza told the Los Angeles Times. "I should have put my brakes on but she was frustrating.

"I can't be angry about getting any medal at all but [bronze] wasn't my goal."

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Luxe plastic surgery center injects River Oaks with cutting-edge techniques, posh recovery suites, secret access, and more

A-list treatment

With the holiday season in full swing and many prepping for a new look for the new year, image-conscious Houstonians have a new option for cutting-edge cosmetic treatments and plastic surgery in one of Houston’s most elite neighborhoods.

Nuveau Plastic Surgery + Medical Aesthetics, a local leader in cosmetic medical procedures, has quietly opened a sleek new facility in River Oaks (3720 Westheimer Rd.). Owned and operated by renowned (and board-certified) plastic surgeon Dr. Edward Lee, the facility offers myriad reconstructive surgeries for men, women, and children, as well as beauty treatments, touch-ups, and more.

Aside from top-of-the-line technology, instrumentation, and treatments, the boutique center has personalized service and features to the tony RO crowd. A secret entrance ensures privacy for discreet clients, much like similar operations in Los Angeles and New York.

Another top-drawer feature: Tastefully appointed pre-op and post-op suites keep patients in-house, rather than having to leave posh treatment centers and head to crowded hospital rooms for recovery.

In keeping with Lee’s insistence on a medicine-first approach, anesthesia for patients is provided by Medical Anesthesia Associates, an MD-only group.

A cut above

Notably, the center places a primary focus on plastic surgery, which, for the uninitiated, has a clear distinction from cosmetic surgery. Randy Rakes, managing partner, tells CultureMap that it’s important for clients to understand the difference.

“You have to understand, you have to go through hundreds of hours of training and cases — face and the entire body — to get that board certification, and go through rigorous testing in order to meet that specification,” he says.

Why is that important? The industry, Rakes notes, is rife with practitioners such as “OBGYNs or dermatologists or people who have not really been trained in the art of plastic surgery, who take a class somewhere and learn how to do liposuction or a fat transfer — and then they're ‘experts’ in aesthetic surgery.”

That’s especially key when selecting a provider for highly invasive — and potentially serious — procedures such as facelifts, eyelid surgeries, tummy tucks, liposuction, rhinoplasty, breast lifts and augmentations, breast reconstruction, and more, Rakes adds.

In an era of Instagram beauty demands, more choosy clients are opting for streamlining facial features. To that end, Lee is one of a select few surgeons in the U.S. who regularly performs “V-Line '' surgery. The set of procedures, popularized in South Korea where Lee honed many of his skills, aim to narrow the width of the jawline and the face.

Aesthetics with an expert eye

Lee’s elegant, 5,500-square-foot center is adorned with CASA Houston designs, Italian-influenced finishes, and soothing elements evocative of a modern art museum or luxury spa. The facility houses a Visia Skin Analysis Studio and seven treatment suites aesthetic work such as Botox, microneedling, VI peels, Halo Laser Resurfacing, Moxi Non-Ablative Laser, Broad Band Light Photofacials, Coolsculpting, Emsculpt, and more.

Rakes says that his registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and estheticians are elite, by design, as he and Lee insist on credentials. “All of our injectors are licensed in the State of Texas,” he says. “Most places don't have that, the reason being is that they are much more highly skilled than a traditional, regular nurse injector. So they have a much higher skill set. The people who do our lasers and things of that nature have 10 to 15 years of experience, so clients know that they're getting the best possible treatment with the best possible devices — we own every medical device that's considered cutting edge in the industry.”

Facing forward

Rakes, a longtime medical industry processional with a keen eye for trends and technology, says that his clients aren’t just looking for traditional services, but new technologies and treatment, such as PRP and other regenerative therapies. “I think patients are kind of moving a little bit away from the traditional Hyaluronic fillers like Restylane and really looking for something with a more natural approach.”

His treatment teams stimulate collagen with fillers such as Radiesse, “and then we combine that with energy-based devices to even further lift the tissue and work as a synergy between using the injectable and the device, because the combination of both of those things give the patient the best possible results,” Rakes notes. Lee and Rakes also focus facial care on medical-grade skincare brands Alastin, Revision, and Elta MD.

A global scope

Aside from his board certification in plastic surgery, Lee has also trained in craniofacial and pediatric surgery. His medical mission work has taken him to Thailand, Haiti, and Cambodia, where he has performed surgeries for nonprofits such as Operation Smile and Smile Train for those in need.

Those in need of non-traditional treatments can also trust Lee, says Rakes, who points to Lee’s work in the cosmetic and plastic surgery-obsessed Korea. “Some of the Korean techniques are much more advanced than the techniques that are available here in the United States,” says Rakes. “Dr. Lee does a lot of things that other physicians here just don't do.”

Those interested should book early, Rakes advises, as the holiday and new year rush is in full swing. The center offers “pre-buying” slots where clients can reserve space and time. “We’ve been very busy,” says Rakes, noting the local celebs who’ve shared the work they’ve received there on social media. “I think people come here because they know they’re getting the very best treatment and results available.”

Photo courtesy of Nuveau PlasticSurgery + Medical Aesthetics

Nuveau's sleek River Oaks center boasts designs from CASA.

Beloved Houston urban farm toasts local culinary legend with new cooking courses and classroom

peg-approved

For longtime Houston food insiders, Peg Lee needs no introduction. A lifelong local culinary instructor, she has been a fixture in the food scene since the 1970s, where she (often humorously) led cooking classes at Houston Community College.

She was a no-brainer to found and direct Rice Epicurean's cooking school. And the newly launched Central Market made waves in 2001 by enticing her to launch its now wildly successful cooking school, which, thanks to Lee, has lured top national and international chefs and food names.

Along the way, Lee mentored now well-known chefs such as Robert Del Grande, Greg Martin, and Mark Cox.

Quite apropos, the Houston legend is now the namesake for a new cooking school in one of the city's most beloved urban green sanctuaries, Hope Farms. The Peg Lee Culinary Classroom in Hope Farms' Gathering Barn now hosts field trips, classes, tastings, and free cooking demonstrations for children and adults.

Locals can also book the charming space, spearheaded by Recipe for Success/Hope Farms founder Gracie Cavnar, for cooking parties and cooking classes for anywhere from four to 24 students. Those interested can find more information on classes, which center on Cavnar's passion for healthy eating, and more here.

As for the classroom, visitors can expect a white, farmhouse-style kitchen with custom cabinets and high-end appliances, all reflective of a home kitchen. Butcherblock countertops, matte black accents, and farm-made tables and more adorn the space, while a Wolf Induction cooktop, A GE Café Smart Five-in-One Wall Oven, and other state-of-the-art appliances get folks cooking.

Fittingly, classroom water is tied into the farm's new rainwater capture system for the ultimate in sustainability.

“Peg was one of my earliest mentors in the imagining and crafting of what Recipe for Success Foundation would become,” Cavnar noted in a statement. “Then, when we began programing, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work, helping us teach children to cook and bringing her many resources to help us raise money and awareness for our efforts. It is my deepest honor to pay her tribute with the naming of our classroom.”

New craft brewery bringing 'bold American beer,' Texas comfort food, live music, and more to Sugar Land

Sugar land's new craft brewery

Houston’s growing craft brewery scene will add a new outpost in Sugar Land. Talyard Brewing Co. recently began construction on a 15,000-square-foot production and tap room that will open in early 2024.

Located in Imperial, a massive mixed-use development on the site of the former Imperial Sugar refinery, Talyard will occupy a three-and-a-half acre site that will include a beer garden with shaded seating areas, pickle ball courts, a playground, and a stage for live entertainment.

Principals Keith Teague and Chuck Laughter are Sugar Land natives and neighbors who bring experience from the business world to Talyard. In a release, Teague says that intend to serve “bold American beer” paired with a food menu of Texas comfort food made from locally sourced ingredients.

“We want to push the boundaries of style and tradition by combining old practices and new,” Teague added.

Ultimately, the brewery’s 20-barrel brewhouse will be capable of producing 10,000 barrels per year. For now, brew master Sean Maloney is dialing in recipes on a test system. Formerly of 8th Wonder Brewing, Maloney has been working on the West Coast and recently finished the World Brewing Academy’s Master Brewer Program, administered by the Siebel Institute in Chicago and the Doemens Academy in Munich.

“As I’m sure is the case for many ventures like ours, the idea of starting a craft brewery was hatched over beers in the backyard,” Teague said. “Sean attended high school with Chuck’s son, and over the years, we’d see him at family gatherings during the holidays when he was visiting from the West Coast. Those backyard beer sessions turned into area brewery tours together, and eventually the idea of sharing our passion here locally was born.”

Talyard will add to Imperial’s extensive entertainment options. The area also includes Constellation Field, home to the Sugar Land Space Cowboys, a weekly farmers market, and the Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center.