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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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August 27, 2008 11:18 AM

A look back at Beijing -- and forward to Vancouver

Posted by Ron Judd

Just a few thoughts on the passing of the Beijing Games, mostly from a remote-coverage standpoint.

First, many thanks to all of you who have written to express your thoughts -- these have been overwhelmingly encouraging -- about having a home-based columnist covering the Games from a "local," ie, broadcast-based, standpoint.

I started this project by noting that it had been a decade since I had actually watched an Olympics on TV, having covered the last five in person. That proved to be something of a revelatory experience both for me and my wife, Emjay, herself an experienced Olympics journalist.

Our first reaction: With the many-networks approach of NBC, and the good fortune of living in a television market within reach of CBC, we saw a lot more Olympic sports at home than we would attending a typical Olympics in person. That's simply a matter of logistics: You can only take so many buses to so many places in the course of a day when you're on the ground at the Games, even if that day stretches into 20 hours.

From that standpoint, it was a blast. I took in wonderful action sports I'd never seen before. I pitched one of them, team handball, to readers early on as a great game that absolutely deserves a comeback in the U.S., where the program languished, and no team was qualified for Beijing.

Surprisingly, that lament would prove to be one of the most read/discussed topics on this blog. And, I'm happy to report, several efforts at establishing a team handball program in the Seattle area have resulted because of it. People have been exchanging contact info here , and should feel free to continue to do so, not to mention keeping us all posted on progress. Also, I was informed yesterday that a new web site has been launched.

That was cool, and unexpected.

Also unexpected was the fact that a whimsical post I made early in the Games about the version of the Star Spangled Banner being played during medal ceremonies at the Water Cube would become a source of ongoing, national debate among musical scholars. No joke. See for yourself on this thread.

Similarly unexpected was the blog post/column that drew by far the biggest reaction -- online, at least -- of any Olympic story we ran from Beijing. That was my description of watching, on cable TV, the heartfelt moment when German heavyweight weightlifter Matthias Steiner won the gold medal for Germany after dedicating the pursuit to his late wife, who had died in a car crash the year before.

The column drew scores of reader responses, and remained at the top of the newspaper's online "most read" and "most e-mailed" list for a couple of days.

What's significant about that, I think, is what it represents in modern-journalistic terms. I wrote the column from home, watching on cable TV an event that had already happened (although not by much) in Beijing. Even more amazing is the fact that the broadcast was being described by commentators nowhere near China, but in an NBC studio in New York City -- actually a revamped portion of the center stage for "Saturday Night Live."

NBC called many of its daytime-broadcast events from this virtual-reality center, where broadcasters had access to live digital pictures and sounds from the scene. (A New York Times feature on the setup can be found here.)

I was extremely wary of that arrangement when first reading about it, but over the course of the Olympics, found it to be perfectly workable, and hardly a distraction at all in terms of viewing. The key, I think, was that the network was up front about it, instructing commentators to make it clear they were working from New York, and not trying to fool anyone.

Such was the case with the weightlifting broadcast. The NY-broadcast connnection, in fact, was so far in the back of my mind by the time I wrote about it that I didn't even mention it in my column.

That fact was appreciated by the broadcast producers, who saw the column online and sent thanks for not letting the remote-broadcast angle interrupt from what they agreed was a fantastic, heartwarming sports story that felt emotionally powerful to them, as well, even in a studio half a world away.

Jenny Nickel, the segment producer, said in an e-mail:

" I've seen 40 Indy 500's including producing many of those speical days in May and three of the closest finishes in history; produced rowing in Sydney, and have watched every Olympics and Wide World of Sports as a tyke on the old black and white in the basement.

What Steiner accomplished was huge ... but so gut-wrenching and bittersweeet. On the January day when he got his German citizenship, he went to Suzanne's grave. No 24 year old should have to take that kind of mental hardship and personal loss - his lovely wife. She had just started a savings account for their hopeful flights to and from Beijing. No wonder he went ape crazy on the platform.

In our temporary and very comfortable announce booths on the Saturday Night Live studio floor -- we had a glass wall between announcers and me. I was in tears, Shane (Hamman, color commentator) was messed up, and God bless Pete (Pranica, play-by-play announcer) -- he kept it together and called a very special moment of Olympic history."

And so you had Olympic moments being transmitted from Beijing to New York, reassembled with commentary and retransmitted across America, into a living room where it was reabsorbed, re-commented-upon, and retransmitted to newsprint readership in Western Washington and online readership around the globe.

It's all sort of amazing, when you think about it. And the truth is, if I had been at the Olympics, the chances I would have actually been able to make it to weightlifting to see the event in person would have been slim to none.

The over-arching point: The Olympics, for all their follies, continue to create compelling moments that transcend not only all borders, but all media transmission forms.

It was great to be part of that.

The long-term implications, from a journalistic standpoint, are interesting. I believe there's no substitute for "boots-on-the-ground," if you will, at an Olympics. But I also believe there now is a significant need for an additional live, local voice calling some of the action, commenting on it, and responding to it in "real time" for local television viewers. Having an editorial voice to share the pain and delight from a local context, both in terms of time zone and viewing method, seemed valuable to a lot of people.

If nothing else, having access to the East Coast feed of NBC's daily programming (thank you, KING, for the waiver) allowed us to preview what would come on later, via tape delay, into local living rooms. That also allowed us to post, real-time, results for people who didn't want to wait three hours. (As to those of you complaining about "spoiling" events: If you don't want to know what's going on in the world, what are you doing cruising around a news site on the Internet in the first place?")

Running this blog through the Beijing Games also affirmed one other belief I hold true: That there is immense interest throughout the country, and particularly in the Northwest, in the Vancouver/Whistler Winter Games of 2010, which now lie only 17 months and change up the road. As I wrote in Monday's paper, the real buildup begins in a matter of weeks.

In October, the winter-before cycle begins, with a full slate of World Cup test events at venues in Vancouver and Whistler. We'll do our best to take you along to as many of those as possible, and keep you abreast of Olympic news, great and small, in this space all the way through that waiting period.

Thanks again for reading and sticking with us.


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August 24, 2008 10:26 PM

Ebersol pretty much owns, runs the Olympics -- just ask him

Posted by Ron Judd

See the details of how the IOC basically takes its marching orders from the NBC programming genius on questions of what time of year and day and minute to stage the Games, as boasted to the New York Times.

In the article, IOC President non-elect Dick Ebersol takes personal credit for moving the Beijing Games forward by almost two months. He also explains in detail how he co-opted swimmer Michael Phelps from very early on to make him a sales tool of NBC, especially its efforts to move swimming to morning sessions, so it could be broadcast live on the East Coast of the U.S.

Oh, yeah: He also knew China was going to get the Games -- and when they would be -- before China did. And much, much, more.

No mention, of course, of the fact that such monkeying with the schedule puts the Summer Games at the very hottest time of the year in some very hot places -- to the detriment of athletes and everyone else involved. None of that matters, because, as we all know, it's all about (East Coast) ratings. And besides: what's a few hospitalized marathoners in the face of 100 million in ad revenue?

At least this clears up some confusion: When he interviewed Jacques Rogge the other night, we thought we saw Bob Costas slip the IOC prez an envelope. Must've been his paycheck.

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August 24, 2008 3:32 PM

Lip-synch redux: Un-live closing ceremony thread

Posted by Ron Judd

Good afternoon, Disadvantaged Time Zone. Goodbye, Beijing. Well, at least shortly.

Being too lazy and tired and depleted to watch it live in the middle of the night, we'll take in the grand spectacle of the closing ceremony via CBC's repeat broadcast, getting under way shortly (they're showing a highlight reel first of all Canada's medals, which surely can't last more than about a minute and a half; oops, there, it's over) and NBC's East Coast feed, beginning at 4 p.m.

This time around, posts will descend in order, from begining to end.

While we're waiting:

Couldn't help but chortle over Jim Lampley on NBC recapping swimming with Rowdy Gaines. Lampley notes that the Michael Phelps story overshadowed everything in the pool. He finally gets around to mentioning Natalie Coughlin (six medals), and notes, "She sort of swam beneath the radar."

Which is an interesting thing to say when you work for the people responsible for aiming the radar.

Also, just cruising all the usual-suspect media sites this morning, consensus is building about the legacy of the Beijing version of the Games: They did, indeed, run like clockwork, as efficiently and painlessly as any Games, ever. But, say people on the scene, there's a hollow feeling accompanying all that; the Games were largely isolated in a bubble from China's own population, and they lacked any semblance of a party atmosphere that's been present at some other Summer Games, notably Sydney and, to a lesser extent, even Athens. The government crackdowns and arrests of people who dared apply for protest permits probably didn't do a lot to help there, nor did what by all accounts was extremely tight security.

Look for London to try to emphasize that point -- something that won't be easy to do, given the city's very real security concerns.

David Barron of the Houston Chronicle has a good take from Olympic historian David Wallechinsky:

"London will be constrained in that they will have an actual budget and can't haul in a thousand workers from the countryside, force them to build buildings and then send them back again," Wallechinsky said.

"But there will be no attempt by London to say we're more spectacular. They can do fun. They can do humor. They can have a party for the world instead of a sober, isolated Olympic zone apart from the city, which is what we have here."

Based on everything we hear from Vancouver, the 2010 Winter Games will similarly strive for a warm, intimate Games -- the anti-Beijing collossus. More on that in tomorrow's paper, with a look forward to Vancouver. Those Games arrive in a mere 18 months, but the buildup begins in weeks. Early ticket sales, and the first World Cup-level test events, start in October.

4:05 p.m.
Don't be in a rush to warm up the tube. NBC comes on the East Coast with Bob Costas announcing that it will, finally broadcast the gold-medal men's volleyball game against Brazil, which we watched a full day ago elsewhere. Unless you're in the mood for even moe leftovers, don't bother tuning in until at least 8 p.m. DTZ.

5:10 p.m.
The closing ceremony begins on CBC, which caught a case of NBC-itis and chose to replay all six glorious Canadian moments from the Games over and over and over and over for the past two hours.

Drummers wearing bike helmets (?) are at stage center as three gigantic bass drums, which look like giant wheels of gouda chees, float through the air, each with its own player. More people in electric costumes scurrying around the floor.

We're guessing they'll never be able to match this in B.C. in 18 months. China has already paraded more people onto the stage than living in all of the province.

NBC is about to start showing the ceremony to the East (Important) Coast of the U.S.
But first ... one more plug for that Michael Phelps CD.

Back on CBC: 1,100 dancers, wearing pink. Those guys in the green electric suits are back, as well. The flying gouda cheese wheels are flying over them, as if coming in for a landing.

Rolling, lighted wheelie cycles roll onto the stage. CBC says many of these performers come from the "Artist's Section" of the Chinese military.

Does our military have an "Artist's Section?" Don't ask; don't tell.

5:25 p.m.
OK, we're starting to catch on. The performers' costumes are supposed to mimic athletic events. For instance, cycling is represented by people wearing muzzles and breathing masks, whereas BMX is represented by people with dirt clods on their foreheads.

We're getting dizzy. What do you expect? Experiencing the greatest moment in Icelandic sports history took a lot out of us.

Speaking of Canada: Earlier on NBC, Jim Lampley was doing a preview piece on Vancouver 2010. It showed helicopter footage of Whistler-Blackcomb, which Lampley described as "The Canadian Rockies." Well, close.

5:30

Oh. Here come the flag bearers, including our own Khatuna Lorig, who seemed like a disappointing choice until you learned that Canada's flag bearer turned out to be a trampolinist. But at least she won a medal. She is described by CBC as "a fantastic choice." The flags are gathering in a circle at center stage. Those 1,000 Chinese women in the Nancy Sinatra white leather go-go boots have run onto the field, forming a human cattle chute through which the athletes, all mixed up in no particular order, are lowing, sorry, running. It looks like a full-on assault from the mini-digic-cam unit of the UN peacekeeping forces.

Two little kids are playing drum sets in the middle of it all. We're pretty sure they're drum-synching. The Canadians are mustering in the tunnel. We recognize Simon Whitfield by face because we have seen him win his silver medal in triathlon at least 73 times, today alone. Some of the athletes are looking into a camera and speaking French. Show offs.

5:45

CBC commercials. On NBC's East Coast broadcast, they have mysteriously caught up to the same place as CBC currently is, after having started a good 10 minutes later with their broadcast. Hmmm. Here come the Americans. We're pretty sure, yep, there's the top of the head of 4-foot-9 Shawn Johnson.

5:52
With everyone assembled on the infield, it's the medal ceremony for the marathon winners from earlier today. Or yesterday. Or last night. Or whenever it was. Sammy Wansiru, the first Kenyan to win, accepts the told before 90,000 people. Very cool. They are now playing Kenya's national anthem, and, in the interest of NOT starting an online debate that will stretch for eight weeks about its quality, we're not going to even think about commenting on the arrangement.

CBC is following track star Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, who medaled in the hyphen. Also Dylan Armstrong, from Kamloops, who finished fourth in shot put.

At center stage, a whole group of little girls who look a lot like that one who sang, sorry, didn't sing the song in the opening ceremony are gathered, waving. At least we think they're waving. Are those really their hands? Who can tell.

6:05

The national anthem of Greece is played. We're not touching that one, either. We're starting to think Greece gets to much credit in these things. Sure, they invented the Olympics and all. But really, what have they done for us lately? Have to say: Those Chinese flag poles with the integrated leaf-blower tops are the coolest piece of technology to be developed for these Olympics.


6:10
Here comes Jacques Rogge, the IOC President who is about to put his stamp on the Olympic Games. Will he call them "remarkable?" Magnificent? Marvelous? Unprecedented? Or, what all of China wants: "The greatest ever?"

Here it comes: "Dear Chinese friends, blah, blah, blah..."

"Through these Games, the world learned more about China, and China learned more about the world..."

"These were truly exceptional Games."

Doh!

Exceptional. You could say that about the Seattle Mariners. Oh, the humanity.

Forty billion, down the drain.

6:20

Little girls are singing the Olympic Hymn as the Olympic flag is lowered. They sound suspiciously like the same voices we heard singing the song in Sydney. And not one of them looks 16 -- something we will take up with the Federation Internationale de Choir Girls at a later date.

The mayor of Beijing will do a flag handoff here to the mayor of London. Done. Here comes the double-decker bus -- appropriately, 10 minutes late. A bunch of Londonish commuters are prancing around outside the bus. Oh, this does not bode well.

A young girl walks off the bus, picks up a soccer ball, gets back on the bus, the top of which peels back and reveals ... Leona Lewis, who is rising on a pedestal and begins to wail into a microphone. Behind her is a very, very old man who looks like he might have once been Jimmy Page. They're doing "Whole Lotta Love." Chinese President Hu Jintao looks to be in gastrointestinal distress.

On to the us steps David Beckham, who kicks the soccer ball across the infield, where it bonks a Games volunteer on the head.

End London bit. To commemorate the leaving of Beijing, some faux athletes walk up an airplane ramp, at the top of which each of them is charged for their first check bag by a United Airlines representative. A large tower rises in the middle of the infield, topped by two white-painted athletes who represent athletic statues. The "memory tower" is complete. Great moments from the Games are projected across the circular screen at the lip of the stadium. The flame cauldron goes dark.

In all seriousness, having been there to witness it many times, it is always a sad moment.

Fireworks outside the stadium. The memory tower is lit to reveal red-clad bodies swaying across it from top to bottom, replicating the flame transported to human bodies. Nice effect. The bodies go on to form various moving shapes on the tower. This is an effect borrowed from the ceremonies of, among others, the Turin Games, where white-clad athletes scurrying across a black background memorably formed the precise shape of a dove.

Fireworks. Big fireworks. Many, many big fireworks. Chinese pop musicians are playing and singing that smash hit, "Beijing, Beijing." The performers are rappeling, like SWAT team members, down from the Memory Tower.

This is followed by a very long, very grating song sung by a group of Chinese women. Next up: Placido Domingo for the operatic portion of our program. If he's not lip-synching, I truly am Bette Midler.

7:05

Ok, it's official. This entire thing is starting to drag on and on and on. Wrap it up, folks. All things told, we're not overly impressed with this ceremony. The best of them find a way to create a celebratory atmosphere using humor, irony and playfulness. This one is reaching for that, but just doesn't get there.

More lighted people fly around the stadium on cables. We suspect a theme here; perhaps the Chinese invented steel guy wire.

Don't all these people have to work tomorrow?

7:12 p.m.

Finally, after all these days, we see it. On the arms of some female athletes in the infield, scribbled in Magic Marker, is a political protest of sorts, scribbled in Magic Marker: "Softball 2016."

Oh well. It's better than nothing.

7:15

Big fireworks finish.

That's all folks. We'll have some parting thoughts on Beijing tomorrow. And check back in; we'll be around here up to and, we hope, through Vancouver.


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August 24, 2008 12:54 PM

All over but the celebrating -- and spin

Posted by Ron Judd

For those of you we left hanging in the wee hours last night:

Alas, Iceland has not won the gold medal, its first ever in any sport, in water polo team handball. They settled for the silver after being put to the sword by the French. It remains the greatest day in Icelandic sports history, so we are going to IHOP to celebrate.

Meanwhile: Here is today's sports column, a second-half, tongue-very-in-cheek, recap.

We'll be back later this afternoon to swoon over the closing ceremony.

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August 23, 2008 7:56 PM

Trying to start an argument about the U.S. flagbearer

Posted by Ron Judd


A note here on Khatuna Lorig, selected yesterday by U.S. team captains as the flag-bearer for the U.S. in the closing ceremony. A reader asks: is there's any political significance to her choosing?

One would assume so. Lorig, an archer, is a native of Georgia, the tiny nation that was essentially invaded by Russia last week. And she used to compete alongside Russians as a member of the Unified Team, and in fact won a bronze medal in team competition for the Unified team in 1992, when she competed four months pregnant. So maybe it's the universal, one-world, humanity-extends-beyond borders theme.

But any political statement made by her choosing is certainly less clear than, say, the choice of "Lost Boy of Sudan" Lopez Lomong to carry the flag in the opening ceremony. The choice is being widely perceived as a show of support by U.S. athletes for beseiged Georgians (Lorig's parents had to flee the Russian onslaught of the city of Gori). But Lorig herself has downplayed that angle.

Absent her heritage, it's one of the oddest choices I've ever seen. The flag-bearer usually is someone who -- sorry -- has actually medaled at the Olympics (Lorig went out in the quarterfinals), or become a compelling story in some other way. She fits none of those definitions.

I have no problem with U.S. athletes using the selection to make a political statement. I'd even welcome one. But if you're going to do it, make a statement that resonates. Like, hand the flag to a cardboard cutout of Joey Cheek, who carried the flag into the stadium in Turin, but was barred by China from attending the Beijing Games because of his activism over Darfur.

Speaking of which: The rumor going around Beijing was that they tried to hand the flab-bearer duties to Tyson Gay. But he couldn't manage to hold on to the thing.

Ba-dum-bum.

If we're going to ding the choice for flag-bearer, the least we probably could do is choose some alternates. How about (in order):

-- Lisa Leslie, basketball center. At 36, likely her last Games, and she leaves with four gold medals and a perfect record, having never lost a game.

-- Henry Cejudo, children of undocumented Mexican immigrants and surprise wrestling gold medalist.

-- Natalie Coughlin. Six medals. As distinguished and classy an Olympian as you'll find.

-- Hope Solo. Obvious reasons.

-- Bryan Clay. First men's decathlon winner since Dan O'Brien in 1996.

-- Jason Lezak. Known as something less than a go-to guy for his entire career, he makes eight golds possible for Michael Phelps (who is in London and therefore not a choice.)

-- Someone from that upstart U.S. men's volleyball team, still alive for a gold medal.

Any other suggestions?

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August 23, 2008 6:11 PM

Saturday highlights: U.S. V-ball gold; Iceland team handball update!

Posted by Ron Judd

6:10 p.m.
The men's marathon, being shown live to the East Coast, is getting down to the nitty gritty. A leader's group of three runners, Deriba Merga of Ethiopia, Jaouad Garib of Morocco and Samuel Wansiru of Kenya, are running through temps in the low 90s on a course that has claimed many victims.

6:22 p.m.
Wansiru makes a move to break away, pulls to a 10-meter lead over Gharib. Wansiru is the world record holder at the half marathon. Kenya, interestingly, has never won the Olympic marathon.

Random update: The U.S. beat Japan 8-4 to take the bronze medal in baseball. Local player Matt Brown gets three hits for the U.S. After the beanballing and jaw-flapping of this Oly tournament, a lot of of people are probably saying "good riddance" to baseball in the Olympics. South Korea takes what might be the last gold medal; Cuba takes the silver.

6:28 p.m.
Wansiru extends his lead to about 20 meters. He is within sight of the Bird's Nest.

Looks brutally hot on the course at only 9:30 a.m. It was a bit controversial to move the marathon to such an earlier hour; it traditionally finishes before the sellout crowd for the closing ceremony. Likely a good call for the runners, however. We watched the end of the women's marathon in Athens, which was staged in mid-afternoon to end at dusk in downtown Athens. The heat was brutal; a number of women were hospitalized.

6:32 p.m.
Wansiru has passed 25 miles and has a comfortable lead that appears to be widening. It's his race. If he wins, it'll be Kenya's fifth gold medal, an all-time high for the nation.

6:37 p.m.
Wansiru has entered the stadium, which we are happy to see has a fairly large crowd. Wansiru waves to the crowd. He's going to smash the 24-year-old Olympic record set by Carlos Lopez in 1984.

Wansiru makes a powerful sprint to the finish over the last 100 meters. He finishes in 2:06.32. The world record is 2:04.32. Garib of Morocco, the two-time world champion, takes the silver.

There's a race for third between two Ethiopians, Merga and Tsegay Kebede. Kebede passes him on the last corner as Merga simply runs out of gas.

Dathan Ritzenhein of the U.S. has entered the stadium in ninth place, which is where he will finish at 2:12 and change. Teammate Ryan Hall finishes 10th.

NBC now goes to tape: Platform diving and then the 4 x 400 relays in track.

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7:25 p.m.
OK, it has to be said.

Platform diving is approaching beach volleyball on the stupefication scale.
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7:28 p.m.
Clearly, we've missed some stuff:
Just for the record: What's amazing to me, after having consumed what feels like 3,000 of NBC's vaunted 3,600 hour of Olympic coverage, is that the network seems to have completely ignored at least several sports. Speak up and let us know if you saw, anywhere, anytime, on any NBC network, coverage of: triathlon, mountain biking, archery, modern pentathlon, whitewater or flatwater kayaking, open-water swimming (outside the feature on the swimmer missing one leg), judo and sailing.
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7:37 p.m.
OK, when we wrote below that it'd be nice to see some athletes make a political statement in Beijing, this was not exactly what we had in mind. As we watch the replay of the 4 x 400 women's relay last night in the Bird's Nest, we learn that the American women switched from their traditional blue halter tops to red ones -- to honor China.

Well, there you go. If they hadn't won a gold medal, they probably would've gotten one slipped to them by the leadership of the USOC for that bit of suck-uppage.

That said: What an incredible anchor leg by Sanya Richards to overtake the Russians. Epic.
--------------------
Programming note on men's basketball final: It starts at 11:30 p.m., local time, if you're interested. And, contrary to what we mistakenly reported here earlier, it IS on LIVE (be still, our hearts) tonight on KING-TV, according to the station (thanks for the note). NBC started its coverage earlier tonight to accommodate the game. It's also set to be live on CBC.

We note also that the schedule for NBC late night includes mountain biking, which we haven't seen on the network yet, and which happened yesterday.

Right now on NBC's basketball channel as well as Universal HD and CNBC (somebody doesn't want you to miss this): Lithuania vs. Argentina in the bronze medal game.
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9:25 p.m.
The men's volleyball gold medal game is up on CBC right now. Brazil is 24-19, set point, in opening set. This has been a great Olympics for U.S. volleyball. Gold medals in both men's and women's beach, a silver for the women in indoor, and now a silver or gold for the men in indoor.
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9:35 p.m.
See our corrected note up a few graphs about the men's gold medal basketball game tonight.
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9:37 p.m.
CBC takes a "time oat" in the v-ball match with the U.S. leading 8-1 in second set, having lost the first 24-20.
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9:50 p.m.
We're getting down to the end here, folks. About all that's left after the men's hoop final is the final in men's water polo (around 12:40 p.m.) with the U.S. vs. powerhouse Hungary; and then the team handball final (France vs. Iceland), which we would dearly love to watch, but suspect we won't get.

Since you asked: Iceland, a Summer Games participant since 1908, has three medals in Olympic competition, two bronzes and a silver (details, we're still looking up). A win over France would be the first ever gold medal for the nation, and a very unexpected outcome. You can watch Iceland's shocking semifinal win against Spain on nbcolympics.com!
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10:01 p.m.
The U.S. volleyballers take the second set, 25-22.
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10:07 p.m.
Iceland update: John Branch of the New York Times has a fun piece here on the Olympic team handball craze in Iceland, which the nation's president predicts will "come to a standstill" during the final match. The piece also contains Iceland's Olympic medal history -- three summer medals (triple jump; judo, pole vault), never a gold, none in winter, and previews the "greatest moment in Icelandic sports history," which will occur later tonight, one way or the other.
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10:17 p.m.
Just to catch up, we're watching the Iceland/Spain team handball semifinal match on nbcolympics.com's online replay. The video is herky-jerky, almost unwatchable -- no doubt due to the fact that every last soul in Iceland is watching it over and over and over. Iceland is off to a 5-0 lead. And it's almost worth watching just for the animated (Chinese) commentary during timeouts.

In the volleyball match: It's 13-11 U.S., in the third set. Might be a long one.
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10:27 p.m.
It's the U.S., 21-18 in third set.
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10:30 p.m.
Seeing Bernard Lagat show up on the NBC west coast feed again reminds us: What a terrible Olympics for him. Lagat's no-final performance in the 1,500 and ninth-place finish in the 5K ranks as one of the great disappointments of the Olympics, as he was reigning world champion in both. If you saw the replays, he simply didn't look himself. From the very start of the 5,000, shown tonight, Lagat had a deer-in-headlights look that just didn't appear normal. He faded so badly, and so far, with three laps to go in the race that you wondered if he would finish.

Not the Lagat we've become accustomed to watching. You can only wonder if he's ailing in some very major way. It's a shame. Tough circumstances for a good guy.

Volleyball: The U.S. wins the third set, 25-21. They're up 2-1 in the best-of-five final. Next set win gives them the gold.
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10:45 p.m.
V-ball: It's 9-8 Brazil in the fourth set.
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10:48 p.m.
On NBC's Western feed, Bob Costas is interviewing Jacques Rogge. We're watching to see if Bob slips him his paycheck. Bob is asking him about the Chinese kiddie gymnasts. Jacques is assuring him he's getting right on that.

Jacques said it is a serious matter, and it would be silly to do away with age restrictions. "You have to protect young people from overtraining and from injuries."

They discuss the small number of positive doping tests here. Jacques said the war on doping has been his priority issue as president. He says "it's never been so difficult to cheat as today. Does that mean that there is no athlete running around who is doping? Of course not."
-----------------------
10:52 p.m.
It's Brazil 17-16. We just noticed that among the rabid U.S. fans in the lower bowl are two guys wearing those three-point, Quaker-oats style colonial hats. Nice touch.
-----------------------
10:55
Brazil 19-16. Time oat on the floor.
-----------------------
11:00
U.S. pulls ahead, 21-20. This is the tightest, best v-ball match we've ever seen. Too bad most of America won't see it until it's a day old.
----------------------
11:02 p.m.
U.S. leads 23-21.
----------------------
11:03 p.m.

Set and match point, 24-22!

US wins, 25-23.
First gold medal for the U.S. since 1988. Emotional moment for Hugh McCutcheon, who lost his father in law in China. He's overcome with it all and has left the arena.
---------------------


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August 22, 2008 5:55 PM

Friday prime-time: There IS life after beach volleyball

Posted by Ron Judd

Good evening, Disadvantaged Time Zone. Good morning, Beijing. Good grief, it's the third Friday in a row! Some random thoughts on live and not-so-live events in Beijing will follow.

5:57 p.m.
NBC is showing the heats for the women's 4 x 400 relay. The big question: Can the U.S. hang on to the baton? The suspense builds.

6:05 p.m.
Here's the first handoff: Mary Wineberg to Monique Henderson. It's out .. it's good! The U.S. leads.
Second handoff: Henderson to Natasha Hastings ... also good! And the U.S. has pulled ahead of Jamaica, Mon.
Third handoff: Hastings to Sanya Richards for the anchor leg. Richards has a big lead around the first turn, but Jamaica and Belarus are reeling her in. Hastings slows to save herself for the final (she only needs top three finish), but wins the heat. Success!

The U.S. men's team also managed to qualify for tomorrow's finals.
-------------------
Speaking of the baton. Here's America's Lauryn Williams, about her flubbed handoff with Torri Edwards, in the women's 4 x 100 relay (emphasis added).

"We saw a few of the replays and it looked like it was a good handoff. The stick had a mind of its own. It wasn't my fault and it wasn't Torri's fault. It's just unfortunate."

Like we've always said: You've gotta be smarter than the stick.
-------------
Catching up on some track:

Take a moment to celebrate Brian Clay's gold medal in the decathlon, where the Athens silver medalist racked up 8,791 points. The final will be shown on NBC later tonight (as of yet, 90 minutes into the eastern broadcast, it hasn't come on.)

Just think: If Clay was a gymnast or swimmer, he'd be on the cover of Sports Illustrated next week wearing 10 medals.

Note that there are no live events in track on tonight's TV coverage, because there are no morning events in the Bird's Nest on Saturday. It's an evening-only session.

Among those events: Bernard Lagat and Matt Tegenkamp go in the final of the 5,000 meters at 5:10 a.m. tomorrow, PT, in the Bird's Nest. The men's and women's 4 x 400 relays follow to wrap up track and field, except for the marathon at 7:30 a.m. Beijing time on Sunday. Normally, this race would end in the stadium just before the closing ceremony. But Games organizers put it in the morning to avoid afternoon heat.
----------------
6:28 pm.
Mary Carillo, continuing her quest to collect and analyze every bit of fluff in China, is doing a piece on "kung-fu fighting monks," which Bob Costas finds particularly hilarious. (Hey, it's not her fault; she has reeled off these thumbsucker assignments with grace. in fact, we'd like to see her take the main anchor's chair sometime other than the dead middle of the night. NBC needs some female voice in that spot, and she's imminently qualified. Free Mary from the fluff!)
----------
What other big events are left? Most of them are tomorrow. As is typical, only a handful of medal events will conclude Sunday in Beijing, the day of closing ceremonies. Among the best of what's left:

The U.S. women play Brazil for the gold medal in volleyball, the real kind, no sand, at 5 a.m. PT tomorrow.
The U.S. men play Brazil for the gold in volleyball at 9 p.m. tomorrow, PT.
The surprising U.S. plays Hungary for the gold medal in men's water polo at 12:40 a.m. Sunday, PT.
Jacques Rogge declares the Beijing Games the "greatest ever" in the wee hours of Sunday, PT. It will not be shown live in our time zone, but it will be a lie in all time zones.

-------------
6:45 p.m.
If you're looking to see Usain Bolt's run in the men's 4 x 100 relay (from Thursday night in Beijing), NBC says its track coverage will begin approximately 2:20 into its primetime broadcast tonight. Mixed in with this will be coverage of the decathlon.
--------------
More catching up: The men's pole vault was won by Steve Hooker of Australia, with an OR of 5.96 meters. Silver to Evgeny Lukyanenko of Russia at 5.85. Bronze to Denys Yurchenko of Ukraine at 5.70. America's Derek Miles was fourth. We're still looking for an explanation of what happened to much-heralded favorite Brad Walker, the former UW athlete and reigning world champion, who no-heighted during qualifying.
---------------------
7 p.m.
Wake up, mountain bike fans. This is your one and only Olympic day. We doubt you'll see any of today's races on NBC, but CBC has just launched coverage of the women's race. The men's race gets underway at midnight, PT.
--------------------
9:00 p.m.
Here's what will pass as decathlon coverage on NBC prime: They show the final event, the 1,500 meters, which they introduce by saying Clay already has an insurmountable lead. Translation: If he lives, he wins. Big suspense. No highlights of the earlier competition, or a sense of when he wrapped it up. An absolutely botched opportunity.
---------------------
10 p.m.
Just got off the phone with John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver organizing committee for the 2010 Games. He is in Beijing (at the soccer final, at the moment; it is being broadcast on CBC) and had lots of impressions about the Games there -- and ways they'll be markedly different in Vancouver. Furlong says that with the Beijing Games now winding down, he and his people "already feel" the focus of the Olympic world shifting toward lower B.C.

Vancouver, as is the tradition, will have a small spot in Sunday's closing ceremony in the Bird's Nest. More on this later, both in the paper and online.


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August 22, 2008 3:56 PM

Still looking for that one, brave soul to make his or her mark

Posted by Ron Judd

In today's newspaper column, I devoted some space to throat-clearing. I wanted to make it clear that, in spite of all the monumental hours, pages and pixels we've devoted to covering the Olympics for the past two weeks, we do know that larger issues -- the Chinese government's behavior in the world and, more important, inside its own borders -- are out there, and worthy of discussion.

The conclusion in my column -- that the Games we're all watching are so squeaky-clean and athletically supercharged that the world is overlooking the larger story -- isn't unique. Over lunch today, I picked up the latest Sports Illustrated -- the one with Michael Phelps and his eight gold medals on the front -- and was interested to note that the issue's opening essay, written by Selena Roberts, who is in Beijing, sounded the same note.

She writes:

China's Olympic organizers -- enabled by the IOC's docile lords and protected by NBC's friendly lens -- have used varying forms of camouflage to produce a Truman Show: a perfect Olympic site, unencumbered by reality. You have witnessed the pure glory of the Beijing Games, with Michael Phelps as Aqua Man, with Usain Bolt as the Fastest Man, with Dara Torres as the Everywoman, but you have also been the victim of misdirection.

That was one of my greatest fears about these Games. Some months ago, I made a decision not to go, based on personal scheduling. It wasn't easy. I haven't missed an Olympics in the past decade; it's such a rich reporting environment that it honestly has been one of the reasons I've continued to work as a journalist. But part of me was relieved, simply because, deep down, I was freed of the nagging guilt I knew would come with taking part in a grand dog-and-pony show.

You could argue the same thing occurs every two years; that every Games is many more parts hype than heart. And you might be partially correct. But this one made me feel extra queasy. Knowing how easy it is as a journalist to get sucked into the maw of Olympic competition and the accompanying deadlines, I could just picture being spat out at the tail end and thinking, "What have we really just done here?"

Now, watching from afar, I think that trepidation was well-founded. That's no knock on any of my colleagues working their butts off in Beijing. With very few exceptions, they are there to cover the Olympics, to bring home what is put before them. Some publications -- and I am proud to count this one among them -- have gone farther, handing one of their hard-won credentials to a newsside reporter charged with bringing more of the real China home than readers would otherwise see. That was a wise decision, and has paid dividends, as you can see by looking through Kristi Heim's excellent work from Beijing.

But it is more the exception than the rule. And it's tough to pry loose the blinders when all of Olympic officialdom keeps pushing them back over your face.

Watching reporters make futile attemps to get IOC officials to take up issues of human rights with their Chinese Olympic hosts, I keep harkening back to a day at the NBA Finals in 1996. At an off-day practice session one day, a bunch of us were crowded around His Airness, Michael Jordan, seeking pearls of wisdom for his thoughts about the ongoing series against the Seattle Sonics. At some point, when the basketball questions seemed to be petering out, one of us in the back of the scrum -- OK, maybe it was me -- shouted out a question about reports of underaged children working in factories that produced Nike shoes bearing Jordan's name.

I'll never forget the glowering, how-dare-you-look as Jordan clenched his teeth briefly, then shot back: "We gonna talk about basketball?"

Apparently we were.

Such is the wall journalists must face every day in Beijing.

We gonna talk about the modern pentathlon?

And besides, let's remember, there's only so much the world's assembled non-TV press can accomplish in this regard. The average world citizen's most iindelible images of the Beijing Games will be transmitted by TV. And in America, at least, NBC has made it clear that it is first and foremost in the business of profiting from, not looking beneath, the Beijing Games.

Which is why it's even more distressing that someone, somewhere, at some time during these Games hasn't put the issue of the Chinese government's repressive tactics front and center, where not even Bob Costas or Jacques Rogge and the other limp-wristed aristocrats sitting in the Olympic Family seats could deny it.

Going into the Games, I would have bet my life that some athlete, some coach, some official, someone somehow connected to the Olympics would find a way to signal to the world that, yes, we know things aren't all as shiny happy here as they appear.

I'm not talking about a grand gesture, ala black gloves on the medal stand. But surely someone would find a way, however discreet, to make a political statement, even if it proved to violate the hallowed IOC rule against political protest, which, recall, was much bantied about, very publicly, by the IOC in the runup to these Games.

Like a Joey Cheek Team Darfur bracelet worn to accept a medal, perhaps. A t-shirt with a strong human rights theme worn into Tiananmen Square. Something.

So far ... Nothing. Silence. Smiles. Acceptance.

Swimmer Amanda Beard, bless her heart, takes the time to get to a public place and display a nude picture of herself -- a poster in which she is standing up for the rights of animals. But no athlete apparently can be troubled to make a similar stand for the rights of human beings.

I don't know what I expect them to do. And you honestly can't ask or expect any of them to take the risk. They've put four years into this one athletic moment. Is it worth throwing that all away to scratch a brief itching of the conscience?

But I do know that it's terribly sad to realize that today, approaching the 40th anniversary of John Carlos and Tommie Smith's black-gloved "Power to the People" salute at the 1968 Mexico Games, none of the vaunted "youth of the world" so often invoked by the IOC possesses the stones to even wag a black-thumbed pinky finger at the IOC, let alone the repressive Chinese government.

Then again, consider the consequences. Carlos and Smith were thrown out of the Olympics by IOC President Avery Brundage, and shunned by most of the American public. They've paid for it ever since. And the latest group of People in Charge at the USOC has made it clear for months that no such dissent would be tolerated in Beijing.

Just look what happened to the four poor cyclists who committed the cardinal sin of showing up in Beijing wearing breathing masks, to the possible "embarrassment" of the Chinese hosts. They were dragged into USOC offices and forced to sign a confession of sins and a feigned apology, with the threat of expulsion from the Games hanging over their heads. As I said earlier: waterboarding may not have been employed. But it was always there as a backup strategy.

That action sent a loud message. It's one that's been adhered to by athletes and officails not only from the United States, but all around the world:

Keep in line, people. Eyes on the prize. No noses will be thumbed at China on our watch. Let's do this and go home. Stay straight.

You shall march the same way, at the same time, in the same rhythm, with everyone else.

If that winds up looking like a goose step, well, at least you're all in it together.

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August 21, 2008 5:05 PM

Thurs prime-time thread: Bronze BMX medal for Jill Kintner

Posted by Ron Judd


Good evening, DTZ. Good morning, Beijing.

5:05 p.m.
NBC begins its eastern broadcasts with ... sorry ... Misty and Kerri, live in the studio. They are wearing their medals. Kerri announces that they are "full of love."

So far, Misty has displayed no new tattoos, not has she sprinkled any ashes in NBC's potted plants.

On to track and field, where it was another not-so-good day for American athletes. (Two words: Baton management.)

7:35 p.m.
Sorry, we may have drifted off there. Or wrote tomorrow's column. Perhaps both.

We awake to find much screaming on the CBC, where Juanita High grad Jill Kintner, 26, avoiding a nasty crash scene on the final curve before the finish, is winning a bronze medal in women's BMX racing, behind Anne-Caroline Chausson and Laetitia le Corguille of France. She'll go into the history books as receiving one of the first medals ever awarded in the sport.

Kintner, by the way, is competing on a trashed knee. Torn ACL. Her decision to switch from mountain-bike racing back to BMX, which she did as a youth, once BMX became an Olympic sport proved to be a good one.

The men's finals are up next.

7:45 p.m.
Americans Mike Day and Donny Robinson win silver and bronze in the men's BMX finals, both evading a major crash on the second turn. Maris Strombergs of Latvia won the gold.

BMX racing, if you haven't seen it, is the wheeled equivalent to a short-track speedskating sprint. Lots of jumps and turns, many crashes. An easy way to see four years' hard work go up in smoke in an instant. A full race, start to finish, is one lap and about 40 seconds.

NBC, incidentally, shows the women's final about 2 hours 45 minutes into tonight's prime time broadcast.

And then they are on to the beach volleyball men's final -- at long last, the final episode of this faux-sport soap opera.

9:15 p.m.
Our long national nightmare is over: The U.S. wins the gold medal in men's beach volleyball. There are no more matches, and the sport can go back to being completely ignored by the world for another four years.

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August 21, 2008 2:51 PM

Tara Kirk to USA Swimming: I'm not going away

Posted by Ron Judd

The bureaucrats at USA Swimming messed with the wrong woman when they fell back on their own Mickey Mouse rules to prevent deserving athletes from being named to the Beijing Olympic team after swimmer Jessica Hardy tested positive for a banned substance.

Bremerton's Tara Kirk, who finished third in the 100 breaststroke at the Olympic trials, behind Hardy and Tacoma's Megan Jendrick, was left off the Beijing team because USA Swimming's protocol had no provision for naming alternates to the team in the event of an athlete's withdrawal. The situation was worsened by a series of bungling missteps in the drug-testing process, which we documented earlier here.

Kirk filed a formal protest over the matter, but an arbitrator ruled that she couldn't be placed on the Olympic team because USA Swimming, technically, followed its own rules. Since then, swimming officials have essentially acknoweldged that the Olympic-selection procedures were flawed, and should change next time around. And swimmer Rebecca Soni, who took what could have been Kirk's spot in the 100 breaststroke, won a silver medal in the event.

Kirk congratulated teammate Soni, but made it clear in a blog post this week that her battle against USA Swimming's seeming duplicity in the matter is far from over. She still has an active claim for damages against the organization, and from all indications, she's going to pursue it, if for no other reason than to affirm for history's sake that she should have competed in Beijing -- and to ensure no one else winds up in her shoes in the future.

"Obviously," she writes, "the swimming has passed and it is too late for me to ever compete at these Games. But I am still working on this and still fighting to be named to the Team, if only for the honor. I will also continue in hopes that the right decisions will be made in similar situations in the future."

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August 21, 2008 2:01 PM

More "LIVE!" fallout

Posted by Ron Judd

A couple new developments on NBC's faux "LIVE" coverage.

Tom Kirkland, of Salt Lake NBC affilliate KSL, got a moment before the throne Wednesday to interview Bob Costas, and posted the entire breathless conversation on the KSL Web site. Among the pearls of wisdom Costas bestowed upon him:

"Costas says he loves the live live aspect of these Beijing games.

This has gone so well, because the extreme time difference has allowed us to show a huge percentage of the events live. Anybody who does sports that knows that live is where it is at. It's not just the ratings, but what people tell me when I speak to people back in the States, it's about the buzz of people forcing themselves to stay up late," he said.

"And I understand that Salt Lake City, like it always is, is the number one market. In Salt Lake they cannot get enough. .. In Salt Lake they are Tivo-ing the double's table tennis. They are so obsessed," he said.

Ahem. Does Bob have any friends west of the Mississippi? And does he not know that Olympic-obsessed Salt Lake City has seen not one moment of live NBC footage from Beijing?

Meanwhile, USA Today sports television columnist Michael Hiestand has been in touch with people at Chryon, who actually make the graphics, like that infamous TV-screen "LIVE" bug, for NBC. They tell him that the bug can be removed, literally with a snap of the computer finger, by NBC anytime, anywhere in the rebroadcast process. Read the column here.


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August 21, 2008 11:26 AM

And now for the Hula Hoop portion of our program

Posted by Ron Judd

hoopE.jpgUkraine's Anna Bessonova performs with the hoop during the gymnastics rhythmic individual all-around qualification at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. (AP Photo/Odd Andersen)

You know you have come to the dog days of the Summer Games when you turn on the tube and see...

Rhythmic gymnastics!

It's the ice dancing of summer.

Just when we thought we were going to start running out of material...

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August 21, 2008 8:00 AM

Gold-medal soccer: U.S. women defeat Brazil 1-0 in OT

Posted by Ron Judd

Hope3a.jpg


8:28
Game. The U.S. repeats its gold-medal result from Athens. It's a spectacular performance by former UW keeper Hope Solo, with her third shutout of the Olympic tournament. No better way to exorcise the demons of the World Cup scandal in which she was benched before what would turn out to be the Americans' painful defeat by Brazil.

8:27
Corner for Brazil as OT clock clicks past 29:00. Shot bends into goal, Solo gets just enough left hand on it to deflect it away. One minute added time remaining. Another run by Marta, centering pass is deflected away as Solo is sprawled on ground.

8:24
Carli Lloyd nearly ices the game, getting clear on a dribble, beating the goalie, and watching her shot bounce off the far goalpost. Three minutes remain.

8:21a.m.
Heavy pressure by Brazil. Solo is solid in goal. A free kick by Marta goes about 6 inches wide to left of goal. Just over 5 minutes remain.

8:12 a.m.
End of the first OT period. Another 15:00 has just begun. If Brazil is able to tie, the game goes to a shootout.

8:00 a.m.:
The U.S. women's soccer team, with a goal by Carli Lloyd in the 96th minute, has taken a 1-0 lead over Brazil in the first of two mandatory 15-minute overtime periods. The game is being broadcast live on NBC's Olympic Soccer Channel. Hope Solo continues a shutout of Brazil as the OT period now enters its 10th minute.

soccer1.JPGBrazil's Tania, left, and Erika, right, as the United States' Carli Lloyd, (11) and Angela Hucles celebrate after Lloyd scored during the first extra time in the women's soccer gold medal match at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)


Top : Hope Solo phones home to celebrate the gold medal (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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August 20, 2008 6:02 PM

Wednesday prime time: West Coast finally catches up to Bolt

Posted by Ron Judd


Good evening, DTZ. Good morning, Beijing. Good grief -- Chris Collinsworth? Once again we're monitoring NBC's prime-time offering to the East Coast, so the less relevant coasts can decide whether to watch at 8 p.m. in the Lesser Time Zones.

21:07
NBC's prime time show ends tonight, just after midnight, with a short recap, narrated by Costas, of German weightlifter Matthias Steiner's gold-medal victory, which we wrote about today. A nice capper to the show.

20:44
Misty and Kerri win the gold medal, 21-18. Be sure and remind your children where they were at this historic moment. Namely, watching diving prelims waiting for the delayed broadast on NBC and asking, "Isn't there anything else on?"

Says the play-by-play guy: "They have vanquished all their opponents. There is nobody left to play."

Sweeter words were never uttered on a beach volleyball court.

20:37
Another timeout. This time we learn that Misty has a tattoo of Bob Costas right on her .... Sorry, we're getting a question from an editor. Back in a minute.

20:32
Another timeout, and NBC continues its tour of Misty's body. Another tattoo, shown in a huge blowup in the small of her back, is a "V" for number five, which NBC says honors Jason Kidd, her favorite athlete. That's beautiful. But there's more. RIght there, up in the stands ... it's him! Jason Kidd! His presence here is a gigantic sacrifice, we are led to believe, as he just helped blow out an opponent last night and is preparing to do so again tomorrow.

Oh: IT's 12-11 for the Chinese.

20:20
The Americans win the first game, 21-18. Someone please make it stop.

Oh, here we go. During the break, a closeup look at Misty's tattoo honoring her mom, plus the ash-scattering scene from Sydney, for at least the third time in this Olympics. Assurances are made that there will be further ash-sprinkling after this match, because, as Misty told NBC, "this is where she would want to be."

Really? On a fake beach in China?

We'll have to take her word for it.

21:07
It's raining extremely hard at the faux-beach volleyball venue. May and Treanor-Walsh are tied 6-6 with the Chinese pair, but in just a few minutes, they will switch sides and the Chinese will be serving against the tide.

21:02
It's too bad the Brazilians couldn't have made it to the final, because, as a couple of alert readers pointed out to us, they conveniently had their national abbreviation, "BRA," emblazoned across the front of their sport bras, which made it a lot easier to tell which way was up. Which reminds us: The Canadian Taekwondo athletes likewise have the word "CAN" emblazoned across their uniform backsides.

Frankly, it is disturbing not only that we have noticed this, but made the connection.

21:00
The women's beach volleyball final, featuring Kerri "I Lost My Ring!" Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, is starting as scheduled in spite of the rain. Which means: Instead of women prancing in the sand in skimpy bikinis, we have women prancing in the sand in skimpy, soaking wet bikinis.

It is on CBC live, right now, if you'd rather not wait up. In any case: Resistance is futile. You cannot escape it.

Right off the bat, we learn that Kerri had a dream about this match last night, and in her dream -- it was raining!

Other events, including BMX, the men's javelin and women's high jump, reportedly have been postponed.

The forecast calls for "clear" skies tomorrow. Or the next day. Or whenever tomorrow occurs in Beijing.

19:42
Note to beach volleyball fans, both of you. In spite of the torrential rain, Bob Costas says the women's final beach volleyball match (match number 1,254) will take place at the top of the hour (8 p.m. eastern time live; 11 p.m. DTZ not live) "unless there is lightning." Like we said: It's the beach.

19:39
Is it just us, or is the slowest night of the Beijing Games?

NBC, in addition to its Michael Phelps highlight DVD, is now hawking an opening ceremonies DVD. They're turning into Time-Life. Next week: The Chris Collinsworth Celebrity Roast box set.

19:30
NBC is back to women's 10m platform diving prelims.

19:15
NBC shows the women's 400 hurdles, won by Melaine Walker of Jamaica with an OR of 52.64, as Sheena Tosta of the U.S. takes the silver with 53.70. Tasha Danvers of Great Britain takes the bronze medal with a 53.84.

19:13
The deluge today in Beijing makes it easy to tell what's live and taped on TV, at least for outdoor events. Pouring rain: Maybe live. Not pouring rain: Not live.

19:10
Scary thought for the world's sprinters: Bolt just turned 22.

19:00
Sorry for the long delay. Just finished tomorrow's column, on TV ratings here and elswhere. Lots of numbers involved. Always trouble. Anyway:

NBC has just showed Usain Bolt's amazing 200-meter race, resulting in a new world record, 19.30, run into a slight headwind, of all things. I saw it earlier online and on CBC, but it's absolutely worth a tune-in tonight. The way Bolt pulls so commandingly away from the field is breathtaking. Never seen anything like it in that race. Well, not since Michael Johnson set the former record in 1996, that is. Spectacular. The top five men all ran under 20 seconds.

Johnson, BTW, is shown looking on from the BBC booth as his record is broken. He gives a quick aw-shucks reaction, but is laughing and smiling throughout.

And then there's the Wallace Spearmon story. Spearmon, of the U.S., was walking around the track, wearing a U.S. flag, believing he has won a bronze medal. A series of protests and disqualifications ensue, and Spearmon is eventually disqualified. It's painful to watch him walking around, celebrating, before he's informed of the fact.

17:20:
It's raining in Beijing. Hard. Out at the BMX track, where the one "live" event for the Eastern time zone, BMX racing, was set, the entire track is covered with tarps. So much for that. NBC instead starts you off with some women's diving, which is nice, and promises to take you to the big BEACH VOLLEYBALL medal rounds.

Don't complain. Let's get it over with. It's never too wet to play beach volleyball, right? That's why they call it a beach.

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August 20, 2008 4:54 PM

Dope-testing for table tennis paddles?

Posted by Ron Judd

paddles2.JPGOh, sure, they look innocent. But these tennis paddles, sitting on a table during a break in the action on Tuesday in Beijing, might get you high -- or thrown out of an international match in the near future. (Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press/MCT)


From the too-good-to-pass-up department:

Word from Beijing that this will be the last big table-tennis tournament where doped-up paddles, or bats, as they're known in the trade -- will be allowed.

To explain: In the 1970s, a table tennis player used bicycle puncture repair glue to affix the rubber mat to his bat before a match He immediately noticed enhanced speed and spin on the ball. "Speed glue" was born, with players uniformly reporting enhanced smacking power with the stuff.

The theory is that the glue and its solvents cause the rubber to stretch as it adheres to the wood surface of the paddle, creating a sort of trampoline effect on the ball. Some players apparently enhanced the effect of the glue by adding various nasty solvents, some of which are restricted inhalants.

The catch: It only lasts a few hours, so it must be reapplied before matches. And just ask any glue huffer: The fumes can be overpowering. Because of health concerns, the International Table Tennis Federation banned its use in 2004. But players objected, saying it would slow down the game, and the ban was suspended while alternative glues were explored.

But time apparently has run out on bat doping. Last year, a Japanese player gluing up before a match apparently overhuffed, and in what could be a severe allergic reaction, had the minor misfortune of lapsing into a coma for six days. The federation decided to stick with its original plan to phase-in the glue ban for all international competition.

Bottom line: After Beijing, no more speed glue, or any glue containing "volatile organic compounds." Players will have to switch to water-based adhesives.

Not everyone is objecting, admitting that prolonged huffing can make you daffy.

"You breathe it too much and you begin to lose your balance. It is a bit like a table tennis drug," Peter Gardos, an Austrian coach, told Reuters in Beijing.

ITTF vice-president Claude Bergeret told the news agency: "If you glue once a week, or maybe even once a day, it would not have been so important. But they are gluing 10 times a day and then it could be a problem."

How will they enforce the ban? You guessed it: A doping test for paddles, using a device that can detect the high-octane stuff.

Meanwhile, if your favorite table-tennis star looks a little light in the head in Beijing, you know why. Maybe they can borrow some of those nice, high-tech breathing masks from the USOC. We hear they've got a surplus of them.


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August 20, 2008 4:13 PM

Masked-cyclist scandal: Hate to say told you so, but ...

Posted by Ron Judd


Remember our post last week about the dustup involving U.S. cyclists arriving at the Beijing Intergalactic Airport wearing -- God forbid -- breathing masks?

We suggested at the time -- after being told so on the sly by at least one of the athletes involved -- that the contrite confession they made the next day was forced by U.S. Olympic Committee officials, who had in fact instructed athletes to wear the masks, but refused to back them up when their pictures were plastered all over the Internet.

Now that their competition is over, cyclists Mike Friedman and Bobby Lea are publicly confirming exactly that.

Lea, quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said the USOC "threw us under the bus." Friedman concurred: "They completely hung us out to dry."

Lea said the athletes felt betrayed by the organization supposedly there to represent their interests.

"I was really upset with the way that we were treated," she said. "They should have taken more responsibility -- maybe publicly supported us and behind the scenes slapped our wrist. It's hard to say what kind of toll that would have taken, but for sure, our first five days of the Olympics were terrible."

Friedman told the paper he'd been inundated with more than 15,000 "hate e-mails" from around the world. "It definitely took away from my Olympic experience," he said. "It showed me that the USOC separates themselves (from athletes). They made it more of a story when they said, 'We're going to make you guys apologize.' They forced us to. We weren't trying to offend the Chinese, but we weren't sorry that we wore the masks."

Jennie Reed of Kirkland also wore one of the masks, and also signed on to the apology. None of the cyclists medaled in Beijing.

No comment yet from the USOC.

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August 20, 2008 4:04 PM

About that German wrestler and daytime Oly TV

Posted by Ron Judd

Today's newspaper column, based on a blog post yesterday about watching daytime cable coverage of men's heavyweight weightlifting, prompts a question from a reader:

I'm watching MSNBC now, and I have had it up to here (indicates height of Olympic-record pole vault) with Tiki Barber and Jenna what's-her name doing their little cute interaction and showing virtually NO sports action. Didn't you mean CBC, or CNBC or something?

I actually saw it on Universal HD, which is doing 24-hour Olympic broadcasts. They take material (at least this is my understanding) from MSNBC and CNBC and replay it, in HD, at different times. It was my impression that the weightlifting match had been on MSNBC, because MSNBC seemed to be broadcasting the same things during that time period. But I might be mistaken. Anyone else watched enough daytime Olys to figure out the connection? I share your frustration with the apparent lack of a detailed schedule, anywhere, that can pinpoint events on the cable stations for viewing or taping purposes.

I do know this: Universal HD is Tiki-free. We haven't seen much of that little show, but the reviews of it, both in print and online, have been unanimous in their opinion that it's monumentally awful.

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August 20, 2008 10:53 AM

Track update: Bolt sets 200 WR; Walker out; Lagat advances in 5K

Posted by Ron Judd


bolt.JPGJamaica's Usain Bolt celebrates as he wins the men's 200-meter final with a world record at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing on Wednesday (AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle).


The big track story: Usain Bolt of Jamaica cemented his place as sprint king by winning the 200 meters and breaking Michael Johnson's legendary 1996 WR in the process, running 19.30. That's not the only way he'll enter the history books: Bolt is the first man since Carl Lewis in 1984 to win both the 100 and 200 at the same Olympics. He also is the first man to break the world record in both events at the same Olympics.

After some post-race confusion and a dual lane-violation disqualification for America's Wallace Spearmon and Churandy Martina of the Dutch Antilles, Americans Shawn Crawford (19.96) and Walter Dix (19.98) are awarded the silver and bronze.

Crawford, of Los Angeles, had this to say of the phenomenal Bolt:

"Usain Bolt is the fastest man I've ever seen in my life. The 19:30 to me wasn't strange. I've watched Usain perform all year. He's been putting up phenomenal times. I watched him do the rounds of the 100m. He set a record in that at 9.69. I figured he had a chance to break the record here. I just didn't know if he would have it in his legs still after eight rounds.

"He's made history. He's broken a 12-year-old record held by Michael Johnson and the same time he crushed the 100-meter record. He put on a show tonight. To me, it's just like Michael Phelps in swimming. He raised the bar for us."

-- Former WSU star Bernard Lagat rebounded from his disappointing, early exit from the 1,500 meters competition to win his preliminary heat in the 5,000 meters. Also advancing was Wisconsin's Matt Tegenkamp.


Lagat, post-race, admitting that he has been plagued by an Achilles problem:

"It went alright. Today was slow, and I knew that at some point if I don't get to top four, I might was well go away again like in the 1500m. I didn't want it to happen like the 1500m. I wanted to run aggressively even though it was slow and I did. I am happy I won.

"I've had a few problems with my left Achilles after the trials, and that is why I lost a few weeks of training. That resulted in not making the finals in the 1500m. But now, I am good. We have a really good medical staff with Team USA over here, and they have been taking good care of me. I'm feeling strong right now."

Walker.JPG

-- UW graduate and former world pole vault champion Brad Walker made an early exit from Beijing, no-heighting in qualifying rounds.

-- Also notable: Nick Symmonds of Eugene won his qualifying heat in the 800 meters. Failing to advance were Oregon teammates Andrew Wheating and Christian Smith. The trio finished 1,2,3 at the Olympic trials in Eugene last month.

Symmonds after the race:

"It was exactly what I wanted in the first round. I haven't raced in seven weeks, so there is always a little bit of a question of am I going to get out and feel good or am I going to feel flat. I tell you what, I felt real good. That first 200 was just what I wanted. Instead of getting caught in the back, I let myself get up in the hunt a little bit more so I wouldn't have to waste so much energy."

Center photo: Bernard Lagat, left, wins a men's 5000-meter heat ahead of Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele, center, and Qatar's James Kwalia C'Kurui in the National Stadium at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Wednesday, Aug. 20. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer). Bottom photo: Brad Walker of the united States fails to qualify in the Men's Pole Vault Qualifying Round at the National Stadium during Day 12 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

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August 19, 2008 10:20 PM

ESPN wants to do 2014, 2016 Olympics -- live, exec says

Posted by Ron Judd


Don't say we never bring good tidings of future great joy here. Tomorrow's New York Times, quoting a network executive, says ESPN/ABC wants to go after the broadcast contract for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics -- and would broadcast most events live, regardless of time zones.

The lead:

ESPN is interested in acquiring the television rights to the 2014 and 2016 Olympics and would carry more of them live, regardless of the time zone, than NBC traditionally has done.

"Our DNA is different than theirs," John Skipper, ESPN's executive vice president for content said by telephone on Tuesday. "We serve sports fans. It's hard in our culture to fathom tape-delaying in the same way they have. I'm not suggesting it wasn't the smart thing for them to do, but it's not our culture. We did Euro 2008 in the afternoon. We've done the World Cup in the middle of the morning. We have different audiences."

If ESPN follows its Euro 2008/World Cup model, the live feeds would be carried to all time zones; when NBC shows events live in prime-time, they are seen in real-time in the Eastern and Central time zones, not in the Mountain and Pacific zones.

The complete story, by Richard Sandomir, is here.

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August 19, 2008 5:09 PM

Tues Prime-Time thread: Track, gymnastics, softball news

Posted by Ron Judd


Good evening, DTZ. Good morning, Beijing. Good riddance, Tim Daggett.
Once again, we'll recap NBC's prime-time offering to alert you whether -- and if -- you need to tune in, and if so, when. And, of course, the best of CBC.

22:35:

The U.S. women's softball team went on to beat Japan, 4-1 in extra innings, to advance to the gold medal game. Their opponent will be the winner of Japan vs. Australia/Canada, the latter two playing one another now, with Austrailia leading 2-0 in the third inning.

21:10
NBC East has signed off. You know everything they do. CBC is switching from BMX (don't look for it until tomorrow on NBC) to women's softball, where Canada is about to take to the field.

21:04:
Past midnight in the East, and NBC still has not shown American Jonathan Horton's silver-medal performance on the high bar, which was on CBC more than an hour ago. Oh: There it is now.

Breaking news, courtesy of CBC: In women's softball, the U.S. and Japan are scoreless in inning eight when Crystal Bustos (who else?) breaks the game open with a three-run homer. U.S. leads 4-0 and still at bat. Winning puts them in the gold-medal game.

20:48:
CBC is showing what appears to be live prelims of the men's BMX racing. The truth: It looks a bit silly. Like grown men on tricycles.

Meantime, in a lake somewhere nearby, the Olympic inaugural 10K women's swim has been completed. Gold to Larisa Ilchenko of Russia, silver and bronze to Brits. Get this: The winning time for this race is nearly two hours -- 1:59:27.7. Yikes.

America's Chloe Sutton finishes 22nd. Another note of interest: A Paralympian with one leg, Natalie du Toit of South Africa, finishes 16th at 2:00:49.9.

20:35:
CBC is interviewing hurdles bronze medalist Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, an Ontario native who runs at Nebraska. She's the first medalist for Canada in track and field since 1996. On NBC, Johnson is on the Costas couch. She's wearing peace-sign earrings and flipflops. Somehow, her feet, which dangled off the Costas couch for her last appearance, now touch the floor! Did she grow? Did NBC saw off the legs? Hmm.

20:18
This is illustrative of how the coverage will go now that NBC is almost out of live events for the Eastern broadcast. CBC has shown all the major competitors in the women's balance beam, won by America's Shawn Johnson, and moved on to men's apparatus finals. NBC only moments ago showed Johnson's performance, and promises Nastia Liukin's soon.

19:55
NBC's eastern broadcasts picks up the women's balance beam, as does CBC's west coast broadcast.
19:45:
NBC shows the 100m hurdles, below.

19:15
Neither network has gotten to it yet, but you have to feel for U.S. hurdler Lolo Jones, who hit the ninth hurdle and stumbled from first to six in today's 100m final. She collapsed on the track and didn't look like she wanted to get up.

Afterward, she had this to say:

"You hit a hurdle about twice a year where it affects your race. It's just a shame that it happened on the biggest race of my life. About the middle part of the race, the hurdles were just coming up very fast, and I just told myself what I always tell myself, 'keep things tight.' But it's kind of like a car. When you race in a car and you're going max velocity and you hit a curve, you either maintain control or you crash and burn and today I crashed and burned."

CBC is showing the men's 1,500-meter final. We wonder if Bernard Lagat is watching as Rashid Ramzi, running for Bahrain, wins the gold on a hot night in the Bird's Nest.

19:10
Just in from the US Olympic Committee. Nastia Liukins' medals this week in Beijing have tied the record for the most by a U.S. woman at a single Olympics. She's matched the five won by Mary Lou Retton and Shannon Miller.

The breakdown:

Mary Lou Retton (1984, Los Angeles) - 1 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze
Shannon Miller (1992, Barcelona) - 0 gold, 2 silver, 3 bronze
Nastia Liukin (2008, Beijing) - 1 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze

Miller remains the top medal winner in U.S. women's gymnastics history with seven, adding two gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games to the ones listed above.

19:00:
Sorry: We may have nodded off there. NBC is back to men's gymnastics, after uncharacterstically long coverage of men's springboard diving, then day-old qualifying in the men's 200 meters, featuring Usain Bolt.

CBC is doing a piece on the 40th anniversary of the Smith/Carlos black-power salute on the medal stand in Mexico City. The point: Because of their stance, and the Civil Rights movement in general, as it applied to sports, modern black track athletes never have to question a legal playing field. Or, as the voiceover puts it, "The only talk of 'rights' in this Olympics will come from broadcasters and sponsors."

It's a salient point.

17:40:
NBC, after showing the men's 110 hurdles prelims, sans Liu Xiang, switches to men's springboard diving from the Water Cube. The Chinese are threatening to go 1-2.

Speaking of the network, a colleague, columnist Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury-News, is in Beijing and hearing from folks back home about NBC. And they sound like a lot of people in Seattle. Read her thoughts here.

17:10
Up first: Track, with women's 200 meter prelims. Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica and Allyson Felix of the U.S. were eyeing one another, going about three-quarters speed in their heat. Marshevet Hooker of the U.S. perhaps pulls up a bit too soon in her heat and gets third, which could be a disadvantage for the next round, in terms of lane assignments. Although as she says: "Any lane's a good lane for the next round."

Third heat: Muna Lee of the U.S., who had the fastest time earlier at 22.71, squared off with Sherone Simpson of Jamaica, the silver medalist in the 100 meters. Simpson wins the heat at 22.60; Lee is second at 22.83. All three Jamaicans and all three Americans qualify for tomorrow's final.


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August 19, 2008 10:19 AM

Another golden moment, in HD

Posted by Ron Judd


So you love the drama of the Olympics. You can't take NBC's Today-Show-From-Yesterday canned prime time approach. And you're working during the day, when lesser sports are broadcast on cable.

Solution: Set your recorder to MSNBC or, if you have it, Universal HD (which often simulcasts MSNBC coverage in full, glorious HD) and just let it run through the daytime coverage.

It's like watching a different Olympics. A better one. Nothing less than a spectacle of incredible sports. No features. No interviews. Just action.

Sometimes it drags. But it jumps around between sports just enough to keep you interested.

This morning, it jumped over to men's weightlifting, heavyweight division, where one of those special, golden Olympic moments was unfolding on the lifting platform.

steiner2.JPG

Three heavyweight lifters from Germany, Russia and Lithuania, were locked in a duel in the clean-and-jerk final, alternating at attempts to lift upwards of 550 pounds over their heads. Just that concept in itself is stunning. How often do you ever really see something like that?

The weights are so heavy that the thick, hardened steel barbell holding them bends like a Q-tip when the lifters hoist them up on their concrete-block shoulders. The combination of brute strength, mental focus and lightning-quick reflexes required to lift that much weight is astonishing. I've seen it in person, once, and it was even more amazing.

A lot of the air seemed to go out of the contest for this Olympics when Iranian super lifter Hossein Rezazadeh, the two-time defending gold medalist, retired from the sport in July, citing injuries. But as is often the case, another athlete with his own compelling story filled that void.

The winning lift came when Germany's Matthias Steiner, a brick of a man in a black singlet, jerked 258 kilograms -- 568.8 pounds -- to win the gold. There was never any doubt. Once that weight went up above his head, Steiner owned it. With his elbows locked, grimacing, he held it for a second beyond the drop signal from the officials, just to show how much he had left.

steiner1.JPG


When the weight went down, emotion overtook the big man, an Austrian by birth and plumber by trade who emigrated to Germany and sat out three years of competition to become Olympic eligible. Overcome with emotion, he dropped to the floor over top the weights, raised his arms in victory, then leapt around the stage, a man possessed.

Steiner screamed. He cried. He embraced his coach, Frank Mantek, and together, arms around one another, they danced like children in Beijing.

steiner3.JPG

As he exulted, broadcasters told his story: Steiner's past year had been an emotional hell on earth, because his young wife of two years was killed in a car accident.

Moments later when Steiner went to the medal stand, he didn't go alone. He had tears in his eyes, and in one hand a snapshot of his wife, Susann.

"There was so much emotion that I cannot describe," Steiner told the New York Times. "It was, after a few weeks last year, a big motivation to fight for the gold medal. For her. For friends, for family."

It was heartbreaking and wonderful all at once. It's why we watch the Olympic Games. And why it's such a shame we don't see more of them through the lights, noise and haze.

Photos: (Top) Matthias Steiner of Germany takes his second lift in his gold-medal weightlifting performance in Beijing (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel); (center) Steiner exults after jerking 568.8 pounds to win the gold medal (Julian Finney/Getty Images); (bottom) Steiner on the medal stand with a photo of his late wife, Susann (Andres Leighton/AP)

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August 18, 2008 5:17 PM

Monday prime-time: NBC mocks its own late-night viewers

Posted by Ron Judd

Once again, watching NBC so you don't have to -- or so you know when to switch from CBC:

20:50: More cutting wit from Bob Costas

OK, those of you who love to get fired up about the network should stay tuned until the last bit of tonight's prime-time broadcast. Because there, Costas -- and we would not joke about this -- does a little packaged bit, poking fun of the fact that people all across the country are forced to stay up all night to watch NBC's coverage.

Which I guess is sort of funny if you stayed up to watch live coverage that just happened to run late. But a lot less amusing if you stayed up simply because the network spoon-fed you packaged, delayed coverage.

"We hear you, America!" Costas quips, never mentioning the tape-delay issue. He then proceeds to give some faux health tips for American sleep-deprived viewers, courtesy of the network's medical specialist, such as:

-- Stay hydrated.
-- Tell yourself you only need 4 hours sleep.
-- Listen to whatever was on Michael Phelps' iPod.
-- Skip work. "You're never going to see another Olympics like this, anyway."

We can hear the laughter echoing from Denver to Los Angeles.

Can't get any worse than that. Over and out.

20:45:
If you happen to be online and have access to Universal HD channel: Team handball!!
And then table tennis.

20:20:
Al Trautwig quote of the night, on the Nastia Liukin/He Kexin gymnastics judging controversy, after his co-commentators opined that Liukin should have won: "Four of the six judges are from countries that have never produced a single Olympic medalist."

In other words: They're morons. But the last time we checked, the same group was scoring for everybody.

20:15:
We note that the West Coast feed of NBC is now showing the Liu Xiang injury withdrawal: 20 hours after it happened. East Coasters are still watching the finals of women's uneven parallel bars. CBC: Cycling portion of men's triathlon.

19:05:
Bob Costas, Tim Daggett and Bela Karolyi are talking about judging controversies in gymnastics. Uh-oh. It looks like...yep: Bela has just coughed up a lung.

19:00:
CBC, live (apparently) in the DTZ, is showing the start of the men's triathlon. The women's version, yesterday, was carried in great detail by CBC, and was one of the best visual spectacles we've seen from the Games. (For one thing, it showed us a lot of China, outdoors, in the sunshine).

For the second day in a row, nothing on NBC. Nothing. Did they not get the schedule?

19:50:
NBC has just shown the U.S. men's sweep in the 400 hurdles. CBC: The bike portion of the triathlon. It's a good race.

18:45:
It ends. The U.S. wins. Yay. On to gymnastics, women's trampoline.

18:39:
Meanwhile, in the official Beijing protest zone: Silence.

18:30: Do the people of TImbit Nation realize that they're missing the semifinal women's beach volleyball match?

18:20:
Dick Ebersol was right: America is captivated by Misty and Kerri. I certainly feel captivated -- or at least some variation of captivity -- right now.

CBC, live in the DTZ, is showing that 4-year-old Chinese girl on the uneven parallel bars.

18:15:
Oh, no. Heather Cox has just divulged that Misty has a cold. This is what happens when you walk around in your underwear all the time.

18:12:
Actual NBC quote in the background (heard over mower) "They don't seem to care about, 'Is Misty better?,' or, 'Is Kerri better?"

The winner plays for the gold medal. The loser? Who cares?

18:00
It has begun. Beach volleyball. Time to mow the grass.

17:50
NBC has the women's discus, including gold-medal winner Stephanie Brown Trapton of the U.S. It's essentially highlights of the competition. They're calling it the biggest upset of the Games so far, because Trapton finished third at the U.S. trials. Seattle's Aretha Hill finished seventh. It's the first gold medal for the U.S. in this event since 1932. Coming up later, NBC promises: Beach volleyball!

17:37:
OK, we were kidding about the trampoline.

17:32:
NBC: Usain Bolt of Jamaica and Shawn Crawford of the U.S. measure one another in heats of the 200 meters.

17:20:
On NBC, women's hurdles prelims from yesterday.

17:10:
Good evening, DTZ. NBC has led off its nightly East Coast primetime show (you'll get it at 8 p.m. local time) by showing Chinese hurlder Liu Xiang hobbling off the track and out of the Olympics. I think I remember posting that on this blog yesterday morning. Or was it the day before? Can't remember.

CBC, live in the DTZ, is showing gymnastics -- the trampoline -- which we have to admit is sort of cool on TV.

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August 18, 2008 3:34 PM

CBC once again captures the moment

Posted by Ron Judd

Yelena.JPGRussia's Yelena Isinbaeva clears the bar to break the world record as she wins gold in the women's pole vault final at the Beijing Games. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)


You can't overestimate how wonderful it is to see a television network get it.

The big story in Beijing last night, by far, was Russian pole-vault star Yelena Isinbaeva's gold-medal performance in the Bird's Nest. It wasn't surprising -- she's head and shoulders above the field, and was an overwhelming gold-medal favorite.

But it was a signature moment in the Olympics simply because of her star power and the dramatic nature of the pole vault. And Isinbaeva is a made-for-TV star.

The pole vault was the last event on the docket last night, and Isinbaeva already had secured the gold medal. The only question: Would she break, yet again, her own world record?

There was no question she'd try. Her career ambition, after all, is to best countryman Sergey Bubka's record of 35 broken world records.

She had the stage literally to herself as almost all of the crowd of 90,000 lingered to watch. Twice, she hefted her pole and went through her odd pre-jump routine -- talking rapidly to herself, to her pole, the bar, whatever -- and made runs at 5.05 meters(16 feet 6 3/4). Twice, she brushed it with her thighs, to the collective groan of the crowd.

On her third attempt, with the clock ticking down, Isinbaeva launched down the runway, set a perfect pole plant, and cleared the bar by what appeared to be several inches. The moment she cleared -- still at least 8 feet off the ground -- her face lit into an ear-to-ear grin. She screamed on her way down. After landing, she did a backflip as the crowd cut loose with a roar not year heard at these Games.

It was a great moment, made greater by CBC's minimalist approach. The network launched its afternoon West Coast show with tape of the event, making it clear it had happened last night, and they were showing it first because it was the daily highlight. They showed all her attempts, rather than just a slow-mo of the successful one, and let the drama build by itself.

Classy, simple and refreshing. No teasing of the event to keep you onboard through three hours of beach volleyball. Just the event.

It's another example of CBC making use of the best of modern technology, but not force-feeding us the fluffery and puffery and gimmickry that goes along with it on NBC.

So nice.

Afterward, she was asked about American pole vaulter Jenn Stuczynski's prediction that the Athens champion would be dethroned.

"You saw tonight what happens," Isinbaeva said in halting English. "People who talk too much, they never do anything."

Stuczynski's best jump, for the silver, was 4.80 meters.

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August 18, 2008 1:41 PM

All Hail NBC, part 43

Posted by Ron Judd


The hyperbolic panting about the great success of NBC's Olympic effort reached new heights today, with a piece in the New York Times essentially declaring Dick Ebersole, executive producer of NBC's Beijing Games, as the savior of network television.

We kid you not.

Note that in the entire piece, not a single word, mention, or even oblique reference is made to the huge numbers of disaffected viewers in the Disadvantaged Time Zone. Not surprising, given the general we-are-the-world-and-you-live-in-Nome tenor of most East Coast-based journalism. But a bit surprising given that Times' media reporter Richard Sandomir shares a byline on the piece. Sandomir did some of the best -- and only -- East Coast reporting on the West-Coast delay issue when the Games began.

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August 18, 2008 11:22 AM

Kirkland's Reed ousted from cycling medal round

Posted by Ron Judd

JReed.JPGJennie Reed of Kirkland competes in the Women's Sprint Qualifying at the track cycling event held at the Laoshan Velodrome during Day 9 of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)


The Games are over for Kirkland's Jennie Reed, who bowed out in quarterfinals qualifying for track cycling's women's match sprints at the Laoshan Velodrome.

Here's the rundown from U.S. Cycling:

Beijing, China (August 18, 2008)-Day four of Olympic track cycling at the Laoshan Velodrome ended on a sour note for the U.S. squad after Sarah Hammer (Temecula, Calif.) crashed out of the women's points race and Jennie Reed (Kirkland, Wash.) was eliminated from medal contention with a quarterfinal loss in the women's match sprint.

After an early exit from the 3,000-meter individual pursuit two nights earlier, Hammer was looking to rebound in Monday night's points race when she found herself caught behind a crash early on in the 100-lap race. Racing in a tight pack, Hammer wasn't able to avoid the two fallen riders in front of her, crashed into them, and tumbled to the apron. The injury, which was later confirmed as a fractured left clavicle, forced her to withdraw from the race.

After the two intermediate sprints that had been contested up until that point, Hammer had no points. Marianne Vos (NED) was leading the race with eight points at the time. Vos later won the gold medal with 30 points ahead of silver medalist Yoanka Gonzalez (CUB), who scored 18, and Leire Olaberria (ESP), who notched 13.

Meanwhile, Reed was poised to make a run at the medals in the match sprint following her 1/8 final victory over Simona Krupeckaite (LTU) on Sunday. Pitted against Dutchwoman Willy Kanis in the quarterfinals, Reed lost two consecutive rides in the best-of-three format to end her medal hopes in Beijing. Reed attempted to take both sprints from the front but was overtaken by Kanis on the homestretch in each of her two losses.

Track competition at the 2008 Olympic Games will conclude on Tuesday when Reed will compete for fifth place in the 5-8 finals against other quarterfinal losers Natalia Tsylinskaya (BLR), Clara Sanchez (FRA) and Krupeckaite. The Madison pairing of Michael Friedman (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and Bobby Lea (Mertztown, Pa.) will also be in action in the 200-lap team race.

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August 17, 2008 10:02 PM

A look back at the first half

Posted by Ron Judd

Before the day slips away -- or some other big story breaks in track and field -- here's today's print column, catching you up on events, and non-events, from the first week.

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August 17, 2008 9:48 PM

Lagat: "I didn't have it, honestly"

Posted by Ron Judd


Bernard Lagat's thoughts on what went wrong as he tried to become the first American since 1908 to win the metric mile are explored in a piece just posted by the New York Times.

In the piece, Lagat admits he's not fully certain he'll run the 5,000 meters, which begins Wednesday.

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August 17, 2008 8:56 PM

Chinese hurdle star Liu Xiang out of Olympics with injury

Posted by Ron Judd

Defending 110 hurdles Olympic champion Liu Xiang, slated to be the hometown star of the Beijing Games, pulled up lame with an injured Achilles tendon in today's preliminary heats.

Liu, lining up for his first sprint, pulled up limping badly after a false start in what was to be his initial heat. He pulled off his race number in disgust and walked off the track. He was last seen icing his Achilles under the Bird's Nest Stadium. Liu's health had been the subject of some scrutiny for months. He pulled out of two widely heralded races in the U.S., including the Prefontaine Classic. He had been training in seclusion in China for weeks.

NBC broke into its East Coast programming with the news just before midnight; CBC showed his preliminary heat about a half hour later.

It will be a major blight on the Olympics for China, where a topsports official was quoted as saying Liu's previous accomplishments -- the world record and a gold medal in Athens -- would be meaningless if he failed to capture the gold medal in his home country.

More on Liu from our Beijing preview section here.

Meantime, in another prelim heat, America's Terrence Trammell -- expected to be a threat to Liu in the 100 hurdles -- pulls up lame himself, grabbing his left hamstring.

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August 17, 2008 4:33 PM

Sunday night live thread

Posted by Ron Judd

20:30: NBC East is showing the women's 100 meter final. It occurred in Beijing at 7:25 a.m., Pacific Time. So the race is delayed 13 hours to the East Coast. It'll be 16 hours to us here in the Disadvantaged Time Zone. That's shaping up to be about the average delay for track events.

20:20: Sorry about the long break. Had to file tomorrow's column.

I have been informed by the remote-sitters that NBC's eastern broadcast has stuck with the women's gymnastics apparatus finals, in which a Russian woman actually accrued a score of zero in the vault. How? She false-started. No joke.

Meanwhile, America's Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukins continued to duke it out, with Johnson, up to now, winning a silver and Liukins a bronze in floor exercise.
--------------------

It Might Be, It Could Be, It IS!

19:00: We don't to alarm anyone out there in TV -land, but it appears as if CBC is broadcasting LIVE coverage of track-and-field AND the women's triathlon, which looks like a very, very cool event. Check it out.

Speaking of triathlon: The women are swimming in a lake, and are followed by a chase boat. The boat looks alarmingly like that skimmer boat they used to use to harvest milfoil from Green Lake in Seattle.


Ron McLean comments that the lake and surrounding hills are "as pretty as the Okanagan."
----------------------------
17:52: Let the record reflect that Canada has finished fourth in yet another event, women's springboard diving. Sorry if we jinxed Blythe Harley. Taking gold is Guo Jingjing of China, her second of the Games. Silver to Yulia Pakhalina of Russia; bronze to Wu Minxia of China.

Meanwhile, in track: NBC is promising the women's 100-meter finals sometime later in the broadcast. We saw it hours ago on CBC.

17:32: On NBC East Coast, Canadian Blythe Hartley is in contention for a medal in springboard diving. Which reminds us, it's been a while since we had a Canadian Medal Update:

They're up to seven. Which, after that 0-for-the-first-week start, is pretty impressive. They may yet leave with as many medals as Michael Phelps.

---------------
16:55 NBC's East Coast feed, at 4:55 p.m., Disadvantaged Time Zone, is showing the women's eight crew race won by the American squad that's led by former U-Dob coxswain Mary Whipple. Look for it at 7:55 p.m. local Seattle time.
--------------
Lots of speculation here in Satellite Control about how tall Mary Whipple is. Consensus: She's about 5-foot-3 -- which means she's a good 4 inches taller than Bob Costas. (Emjay has now confirmed the height, from our earlier special section story, found here.
---------------
16:00 Good evening, DTZ.

We'll be posting highlights from the prime-time broadcasts of CBC's local broadcast, and NBC's East Coast feed, just for reference.

On NBC's East Coast feed, Bob Costas has Michael Phelps, Rowdy Gaines and Bob Bowman (coach) on the couch, going race-by-race through Phelps' eight gold medals.

This is in case you haven't seen enough of the Phelps' highlights, only this time it's the Phelps highlights with Phelps voiceovers. Coincidentally, NBC goes to commercial and happens to mention the Michael Phelps video it is hawking on nbcolympics.com.

Next up: Michael's mom, who has supplied NBC with lots of embarrassing young-Mikey-Phelps photos -- the even-bigger-ears look, like a Volkswagen with the doors open. Very cute.

Same time: CBC is doing a piece on Victor Conte and Balco. Sorry, but we're switching to that.

Conte, the brains behind the BALCO company, says doping in sports is "less," but still "rampant." He blames the timing of dope testing, namely the lack of out-of-competition testing. Conte claims on camera, as he has before, that he had "inside intelligence" from IOC-accredited doping labs that allowed him to continue to distribute THG to athletes through his BALCO company, because he knew the labs had no tests to detect the illegal substance.

He further claims that athletes today continue to use similar intelligence to foil testing, and that some athletes even get away with submitting samples for pre-screening to see if they're clean.

"It's like a war," Conte says. "You need intelligence."
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August 17, 2008 9:06 AM

Gold for U-Dub's Whipple, Cummins in U.S. women's eight

Posted by Ron Judd

crew.JPGFrom left, USA's Erin Cafaro, Lindsay Shoop, Anna Goodale, Elle Logan, Anna Cummins, Susan Francia, Caroline Lind, Caryn Davies and coxswain Mary Whipple react after capturing the gold in the Women's eight final the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Mary Whipple can take that silver medal off her bed post. The former UW coxswain kept it there for four years, still ticked that the favored U.S. women's eights lost to Romania at the Athens Games. Monday in Beijing, her boat, powered by fellow Husky alum Anna Mickelson Cummins of Bellevue, led start to finish in Beijing to win the gold over the Netherlands by 1.88 seconds.

It was the first gold for the U.S. in the event since 1984.

"Before we left Princeton, we gathered and watched that 1984 race," Whipple said. "I made the call halfway through the race saying that it was just like 1984 and that we couldn't let them down. Then we just motored ahead."

Whipple2.JPG

"We learned a lot from Athens," said Whipple about winning the silver medal in 2004. "I think the group from '04 built a foundation for this team, and these girls have stepped it up. It's taken about 13 or 14 girls to build this eight."

The men's eight, meanwhile, trailed badly at the start, but poured it on to claim bronze in the race, won by Canada. In the boat: Former UW coach Bryan Volpenheim, 31, the stroke, who also powered the gold-medal U.S. men's eights in Athens.

"I'm really happy," Volpenhein said. "I was really excited to get out there today. I'm not disappointed with bronze. It's always good to come away with a medal."

The men's crew got off the line in sixth place, but pushed to fourth at the 1,000 meter mark and took third from The Netherlands in the final third. The U.S. crew pushed the silver-medal British boat, but fell short by .23 seconds at the finish. Canada lead wire to wire to win with a time of 5:23.89. Britain clocked in at 5:25.11, followed by the U.S. at 5:25.34.

Two other Seattle rowers, Lindsay Meyer and Lia Pernell, finished fifth in women's quadruple sculls.

TV note: NBC broadcast the men's eight final on its East Coast feed at 11:10 a.m. today; it should be broadcast at 2:10 p.m. today, Seattle Time. The women's eight's race was promised by Jim Lampley, "later on, in prime time" -- whatever that means.

Whipple1.JPGFormer Husky coxswain Mary Whipple, center, gets a hug from unidentified teammates after they won the gold medal in the women's eight final at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)


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August 17, 2008 8:56 AM

Disastrous U.S. track team start: Lagat fails to qualify

Posted by Ron Judd

Lagat.JPGBernard Lagat of the United States reacts after failing to advance in the men's 1500-meter semifinal at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing Sunday. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)


So much for safe bets.

Former WSU star and recent American immigrant Bernard Lagat has failed to qualify for the final of the 1,500 meters. He finished sixth in his semifinal heat.

Lagat, interviewed by Elliott Almond of the San Jose Mercury-News, said he was feeling well and the heat of Beijing was not a problem. He was at a loss to explain his performance.

"I don't know what happened," he said. "I gave it my all at the end and it is unusual for me to run fast and not make it to the final."

Lagat realized he was one spot out of qualifying as he came down the home stretch, he said.

"I thought, man, I’ve got to dig in," he said. "I thought maybe I'd made it. But you know what, life goes on. To my mom, my friends in America: I didn't let them down. I did my best. If I let them down that means I didn't give my best. I tried 100 percent."

Lagat, a bronze and silver medalist in the event and reigning world champion, missed the final by two hundredths of a second.

Teammate Lopez Lomong, the U.S. flagbearer in the opening ceremony, also failed to qualify.

It's been a disastrous start, capital D, for the U.S. track team. Tyson Gay failed to qualify for the final of the 100 meters, won by Usain Bolt. And Jamaicans swept the top three spots of the women's 100 meters, with Lauryn Williams and Muna Lee finishing fourth and fifth. They later protested the race, saying they'd been holding back because of what they perceived to be a false start. The protest was denied.

Things have gone no better in field events, where America's vaunted shot put contingent, expected to sweep, took only a silver the medal round.

What next?

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August 17, 2008 8:51 AM

Megan Jendrick: No retirement gifts, please

Posted by Ron Judd

Megan.JPG


A reader asks what's now to become of Megan Jendrick of Tacoma, who brings home a silver medal after her role on the U.S. medley relay team.

Here's a note from Megan on a blog she's writing from Beijing, which sheds a little light:

I'm not going to say these are my last Olympics; with so many articles having come out, each with their own little twist, some people have interpreted that I was retiring for good now. I just want everyone to know I've never said that and I'm very excited to keep racing and hopefully continue to represent America.

You can read the rest of her impressions of Beijing, and the performance of longtime teammate Michael Phelps, here.

Photo: Megan Jendrick of Tacoma at a practice at the National Aquatics Center practice before the Beijing 2008 Olympics. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images).

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August 16, 2008 7:03 PM

Phelps wins 8th, silvers for Hoelzer, Jendrick; Sunday TV preview

Posted by Ron Judd

Saturday wrap:

With swimming wrapping up, the focus shifts to track and field, which presents interesting logistical challenges, to say the least, for distant viewers. Today's 100-meter men's final, discussed below, is a good example.

Several readers have asked if there's a schedule detailing exactly what time a certain event -- the men's 1,500, a certain U.S. women's soccer game, etc., will be on one of the many NBC networks. The short answer is no, not in a down-to-the-minute way for people seeking to record the game or event. The closest we've come, for NBC broadcasts, is this schedule.
(Note that you might have to register on the site to get it to display Disadvantaged Time Zone times, but when you do that, it also gives you local online Games stories and stats from KING-TV.)

The schedule (there's one on the bottom of the page for online streaming) at least breaks the volumnous network offerings into two-hour chunks, and uses local times.

For example, here's how it breaks down Sunday's NBC lineup:

10:00a - 12:00p
The U.S. women's basketball team plays New Zealand in a preliminary-round game (LIVE ET/CT). American women have won the past three gold medals in this event. New Zealand has made two Olympic appearances, finishing 11th in 2000 and eighth in 2004.

12:00p - 2:00p
The women's track cycling individual pursuit final. Four years ago, Beijing wasn't on Sara Hammer's radar. The pedaling prodigy who first raced competitively at age 3 had left the sport, burnt out and conflicted. But the California native, inspired after watching the Athens Games, returned to cycling and has become an Olympic medal contender. Also, coverage from rowing, equestrian, and table tennis.
Medal Event

2:00p - 5:00p
Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele is the best in the world in the men's 10,000m. In Beijing, the three-time world champion seeks his second straight Olympic gold. Other coverage likely includes rowing "eight" finals and U.S. women's volleyball vs. Poland.
Medal Event

5:00p - 6:00p
Americans Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs play China in a women's beach volleyball quarterfinal match.

7:30p - 12:30a (8/18
The first night of gymnastics individual event finals, including men's floor and pommel horse; the women perform floor and vault routines. Also, track and field finals


Happy hunting.

----------------------
Next Up -- first up? last up? -- track and field:

20:40: There's at least one world record involved in the men's 100 meters -- for longest delay of a worldwide major sporting event. East Coast viewers at this moment are watching the men go to the blocks for the race, which began just after 7:30 a.m. Seattle time. That's a 13-hour delay from start time. By the time NBC viewers in the Disadvantaged Time Zone see the race, it'll be a 16-hour and 10 minute delay. That breaks the old, 15-hour delay record for the opening ceremony broadcast.

If you don't already know: Usain Bolt of Jamaica wins in world record time, 9.69 seconds. And that's after pulling up to start celebrating with 20 meters still to go. Nobody on the track was even close. In second was Richard Thompson of Trinidad & Tobago; Walter Dix of the U.S. takes the bronze. Tyson Gay failed to make the final.

BTW: Can we declare a moratorium now on TV "Mom shots?
--------------------
First up: Swimming

Men's 400 medley relay
Aaron Piersol established a small lead for the U.S. Breaststroker Brendan Hansen gives it up to Japan on the second leg. Phelps, swimming the fly, reclaims a narrow lead over Japan and Australia. And then Jason Lezak does it again, holding off all comers to claim the gold in a WR time of 3:29.34. Phelps' swim of 50.15, fittingly, is the turning point in the race. Australia takes the silver at 3:30.04 , Japan the bronze at 3:31.18.


Women's 400 medley relay
Australia blows away its own world record, swimming 3:52.69 to take the gold. The U.S. is second at 3:53.30. China is third at 3:56.11. It's Natalie Coughlin's sixth medal in Beijing -- a first for a U.S. woman. It also brings silver medals to King Aquatic swimmers Megan Jendrick and Margaret Hoelzer, who leaves Beijing with three medals.

Men's 1500 meter freestyle
Ous Melluli of Tunisia wins the long one at 14:40.84; Grant Hackett of Australia is second at 14:41.53; Ryan Cochrane of CANADA takes the bronze at 14:42.69. Larsen Jensen of the U.S. is fifth at 14:48.16.

Women's 50 freestyle
Britta Steffen of Germany, wins at 24.06, an Olympic record. Dara Torres is second at 24.07; Cate Campbell of Australia is third at 24.17. Libby Trickett of Australia is fourth at 24.25.

--------------
Sorry we're slow getting rolling tonight.

Some guys from NBC showed up at the front door, dark glasses, etc., wanted to talk about this blog's "attitude problem."

We told them to come back in three hours.

Actually, had to write Sunday's newspaper column, which will be a highlight reel of Week One of the Games. Not to be missed. Likely to be laminated. Joe Bob says check it out.

On tap tonight: The big Michael Phelps race for No. 8. Dara Torres in the 100. Full slate of track and field, including the men's 100 meters, which occurred approximately last Tuesday in Beijing.

A special shout out tonight to all our readers in Canada, where, after that first GOLD in women's wrestling yesterday, the medals came in a virtual torrent. Well, at least a steady trickle. More on this to come, as well.

Get your fans all pointed toward the couch (Dad, keep pushing the nurse button), and, as they say in ice dancing, get ready to rhumba...

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August 16, 2008 12:43 PM

That Phantastic Phelps Phinish, Phrame by Phrame

Posted by Ron Judd

Much is likely to be said, over many years, about that miracle Phelps Phinish in the 100 butterfly last night. Several closeup underwater photos of the touch are circulating today, each of them telling the story -- or part of it.

The truth is, what you see in swimming is not always what counts. From what I've always been told, a swimmer can glide in and give a feather-weight brush of the wall, and it wouldn't register until proper pressure was applied. That rarely happens. Still, with a soft touch, it might be a fraction of a second between the time the fingertips hit the wall and the timer is actually tripped. Perhaps that was the case with Milo Cavic's slow glide into the finish.

(Swim racers who want to chime in on the sensitivity of the touch pads, please help educate the rest of us. )

Perhaps the most revealing series of photos has been posted by Sports Illustrated, whose photogapher, Heinz Kluetmeier, captured the final second of the race in a frame-by-frame sequence with an underwater camera fired by remote control.

The most amazing of all is frame 4 of 8, which clearly shows Cavic's fingertips only perhaps 4 inches from the wall -- while Phelps is still in midstroke, with his head appearing to be as far as 3 feet away from the wall.

What you can't see from the frames, or appreciate with any still images, is the lightning-quick speed with which Phelps took that last half-stroke, bringing his arms from back and all the way forward again faster than it took Cavic to glide that final few inches.

Kluetmeier's following frame, blown up, appears to show Cavic's fingers still a fraction of an inch away from the wall, while Phelps' right hand is clearly touching.

Any way you look at it: An amazing, instinctive reaction by Phelps, against an opponent who was finishing in textbook fashion.

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August 15, 2008 9:12 PM

Friday night LIVE: NBC's Phelps coverage; Canada medals!!!

Posted by Ron Judd


East Coast sign-off, with some observations on network coverage:

NBC ends with a split-screen interview by Costas with Phelps and Mark Spitz. Many, many, many, congratulations all around.

Costas asks: If the two of you could race, head to head, both at prime, who would win? Spitz rambles about great athletes finding ways to beat their opponents, then says: "Right now, we'd probably tie."

He is immediately sent to doping control.

On CBC: A quick, but very informative interview with Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, the guy who knows Phelps' swimming better than Phelps himself, and is obviously still emotional from the race before leaving the building. He gives an interesting, behind-the-scenes summary of Phelps' performance this week. Emjay observes: "Half as long and twice as revealing" as what's on NBC at the same time.

Example: Bowman, who outlined his history with Phelps and discussed their unusually long (10-year) coach/athlete relationship, says any coach's job is to nitpick. He admits he did plenty of that in Athens, in spite of the fact that Phelps was winning six gold medals.

What has he nitpicked in these Games so far?

"Absolutely nothing."

Bowman says he thought Phelps had lost the race tonight. But after the result and the replays, he has no doubt about the accuracy of the timing boards.

He also says he now has no doubt Phelps now qualifies as the greatest Olympian ever. But he throws a reality check at the common perception that he sat down with Phelps and his mother 10 years ago and mapped all this out, to a T. Clearly, nobody knew then what Phelps would develop into, he said, suggesting his master plan was more of a general career path.

There was more. Most of it has been said before to print reporters, but I doubt national TV audiences have ever heard from Bob Bowman, who truly is the brains behind Phelps' moment-to-moment itinerary in Beijing.

I don't like to pick on NBC just to pick on NBC. And it's true that Phelps is THE story this week. Getting him and Spitz on screen is an obvious choice. But how about getting some fresh insight from somebody else, just for once? His coach is an obvious choice.

We've already heard from Phelps a dozen times this week, including right after his race tonight. How many more times do we need to hear he's at a loss for words? No knock on him, but he's said what he's going to say. How many times can the poor guy be asked to say it in one week?

And Spitz, as it turned out, added very little of interest, other than the fact that his ego is still sufficient to believe he could find a way to beat Phelps if both raced at their primes. (Compare their actual Olympic swim times: Phelps swam the 200 free an astonishing 9.8 seconds faster.)

CBC, with less pull but a more-informed poolside reporter (Update: It was Elliotte Friedman), picked up some table scraps, grabbing Bowman before he left, and offered up a lot more insight with a lot less fanfare. It's a good example of a network operating more as a journalistic enterprise than a morning chat show.

--------------------
Meanwhile: WAKE UP AUNT MILLIE IN MANITOBA!

Wrestler Carol Huynh of Canada has just secured Maple Leaf Nation's first medal by winning her semifinal bout 4-0. She'll wrestle for the gold, but is guaranteed at least a silver, later today in Beijing.

Our humantarian effort, outlined in a post below, will continue unabated.


Back to swimming:
Women's 50 free semi
Dara Torres leads start to finish in her heat, swimming 24.27. Cate Campbell of Australia, 25 years her junior, is seeded second at 24.42.
-----------------

As Phelps takes the medal stand, NBC reports that Cavic's coach is filing an official protest over the finish. That coach would be The Race Club's Mike Bottom, who was just recently hired by Michigan to replace Bob Bowman, who is going back to Baltimore to train Phelps. Bottom is asserting that the touch pad in Cavic's lane had malfunctioned.

FINA, the swim federation, refuses to hear the protest, based on overhead photos of the finish. (My take: I seriously doubt the touch pad malfunctioned. On the other hand: FIMA saying the overhead still cams can see through all that froth above Cavic's hands -- which are at least 4 inches underwater -- is crazy. But, there you go.)
Sunday a.m. update: Cavic later says it was the Serbian delegation, not Bottom, who filed the protest.

Phelps, quoted by CBC from the mix zone. "When I took that extra half-stroke, I thought I'd lost the race." Phelps said before the race, Bowman had told him it might be "good for him" if he lost, which got him fired up.

Dan Hicks: "You need a little bit of luck like that from time to time."

Men's 50 freestyle
Cesar Cielo Filho of Brazil by way of Auburn University wins in 21.30. Silver to Amaury Levaux of France, bronze to Alain Bernard of France. Ben WIldman-Tobriner of the U.S. is fifth. World record holder Eamon Sullivan of Australia is sixth. It's the first-ever U.S. shutout in the event.

Men's 100 butterfly
Gary Hall Jr.. -- see post below -- was this () close to being a genius. Michael Phelps, staging a furious comeback after trailing in seventh at the turn, beats Milorad "Mike" Cavic of Slovenia Serbia by .01. A replay shows Cavic, a full stroke ahead as the two reached the wall, actually appearing to touch in ahead of Phelps, but the computer gives Phelps, who took a furious half-stroke to punch the wall, the win.

Without the aid of electronic timing to hundredths of a second, this is a virtual tie. Amazing.

The winning time, 50.58, is short of the WR. In third is Andrew Lauterstein of Australia, who nudged Ian Crocker of the U.S. by .01, as well.

Women's 800 freestle final
Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain takes down, finally, Janet Evans' 1989 world record, swimming 8:14.10 to take the gold.

Women's 200 backstroke final
Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe breaks her own world record, swimming 2:05.24, to nudge out King Aquatic swimmer Margaret Hoelzer, who swims 2:06.23. Reiko Nakamura of Japan is third at 2:07.13.
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On CBC, Jamaica's Asafa Powell, literally cruising the last 50 meters of his 100m prelim heat, runs a 10.02 and advances along with America's Walter Dix to the semis.

Ron McLean notes: "Obviously, sprinting in Jamaica is like hockey in Canada."
------------------------
NBC is back to its televised pacifier, beach volleyball. We're going out for ice cream.

But first, an update on America's sport of the future ... team handball!

USA Today's Mike Lopresti, inspired by either A) boredom or B) the growing fervor out here in the Disadvantaged Time Zone to form a team, form a league, and conquer the planet, sought out a team handball game in Beijing yesterday.

He took in Denmark vs. Russia, and, like any sane person, concluded that team handball is a perfect sport for America.

Lopresti asks Denmark coach Ulrik Wilbek if the sport could spread through the U.S.

"There's absolutely no reason," Wilbek said. "It's entertaining, it's confrontational. It's like indoor American football. I don't understand why."

Neither do we.
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Track and field

NBC is switching to last night's 1,500 meter prelims, with Bernard Lagat. Lagat runs 3:41.98, finishing fourth. Top five advance. He was boxed in a couple times, in seventh at start of the bell lap, and had to struggle to get into the finishing group. In the second group, America's opening ceremony flag bearer, Lopez Lomong, finishes fifth to advance.
----------------------
Bob Costas introduces a recap of last night's women's gymnastics competition by explaining that it "ran well past midnight on the East Coast."

Uh, hello. It ran well past midnight on the West Coast, too -- three hours after the fact -- thanks to geniuses at the NBC Universal home offices.

Note to Bob C.: West Coast: Seattle, Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco. Shamu the Killer Whale. Salmon. Coffee. The Pacific Ocean. Hollywood. Microsoft. Boeing, sorry, scratch that. Big Sur. Big trees. Moss. Banana slugs. Bad traffic. You know us. You've been here. Right? Bob? Bob?
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Ambrose "Rowdy" Gaines is discussing something we've just conversed with an editor about: The possibility, if there is one, that Michael Phelps would NOT swim in tomorrow night's 400 medley relay final. Bottom line: Not likely. But there is one scenario: If Phelps lost tonight in the 100 free final to Ian Crocker, the spot on the relay final would rightfully belong to Crocker.

However: Recall that Phelps, as a gift, stepped aside to let Crocker have the final-swim spot in the same race four years ago in Athens. It was perceived as a major favor, but, then again, Phelps had swum in the prelims, and already was guaranteed the medal. The same scenario would apply here: Crocker swam in the prelims and will medal either way. What are odds he would stand in Phelps' way? You be the judge.

At the same time, a loss by Phelps tonight would sort of take most of the air out of that eighth-race balloon, anyway. It's conceivable: Crocker and the Human Torso have run this race head to head in four major events in the past four years. And they're 2-2.

The 100 free final is set for 7:10 p.m., DTZ, tonight. That means that once again, you will not see it live here on NBC.
----------------
We open tonight's festivities with a near-catastrophe in track and field, where shotputter Dylan Armstrong -- who clearly did not get the memo -- was flirting with ruining Canada's spotless, medal-free record.

CBC has just showed us the competition, where Armstrong, at the last minute, kept despair alive by coming up short -- by one centimeter -- on his final throw to finish fourth.

Interviewed afterward, he's asked if he's disappointed:

"I'm more than happy with the national record."

That's the spirit.

Here comes NBC's east coast version of reality, opening with a sweeping helicopter shot of the National Stadium, AKA The Bedpan, heralding the beginning of network track coverage.

Stay tuned.

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August 15, 2008 4:38 PM

NBC: No way Phelps Saturday race will be live

Posted by Ron Judd

We neglected to post this yesterday, in all the excitement over beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh's birthday celebration on NBC:

A network spokesman, responding to hopeful rumors that the network would get a clue and at least broadcast one Michael Phelps race -- his likely historic, eighth-medal attempt Saturday evening -- live in the west-coast Disadvantaged Time Zone, has cleared that up:

No chance.

NBC, he reiterated, will continue to broadcast events "when the majority of people are available to watch."

Apparently, that would be about 1 a.m., which is when NBC's coverage of recent marquee events, such as gymnastics, have wrapped up on the East Coast of late. (The network could actually show the same events, live, on the West Coast, and actually have them seen in prime time, but refuses to do so.)

Doesn't matter that it's a major historical event. Doesn't matter that it happens on a Saturday, when a live television office across the country would likely be massive. Just doesn't matter.

It's amazing, and at some point, it starts to feel personal. Did Dick Ebersole perhaps have a bad experience as a child at the Space Needle? You've gotta wonder.

Meanwhile, word arrives that NBC's initial boffo ratings for Beijing have been flagging. For both Wednesday and Thursday nights, they trailed ratings for the comparable time periods in Athens, in spite of marquee events like Phelps' medal quest and women's gymnastics. Given those events, Thursday night should have been a highlight of NBC's entire Games coverage.

Maybe it took a couple days for people to tire of watching events they long ago heard results from dragging on to 1 a.m.

There's more bad news, and you might as well get used to it now: NBC's Olympic contract runs through 2012. Anyone willing to bet that the network won't be showing viewers in Seattle most Winter Games daytime events from Vancouver on a half-day delay, even though they'll be taking place live, right up the road? And you thought this was irritating...

Note also that if you're glibly watching on CBC this time around, you'd better check your channel grid before the Vancouver Games. CBC lost the Games contract to CTV, which will broadcast Vancouver 2010. Neither channel is carried on DirecTV, but most local cable operations offer both.

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August 15, 2008 3:13 PM

Humanitarian Canadian Olympic Relief Aid Being Mustered

Posted by Ron Judd

Canadian medal update, Day 8:

By popular demand, here is the list of summer sports powerhouses that have now won a medal while Canada -- which, for the record, could not even medal with a swimmer named Beavers in the pool last night -- continues to fight valiantly for Numero Uno:

Ethiopia
India
Thailand
Colombia
Vietnam
Argentina
Bulgaria
Croatia
Denmark
Egypt
Lithuania
Mexico
Tajikistan
Togo

We could mention that some of the Carpet Nations, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Karistan (OK, we made that last one up) are already celebrating their second medals. But that would be rude, so we shall not.

The truth is, we feel bad about this. So bad that we -- in a show of North American brotherhood, plus a blatant attempt to suck up and get a good hotel room for Vancouver 2010 -- would like to help. We're putting out the call to all former Olympic medalists, or just major contenders, to form a Canadian Olympic Reserve relief project and give Maple Leaf Nation a little boost in Beijing.

The Games are only half over. Surely there's time for, say, Greg Barton to come forth, catch the Amtrak to Vancouver, secure the necessary papers ("four-time medalist? You're in! Sign here.) and jet on over to Beijing before the flame goes out.

It is, literally, the least we could do. And that is our specialty.

So step on up, folks. It's for a good cause. And think of the upside: Put Canada on the board, and your own money will never be good at any Tim Horton's as long as you live.

Failing this, we have an alternate plan: Actually giving Canada some of our medals that are ... well, not needed anymore. Some of them might have a few Marion Jones crocodile tears on them, but a little Brasso will take that right out.

Stay tuned.


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August 15, 2008 12:41 PM

Jendrick, Hoelzer qualify U.S. for medley relay medal

Posted by Ron Judd

King Aquatic swimmers Megan Jendrick and Margaret Hoelzer put themselves in line for Beijing medals early this morning, Seattle time, by qualifying the U.S. medley relay team in preliminary heats.

Hoelzer swam a backstroke leg of 59.29, Jendrick swam a breaststroke leg of 1:07.17; Elaine Breeden added a butterfly leg of 58.59, and Kara-Lynn Joyce swam the freestyle in 54:10. The total time, 3:59.15, was enough to win the heat, with China lurking at 3:59.21.

The second heat was won by Australia, at 3:57.94.

The final is at 7:40 p.m. Saturday in the Disadvantaged Time Zone.

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August 15, 2008 11:52 AM

About those beach volleyball suits

Posted by Ron Judd


This subject has been hashed over many times, but still seems to hang out there: A couple female readers have written to question -- OK, protest -- the double standard in beach volleyball attire.

The girls wear bikini bottoms and halter sport tops. The boys wear trunks and tank tops. Why do the men need more coverage? Good question. One with no legitimate answer, at least in sports-performance terms.

What we're not clear on: Are you women protesting the lack of clothing on the women, or the excess of it on the males?

I'm guessing both.

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August 15, 2008 11:19 AM

A Phelps upset? Gary Hall says yes

Posted by Ron Judd


Retired sprint king Gary Hall Jr., blogging in the Los Angeles Times, predicts a former training partner, Milorad "Mike" Cavic, who swims for Serbia, will upset Michael Phelps in tonight's 100 butterfly final. Read his reasoning here.

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August 15, 2008 9:33 AM

On Phelps, Eric Heiden, and Olympic history

Posted by Ron Judd


Big response in the inbox this morning to today's newspaper column on Michael Phelps and his place in history. Most people say they appreciate the reminder of other great Olympians, and some have offered up suggestions of their own, which I'll post in a followup later. Thanks to all of you who have written.

(Thanks also to a few of you who pointed out a sentence that's not entirely clear in the column: When I noted that Carl Lewis won an "unprecedented" golds in a single event, the long jump, I meant that it was unprecedented in the long jump. Others, such as Al Oerter in the discuss, have won four straight in other pursuits.)

There were a few of the expected knee-jerk, how-dare-you-diminish-swimming responses: The usual "obviously you're not a swimmer" retorts from swimmers. One reader even angrily suggests I'm "running down" swimming out of abject ignorance, by diminishing the difficulty of mastering multiple strokes, or suggesting that the sport is "easy on the body."

Au contraire. As an Olympics writer, I've been chronicling, and praising, the incredible athleticism of elite swimmers for a long time. I don't recall ever writing, in my lifetime, that mastering multiple swim strokes was easy. I did say it was a more "natural" transition that switching between completely unrelated events, and it is. Some people will take that as an insult to swimmers. But some people take anything that's not gratuitous praise of their favorite hobby as an insult, so what can you do.

As I said in the column, I wrote it not to diminish, even in the slightest, what Phelps is accomplishing in Beijing. It's phenomenal, and, I believe, one of the most ingeniously choreographed -- by Phelps himself, and coach Bob Bowman -- athletic achievements ever at the Olympics. There's no denying it's one of the greatest single performances ever, at any Games. He has already established himself as the greatest swimmer of all time. And he obviously leads in the gold medal count.

But you can argue -- and most Olympic historians agree with this -- that when it comes to the "greatest Olympian" title, longevity should be a major factor, as should diversity of athleticism. That's what led me to point out some Olympians from the past who have dominated the way Phelps is dominating now, but over a longer period of time, and in more-diverse events.

My comparison of Phelps' single-Games performances versus others, such as Eric Heiden's sweep of the 1980 speedskating events at Lake Placid was a second argument, meant to illicit some creative debate, and it seems to have done just that. My wife, Emjay, who is also an Olympics nut, and I had the same argument last night that I filed the column.

Assuming Phelps wins his last individual event, both athletes will have won five individual -- as in, non-relay -- golds in a single Games. Phelps will be the first person to do that since Heiden. (Note: Mark Spitz won four individual medals, three relays.)

The differences:

Heiden performed at a much broader variety of distances: from 500 meters to 10,000. As I wrote, that's like winning the 100 meters, the 10K -- and everything in between -- in track, which is astonishing. Phelps' swimming distances vary from 100 to 400 meters, but he must swim four different strokes to get where he's going. Also amazing.

Does greater variety in distance trump varied technique that utilizes completely different muscle groups? I gave the edge to Heiden; Emjay was leaning more to Phelps.

There's no right answer. These things are, as I wrote, absolutely apples and oranges comparisons. But it's a fun argument, and it sheds some light on Olympic history, which in my book is always a good thing.

I guess I had Heiden on the brain because I just finished researching a book about the Winter Games, and it includes a lot of detailed, great-moments history. I watched Heiden's exploits on TV as a high-school punk, but had forgotten the unprecedented nature of what he had done until talking to people who saw it live.

An aside: Most people forget, or don't know, that Heiden, who by current standards was sort of laid back about all this, almost spoiled his own perfection by oversleeping and nearly missing his final race.

He had been out late the night before, reveling, with everyone else, in the Miracle on Ice U.S. hockey victory over the Soviet Union. He barely had time to do a warmup.

Unlike Phelps (and most other current athletes) Heiden hit the spotlight and then quickly ran out of it. He left the sport soon after the '80 Games, and turned down countless sponsorship opportunities to stay out of the limelight. He became an elite cyclist (ending when he suffered a concussion in the 1986 Tour de France), then a physician, and he now works as an orthopedic surgeon. Heiden has been the team doc for U.S. speedskating at the last couple Olympics. He sewed up Apolo Ohno's leg after a gash suffered in a fall in Salt Lake City.

With that, I open the floor to discussion on the above, and ask another question: Aside from the obvious (Spitz) are there other single-Olympic-Games performances that rank with these two? I can think of a couple contenders.

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August 14, 2008 10:30 PM

Liukins, Johnson 1-2 in gymnastics; Al Trautwig weeps openly

Posted by Ron Judd


OK, we lied about signing off.

As a public service, just for those of you who simply can't get enough of TV gymnastics commentator Tim "Crazy good!" Daggett, we give you this link to his professional speaking business, which declares:

Today Tim Daggett is one of the most "in demand" professional speakers in the country. Beyond his Perfect 10 and Olympic Gold, Tim's story of inner strength, motivation and learning to overcome insurmountable obstacles shows audiences that with commitment to a goal, and belief in oneself, anything is possible.

We are making none of this up.

Tim is a teacher, and he is a do-er. His presentation is filled with a unique mix of emotion, humor and entertainment, and as he shares his momentous success and his heroic struggle, he touches the hearts of all who hear him. Believability permeates the room ... for Tim Daggett has been there. An understanding of his words builds as he speaks .. for Tim Daggett is magnetic.

Book him now, or you'll be crazy sorry.

----------------------------------


The Trout, emoting, during the gymnastics medal ceremony:

"And now, she (Liukins) will only be known by one name."

Well, what is it?

Waiting...

Pele?

Waiting....

Cher?

Waiting....

Flipper?

Waiting...

Trout?

We'll have to get back to you on this.

Meanwhile: Daggett, as the anthem fades: "..And the home of the brave. And they certainly were!"

(Note: You'll have to stay up until 1:15 a.m. to get all of this in person. Put on a pot of Folger's.)

We can't top any of that. Over and out til tomorrow.
-------------------

Gymnastics:

Liukin perrorms a clean routine, which scores 15.525, which is a good -- or bad -- thing, given that commentator Tim Daggett said "I'll fall down dead right here" if she doesn't get it.

Memorable quote:

"That could be a routine that we are watching for generations." -- Al Trautwig, master of the overstatement.

Shawn Johnson needs a 15.45 to get the silver. Her routine is clean, under huge pressure. A "U-S-A" chant is heard faintly in the crowd. Her score: 15.525, to earn the silver. Liukins is the champeen. Yang takes the bronze.
------------------------
Yang scores 15.00 on her floor exercise, which prompts The Trout to extoll: "How about wow?" Liukin is up, needing a 14.85 to keep her lead.
--------------------------

Liukin posts a 16.175 on the balance beam to take the lead with one rotation remaining (floor ex). Yang Yilin of China trails by .15. Shawn Johnson stands third, .60 out of the lead.

-------------------------
Nastia Liukin stands second after two rotations. Shawn Johnson is fifth, trailing by .75.
--------------------
Want some controversy?

Tune in Olympic boxing, on any network. Earlier today, boxing announcers on both CNBC and CBC were beside themselves over the judging during various bouts. One of them went so far as to say he was glad they were there to document the debacle, just for the purposes of righting wrongs down the road.
---------------------
Just to show you we're equal-opportunity grumps: CBC has just shown an extended view of America's Shawn Johnson taping her feet on the sidelines. NBC immediately sued them for violation of intellectual property rights.

--------------------
Before we move to gymnastics, a word about sailing:

Sailing was scheduled to commence Thursday at Quingdao, which sailors worldwide have speculated might have insufficient wind. Result: No wind. Will try again tomorrow. Meanwhile, we're awaiting a statement from BOCOG insisting that there actually was wind; you just had to be open-minded enough to look for it.

------------------
Women's 100 freestyle final:
Amazing. Britta Steffen of Germany wins at 53.12, but Libby Trickett of Australia, who got into the final by luck when a Chinese swimmer false-started in the prelims, swims from lane 8 for the silver, swimming 53.16. Natalie Coughlin gets the bronze, her 10th Olympic medal.
----------------------
Men's 200 IM
Michael Phelps, yawn, smashes his own WR to win in 1:54.23. Laszlo Cseh of Hungary is second at 1:56.52. Ryan Lochte of the U.S. wins bronze with 1:56.53.
----------------------
Women's 200 backstroke semifinal:

Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe swims a relaxed 2:07.76 to win her heat and lead contenders into tomorrow night's final. King Aquatic swimmer Margaret Hoelzer is third in the heat at 2:08.25, fifth seed for the final. American Elizabeth Beisel qualifies second for the final. Should be a hot final.
-----------------------
200 backstroke: 2 more U.S. medals

Ryan Lochte wins the 200 back, with a new WR of 1:53.94. Aaron Peirsol wins silver.
-----------------------
Big news:

Rebecca Soni has just stunned Beijing -- and all of Down Under -- by smoking world-record holder Leisel Jones of Australia in the 200 meter breast stroke. Time: A WR of 2:20.22. Jones is second at 2:22.05.

-----------------
Thankfully, May-Treanor and Walsh pull out the first set. The bombers have been turned around at Belgium's border. For a second there, we thought we were going to have to interrupt regular programming.
---------------
The NBC cameras already are rolling the action into East Coast households, where people are snuggling up to their sets and seeing ... beach volleyball! We've run out of jokes about it. At this point, it's simply depressing. And it's not even the finals.

Possible gigantic, pressing, beach-volleyball questions perhaps to be answered tonight:

-- What if Kerri Walsh loses her wedding ring again?

-- Can we see, just one more time, the inscription inside it?

-- Is it true that Misty May-Treanor really carries around little vials of her mother's ashes to sprinkle in the sane in places where she plays? Is this sort of a macabre version of a dog peeing in another's territory, or former Olympic swimmer Amy Van Dyken spitting in an opponent's lane in the pool?

-- What color of tape will Kerri have plastered across her shoulder, like tape applied by an inebriated UPS-store employee, today?

Stay tuned.

CBC, meanwhile, is showing, RIGHT NOW, DTZ TIME, track and field preliminaries.f

It's an easy call.

Meanwhile, we hate to alarm America, but the Golden Girls of U.S. beach volleyball are trailing in the first set of their match against two unknown and largely irrelevant opponents from Belgium.

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August 14, 2008 3:14 PM

Track and field debuts: 100m prelims on CBC

Posted by Ron Judd


CBC's afternoon coverage, which kicks off at 3 p.m. DTZ daily here in the Disadvantaged Time Zone, promises coverage of the men's 100 meters preliminary heats, including Jamaica's Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell and America's Tyson Gay, this afternoon.

The conditions: The morning has dawned clearer and cooler than normal in Beijing, CBC says. And also: They're holding out hope for a judo medal today. Or a swimming medal. Or any medal...

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August 14, 2008 3:11 PM

Hey; throw that medal in this direction

Posted by Ron Judd


A Swedish wrestler, Ara Abrahamian, tossed his bronze medal onto the floor in disgust, saying he was hosed by judges in Greco-Roman wrestling's 84-kilo class semifinal.

The Swede was beaten by eventual gold medalist Andrea Minguzzi of Italy. In a grand display of Olympic sportsmanship, he yelled at the referee and then verbally accosted the judges. Teammates restrained him, CNN reports.

At the medal ceremony after his bronze medal match, Abrahamian left the bronze on the mat. It reportedly was later returned to his sport's governing body.

Know this: If that baby goes up on e-Bay, we're going after it.


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August 14, 2008 1:47 PM

Raise your hand if you're reading this at work

Posted by Ron Judd

Viewership stats confirm it: The great bulk of online viewing of the Olympics is being done by people doing some daytime "research" in the office.

Nielsen stats show that more than 2 million people lurked on the video section of NBCOlympics.com on Monday, compared to about 850,000 on the weekend, CNET reports. Yahoo also reported an 86-percent traffic surge on Olympic sites from Sunday to Monday.

OK, now get back to "work."

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August 14, 2008 1:35 PM

Behind the scenes, it gets testy

Posted by Ron Judd


A fascinating New York Times account of journalists demanding answers to questions about human rights, China and the IOC at the most recent IOC/BOCOG news conference is found here. Recommended reading.

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August 14, 2008 1:21 PM

Day 7 Canadian medal update

Posted by Ron Judd

Medals won so far by Canadian athletes:

(THIS SPACE LEFT INTENTIONALLY BLANK)

Meanwhile, Ukraine with a gold in the men's team saber, joins Chinese Taipei, Tajikistan, Togo and Egypt as nations that have won at least one medal as the Canadians plug away at it.

Chin up, TImbit Nation: Rowing is on the slate for the weekend.

And by the way: We KID the Canadians.

But, serioiusly, we heard that, due to the Summer Games' team's performance in the first week at Beijing, the Canadian Olympic Committee's "Own the Podium" slogan has been modified to: "Perhaps Let's Just Lease the Podium for Several Minutes Here and There."

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August 14, 2008 12:15 PM

More evidence on Chinese kiddie gymnasts?

Posted by Ron Judd


It's the story that won't go away for China.

The Associated Press in Beijing reports that just nine months before the Games, the Chinese government's own official news agency, Xinhua, reported that female gymnast He Kexin -- the one who looks like she's maybe 13 -- was 13. And -- surprise! -- that information has suddenly disappeared from Xinhua's Web site.

The complete story appears below. But we're wondering if any official traction will ever be gained on this issue. If the Chinese athletes are underaged, the Chinese government clearly is complicit: They've all been issued passports showing them to be 16.

And if that's the case, only a full-scale International Olympic Committee investigation could undo what's been done on the arena floor, where China already has captured the team gold medal. Yet, even after compelling proof of the age shenanigans was printed well in advance of the competition in the New York Times and elsewhere, the IOC has sat on its doughy hands.

Oddly enough, as others have noted, the IOC seems to relish that cop role when it comes to other cheaters, such as dopers and scandalous judges. Why the great wall of silence around the age controversy? It's a rhetorical question: The Olympic movement already has proven it's willing to sell its own soul to placate the Chinese, who apparently now run the organization.

Let's face it: The only solution is the King Solomon test: Somebody is going to have to cut one of those little gymnasts in half and count the rings.

Here's the story:

BEIJING (AP) -- Just nine months before the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government's news agency, Xinhua, reported that gymnast He Kexin was 13, which would have made her ineligible to be on the team that won a gold medal this week.

In its report Nov. 3, Xinhua identified He as one of "10 big new stars" who made a splash at China's Cities Games. It gave her age as 13 and reported that she beat Yang Yilin on the uneven bars at those games. In the final, "this little girl" pulled off a difficult release move on the bars known as the Li Na, named for another Chinese gymnast, Xinhua said in the report, which appeared on one of its Web sites, www.hb.xinhuanet.com

The Associated Press found the Xinhua report on the site Thursday morning and saved a copy of the page. Later that afternoon, the Web site was still working but the page was no longer accessible. Sports editors at the state-run news agency would not comment for publication.

If the age reported by Xinhua was correct, that would have meant He was too young to be on the Chinese team that beat the United States on Wednesday and clinched China's first women's team Olympic gold in gymnastics. He is also a favorite for gold in Monday's uneven bars final.

Yang was also on Wednesday's winning team. Questions have also been raised about her age and that of a third team member, Jiang Yuyuan.

Gymnasts have to be 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible for the games. He's birthday is listed as Jan. 1, 1992.

Chinese authorities insist that all three are old enough to compete. He herself told reporters after Wednesday's final that "my real age is 16. I don't pay any attention to what everyone says."

Zhang Hongliang, an official with China's gymnastics delegation at the games, said Thursday the differing ages which have appeared in Chinese media reports had not been checked in advance with the gymnastics federation.

"It's definitely a mistake," Zhang said of the Xinhua report, speaking in a telephone interview. "Never has any media outlet called me to check the athletes' ages."

Asked whether the federation had changed their ages to make them eligible, Zhang said: "We are a sports department. How would we have the ability to do that?"

"We already explained this very clearly. There's no need to discuss this thing again."

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has said repeatedly that a passport is the "accepted proof of a gymnast's eligibility," and that He and China's other gymnasts have presented ones that show they are age eligible. The IOC also checked the girls' passports and deemed them valid.

A May 23 story in the China Daily newspaper, the official English-language paper of the Chinese government, said He was 14. The story was later corrected to list her as 16.

"This is not a USAG issue," said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. "The FIG and the IOC are the proper bodies to handle this."

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August 14, 2008 10:44 AM

Finishing kick nears for Puget Sound swimmers

Posted by Ron Judd

Lost in the (much-deserved) media prop wash of Michael Phelps' historic medal quest has been the performance of Puget Sound swimmers in Beijing. To date:

-- Nathan Adrian, 19, of Bremerton, earned a gold medal by qualifying the U.S. men's 400 freestyle relay team for the final that resulted in the historic finish by Jason Lezak, nipping the French.

-- Similarly, freestyler Emily Silver of Bainbridge/Cal qualified the U.S. women's relay team for what would become its silver-medal-winning final.

-- KIng Aquatic swimmer and recent Seattle transplant Margaret Hoelzer won bronze in the women's 100 backstroke.

-- Tacoma's Megan Jendrick finished out of the medals by 0.3 seconds in the women's 100 breaststroke, which she won in Sydney in 2000.

But some swims are still to come:

-- Hoelzer swims the semifinals of the 200 backstroke, for which she holds the world record at 2:06.09, Friday morning in Beijing, or tonight, Seattle time. Her former college roommate, Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe, who swept the women's IM medals in Beijing this week -- will swim in the same preliminary heat. The final is set for 7 p.m. Friday, Seattle time.

-- Jendrick is likely to swim a prelims breaststroke leg of the 400 medley relay for the U.S., which holds the world record in the event and is a perennial medalist. The heats are at 5:30 a.m. local time tomorrow; the final is at 7:40 p.m. Saturday, local time.

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August 14, 2008 10:29 AM

Doh! The Water Cube is actually a 'parallelepiped'

Posted by Ron Judd


Somehow, I knew if I threw out a geometric term that just sounded funny (as in "rhombus," in the Top 10 list below), someone who understands the science would come forth with a precise geometric description of Beijing's "Water Cube."

Thus it is gratifying, although not surprising, that Halstead Harrison, a University of Washington professor emeritus, helpfully informs us this morning that:

The 'Water Cube' is more properly a 'right rectangular parallelepiped' [3-dimensions], not a rhombus [2-dimensions]. Tsk! Geometry 101. Just thought you'd like to know.

Yes, I took the class. Got a C-, and knew there would come a day when I would need to know how that an equilateral quadrilateral like a rhombus -- which, as any fool knows, is a two-dimensional, closed, four-sided figure with opposite sides parallel and of the same length -- could never be used to host swimming at the Summer Olympics.

We are now turning Prof. Harrison loose on the new gymnastics scoring system.


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August 13, 2008 8:45 PM

Olympic prime time -- Disadvantaged Time Zone Edition

Posted by Ron Judd

22:15 Men's overall gymnastics goes on, with Yang Wei of China leading the way. He win China's 20th gold medal.

The first hour was fairly excruciating, as it presents a worst-case scenario for the U.S. viewer: America's two competitors, halfway through, are not in the top 10, yet not mathematically eliminated. That means Americans must watch, in excruciating detail, the two adjust their tape on the bench, take off clothes, but clothes on, change gloves, etc. etc. etc., as the crowd reacts loudly to other nation's competitors actually doing gymnastics somewhere in the background. Will never understand the need to spend every single waking second with the U.S. athletes sitting on the bench and mugging for the camera.

It gets better later, as the two fade from contention, forcing NBC to show other competitors.

It's a bit better on CBC, where Canada's athletes are still shown disproportionately, but not in a way that's out of line. And at least we don't have to listen to them whisper sweet nothings in the camera to all their friends back home.

Al Trautwig, at 1:08 a.m. ET, announces, in a major concession to all 12 east coast viewers still watching: "We are commercial free until the end of the competition." Man, NBC just gives and gives and gives. Think what they could've pulled in for that prime, 1 a.m. ad position.


20:42: Women's 800 freestyle relay final
Australia wins at 7:44.31. China takes the silver. The U.S., which formerly owned this event, takes the bronze, with Katie Hoff unable to make a dent in a large deficit she inherits at 600 meters.

20:15: Over at the Water Cube, Michael Phelps swims 1:57.70 to advance to the final, but the big news is, HIS SPEEDO GOGGLES FAIL HIM AGAIN!

------------------
20:02: We go now to men's individual gymnastics. Right off the bat, add this one to the list of classics from NBC's Al "Every-Chinese-Cliche-In-The-Book" Trautwig:

"All around gymnasts are like the Chinese panda."
-------------------
19:55: Men's 100 free final
Alain Bernard of France wins a drag race with Eamon Sullivan of Australia, swimming 47.21 to Sullivan's 47.32. America's Jason Lezak ties for third place, earning his first individual medal after six relay medals. Defending champ Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands is out of the running.

Women's 200 butterfly
19:50: Liu Zige and Jiao Liuyang, two Chinese swimmers who have raised eyebrows with sterling performances in Beijing, despite not placing in worlds competitions in prior years, finish one-two, swimming 2:04.18 and 2:04.72, respectively -- both under the WR. Jessicah Schipper of Australia, who loses her WR, swims 2:06.26 to finish third.

19:37: NBC yukster Chris Collingsworth (who is in Beijing ... why?) has a taped interview with Jason Lezak, which Bob Costas crows is something "the competition" couldn't get. What competition? You own the Olympics, you summon someone, and they show up. Good grief.

19:29: Men's 200 backstroke, semi heat two
Ryan Lochte swims 1:55.40, right on Peirsol's heels for the final. Markus Rogan of Austria is third seed.

19:24: Men's 200 backstroke, semi heat one
Aaron Peirsol of the U.S. swims 1:55.26 to win, looking very relaxed.

19:18 Women's 100 free semis, heat two
Jiaying Pang of China wins the heat, and Libby Trickett, WR holder of Australia, appears not to make the final -- major upset. Seconds later, Pang is DQ'd for a false start. Trickett will swim the final -- from lane 8. Coughlin goes in as top seed.

19:12: Women's 100 free semis, heat one
Natalie Coughlin, with a gorgeous turn at 50 meters, wins at 53.70. WR holder Libby Trickett of Australia swims 54.11, is in danger of not making the final.

19:07: Men's 200 breaststroke
Kosuke Kitajima of Japan hits the double jackpot, sweeping the 100 and 200 breast with a time of 2:07.64. Silver to Brenton Rickard of Australia. Bronze to Hugues Duboscq of France. Mike Brown of Ontario flirts with third, but keeps Canada's medal-less streak alive.

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18:55: Sorry. Had to take a break there. I was losing my mind.

NBC is showing a montage of all of Michael Phelps' gold medals, starting in Athens. It will take a while.

A rumor is floating around that NBC might show Phelps' eighth gold-medal race on Saturday live, in all its markets, even here in the Disadvantaged Time Zone (DTZ). Stay tuned, but don't hold your breath.

---------------------------
17:42: This just in: China has now won 17 gold medals. We're not saying their athletes are underaged, but 14 of those are going to show-and-tell on Monday morning.

17:37: Alexandre Despatie and Arturo Miranda of Canada, in a brilliant play to keep Timbit Nation's medal-free streak alive, just made a decidedly non-synchronized dive to drop to fifth place.

We observe that the hometown Canadian crowd is getting a bit cranky about the medal drought. Take this summary of the Canadian duo's efforts, by Dave Stubbs of Canwest News Service:

BEIJING - For too much of Wednesday's six-dive contest, Canadians Alexandre Despatie and Arturo Miranda were synced about as well as a dubbed Godzilla movie.
------------------------
17:18: NBC is now doing a big takeout feature on... Kerri Walsh and Misty May Treanor. I kid you not. More beach volleyball. They're back live at the top of the hour, Bob Costas says. Perfect. We were looking for time to defrag the hard drives.

Meantime: NBC moves to springboard men's 3m synchro diving.
-------------------------

17:05 p.m. Good afternoon, Irrelevant West Coast. Good morning, Beijing. (Elliott: Remember to eat breakfast.)

NBC's eastern feed leads off with the women's road-cycling time trial, which we have a strange feeling will be won by America's Kristin Armstrong, 35.

One immediate reaction: These are said to be the "Green Games." But every single cycle heading up the road has a personal escort vehicle -- one car per cycle. Just saying.

And we have to ask: Is it part of the official Olympic charter that every color commentator for cycling must have a British accent?

Tonight's expected highlights: The men's 100 freestyle swimming final. Men's individual gymnastics competition (late).

CBC is back at synchro diving.

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August 13, 2008 4:06 PM

Goggle incident -- pilot error, says Speedo

Posted by Ron Judd


That look of disgust on the face of uber-swimmer Michael Phelps must have been directed at himself. Because Speedo goggles were not to blame for filling with water, blinding the swimmer and nearly sinking his chances for eight Olympic gold medals in Beijing, a Speedo spokeswoman tells Advertising Age.

We quote:

The spokeswoman said Mr. Phelps uses a different pair of goggles for every race, and it was possible he hadn't tightened them properly.

Gold medalist "Dara Torres is still wearing the same pair of Speedo goggles from 15 years ago," she said. "So they are not often faulty."

Well, there you go. Pilot error. Rookie mistake. It's not like the guy does this for a living or anything.

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August 13, 2008 3:23 PM

Canadian medal update

Posted by Ron Judd

Up-to-the-second roundup of current Canadian medalists:

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August 13, 2008 2:20 PM

Daytime boxing on CNBC

Posted by Ron Judd


Owing largely to the corrupt, morally bankrupt circus that epitomizes professional boxing in America, I'm not much of a fight fan. And neither are most other people. So it's been a long time since I've taken in boxing on TV -- particularly of the Olympic variety.

Going at it right now -- on tape -- on CNBC (and Universal HD) is a light flyweight bout, USA's Luis Yanez of Duncanville, Texas vs. Jose Kelvin de la Nieve of Spain.

The inescapable impression. These guys are lightning fast. Impressive.

Yanez wins a 12-9 decision and becomes the fifth American (of eight) to move to the second round.

Since you asked: Light flyweights are 106 pounds or below.

Since you also asked: The U.S. hasn't medaled in this classification since 1988, and hasn't won it since 1984 (Paul Gonzales).

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August 13, 2008 2:05 PM

Today's Olympic Q & A: What's with those diver's showers?

Posted by Ron Judd

Some Q/A from today's print column, found here.

Q: I'm watching NBC. When I see that "LIVE" bug in the top right corner, is it really live?

A: No, it isn't. Not unless you're watching from Hoboken. NBC prime-time telecasts in the Pacific time zone are NEVER live. Never. Never. The bug is a blatant lie. NBC, hounded about this by journos everywhere, responded today that it is impossible for them to remove the bug before rebroadcasting their East Coast programming to the West Coast. Seriously.

Perhaps this is why Richard Sandomir of The New York Times has taken to calling us West Coasties "viewers in disadvantaged time zones," which we are going to officially adopt. (We know what you're going to ask; we already did, and no, it doesn't get us a good parking spot at the mall.)

Q: Why are there so many empty seats at arenas? Didn't the Chinese promise to fill every event?

A: Indeed, they did. The Chinese have been bragging for months about selling all 6.8 million tickets in advance. Yet large banks of empty seats have been seen at some places unexpected, including tennis matches with stars like the Williams sisters, as well as boxing, basketball, field hockey and handball.

It's gotten so bad that the International Olympic Committee, which to date has been a complete lap dog to the Chinese government, yesterday expressed concern, saying more people were needed in the stands to maintain a "proper atmosphere."

The Chinese, saying they'll look into it, are blaming sponsors for buying large blocks of tickets (for which they qualify, through "Olympic family" private sales) then simply not distributing them for preliminary rounds of competition. The same issue has plagued the past several Olympics; it's not unique to China.

Q: Where can I find the exact time of a TV broadcast of a specific event?

A: You can't. It doesn't exist. TV jumps around and doesn't know from one day to the next exactly when it will be broadcasting a particular sport. And even if they could, you'd have to deal with the tape-delay issue. However, for a major event you expect to be broadcast live, you can find a specific start time online. Try going to www.nbcolympics.com, click on the header for the sport, then look for "results and schedules."

Q: Why do divers shower after every jump? Are they sweaty?

A: They do it for warmth. The water in the pool is cool, the water in the showers is warm. They need the warmth to keep their muscles loose. (Some divers say they believe they go into the water "cleaner" while wet, but most towel off before jumping for fear their skin will be too slick for tucks and grabs, etc.) Also: If you're a glamour-girl or guy diver, you really want to stay supple.

Q: We're watching rowing. With every race, cameras follow the boats down the course and behind them, on the opposite shore, a bunch of people are bicycling along a path, following the boats on bikes. Who are they?

A: They're coaches, says Brett Johnson of U.S. Rowing. The teams didn't schlep their own bikes over there, but they can rent them at the venue. It's the best way to get from one end of the long course to another, and watch the action at the same time.

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August 13, 2008 10:01 AM

Top 10 Other Things in Beijing That Are Not What They Seem on NBC

Posted by Ron Judd

From today's print column, found here.

Top 10 Other Things in Beijing That Are Not What They Seem on NBC:

10) The "Water Cube" is actually a rhombus.

9) All beach volleyball recorded inside secret warehouse in New Mexico desert.

8) Final torchbearer Li Ning didn't really circumnavigate the top of the Bird's Nest stadium on wires before lighting the cauldron; the stadium rotated around him.

7) The Chinese never actually invented paper; they claimed the honor out of spite after inventing the paper cut.

6) Broadcasts in Bible Belt states inexplicably show women's beach volleyball players wearing long wool skirts.

5) New historical footage shows 1989 Tiananmen Square protester clearly provoking that tank driver.

4) That guy breaking all Mark Spitz's records? Dara Torres with fake sideburns.

3) Every Chinese vase on NBC's main set is sunk 12 inches into the floor to make Bob Costas look at least 5 feet tall.

2) Early rounds of fencing conducted entirely on Nintendo Wii.

1) NBC unearths footage of construction of 2,000-year-old Great Wall of China, broadcasts it with "LIVE" bug in corner of screen.

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August 13, 2008 9:52 AM

About that Brandi Carlile GM ad in NBC's Oly prime time

Posted by Ron Judd

Last night, we uttered some dismay -- I think the words "sell out" were used -- about the new GM ad that uses local folk rocker Brandi Carlile's "The Story" as a soundtrack.

Brandi's manager and a couple other fans have written to inform us that Carlile, who we adore, and would gladly cast a vote for to become America's Singer/Songwriter Laureate, only made the GM ad because it was for alternative-energy vehicles, and vows that every cent of proceeds will be donated to environmental groups exploring alternative energy. She notes on her blog:

I also believe in American jobs. Keeping people employed in the US and building fuel-efficient/alternative cars could help reduce and one day help eliminate our dependency on foreign oil. To really make a positive impact regarding the climate crisis we all need to work together to make the change, even GM.

Fair enough.

But it still bugs me.

Especially when, having heard Carlile's GM-really-gets-it explanation, I watch the ad again, more closely, and see all the images of supposed GM "green" vehicles with this tiny-type disclaimer: "Future vehicles shown. Not currently available."

And, sorry, but I question how committed any automaker could be to the environment when it still proudly lists "Hummer" as one of its brands.

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August 12, 2008 5:46 PM

Tuesday prime time thread: Phelps gets 5th gold; China gold in gymnastics

Posted by Ron Judd


NBC has signed off on the East Coast -- 30 minutes late again. For consecutive nights, East Coasters have had to stay up until nearly 12:30 a.m. to see the end of gymnastics. Whereas, if NBC was showing it live in Seattle, it actually would be IN prime time. But what do we know.

CBC, meanwhile, has finally found an event in which Canada is ahead -- baseball, where they lead China 3-0 in China's first game ever in the Olympics.

Note: NBC's West Coast broadcast at this minute says "LIVE" on beach volleyball. It's a lie. It will stay there for the first two hours. It's still a lie.

-----------------

goggles.JPGGood night for Michael Phelps, bad night for Speedo. Phelps flings his Speedo goggles in disgust after swimming to another world record, in the 200 butterfly, blinded by water. (Photo: Itsuo Inouye/AP.)


Phelps, on NBC, speaks about becoming the all-time gold medal leader with 11:

He thought about it earlier and got all choked up, he says.

"I'm almost at a loss for words."

And he reveals that he did, indeed, have a goggle malfunction while winning his first gold medal of the night in the 200 butterfly:

"As soon as I dove in, they filled up. They kept getting more and more and more full. I broke the record, but I can go faster."

Back to Bob Costas:

"If you were wondering if MIchael Phelps is good enough to do it with his eyes closed, the answer apparently is yes."

And then Costas, who, recall, doesn't like to emphasize the medal count, shows us the medal count, which shows China leading in golds.

--------------------
China wins the gold medal in women's team gymnastics, beating the U.S. by 2.375 points. Romania wins the bronze.

So much for that. NBC goes back to ... Michael Phelps!

--------------------
On women's gymnastics:

The U.S. squad is in floor exercises. (Sorry, had to file a column for the print edition, and just sort of half-viewed the balance beam, but heard things like "major deduction" coming from the commentators.) Chinese athletes have made a large numbers of mistakes on the balance beam, but the U.S. can't capitalize, matching goof for goof.

Alicia Sacramone falls on a jump pass on her floor routine. She's rattled, and later steps out of bounds. Afterwards, she looks absolutely, completely devastated.

I've watched in person as gymnasts self-destruct like this at the Olympics, and every time, your heart really aches for them. Men and women both. From any country. It's excruciating. And imagine trying to ask them, after the fact, what went wrong. There's nothing fun about it. Most of them face up to it and try to explain, but you can literally feel the pain. They don't want to be there. Neither do you. You both do your job.

You have to keep in mind the big picture: They train insanely for four years for, literally, one moment, and there are just so many things that can go wrong. A step over the line here. A minor balance shift there. Boom, you're done.

It's not like beach volleyball, or fencing, where if you screw up and lose a point, well, you come back and do better. Not possible here. Hard to imagine the nerves of steel it takes to conduct this high-wire act. And at such young ages, for the most part.

The U.S. remains in silver-medal position, but is struggling, after leading the Chinese early.

----------------------------

800 freestyle relay
So much for Phelps being tired. The Human Torso, leading off, had nearly a two-body-length lead at 200 meters -- 2 seconds under the world-record pace. Stunning. Ryan Lochte swims second, extending the lead, and touching 3.63 seconds below WR pace. The third swimmer, Ricky Berens, kept the lead at nearly half a pool length. Peter VanderKaay brought it home on the anchor leg, bringing the U.S. in with a new WR of 6:58.56, followed by Russia at 7:03.70 and Australia at 7:04.98.

Phelps is now five for five, and they're all world records.

-------------------
Women's 200 IM final

Australia's Stephanie Rice grabs her second gold, winning in 2:08.45. Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe is second at 2:08.59. Natalie Coughlin wins bronze with 2:10.34. Katie Hoff is 0.34 behind, in fourth.
---------------------
All-time medalists

Someone just asked where Phelps' career 10th gold and 12th overall medal places him on the all-time list for total medals of all colors. Here it is, with name, event, and total medals (athletes with 10 or more medals, including Phelps' results tonight):

Larissa Latynina, USSR, gymnastics:18
Nikolay Andrianov, USSR, gymnastics:15
Takashi Ono, Japan, Gymnastics: 13
Edoardo Mangiarotti, Italy, fencing: 13
Michael Phelps, USA, Swimming: 13
Boris Shakhlin, USSR, gymnastics: 13
Alexei Nemov, Russia, gymnastics: 12
Jenny Thompson, USA, swimming, 12
Sawao Kato, Japan, gymnastics: 12
Birgit Fischer, Germany, canoeing: 12
Bjorn Daehle, Norway, XC skiing: 12
Paavo Nurmi, Finland, track and field: 12
Carl Osburn, USA, shooting: 11
Viktor Chukarin, USSR, gymnastics: 11
Vera Caslavska, Czechoslovakia, gymnastics: 11
Matt Biondi, USA, swimming: 11
Mark Spitz, USA, swimming: 11
Alexander Dityatin, USSR, gymnastics: 10
Dara Torres, USA, swimming: 10
Raisa Smetanina, USSR, XC skiing: 10
Polina Astakhova, USSR, gymnastics: 10
Agnes Keleti , Hungary, gymnastics: 10
Gary Hall Jr. USA, swimming: 10
Vitaly Scherbo, Belarus, gymnastics: 10
Akinori Nakayama, Japan, gymnastics: 10
Aladar Gerevich , Hungary, fencing: 10
Carl Lewis, USA, track and field: 10

--------------------
Here's what it's like to be us.

Not 10 minutes after Phelps won his 10th career gold medal, the following announcement appeared in our inbox:

Today, Visa unveiled a special edition commercial commemorating Michael Phelps’ historic achievement of setting the all-time record for most career Olympic gold medals at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. I've attached a press release below for your review.

Let me know if you are interested in speaking with a Visa executive about the new commercial or the company's long-standing relationship with Michael Phelps.

We'll get right on that.

----------------------
Gymnastics update:
All American gymnasts appear to have successfully unpacked their bags. Is that a "Hello Kitty" logo on the back of one of them?

----------------------------
Men's 200 butterfly final:
America's Michael Phelps, claiming gold medal number four in Beijing, number 10 overall, breaks his own world record with a 1:52.03. He finally looks tired, and a bit irritated. Silver to Laszlo Cseh of Hungary. Phelps will be back shortly for his relay swim.

Meanwhile, NBC switches quickly to women's gymnastics. Wouldn't want to miss Team USA walking out of the tunnel and lacing up their shoes.

----------------------------
Women's 200 freestyle final:

Federica Pellegrini of Italy, leading start to finish, wins in world record time, 1:54.82. Silver to Sara Isakovic of Slovenia. Bronze to Pang Jiayhing of China. No medal for America's Katie Hoff.

-------------------------
Nap over. Both networks have switched to swimming. First up: Men's 100 freestyle prelims.

Heat One: Alain Bernard of France, regaining some mojo after getting spanked by Jason Lezak at the end of the 400 relay, lowers his own world record, swimming 47.20. Lezak is third at 47.98; Stefan Nystrand of Sweden second at 47.91.

Commercial break note: Anyone else lamenting that our own Brandi Carlile has sold out to General Motors? Sad.UPDATE, Wednesday a.m.: See post above.

Heat Two: Eamon Sullivan of Australia grabs the
WR right back, swimming 47.05. How low can they go? Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands is second at 47.68. Garrett Weber-Gale of the U.S. does not make the final after finishing fifth in this heat, swimming 48.12.

-------------------
On CBC, they're giving an update on all the possible medalists from Timbit Nation. The report just started and ... well, there's the end.

We KID the Canadians!

-------------------
Oh, no. There it is. Bump, set, spike. Lather, rinse, repeat.

We'll get back to you when something actually happens.
--------------------
Double uh-oh: On NBC (East Coast only: West Coast: irrelevant), Costas has just said the three words that send the world reaching for the remote:

"Men's beach volleyball."

(We are expecting that, simply in the interest of fairness, the network will be showing wedding photos of the men, and discussing where they took their brides on the first date.)
-------------------
Uh-oh: The killer, impenetrable, lung-clogging, penetrating smog, sorry, refreshing fog, has re-descended upon Beijing, if the view behind Ron McLean on CBC is any indication.

Hey: The view behind Bob Costas is sunny blue skies.

Just kidding. Although nothing, at this point, would surprise us. Just some more "cinematic effect!"

----------------------
Synchro diving results are posted below. (Close your eyes if you don't want to know.)

----------------------

Appearing now on NBC (East Coast) and CBC, everywhere:

Women's synchronized diving, 30m platform.

We were hard on the guys doing this yesterday. We seek to make amends: It's a great sport. Just not the sport of the future, which everyone has now acknowldged is team handball.

Speaking of which: Learn about team handball -- heck, sign up for it -- at USA Handball's web site.


--------------------
Synchro diving results, women:

1) China
2) Australia
3) Mexico

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August 12, 2008 4:54 PM

History in the making: Swim schedule for the Human Torso

Posted by Ron Judd

In case you want to watch Michael Phelps, the Human Torso, win five more gold medals, live (well, good luck with that, if you're relying on NBC) on TV, here's his remaining swim schedule*, from our crack research staff:

200 butterfly: 7:21 pm today
800 freestyle relay: 8:19 pm today
200 IM: 7:48 pm Thursday
100 butterfly: 7:10 pm Friday
400 medley relay: 7:58 Saturday.

*Note: All times are Pacific Daylight Time, AKA Disadvantaged Time Zone Time (DTZT).

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August 12, 2008 10:42 AM

Lip-synch Shocker! China admits ceremony song sung by Milli Vanilli

Posted by Ron Judd


Some of it seemed too good to be true.

Well, some of it was.

Reports from Beijing today have Chinese officials admitting that the adorable little red-dressed girl singing the adorable little song, "Ode to the Motherland" as the Chinese flag was marched into the opening ceremony was lip-synched. No a crime, to be sure -- even Pavarotti lip-synched his famous "Nessun Dorma" at the Turin opener, because of his health and the extremely cold weather.

But in this case, the voice echoing around the world did not even belong to the pig-tailed girl on camera. It was a recording of another young Chinese girl, authorities confessed today. It was their solution to a dilemma: The girl on camera, Lin Miaoke, 9, was judged to be the most adorable. But she didn't have the best voice. So they mixed and matched, using the voice of another 7-year-old girl deemed cuter by China's Politburo.

What's more, Lin, the New York Times suggest, may not even have known she was being dubbed. See their posted mug shots and decide for yourself about the Chinese Politburo's taste.

Meanwhile: Bob Costas's tortured description of those "footprint" fireworks leading up to the opening of ceremony makes sense now with the revelation that those didn't really happen, either. The actual 29 fireworks footprints were set off during practices, but it was too smoggy the night of the show itself. So they filled in with B-roll combined with computer effects, which Costas and other announcers described as a "cinematic device" without ever actually just saying that what you saw wasn't real.

This, coupled with NBC's insistence on running a "LIVE" bug on West Coast broadcasts of events that ended hours earlier, makes you wonder: Is anything you're seeing in China real? In the future, why not just produce the entire thing on a blue screen?

(NBC's limp explanation today: They can't remove the bug for West Coast broadcasts. Just pay no attention to it.)

Speaking of which:
In the New York Times, we here in Siberia south are now being referred to as viewers in "disadvantaged time zones."

Does that mean we get a front-row parking space?

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August 12, 2008 8:49 AM

While You Were Sleeping, Tuesday edition

Posted by Ron Judd

Good morning, Irrelevant West Coast. Here's what you've missed:

Basketball: The U.S. men's team downed Angola, 97-76 to go 2-0 in the Olympics. Next up: Greece, which stunned the U.S. at the World Championships in Japan two years ago. It might be payback time.

Women's soccer: The U.S. secured its spot in the quarterfinals by skunking New Zealand, 4-0, in Shenyang.

Men's volleyball: Still playing without the head coach, the U.S. improved to 2-0 by defeating Italy.

Marathon: The reigning women's champion, Mizuki Noguchi of Japan, announced she's withdrawing from Sunday's Beijing race because of a thigh muscle sprain and groin problem. Noguchi won the grueling marathon on one of the hottest days of the Athens Games -- conditions so tough that many competitors failed to finish, and many who did suffered from severe hydration.

Softball: The U.S. beat Venezuela 11-0 in a match called in the fifth inning because of the "mercy" rule. Jennie Finch and Monica Abbott combined for yet-another no-hitter. Makes you wonder if fans of the sport rallying to have it reinstated in the Olympics (this is scheduled to be its official swan song) might be better served placing some ringers on foreign squads. It's just not competitive outside the U.S. and Australia.

Trap Shooting: Glenn Eller of Texas won gold in men's double trap.

Tennis: Rafael Nadal, the Williams sisters and Roger Federer all advanced.

Everyone ready for some more beach volleyball?

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August 11, 2008 5:24 PM

Monday prime-time live: Phelps wins third gold; bronze for Hoelzer

Posted by Ron Judd

And Finally: News from NBC's Omniscience Department:

"Anyone who is Chinese and who is near a television set right now is watching this." -- Al Trautwig, as the first Chinese gymnast takes the high bar.

Really? To listen to the constant hyperbole from NBC, you would think that all every single last man, woman and child composing the 1.3-billion population of China has to do at any given time is sit and watch the Olympics on a big flat screen.

He's not the first NBC yakker to make the claim. Can you imagine how foolish it would sound to assert that every single, last person in America, a fraction of the size, was glued to a TV at any one time?

That was only a warmup, though, for this gem that Trautwig has likely been sitting on for weeks, waiting for the Chinese to win:

"There's a new China syndrome, and it's China gold."

Yick.

But wait. Back to the studio, with Bob Costas, who has just said, face straight:

"Generally, we don't emphasize the medal count."

You guessed it: Cut to medal-count chart. We can't top that. Over and out.

Men's gymnastics:

The U.S. falters badly on the pommel horse, but hangs on for the bronze, behind China and Japan.

China moves back into the lead after four rotations, with some sterling vaults.

An amazing story is developing for the young, unheralded U.S. men's team, which leads the Chinese -- that is not a misprint -- in the middle of the third rotation. Tip: Don't miss Jonathan Horton's high bar performance.

Women's 100 breaststroke: Jones runs away; silver for Soni

World-record holder Leisel Jones of Australia, surprising no one, swam 1:05.17 to run away with the race, with USC's Rebecca Soni charging for the silver medal, swimming 1:06.73. The bronze goes to Mima Jukic of Austria. Megan Jendrick of Tacoma swims 1:07.62 to finish fifth.

Men's 100 backstroke: Two more medals for U.S.

Aaron Piersol becomes the second U.S. swimmer to defend his Olympic crown, winning the 100 back in 52.54 -- yet another world record. SIlver to Matt Grevers of the U.S.; bronze to Arkady Vyatchanin of Russia.

Women's 100 back: Coughlin defends crown

Making history, Natalie Coughlin of Cal defended her 100 backstroke title, swimming 58.96 to edge out Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe and King Aquatic swimmer Margaret Hoelzer, who becomes the third Puget Sound-area medalist in only three days of the Beijing Games.

Phelps: On cruise control -- set to 80

Michael Phelps destroys the field in the 200 freestyle, pulling to a body-length lead at 50 meters and never relenting, winning in a new world-record time of 142.96. It was ridiculously not close.

Second: Taehwan Park of Korea, Third: Peter Vanderkaay, one of Phelps' Michigan training partners.
:
Real sports begin

Men's 200 freestyle final upcoming in moments...

On CBC, swimming, with heats in the women's 200 freestyle.

On NBC: The men's Chinese gymnastics team, looking flawless.

Upcoming

Another big night at swimming, with Michael Phelps, barring possible torpedo attack, likely to collect his third gold medal, in the 200 free, for which he owns the world record. (Our lament: Wouldn't it have been great to watch Phelps swim this race against Ian Thorpe, in his prime?) Local swimmers Megan Jendrick and Margaret Hoelzer also swim in finals. And then men's gymnastics.

Stay tuned. We're going to splash water on our face after that first hour of nothingness. Oops, make that two hours. It just flew by!

Meanwhile, in Timbit Nation

CBC is promising two hours of "nearly commercial free" coverage of swimming, starting after the top of the hour (7 p.m., local time). But you have to earn it. Because in the meantime, they're going to show you ... beach volleyball!

But, gracefully, it has now ended. America triumphs. "The key is, May and Walsh are playing May and Walsh volleyball," Kiraly says. Honestly.

"The ring is on the finger, and the win is in the bag," Marlowe says. Also honestly.

Stuck in Beach Volleyball hell

You can't get this kind of faux-Olympic-sport analysis (by Chris Marlowe and Karch Kiraly) just anywhere.

Like, did you know Kerri Walsh lost her wedding ring in the sand at beach volleyball the other day?

Oh, you will. Not only that, you'll see up-close photos of the ring, including the inscription inside. And a wonderful wedding photo. And another of the ring on her finger, now wrapped in tape to hold it in place after -- and we hate to play spoiler here on something this important -- they found it. And another showing....

Did you know that, as good as she and Misty May-Treanor are apart, they're even "better together?"

Did you know how Misty May met her husband, and where they went on their first date?

Answer: A volleyball game!

Do you know when Kerri Walsh will turn 30? (Answer: It's "coming right up!")

Did you know they both want to start families after the Olympics?

Did you know that NBC spent more than $900 million for the rights to do this for to us?

Do you know where all of Misty's tatts are, and why they're so meaningful to her?

Did you know Misty has the odd habit of carrying around little vials of her mom (in ash form), and ritually sprinkling them on the sand courts where she plays?

We can't take it. Can we please go back to synchro diving?

We'll never complain again. Ever.

Seriously. Give us Matt Lauer at fencing. Anything...

Phelps Pre-Show Begins:
In a canned feature on the Human Torso, Michael Phelps, who swims about five hours a day, reveals he was told he's supposed to eat 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day -- and describes how he tries to do that.:

"Sleep, eat, swim," narrates Bob Costas. "That's about all Michael Phelps has done since the world last saw him four years ago."

Yet someone probably spent weeks working on this little vignette.

When it ends, Costas gets us ready for the upcoming coverage of -- oh, for the love of God. More beach volleyball.

Just Wondering:

"Ling Long Pagoda:" Chinese takeout place on Aurora Avenue, or location of CBC studios in Beijing?

Lead-off Splatter:

Having mastered the time-zone thing, we know it's Tuesday morning in Beijing. What we didn't know was that it's Adrenaline-Free-Tuesday morning.

In other words: Don't rush dessert to get settled into NBC's prime-time coverage at 8.

First thirty-five minutes (and counting): Men's synchro diving, being led by ... two Chinese guys!

(NBC commentator's synchro-diving visualization exercise: Imagine jumping off the roof of a 30-story building into a tired metaphor.)

The bright side: It's not like you're missing anything on CBC, either. The Canadians are showing repeats of crew races.

We'd complain, but don't want to tempt anyone at the network to switch back to beach volleyball:

Bump, set, spike. Lather rinse repeat.

Zzzzzz.


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August 11, 2008 3:44 PM

Team handball mania: Ground-level opportunities available

Posted by Ron Judd

team handball.JPGPreparing to kiss the floor: France's Didier Dinart battles Brazil in team handball qualifying Sunday in Beijing. Photo: Abaca Press/McClatchy Newspapers.)


OK, now we're totally hooked on team handball. If you saw the play at the end of the nail-biting Hungary vs. Brazil women's match, you would be, too.

It wound up in a tie when, with one second on the clock, a Hungarian player whose name we cannot pronounce, let alone spell, appeared to be standing their chatting about, I don't know, the humidity, with her teammates during a stoppage in play when suddenly ... BOOM! ... she turns around and fires the tying shot right through two hapless, flat-footed defenders, who are doing the team-handball-defense equivalent of picking their noses.

"GOOOOOOOOOAL!"

Outstanding.

The Brazilians stood there, agape, with that indignant, you-never-called-time-back-in-again! look of protest. To no avail.

You almost felt sorry for them, but ... that's team handball!

Two other big developments on the team handball front:

1) We're starting to figure out how it works. First thing to know: the name is a misnomer. It's really closest to lacrosse, played indoors, with a shrunken soccer ball and no sticks. You use your hands, play six on a side, and shoot at a miniature soccer-style goal.

You move the ball by running (while dribbling) or passing. There's lots of faking, flopping, air time, bounce-shooting and, most important, face-smashing (usually with the ball; clearly by accident). The game also has penalties and power plays, which, we believe creates all sorts of potential sponsorship opportunities involving Molson and Tim Horton's.

And then there's an added, look-at-this-poor-sap element: Playing goal in team handball is undoubtedly the worst job in Olympic sports. In today's broadcast, the one or two times the goalie for Brazil actually stopped a shot, she reacted as if she'd just won Powerball.

2) The U.S., as we mentioned, has no team handball team in Beijing. We're currently off the world team handball map. But we sense that's about to change. Our praise for the sport in a column in Sunday's Times drew notice of team handball players and executives in the U.S. As it turns out, the sport's governing body was decertified (AKA, no more money for you!) a couple years ago by the U.S. Olympic Committee, and it's trying to reconstitute, form new clubs, and qualify for the 2012 Games in London.

As it happens, U.S. Team Handball is looking for a club leader in the Seattle area. And, as a measure of how desperate, er, eager they are, they asked if I'd be interested.

Well, no. I'm flattered, but I want to watch the sport, to nurture and foster it, to revel in it, OK, to make fun of it, at least a little -- not run it. But, I'll happily pass on names of interested parties to the people in charge. It's my small part for all team handball kind.

It's addictive. We dare you to watch. (Try Universal HD in the daytime, if you're one of the 17 people who get that. Or, go online at www.nbcolympics.com and find it at your leisure, if you can possibly call staring at a computer monitor "leisure.")

Next step: Someone needs to come up with a more fitting name for the sport, to shed the unfortunate, but common, mental link to handball, a completely different -- and we'll just come out and say it, wholly inferior -- game.

Ideas? We're thinking perhaps "Major League Faceball."


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August 11, 2008 2:43 PM

Star-spangled outrage continues to build

Posted by Ron Judd

medals.JPGThe U.S. men's 400 freestyle relay team -- L-R, Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones and Jason Lezak -- on the medal stand. Do they even recognize the tune? (Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.)


Another missive has been launched at the hideous Chinese version of our national anthem played during gold medal ceremonies for U.S. athletes -- this one from John, an actual expert and a reader of this blog responding to the recent item about the botched anthem during the first Michael Phelps medal ceremony. He opines:


Yes, they cut-off the National Anthem... BUT what is worse is that the
"arrangement" of our National Anthem is AWFUL. First, it is played by an
orchestra and should be performed instead by a BAND like the US Marine Band
in Washington DC.

Second, the arrangement is "tricked up" and is filled
with harmonic suspensions which smply don't fit. It frankly creates a
very "feminine" kind of impression, almost "impressionistic" in the French
musical composer's tradition. It sounds AWFUL! And, it is way too slow!

I have a doctoral degree in music and conduct a university band... I know
what I'm talking about -- get me the US Marine Band or US Army Band in
Washington and burn the recording that they have in Beijing!!!

Amen, brother.

We could not concur more, and hasten to add: We're going to have to listen to this thing a LOT in the next couple weeks:

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August 11, 2008 11:31 AM

Listening in on Beijing

Posted by Ron Judd


One benefit of NBC's broadcasting so much of its daytime taped coverage of team sports in high-definition TV is the sparkling clean, digital stereo sound that comes with it.

Watch the network's basketball channel, for instance, and marvel at the sounds of the game you don't normally pick up at home.

When the U.S. women's squad -- looking more and more like a juggernaut -- put China to the sword this morning (local time), you could hear a literal symphony of squeaky sneakers as both teams jostled for position. Amazing.

(Maybe this is something you'll only hear in the women's game, where they still move their feet and play defense.)

Also clearly evident: Catcalls from the stands, shouts of encouragement from the benches -- and that loud "Thonk!" of the rims, especially when China (sorry; it's true) was shooting.

The whole thing was just masterfully microphoned and produced. Many other events have been, as well. A tip of the hat to those audio engineers on the ground in Beijing.

Our advice: Turn it up loud on the hi-fi, and make it feel like you're there.

One cautionary note: One down side is that unpleasant sounds come through just as clear. Like the unbelievably supercharged horn, used to announce the entrance of new players, in Beijing's new, 18,000 seat hoops arena.

NBC's Mike Breen, hearing the mondo horn completely overwhelm his voice for the umpteenth time in the U.S./China game, noted wryly:

"Yes, in case you're wondering, it is the loudest horn in the history of basketball arenas."

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August 11, 2008 10:13 AM

His right hook is actually a claw

Posted by Ron Judd


Combing through the media guides, one of our friends in Beijing passes along the following nugget in the bio for heavyweight U.S. boxer Deontay Wilder:

Hometown: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Birthdate: October 22, 1985
Height: 6-7
Weight: 198 pounds
Reach: 34 1/2
Occupation: Budweiser driver and Red Lobster

Meanwhile, our old friend Greg Bishop of the New York Times, obviously similarly engaged, was struck by the name of a women's weightlifter: Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon, who he promptly nominated for "Name of the Games."

BIshop writes:

"At the risk of my journalistic integrity, I'm hoping to collect a signature from Jaroenrattanatarakoon this afternoon, mostly because I want to see what 21 letters -- in one last name -- looks like scrawled across the steno pad. (Note to bosses: this would count as journalistic curiosity, not an autograph.)

There's an Iranian lifter named Fakhri Satvatnazhad Tehrani. Say the two meet on the mat and it's love at first lift. She could be Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon-Satvatnazhad Tehrani.

It's not that far-fetched. Four years ago, at the Athens Games, the Czech rifle shooter Katerina Kurkova had won a bronze medal and was doing some TV work for a Czech station. When reporting on the 50-meter rifle three position, a shooter named Matt Emmons was in contention for the gold medal but shot at the wrong target. Kurkova offered her sympathy, and they were married in 2007.

Katerina Emmons won the first gold medal of these Beijing Games on Saturday."

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August 11, 2008 10:02 AM

While You Slept, Monday edition

Posted by Ron Judd

While you were sleeping, Monday edition:

Shooting: Abhinav Bindra, 25, of India, becomes the first Indian to win a gold medal, this one in the 10-meter air rifle competition. The New York Times announces in a headline: "Suddenly, a Billion People Notice the Olympics."

Women's Hoops: The U.S., on the strength of a 23-0 first half run, leave China in the dust, 108-63. Tina Thompson leads with 27 points.

Diving: China's Lin Yue and Huo Liang win the men's 10-meter synchro title, China's second diving gold in two days. U.S. pair David Boudia and Thomas Finchem are fifth.

Swimming: Michael Phelps, apparently tireless, returned to the Water Cube and set a new Olympic record (1:53.70) in qualifying for the 200 butterfly. Katie Hoff and Natalie Coughlin advance in the 200 IM; Hoff also advances in the 200 freestyle. They may not all be gold, but Hoff is going home with a stack of medals.

Also worth mentioning is something we didn't get to last night: Italy's Federica Pellegrini, one leg of the love triangle (along with her boyfriend, swimmer Luca Martin, and Martin's ex, French rival Laure Manaudou) that keeps Euro tabloids in business these days, proved she can make news in other ways, breaking the world record in the 200 free (1:55.45).

Tonight: Local swimmers Megan Jendrick and Margaret Hoelzer have finals in the Water Cube.

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August 10, 2008 11:56 PM

U.S. women's eight dominates Canada, Britain, advance to final

Posted by Ron Judd

The U.S. women's eight crew, powered by Anna Mickelson Cummins and coxswain Mary Whipple, both former U-Dub crew members, led start to finish in their first race in Beijing, beating Great Britain, Canada and Germany. The margin of victory was more than 2 seconds. The U.S. team goes directly to the final, the rest into a repechage round.

Cummins, the only U.S. rower in two events, also will row in the women's pairs, with Portia McGee of Seattle, later in the Olympics.

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August 10, 2008 5:41 PM

Sunday night LIVE: Gold for U.S., Bremerton's Adrian

Posted by Ron Judd


In the big swim race of the night -- and perhaps one of the greatest ever in the Olympics -- the U.S. men's 400 freestyle relay team staged a stunning comeback, capped by a world-record anchor leg swum by Jason Lezak (46.06), to nip the French by .07 seconds.

The comeback, keeping alive Michael Phelps' historic quest for eight gold medals, erased a surprising early deficit after Phelps swam the first leg in 47.51.

Next up, Garrett Weber-Gale, who briefly regained the lead for the Americans by swimming 47.02. But the French charged back into the lead on leg three, swum by Cullen Jones at 47.65.

Into the water went Lezak, 32, facing off against French world-record holder Alain Bernard. He trailed Bernard most of the way, but skirted to the inside, near the French swimmer, and passed him in his last four strokes. Lezak's time, 46.05, obliterated the former fastest swim time for a relay start and sent the U.S. squad into pandemonium. Bernard swam his last leg in 46.73.

The finish time, 3:08.24, was almost 4 seconds below the 3:12.23 world record mark set by their prelims swim team, which included Bremerton's Nathan Adrian, who will take home a gold medal. The French finished in 3:08.32.

In the women's 400 free, America's Katie Hoff appeared to be have her first gold medal wrapped up, but was caught at the end and passed by Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain, who swam 4 03.22 to Hoff's 4:03.29. Joanne Jackson of Britain was third at 4:03.52.

In the men's 100 backstroke semis, Aaron Piersol swims 53.56, qualifying fifth.

In the women's 100 breaststroke semis, America's Rebecca Soni swims 1:070.7, winning the first heat and qualifying second overall. Second heat: Tacoma's Megan Jendrick swims 1:08:07, qualifying seventh for tomorrow's final. Qualifying first is Leisel Jones of Australia, who swam 1:05.80.

In the men's 100 breaststroke, Kozuki Kitajima of Japan defends his gold from Athens, swimming 58.91, a world record. Silver to Norway's Alexander Dale Oen, 59.20. Bronze to Hugues Duboscq of France, 59.37. Brendan Hansen is fourth at 59.57.

In the women's 100 fly, Australia's Libby Trickett takes gold, swimming 56.73. Silver to Christine Magnuson of the U.S. Bronze to Jessicah Schipper of Australia, 57.25.

Natalie Coughlin's world record in the 100 backstroke goes poof as Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe swims 58.77 in the semi-finals.

Michael Phelps advances in the semis of the 400 freestyle, swimming 1:46.28. Winning his heat was America's Peter Vanderkaay, swimming 1:45.76. Phelps goes into the final seeded fourth.

Equestrian Eventing

Duvall's Amy Tryon was dismounted, with both her and horse escaping injury. But she's disqualified from the competition, reports KING-5 TV's Allen Schauffler from Beijing.

Women's Synchro Diving

As expected, gorgeous to watch. Also as expected, China's Guo Jinging and Wu Minxia are nearly flawless in defending their 3-meter synchro title from Athens. Close call for American duo Kelci Bryant and Ariel Rittenhouse, who were tied for second after three dives (of five) when a mistake on the fourth dropped them to fourth in the competition. Silver to Russia, bronze to Germany.

Politics:

President Bush stops off at the NBC anchor desk for five minutes with Bob Costas. Costas gets him to confirm he was, indeed, talking to Vladimir Putin about the conflict with Georgia during the opening ceremonies, telling him the violence was unacceptable. They also discuss banned-from-China athlete Joey Cheek. "Joey Cheek's got to know I took the Sudanese message (to Chinese leadership) for him," Bush says.

He adds that he doesn't need the Olympics as an excuse to press Chinese leaders on human-rights issues, something he says the U.S. government does all the time.

In general, he has high praise for the Chinese handling of the Games, and says he's been thrilled to spend so much time with American athletes.

"Our team's fired up," he says. "And so am I."

Women's (girl's?) team gymastics:

Pretty tough night for the U.S. squad.

Don't miss the performance of China's He Kexin on NBC's prime-time delay-othon tonight. Let's just say something uncharacteristic occurs on her otherwise mind-boggling uneven parallel bars routine.

By the way: If that girl is 16, I'm Bette Midler. Discuss amongst yourselves.


He.jpg

Bette.jpg

>(Top: He Kexin; photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images. Bottom: Bette Midler or Ron Judd/Seattle Times file.)

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August 10, 2008 5:00 PM

Cracking the NUT: A note on live results

Posted by Ron Judd

MEMO

TO: Anyone offended by our posting of live results here.

FROM: Rules Committee, Olympic Insider.

RE: Timing.

We regret to inform you that we at Olympic Insider operate on Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), not NBC Universal Time (NUT).

Throughout the Beijing Games, when we have access to a live feed from China -- which, knock on wood, we hope to -- we'll be posting real-time results and commentary here every evening.

We'll say this once for the record: If you're waiting for NBC's delayed prime time coverage and don't want to know what's going on in the world in real time, don't be poking around on the Internet -- especially here -- until you're ready to rejoin the rest of the planet.

We'd love to welcome you back later, however.

That is all.

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August 10, 2008 4:46 PM

Men's freestyle relay could bring a medal to Bremerton's Adrian

Posted by Ron Judd

Nathan Adrian, 19, of Bremerton, helped put the U.S. men's 400 meter freestyle relay team in tonight's (scheduled: 8:26 p.m. PT) final. But it's unlikely he'll swim in the race itself.

Adrian swam 48.82 in the semis, where the U.S. team lowered the world record to 3:12.33. His teammates were Cullen Jones (47.61), Ben Wildman-Tobriner (48.03) and Matt Grevers (47.77). But two of those swimmers are likely to be replaced by veterans Jason Lezak and Michael Phelps in the final, in spite of their record preliminary time.

Adrian's time was solid, but the slowest of the group. Coaches consider a lot of other factors, as well, including experience, big-race competitive fire, start times and other factors. Usually, a coach gets no credit when he makes the right call -- and a lot of attention when he doesn't.

This call will be made by men's coach Eddie Reese, who doesn't exactly have a sterling record at choosing straws in this event in the recent Olympic past.

It was Reese who made the controversial decision to leave veteran, big-race swimmer Gary Hall Jr. on the beach for the same race in Athens four years ago. Hall publicly questioned Reese's decision to use Phelps -- who technically had not qualifed for the event at trials -- and Ian Crocker, who had been sick leading up to the race in Athens, instead. Crocker practically drowned on his leg, and the U.S. finshed third -- its worst finish ever, ending Phelps' quest for seven gold medals.

Reese responded that he'd made his decision strictly on the basis of recent times. So much for that strategy.

Whoever gets the call tonight will join his teammates in seeking some vengeance. America never lost the race until the Aussies beat them in Sydney in 2000. It has grown into one of the great grudge matches in the sport.

And all swimmers on the team, including Adrian, will get whatever medal the final four earn in the pool.

Choosing relay members is often controversial. And occasionally misinterpreted. Phelps was widely portrayed as heroic in Athens for bowing out of the butterfly spot for his final relay, the 400 medley, to give Crocker a chance to redeem himself for his freestyle relay debacle (which he did). Reese called it a "hell of a gesture." But it wasn't entirely selfless: Phelps, who had swum for the U.S. in the prelims, had already qualified himself for that medal. It would prove to be gold, and it would be his eighth, a record for any non-boycotted Games.

So far.

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August 10, 2008 10:06 AM

While you were sleeping: Bremerton's Adrian helps U.S. to world record

Posted by Ron Judd

While you were sleeping, Sunday morning edition:

Swimming

The U.S. men's 400-meter freestyle relay team, swimming in the semis without Michael Phelps, lowered the world record to 3:12.23. Making it happen were Bremerton's own Nathan Adrian along with Cullen Jones, Ben Wildman-Tobriner and Matt Grevers. The final kicks off around 8:20 p.m., PT.

Margaret Hoelzer, swimming 1:00.13, advanced to the semis in the 100 backstroke; the semis are tonight, Seattle time. Megan Jendrick swam 1:08.07 to advance to the semis in the 100 breastroke. Swimming in the same heat, Australia's Leisel Jones set a new Olympic record at 1:05.64. Semis are tonight; finals tomorrow night, Seattle time.

Katie Hoff, last seen looking glum accepting her first Olympic medal -- a bronze -- after the women's 400 IM won by Australia's Stephanie Rice (who also took Hoff's former world record), appears out for vengeance: She set an Olympic record in the semis of the 400 free.

Volleyball

The U.S. men's team, playing without head coach Hugh McCutcheon, whose father-in-law was killed in a bizarre attack by a crazed knife-wielding assailant, beat Venezuela in five sets. Assistant coach Ron Larsen filled in.

Courtroom

Greek sprinter/doper Ekaterina Thanou, who faked an accident to hide from drug testers and wound up withdrawing from her home Games in Athens, was ruled officially out of the Beijing Games by the International Olympic Committee, which, in a rare, frank display of outright distaste, called her conduct "scandalous."

Gymnastics

Coaching legend Bela Karolyi, on hand to provide commentary for NBC, stirred things up a bit by keeping alive controversy about the alleged ages of two young female Chinese gymnasts.

Karolyi, quoted by the Los Angeles Times, called the Chinese team's flouting of age rules "blatant," and accused the Chinese of using "half people."

"These people think we are stupid," he said. "We are in the business of gymnastics. We know what a kid of 14 or 15 or 16 looks like. What kind of slap in the face is this? They are 12, 14 years old and the government backs them and the federation runs away. There is an age limit and it can't be controlled."

Under international rules, competitors must be 16. The international gymnastics federation declined to investigate what it called "Internet" reports that the two Chinese girls qualifying for the individual medal round, Jiang Yuyuan and Yang Yilin, are underaged.

On the floor, meanwhile, the U.S. suffered a setback when Samantha Peszek injured her ankle during warmups before team competition. The U.S. finished second in its group to advance to the final on Wednesday.

Men's water polo

The U.S. beat China, 8-4.

Tennis

America's James Blake beat Chris Guccione of Australia in two sets in a match with a long rain delay that scuttled most other matches.

Soccer

Snatching tie from the jaws of victory, the U.S. men's soccer team gave up a free-kick goal in the 93rd minute for a 2-2 tie with the Netherlands. Winning would have clinched the team a spot in the quarterfinals; now it must beat or tie Nigeria on Wednesday.


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August 9, 2008 8:15 PM

Saturday Nightcap: Gold for Phelps; silver for Silver

Posted by Ron Judd

At the Water Cube:

-- The Netherlands nips the U.S. in the women's 4 x 100 freestyle relay. America's Natalie Coughlin, leads off, and led at 50 meters, but faded badly in the last 25 meters of her leg to give Germany a lead at 100 meters. Lacey Nymeyer closed the gap for the U.S., giving way to Kara Lynn Joyce and, ultimately, Dara Torres, who made a blistering comeback that fell short as the Dutch pulled away in the final two legs.

Bainbridge swimmer Emily Silver, whose preliminary heat swim help put the U.S. into the final, earns the silver medal and becomes the first Washington state medalist in Bejing.

The Dutch held the world record in the event, but had not won the event at the Olympics since 1936. Australia takes the bronze.

-- Brendan Hansen qualifies fifth in the 100 breast, rallying a bit after his 10th-place prelim swim. Final tomorrow.

-- Katie Hoff, in the start of her quest for six medals, swims to a bronze in the women's 400m IM, won by Stephanie Rice of Australia in world-record time.

-- Michael Phelps, once again destroying his own WR, wins the 400 IM in 4:03.84. Teammate Ryan Lochte, sonsidered a possible threat to Phelps, claims the bronze at 4:08.09. Cseh Laszlo of Hungary wins silver at 4:06.16.

-- Park Tae Hwan of South Korea wins the men's 400 freestyle, swimming 3:41.86. Zhang Lin of China wins silver; Larsen Jensen of the U.S. bronze.

At the International Broadcast Center:

Bob Costas capped off the night with a nice gaffe: They cut back to him in the studio when he was standing there with his clip-on microphone still in his hand. Costas quipped about "you know it's live when ..." and then, still holding the mic, went about interviewing gymnastics commentator Bela Karolyi -- until it quickly became obvious Karolyi had no microphone at all.

Oh well. We'll be interested to see if they cut the entire bit of hilarity out for the West Coast broadcast.

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August 9, 2008 7:43 PM

Oh, say can you ... huh?

Posted by Ron Judd


Now here's somebody you wouldn't want to be in China today: The poor sap responsible for playing the U.S. national anthem at the Michael Phelps medal ceremony.

The song started out in the wrong place, and seemed to play the opening bar at least one extra time -- maybe even two. In the stands, MIchael Phelps' mother, who had been mouthing the words, stopped abruptly, and looked confused.

At that point, the recording shifted into an unusual strings arrangement for the "rockets red glare" chorus. Then it went for the big finish:

"O'er the land of the free
and the ...

(Dead air.)

Phelps got a laugh out of it. No big deal.

And none other than George W., sitting in the stands, waved a flag frenetically and didn't seem to notice -- perhaps avoiding a major international incident.

But we're guessing the person at the audio controls has some 'splaining to do in ultra-image-conscious China.

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August 9, 2008 2:57 PM

The (swim) world according to NBC: Go Michael go!

Posted by Ron Judd

phelps.jpg
Michael Phelps swims to an Olympic record in the 400 individual medley prelims in Beijing (AP Photo/Bob Bukaty).


"He's really the only swimmer to watch here."
-- NBC's Dan Hicks, as Michael Phelps goes to the starting blocks for the first of his 17 races in Beijing.

Call that a Freudian slip.

Nobody has more invested in Michael Phelps' quest for eight gold medals than NBC. Literally. The network, not surprisingly, has built its billion-dollar Beijing effort around Phelps, perhaps the greatest swimmer of all time. An eight-gold medal haul would rank with the greatest single-Games achievements in Olympic history, and it creates the sort of suspense that can build over a 10-day span -- and potentially translate into a ratings bonanza.

The problem? Two of the events in which Phelps, who will swim five individual races and three relays, is most vulnerable come early in the Olympics -- tonight and tomorrow night, in fact.

One, surprisingly, is the grueling 400-meter individual medley, the finals for which occur at 7 p.m. PT tonight. It's an event Phelps has dominated on a global level for six years -- until recently, when teammate Ryan Lochte began to show up in the Baltimore swimmer's rear-view mirror.

No sane person would wager against Phelps in the 400 IM, his speciality. He lowered his own world record to 4:05.25 at the Olympic swim trials last month. But Lochte appeared to push Phelps to his limit in the final, hanging with him to the end, touching at 4:06.08. An upset by Lochte would be huge news -- and a potential disaster for the network. It would truly qualify as a worst-case-scenario for NBC, which sits fat, happy and self-congratulatory today after near-record ratings for last night's opening ceremony, in spite of a 12/15-hour east-west coast delay.

If Phelps survives that first test, it gets more, not less, difficult. The next event on the docket is the 4 x 100 freestyle relay. It's a race that Phelps can't control, placing himself at the mercy of three teammates. They're no slouches -- as usual, the men's 100 free stable is well-stocked. But the U.S. was beaten in this event at the past two Olympics (by Australia in 2000 and South Africa in Athens, spoiling the Phelps-win-streak angle there early in the Games, as well). And they're expected to get all they can handle in Beijing from France, led by world-record sprinter Alain Bernard (47.50). South Africa also remains strong.

It shows you how unreasonable it really is to expect Phelps to walk away from Beijing with eight gold medals -- eight medals, period, would be a momunental accomplishment. The U.S. still holds the world record in the relay, 3:12.46. But a time as low as the lower 3:10s might be needed to take home the gold.

Tune in, and watch NBC hold its breath, as the U.S. swims the relay final -- likely with Phelps on the leadoff leg -- at 7 p.m. PT Sunday.

UPDATE: 7:20 p.m. (With obligatory SPOILER ALERT):


Honestly, if you don't want to know....

OK, here goes.


One down.


Phelps swam 4:03.84 to destroy his own world record as Lochte faded for the bronze.


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August 9, 2008 12:47 PM

While You Were Sleeping...

Posted by Ron Judd

Saturday edition, While You Were Sleeping:

-- It all started happening. TV viewers awoke to a full-on assault from as many as nine different cable stations, plus unlimited online, on-demand viewing. Sort of overwhelming and thrilling all at once. More on this later.

-- American women swept the medals in fencing's saber event. Who knew we were so good at fencing? Interviewed after the fact by NBC, silver medalist Sada Jacobson, of Dunwoody, Ga., choked up on camera, in a very touching moment.

Even more special: Two of the three on the medal stand were Oregonians. Becca Ward (bronze) and Mariel Zagunis (gold) are both from Beaverton. It was a repeat performance for Zagunis, whose gold in Athens in 2004 was the first U.S. fencing medal in a century.

-- Bainbridge/Cal swimmer Emily Silver's swim in the prelims for the 4 x 100 relay may be her one-and-out experience in the Beijing Games. But what a one it was. Silver swam a 54.81 lap for the U.S., which qualified in third place for tomorrow night's final, when Silver likely will be replaced by a faster, more-experienced swimmer.

Silver swam the prelim with Kara Lynn Joyce, Julia Smit and Lacey Nymeyer, and said if it is her only time in the pool here, she'll cherish the experience.

"On our way here we saw the Olympic torch," she told the Los Angeles Times. "We all took the bus over, the four of us, and it was a really special moment. Just to be part of this is amazing."

Note that if the U.S. medals in the event finals Sunday, the prelim swimmers, including Silver, deservedly get one, too.

-- The U.S. women's basketball team rocketed out of the gate, squashing Czech Republic, 97-57. Diana Taurasi leads with 17 points.

-- Defending gold medal U.S. women's soccer team got back on track, beating Japan 1-0 in Qinhuangdao to even its record at 1-1. A win over Norway on Tuesday secures the U.S. a spot in the quarterfinals.

-- Michael Phelps blew away early jitters by setting a new Olympic record in qualifying for the 400-meter IM, which he swam in 4:07.82. He'll swim for his first gold medal this evening local time, Sunday morning in Bejing. His biggest competition might be a teammate, Ryan Lochte, who pushed Phelps, apparently, at least, to his limit at the U.S. Olympic trials in this event.

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August 9, 2008 12:33 AM

NBC, online viewers engage in 'digital Whack-A-Mole'

Posted by Ron Judd

Great overview in the New York Times of the NBC-versus-rest-of-planet-earth tussle over control of live Olympic broadcasting on the Internet. The piece includes this lovely response to widespread criticisms over tape delaying from Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics: "We have a billion dollars of revenue at stake here, so that means we're not public television, for better or worse."

Could've fooled us. Maybe it's all those pledge breaks.

Media experts, meanwhile, are pointing to the Beijing Games as a possible major turning point in the migration of watching eyes, and the ad dollars that go with them. The prediction: Online streaming, not even a factor as recently as two years ago for the Turin Games, could rule the media roost by the next Summer Games, in London in 2012.

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August 8, 2008 11:33 PM

Opening ceremony, second thoughts

Posted by Ron Judd

OK, having now seen all, some, then all of the opening ceremony again throughout the day, a couple more impressions:

-- The ceremony, in full-on HD and hi-fi sound, was a visual triumph on television. Having seen a lot of these, I can say that nothing has equalled it in presence, precision, and sheer force of humanity. Friends on the scene in the Bird's Nest -- after rehydrating from the sweat bath that was the stadium -- agree with that assessment. It was stunning.

"When it comes to opening ceremonies," Bob Costas said, "retire the trophy." And he's right. It wasn't the most heartfelt, or the most original. But technically and artistically? Off the charts. Plus, the Chinese get it about the flame in the cauldron: Make it big, baby.

-- NBC's coverage, with some obvious caveats (two words: Matt Lauer) was effective. Not in the constant blather and faux emotion of Costas and Lauer, but in its production values and in the interpretation of the historical and cultural elements of the show by NBC China analyst Josh Cooper Ramo -- a former Seattle Times intern! (We taught him everything he knows.)

NBC seemed to stick longer with visuals of chosen subjects, and frankly seemed better prepped. Costas, for example, was ready with names and careers of all the Chinese athletes who carried the torch around the stadium, making it much more meaningful. CBC's Ron McLean and Peter Mansbridge, by comparison, fumbled the same scene badly, seemingly reading the names off the scoreboard, and offering little to no background.

The tradeoff, however, is the network's trademark overkill and absolute, petrified fear of dead air. Lauer at times seemed to be actually reading verbatim from a World Almanac during the Parade of Nations. Did you know that Paraguay is the only nation in the UN with a flag different on the front and the back? Who cares?

All in all, a solid job by NBC. Now, if they could only get that live-broadcast bit right. Today's spectacular ceremony could have aired live on the East Coast at 8 a.m. We're guessing there was enough interest in the ceremony that a lot of people would have stayed home from work, watched from work, or found a way to truly experience the event by taking it in live. A prime-time rebroadcast would have nabbed everyone else -- plus a lot of repeat customers, if the show came off as promised. Don't hold your breath for any of this, however. It's all about cash, and NBC has sold a cool billion dollars worth of ads for these Games. The bottom line is the bottom line.

-- Nice touch, putting up a quick visual tribute to the late Jim McKay at the show's closing -- especially since he spent most of his career at rival ABC.

-- Try as we might, we still can't get around the Bird's Nest's uncanny resemblance to a bed pan. Did you know the Chinese invented the bed pan?

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August 8, 2008 6:21 PM

UCLA lab's due-date error foiled timely notice of Hardy dope test

Posted by Ron Judd

A clerical error at an acclaimed Los Angeles dope-testing lab, combined with a faxed test result that sat unnoticed in a Colorado Springs office over a weekend in late July, probably cost Bremerton swimmer Tara Kirk a spot on the U.S. Olympic team for the Beijing Games.

The test result was the first notification to U.S. Anti-Doping Agency officials that another U.S. swimmer, Jessica Hardy, 21, of Long Beach, had tested positive at the U.S. Olympic Trials July 4 for clenbuterol, a banned anabolic agent.

The report was faxed from a UCLA test lab to USADA's offices sometime "after hours" on July 18, Erin Hannan, USADA's publications and communications director, said Friday. Nobody at USADA saw it until the morning of July 21, at which point Hardy and officials with USA Swimming were immediately notified, she said.

The timing is critical, because July 21 also happened to be USA Swimming's deadline to send a complete Olympic roster to the U.S. Olympic Committee, for submittal to Olympic authorities by July 23. Under current USA Swimming rules, team alternates are not allowed, and replacements to the squad can't be named once the Olympic roster has been submitted.

Adding to the timeline crunch was an error made earlier at the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, which tested the urine samples from swimmers at last month's U.S. Olympic trials. The sample taken from Hardy July 4 arrived at UCLA on July 5, the lab's director, Dr. Anthony Butch, told The Seattle Times Friday. But when it was logged into the lab's computer, it was mistakenly identified as a regular, rather than "expedited," sample, as requested by swimming officials.

The lab essentially assigned it a due date of approximately two weeks, rather than the seven to 10 days normally assigned as a due date for an expedited sample, he said.

"We dropped the ball, and we missed it," Butch said. "We clearly made the mistake." The Hardy test sample was the only trials sample assigned an incorrect due date, he added.

Procedures have been put in place to ensure that the due-date mistake is not repeated at the lab, which processed some 40,000 samples last year, and was busy with drug-test samples during the runup to the Beijing Games, Butch said.

"Unfortunately, it's a little late now," he said.

But Butch added that no one from USADA or USA Swimming, which, because of tight roster deadlines, had requested expedited samples for all swim trials tests, contacted the lab to inquire about the result as the deadline approached.

"We don't have any documentation that anyone called and said, 'We need to know about any specific specimen,'" he said. "It was just one of those that fell through the cracks, unfortunately."

The timing of the U.S. swim trials, which ended barely a month before the Olympics, left no room for such errors, Butch noted.

That time crunch became a critical issue, one that likely kept Kirk and perhaps two other swimmers from being named to coveted spot on the Olympic team to replace Hardy. USA Swimming, confronted with the positive test result on the same day its roster was submitted, stuck to published rules that called for any vacancies to be filled from within, rather than outside, the named Olympic squad.

In Kirk's case, that meant a swimmer already named to the team -- Rebecca Soni, who finished fourth at the trials in the 100 breaststroke, but also had qualified in the 200 breaststroke -- was named to fill the 100-meter Olympic slot vacated by Hardy, who received a two-year ban for testing positive.

The top two swimmers in each event make the Olympic team. Because she finished one place ahead of Soni, Kirk argued that she should have been named to the Olympic team.

But USA Swimming's rules, which some officials now concede are flawed, precluded that, officials insisted. The test results simply came too late to make Olympic roster changes, they said: Hardy's "A" sample positive was revealed to her, as USADA and the lab now confirm, on July 21; her "B" sample, tested by the UCLA lab at USADA's request the very next day, also was positive.

The revelation of the lab error, and the timing of USADA's reporting of the test, are likely to intensify growing pressure in the swimming community to reform the U.S. swim team's Olympic selection procedures --or at the very least hold the Olympic trials earlier to avoid such mishaps.

Kirk filed claims against USA Swimming on Aug. 4, seeking a place on the Olympic team and possible damages from being left off it. An arbitrator, after a 10-hour hearing, told Kirk she was wronged by the process, but said she could not be granted a spot on the Olympic team because USA Swimming technically did not violate its own selection rules. Kirk's remaining claims for damages remain active, and are expected to be heard by an arbitrator next month.

Kirk, a former Stanford swimmer and 2004 Olympian, said Friday she knew about the fax issue, but not about the lab error. She laments her own self-described "less-than-stellar" performance at the trials, but still feels wronged, she said.

"There were multiple points along this road where USA Swimming, USADA and the (U.S. Olympic Committee) could have acted to prevent this situation ... or make it right once events had swung into motion," she said in an e-mail.

"The one refreshing thing about this is that someone is finally acknowledging their mistake. But it doesn't make up for the loss of my Olympic dreams."

A second swimmer in a similar situation, Lara Jackson, finished third in the trials 50-meter freestyle race in which Hardy finished second. A third swimmer, Amanda Weir, conceivably could make a claim for a spot in the 400-meter freestyle relay, which Hardy also would have swum in Beijing.

Hardy, meanwhile, made her own deal with USADA and a separate arbitration panel. She essentially pled guilty to the positive test, receiving a two-year eligibility ban. But she received permission to return and present more evidence about either tainted nutritional supplements or testing sabotage in a bid to reduce her ineligibility penalty.

Hardy's lawyer, experienced drug-test litigant Howard Jacobs of Los Angeles, told the arbitration panel that Hardy needed more time to complete testing on nutritional supplements she had ingested in July. A followup hearing on her case originally was set for Aug. 4, but delayed to an unknown date.

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August 8, 2008 4:44 AM

Watching the opening ceremony, so you won't have to

Posted by Ron Judd

Here's a running commentary of the 2008 Beijing opening ceremony, as viewed on CBC. (If you want to read it chronoligically, start from the bottom.)


0918 a.m.
The last member of the 1.25-billion-person Chinese delegation has entered the Bird's Nest.

Over and out.
------------------
0912 a.m.

Afterthoughts: An impressive ceremony, but by no means groundbreaking, as some in the Chinese organizing committee had boasted. No gaffes, no glitches, an impressive mix of Olympicdom and Chinese culture. The cauldron lighting was a highlight, as advertised, but, sorry, did not match or surpass other ingenious, daring lightings, such as the flame being shot via arrow to the cauldron in Barcelona in 1992, or the ski jumper lighting the cauldron in Lillehammer in 1994.

The crowd, at least from a TV perspective, didn't appear to be as much into the festivities as at some past opening ceremonies -- perhaps a result of the oppressive heat and duration (four hours-plus) of the affair.

The CBC coverage: Fair, with the broadcast team, as mentioned below, sometimes too absent, when information is called for. CBC will rebroadcast the ceremony at 3 p.m., Pacific time. NBC's coverage begins at 7:30 p.m.

Onward. And upward.

-------------------
0903 a.m. Flame on!

The final torch bearer, multiple gold medalist gymnast Li Ning, takes the torch and is immediately lifted, on wires, all the way to the top of the Bird's Nest, where he takes long faux strides and appears to actually be running around the lip of the stadium. As he runs, a lighted scroll surface appears to unfurl underneath him on the inside lip of the stadium roof. Onto the scroll is projected a video montage of the flame's path around the globe to get to Beijing. Spectacular.

After a full lap, he approaches a spiral-cone-shaped cauldron, suddenly lit with bright lights at the lip of the stadium, and holds the torch to light the end of a metal bar. The flame, bursting hotter and higher, follows the bar to the upper cauldron, traveling in spiral-staircase fashion, to ignite a roaring upper conflagration.

Big, big fireworks commence. Suprisingly, they don't look as big, or as long, as the post-ceremony fireworks show in Sydney, the most spectacular we've ever seen.

Background: Li, a six-time medalist at Los Angeles, is CEO of a Chinese sports-gear company. His historical status as the lighter of the cauldron was evident on Wikipedia two minutes after he actually did it. How's that for moveable type?
-------------
0852 a.m.
As the Official Cheesy Pop Song of the 29th Olympiad is sung by a winner of China's Got Talent, the Olympic torch approaches the Bird's Nest. The identity of the final torch-bearer remains unknown -- an official state secret, the wire services are reporting. No small accomplishment.

The torch is carried into the stadium and relayed around the infield by more Chinese gold medalists -- an amazing array, given that the Chinese have only been competing in the Olympics since the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Broadcast note: McLean and Mansbridge are woefully neglectful here in identifying all the torch carriers. Sometimes, a little interruption of the official soundtrack is beneficial for viewers.
----------------
0850 a.m.
The athlete's and judges' oaths are being recited.

Speaking of the Olympic flag: It's blowing at what appears to be a 20-knot clip, in a stadium with no other visible breeze. Apparently the Chinese also have invented the first self-propelled unnatural-wind flag pole. It's actually sort of cool -- if they would just dial it back to mild-gale force.
-------------
0837 a.m.

The Olympic flag is carried into the stadium by some of China's most famous Olympians, including our old friend short-track skater Yang Yang (A), the first Chinese Winter Games gold medalist. The historic flag is handed off to a squadron of Chinese soldiers, who march it, in a goose step fashion that's frankly a little creepy, to the flagpole. The crowd stands for the Olympic anthem, sung by Chinese children, for the flag raising.
---------------
0825 a.m.

IOC President Jacques Rogge and the mayor of Beijing walk out on a broad red carpet to a stage at the center of the infield. Speeches commence.

"For a long time, China has dreamed of opening its doors," Rogge says. "Tonight, that dream comes true." He salutes the Chinese people's resilience in response to the Sichuan earthquake.

"These Games belong to you," Rogge says. "Let them be the athlete's Games."

He reminds athletes that they are "role models for the rest of the world" and urges them to reject doping and cheating.

Rogge thanks the Beijing organizing committee and volunteers for their "tireless work."

He concludes: "Beijing, you are host to the present, and the gateway to the future."

Rogge asks the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, to officially open the Games. And surprise: He does it. Fireworks around the stadium.

-----------------
0807 a.m.
Thousands of dozing spectators are awakened abruptly as China and its delegation of 1.25 billion athletes begins entering the Birds Nest, led by Yao Ming. He's accompanied by a young boy who was a hero of the Chinese earthquake. A big, proud moment for China.

The Parade of Nations, not entirely mercifully, is about to end at two-plus hours. It's sort of like watching baseball: You know something might might eventually happen, but have no idea when. And when it does, you've already missed it.

BTW: If you don't get CBC, you're missing out on some pretty adorable commercials, featuring little kids in Olympic winter sports activities, from Vancouver 2010 sponsor Wonder Bread, of all companies. The footage of the tykes in a bobsled is pretty precious.

One eye-opening fact: The thousands of athletes amassed on the stadium floor -- these are professional athletes, mind you -- all appear to be sweating profusely. If the rest of us were there, who among us would not be lying in a quivering, dehydrated lump? Food for thought there on your couch.
--------------
0802 a.m.
New Zealand marches into the stadium. The flag-bearer wears a cape apparently made of fur. Somewhere in Beijing, U.S. swimmer and PETA supporter Amanda Beard strips naked in protest.
-------------
0757 a.m.
On it goes.

We can't help but yearn for the gold old days of the Iron Curtain. The breakup of the Soviet Union added a couple dozen nations to the parade. What were they thinking? Things were so much simpler, Olympic-wise, back in those halcyon days of mutally assured destruction.

The Swiss have arrived. Roger Federer carries the Swiss Army flag. Honoring an old Swiss tradition, he refuses to dip it as he passes in front of Rafael Nadal.
--------------
0740 a.m.

Georgia has entered the stadium. Following them: Alabama.

On a serious note: CBC is reporting details of fighting and military action in Georgia, the former Soviet Republic. So much for the Olympic Truce.
----------------
Drumroll: Here comes the U S of A.

The Americans, wearing white pants and blue blazers, march in triumphantly to .. well, muted applause from the Chinese. In the phalanx of athletes, you can see....

Oh, the humanity: Commercial break!

Not kidding. Maple Leaf Nation clearly is trying to keep all the unheralded canoeing stars to its greedy little self.
---------------------
0717 a.m.
This just in: The CBC has made contact with its delegation in the infield, utilizing a mobile connection that sounds very much like a string-and-tin-can phone. At long last, viewers are treated to an interview with a member of the Canadian field hockey squad, who reports a "fantastic energy" in the stadium. Nearby, a Chinese cheerleader in white Jan Brady go-go boots drops dead on the ground and is quickly replaced by an identical stand-in.

San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili is the flag-bearer for Argentina, the South American nation that specializes in women's field hockey and dissecting listless U.S. men's basketball teams composed of people incapable of throwing a bounce pass.

The French team has arrived, setting off a round of hissing from the British section of the Birds Nest. Cameras cut to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who -- and this is an international outrage -- is not accompanied by French First Babe Carla Bruni. Marching with the French team is swimming star Laure Manaudou, who, like the first lady, has famously appeared nekkid on the Internets. More on her and her stunning love triangle involving swimming rival Federica Pellegrini of Italy (we are totally serious about this) as the Olympics unwind. (Oh, stop it: You can't expect us to give up all the good stuff on the first day.)

Hearing a whir of hundreds of mini-digicams, we sense the pending arrival of the United States of America, only seven nations away.

------------------
0707 a.m.
The athletes are all marshaling in the infield. Surrounding them is a band of Chinese women, in cheerleader-type outfits with white caps and red bandanas, who have been rhythmically clapping and leg-kicking since the parade of nations began nearly four weeks ago. Several have left the stadium on stretchers; the others have been provided supplemental oxygen.

Breaking news update: CBC has just informed us that Whitehorse, Yukon, has two athletes in the Olympics, including one who swims with the Whitehorse Glacier Bears.
---------------------
0701 a.m.

A canoeist is carrying the flag for Togo. It's now a trend. One World, Many Unheralded Canoeing Stars.

Commercial break. On screen, a bottle of Listerine and a toothbrush are skating a "clean routine" in pairs figure skating. We are making none of this up.

Also: The adrenaline is finally wearing off. Can we get some more coffee over here, please?

Somewhere in the stadium, bagpipers can be heard playing, "Scotland the Brave." No joke. Love that song! Have we mentioned that the bagpipes were invented by ... never mind.
---------------------
0657 a.m.
The CBC has made three attempts -- all unsuccessful -- to reach Canadian delegation members by two-way radio or phone or something. They are blaming it on the Chinese, who also, as it turns out, invented both static and (very expensive) dead air.
-----------------
0650 a.m.
The CBC announcers are discussing Canada's medal hopes, and we're pretty sure they actually used the term, "...unheralded canoeing stars..."

f you're watching CBC, note that you can actually watch Olympic action later today -- gymnastics and road cycling among it. American TV will show only the ceremony today. They don't want to overload you with any actual sports action, this being the Olympics and all.

-----------------
0645 a.m.

O, Canada!

Our adopted home nation marches in, much to the delight of unfortunately named Canadian IOC official Dick Pound, who watches from the stands and appears to be holding in his left hand a dope-testing beaker. A surprising, but nice, touch: Beaver-fur breathing masks.

----------------
0644 a.m.

Facts and figures time:

Belarus has 208 athletes, 206 of whom have skin that appears translucent.

India has 57 athletes, nine of whom are shooters, giving them the highest shooter-to-non-shooter ratio of any region of the world outside Detroit.

Seventy nine percent of U.S. journalists inside the stadium are now shuffling through the official program, mumbling, we've got how many nations still to come?

The flag-bearer for Nigeria is a star of table tennis -- a clear homage to the host Chinese, who invented both the table and tennis.

Because Canada is amassing in the tunnel, we're taking a quick break for straight shots of pure Canadian maple syrup.
-------------------------
0635 a.m.
Special note to Judith, commenting below, who is watching on NHK in Japan and appreciates our running commentary in English: Welcome, and good morning! Or afternoon, in your case (One World, Too Many Time Zones). We're happy to assist. Note, however, that some things might get misinterpreted in the process, as we're translating here from the original Canadian.

Meanwhile: Pakistan has entered the stadium, led by... yes, indeed, it very well appears to be Osama bin Laden, who, amazingly, has just walked right past President Bush without even being noticed.
-------------------------
0630 a.m.
The nations are marching into the stadium in order by Chinese name, which explains Turkey being second. We are still at least 20 nations away from the Canadian delegation, so hold your Timbits, folks.

Brazil, nattily attired in green, marches in with a record 274 athletes, who, as usual, all look like they're having more fun than anyone else. Why is that?
----------------
0620 a.m.
A great ovation is heard for Japan. Maybe the Chinese are serious about this One World, One Dream business, after all.
----------------
0617 a.m.
Always a ceremony highlight, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has marched into the stadium, its athletes marching to iPod music of the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.

Behind them: The Marshall Islands, including Marysville's Haley Nemra, a runner who is competing for the Marshall Islands in spite of the fact that she has never set foot there. Not far behind: Jamaica, whose delegation apparently does not include Usain Bolt, because he simply can't move that slowly.

--------------
0613 a.m.
The Parade of Nations begins. In comes Greece, led by the two security zeppelins from the 2004 Athens Games.

The parade is expected to last two hours. We may well nod off. From experience, we can tell you that this is the point in the program when the 10,000 journos on site will pull out their laptops and begin trying to type up a report that wraps in all of the stuff below, still makes sense, and won't provoke 175 nitpicky questions from copy editors, at least one of whom will prove to have been a Chinese history major.

Posts will come slower for a while here. We just don't have that much to say about Turkey's Olympic delegation. (If you're wondering at this point why in the world Turkey comes second, we have no idea.)

We suspect this is the point in the program where NBC will fade away into some of its pre-packaged Olympic featurettes. Oh, the humanity.

We'll check around to see what's being written from the stadium itself. Hang in there.
-------------
0610 a.m.
Sara Brightman has left the stage, having been sent back to lip-synch remedial training. She sang, "You and Me," along with a Chinese singer. This is the official Games' theme song -- a clear upset over the odds-on early favorite, "Smoke on the Water." We're guessing you can already download the mp3 file on some illegal Chinese file-sharing service.

More fireworks, heralding, we're told, the arrival of the athletes. The big question: Will U.S. flag bearer Lopez Lomong be wearing one of those black facemasks? Oh, how we'd pay to see that.

Performers representing 56 Chinese ethnic groups are dancing around to welcome athletes from 204 nations (number 205, Brunei, was lost in baggage claim at the Beijing Intergalactic Airport).

First crowd shot in the stands reveals ... a lot of non-Chinese people, suitably impressed.
----------------
0600 a.m.

Holy Cow. We've fast forwarded to the space age, as evidenced by a guy flying around in a space suit. Emerging from the floor: A giant blue globe, surrounded by nine rings. On the rings are dancers, who can move across it along its latitude lines, if you will. As they run from side to side, they reveal the seven continents. The ones in the Southern Hemisphere must be wearing ... yes, that's it -- shoes fitted with Velcro, the 155th great Chinese invention! Otherwise, they would fall to their deaths.

On top of the globe, some people are emerging. It's... Sara Brightman! Who even knew she was Chinese? She appears to be wearing rather massive hair plugs, and is singing in Chinese, as athletes -- these are the first athletes, which is what the Games are about, recall -- are projected in action across the large globe.

On the infield, hundreds of people are opening umbrellas, each showing the grinning face of one of the world's citizens. We're pretty sure one of them shows the face of Howard Schultz, but again, we're a long ways away.
--------------
0555ish a.m.
We've entered the first martial-arts phase of the program. The stadium is dark. A projection of flowing water appears all around its upper rim, as if flowing into the stadium from all sides. (Note: The Australians did this with real water. But then, they have a lot of it hanging out on their borders.)

More little kids, seated on the stadium floor and wearing backpacks, as if in school, or perhaps on their way to the Nike factory. The giant scroll painting has reappeared, now depicting a new painting, in color, by the little kids.

Broadcast note: CBC's commercial breaks are sporadic and don't allow any sort of normal fridge-rhythm. But you have to commend McLean and Mansbridge for their sparse interruption with the show. A marked departure from the usual NBC constant-blather mode. Nice.

A thought occurs: If I was, like a lot of my good friends, inside the Bird's Nest right now, I'd be wondering: "How in the world am I going to turn this into a 24-inch column? So far, I've got nothing."

Commercial break. We're being warned that the Games overriding theme, "One World, One Dream," is about to be introduced. As Dick Button might say, good time for a bathroom break.
------------------
0545 a.m.
OK, good. We're into the New Age. No more severe, drum-march music.

People are running all around the stadium floor, which is blue, in garb that lights up, in black-light fashion, as gleaming green/white against a blue background. (Note to 50-something-year-old Pink Floyd fans: Major '70s concert-T-shirt bad flashback potential here, be advised.)

The people form out the shape of... a dove! It's the dove of piece. Or maybe it's just a pigeon. Speaking of bad flashbacks: The Carol Burnett show. "HERE, pidgy pidgy..."

A small girl is flying through the air, something small girls have done at every one of these since the Sydney opening ceremony eight lyears ago. She's being pulled behind a kite, which is, yes, ANOTHER Chinese invention.

We note a theme developing here, namely: The Chinese have pretty much invented everything.

The 1,000 performers in their Pink Floyd black light suits leave the stage.
-------------------
Oops. Here comes a depiction of the fourth great Chinese invention: Lead paint.

We KID the Chinese!

It is, actually, the compass, that device that paved the way for an entire slew of grand modern conveniences, including GPS units that today allow Americans to make their way from their unreasonably large homes to their nearest Target store in black Chevy Tahoe multipsort vehicles.

Second commercial break. They're coming in waves now. The usual strategy: Hook 'em, then pummel them.

If you're keeping score at home, the four Chinese inventions: Paper, gunpowder, moveable type and the compass.

The sun is coming up here in the West, shedding light on the fact that Rona, Canada's Home Depot, is an official sponsor of the coming 2010 Vancouver Games, as is Bombardier, a world leader in the manufacture of small, knee-cramping commercial aircraft.

After two minutes back in the Bird's Nest ... MORE commercials. How kind of the CBC to make us Americans feel right at home on their little network.
---------------
0533 am.

That commercial break was way too short.

The crowd is announced at 91,000. Average ticket price: $700, Canadian. Don Cherry is nowhere in sight.

The theme on the big scroll has shifted to the Silk Road, a historical route to China from the West, on which, we presume, U.S. speedskater Joey Cheek has to stop and pay ceaseless and unjust tolls. Our impression so far: Very dramatic historical presentation. But the mood has been somber, grim, severe. We're hoping this thing lightens up at some point. At this point in the opening ceremony in Turin, a phalanx of women was walking across the infield in giant hoop skirts that represented ski mountains, complete with tiny skier figurines. How cool was that?

--------------
0528 a.m.
The theme shifts to the Great Wall. First commercial break. It's time to unleash the steam from the Keurig....Back in a sec.
-------------

0525 a.m.
Continuing with the "type" theme: What appears to be a giant computer keyboard appears on the stadium floor, each of its "keys" a person moving up and down to form patterns. They clearly missed a chance here to use more small children, who could have represented cookie crumbs stuck between the keys.

---------------
0520 a.m.
The scroll, now containing an "ink wash painting" rolls back up partway, then appears to roll laterally across the stadium floor. The painting from its center lifts off and rises in the air (note: cables visible, one demerit here). Stadium goes dark, relights to display 3,000 "disciples of Confucius" chanting and holding bamboo books. It's another of the great Chinese inventions: Moveable type printing.

We would note here that we are actually typing on Movable Type software. History comes full circle!

Our most fervent hope for humanity: That the next great Chinese invention might be spellcheck for moveable type...
-----------------
0515 a.m.:
A film shows the process of a Chinese paper-making process. It's one of four great Chinese inventions to be highlighted in the ceremony, we learn. The others? Well, stay tuned. Gunpowder is one, and we've already seen a lot of that touched off. It must have been on sale at the Beijing Costco...

A giant paper roll, light in white, is unrolling across the stadium floor, toward the end zones, as it were. It's a Chinese painting scroll. Somber music. Thre men in black walk to its center, begin gymnastic moves across the paper, leaving paint trails behind their bodies, revealing a painting. Another nice visual effect from a great distance, like a helicopter. (Note: In our experience, some effects like this are difficult to see from up close, to people actually inside the stadium. Remember, it's all about getting the right effect on TV, not for those folks in the $1,200 seats, and they're doing it well here.)
--------------------
0512 a.m.:
The rings have hovered about the stadium for some time. Lights on, and they're gone. A small girl in a red dress -- is she the same one from the closing ceremony at Turin? She hasn't even aged! -- is singing, as more children in Chinese costumes carry the Chinese flag into the stadium; the crowd can be heard singing along with her in the background. Very cute kid. No fair, producers, using little ones so early. Always a great tear-jerker move. The girl is 9 years old, CBC says. So far: These announcers are refreshing in their restraint. They're no Matt Lauers. Thank god for small favors. The Chinese National Anthem is played. More fireworks explode across the city, visible from an aerial view.

---------------------
0510 a.m.:
29 "footprints" of fireworks are going off across Beijing, to commemorate the 29 Olympic Games. Cameras follow this with a helicopter. The bursts lead to the Bird's Nest, which bursts forth with fireworks around its upper rim. Very impressive. In the middle of the infield, the drums are gone, the Olympic rings form in bright white light on the stadium floor.

Oh, here we go: 20 of "dream fairies" are flying through the air around the rings. No visible wires. The rings now apppear to be rising off the floor, as if emerging from the ground. Nice visual effect. Oohs and aahs from the crowd, right on cue.
-------------

0505 a.m.:
Drummers. Lots of drummers. "Fou" drummers. Big square drums, by the hundreds, covering the infield of the Bird's Nest. Does anyone know what time Tim Horton's opens?
----------------

0500 a.m.:
The 60-second countdown has begun. Our automatic sprinkler system has just come on outside. First time we've ever heard it live. Somehow we knew this was going to be cool...

Ron McLean and Peter Mansbridge are commentating. The presidents of China and the IOC are introduced. Jacques Rogge has that usual constipated look.
----------------
0440 a.m.: The left eye is now open. Progress!

We feel a kindred spirit with .... Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury-News. Mark is blogging from the Bird's Nest at the Merc web site here. You can compare his impressions from the scene with mine from the sofa. One key difference already apparent: Most of his readers apparently can't get the ceremony live on TV.

All you folks in the Northwest can count yourself lucky to live close enough to the border to get Canada's national network, which, incidentally, is broadcasting its final Olympics, at least for the time being. CBC recently lost the contract to the Vancouver 2010 Games to competitor CTV.

Also: Folks on the scene are reporting that even as 8 pm. nears in Beijing, it's beastly hot -- listed at 90 but feeling much toastier. Our house: About 68 degrees.

Uh-oh: Here comes the hushed tones of an announcer: "China: opening it's gates for all eyes to see! No more mystery. Innocence revealed! Nothing is exclusive. The whole world is invited (blatant editorial aside: except Joey Cheek) and asked to send their best, the fastest, the highest, the strongest, preparing a lifetime for this magic moment, competing against time, each other, and themselves. New heroes. Setting the bar to what, is victory?"

Man. Who writes this stuff? And to think they had seven years to work on this. Well, here we go.

-------------
0430 a.m.: Is anyone else in the Western Hemisphere awake at this hour?

The word "ungodly" comes to mind.

Never mind that. It's Op Cer day; you gotta play hurt. Or asleep. Or whatever you might be at 0430.

We're here in Satellite Control, such as it is, in Escrow Heights to watch Beijing's big coming-out, live, on CBC. Yes, we know the whole show will be on American TV, on NBC's typical 15-hour delay. But for whatever reason, we wanted to see and feel the launch of the Games live, to be there at least in spirit.

So, here we are. The flat screen is aglow, some rather pasty looking Canadian guys are at the microphone, and the Keurig coffee machine is all warmed up. Pull up a stool, daybed, or what have you, and come along for the ride.

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August 7, 2008 7:13 PM

An ode to the opening ceremony

Posted by Ron Judd

chinagirl30.jpg

Some people mark the passage of time by the birth years of their children. For the past dozen years, I've used Olympic opening ceremonies.

That Isuzu I once owned? Sure, bought it just after Midori Ito lit the cauldron in Nagano --1998. The year I moved? Just after the 1980 Miracle on Ice team did the same at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City -- 2002. The night I (fortunately) sat down in the Olympic Stadium next to the woman who, two years later, would become my wife? Turin, 2006.

The ceremonies are an easy memory key to each Olympics, and each Olympics is connected forever in history to a date. You can love or loathe the ceremonies that open the Games, but you can't dispute that they're momentous.

Which is why I'd be a little pumped today if I was in Beijing. After seven years of preparation, debating, second-guessing, spending, relocating and building, all the hype melts away just hours from now in China.

Opening ceremony. Game on.

For athletes, coaches, officials and journalists on the scene, it's get-nervous time. The talking is over. You're about to get sucked into the vortex of a gigantic, international spectacle, which, before you know it, will spit you out, exhausted and exhilarated, on the other side.

I know some journalists who've been through a dozen or more of these ceremonies, and to some of them, it eventually becomes old hat. Not me. I'm a ceremony geek, through and through. When I'm at the Olympics, I get there early and would, if blasted newspaper deadlines ever allowed, stay late.

For better or worse, this show ranks among the greatest human spectacles on earth. It is the one time the people of the world get together in the same room to try to do something besides kill or bully one another (sorry, United Nations).

The ceremony serves a dual purpose: It conducts all the ritual pageantry to officially open the Games, and provides a major floor show that attempts to sum up the very existence of a nation in about two hours. Every host nation puts a unique stamp on these, sometimes deadly serious, sometimes playful, often both. The results can be both disappointing and thrilling, but rarely forgettable. At least when you're there to feel it in person, rather than just see it, filtered, on TV.

The most recent opening ceremony I watched on TV was Atlanta's in 1996. I vaguely recall a conga line of jacked-up Chevy monster trucks. It didn't make much of an impression, and what remains in my head is not good.

Then I started watching in person, and everything changed.

The Olympic pageantry, played out right in front of you -- and the truth is, press people usually get really, really good seats -- is grand theater. If you're into the Olympic ideal, it's impossible not to be moved in some way seeing that big, white flag, lit by spotlights, marched into a pitch-black stadium and raised up a flag pole to the strains of The Olympic Hymn.

And forget about even trying to be a dispassionate observer when the final torch bearer enters the stadium, and the Olympic cauldron is lit by whatever creative means the hosts have devised.

Athensflag.jpg

Sometimes, the symbolism in this action can transcend the event -- and the Games themselves. I will go to my grave knowing that the 2000 Summer Games opening ceremony in Sydney, Australia, was one of the most magnificent things I will ever witness.

There was something in the warm, spring air that night; something about being in that throng of 100,000 spectators, watching Aboriginal runner Cathy Freeman, a black woman in a stunning white stretch suit, hold the dancing orange flame from an Olympic torch to her feet as she stood on stepping stones in a pond of still water. Something about the way the water burst into flames in a burning ring that rose above her head and, ultimately, to the top of Stadium Australia. Something magical.

Cathy Freeman and torch.jpg

It might have been the first simultaneous, 100,000-throat-lump moment in history. I don't know if it felt that way here, a half a world away, on TV. I doubt it felt as momentous as it did there, near the shores of Homebush Bay. But I look at a picture of it on the wall of my home office, and still feel a thrill.

The genius in the organizers of that ceremony was in their recognition of the moment, and their willingness to seize it. Australia, an isolated place, used its ceremoniy not only to wave howdy to the rest of the world, but as a form of national catharsis. By handing its highest honor, the lighting of the cauldron, to an Aboriginal woman, a nation that had never been kind to either Aborigines nor women tacitly acknowledged past sins against its own people.

That was bold. It was special. And it all played out on the sort of grand stage that only the Olympic Games -- a flawed beast in many other ways, yes -- can provide.

I'd like to think China will similarly seize the day. I don't hold a lot of hope for that. It's an impossibly high standard. What I do suspect is that this nation's ceremony, like many before it, will be spectacular. And I hope it's perceived as wildly successful.

An opening ceremony is, more than anything else, a celebration of a host nation's people, history, culture and heritage. It's the one chance a country gets to hold its head high, put its shoulders back, and display itself to the world.

Say what you will about China's government its pollution, its environmental policies (yes; I have, and will continue to). But it's tough to argue with the notion that the people of China deserve this brief dance in the spotlight.

You would like to think that for one evening, at least, the rest of the world can keep its protest banners in the wings and let those people, all 1.3 billion of them, have their moment.

It is, after all, only a moment.


Photos (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times): Top: A young Chinese girl welcomes the world to Beijing at the end of the Turin, Italy closing ceremonies in 2006. Center: The Olympic flag is carried into the opening ceremony at Athens, Greece in 2004. Lower: Cathy Freeman holds the torch aloft in Stadium Australia, 2000.


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August 7, 2008 2:27 PM

Silver, recouping from broken hand, hangs in Games

Posted by Ron Judd

Great news for Bainbridge/Cal swimmer Emily Silver, whose status on the 4 x 100 freestyle relay team was in question as she recuperated from a broken hand suffered at last month's swim trials.


AP

Emily Silver is all smiles after beating the clock Thursday in Beijing.

Silver, in a solo time trial Thursday night at the Water Cube in Beijing with all her teammates looking on, needed to swim the distance in 55 seconds flat to keep her spot on the relay team. She did it in 54.8 -- her fastest time-trial swim ever.

"Up until that moment just now I had a big weight on my shoulder," Silver told the New York Times, which also quotes national team coach Mark Schubert as saying of Silver's rapid recovery: "I"ve never seen anything quite like it."

See their coverage here.


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August 7, 2008 2:09 PM

Plot thickens in Hardy Girl's mystery series

Posted by Ron Judd

The plot thickens in the Hardy Girl's mystery. Two developments:

1) News emerges from Beijing, thanks to the intrepid Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times, that USA Swimming officials have no answer to the question -- which we posed in detail below -- about the 17-day lag in obtaining a positive test result for swimmer Jessica Hardy.

Dillman put the drug-test timing question to national team coach Mark Schubert:

(Begin quote:)

"The obvious solution is timely testing," Schubert said. "To be honest, I don't think we ever contemplated ever getting the drug results later than July 11, than when we asked for them. We were paying for expedited results."

He could not remember receiving drug tests so late in the game, so to speak.

"That would be a question for (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency), because they're a third-party vendor of the USOC," Schubert said. "We can't dictate to them. We can only request."

(End quote.)

Schubert hasn't received an explanation, writes Dillman, who adds that she requested her own explanation from USADA CEO Travis Tygart and received no response. For the record, we have made the same request, and have also received no response. (At least now it doesn't feel personal.)

2) Schubert also acknowledged being involved in a day-long arbitration over the claim filed by Tara Kirk, who asked for an expedited ruling on being named to the Olympic team, and also for damages for failing to be named.

As reported below, the arbitrator denied her request to be placed on the team, noting that technically, USA Swimming had followed its rules, which currently do not allow for alternates to be named to take the place of a disqualified team member. Kirk's further claims will be heard next month.

Meanwhile, Swimming World magazine has posted the contents of a memo from USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus to his staff regarding the Kirk arbitration.

In it, he concludes: "USA Swimming's position all along in this matter has been that we are required to follow our published rules, and that is what we did. Hopefully this decision, after a long and detailed hearing on the facts, will satisfy those who publicly and privately have expressed concern."

Fat chance. Wielgus's letter, which refers to Kirk's "demands," already is drawing giant raspberries in the blogosphere pools of current and former swimmers, who blast the organization for hiding behind technicalities.

The more time passes, the more it looks like Kirk and other swimmers bounced from the team by USA Swimming's -- and perhaps USADA's -- bungling might actually have a sound legal case for damages.

Dillman quotes Schubert thusly: "I think we need to name alternates in every event, and I think those alternates need a commitment to train," he said. "Then we need to work out, with the organizing committee and with FINA (the international swimming federation), if there's a positive test, how a replacement could happen and if we could have some type of an exception to the entry deadline."

Well, duh.

If that had happened this time, Kirk and other deserving swimmers would be in Beijing today.

You can see what's going on here: U.S. swimming officials can talk about the need for future changes. But they likely are being advised that can't do what they should do -- acknowledge their screwups and apologize to affected swimmers -- because they fear that would make them liable to damage claims.

News flash: They probably already are.


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August 6, 2008 11:41 PM

Insert your own smog joke here

Posted by Ron Judd

smog.jpg
Air quality: Good! insist Chinese officials, in spite of scenes like this in the city center Aug. 7. Photo: Andrew Wong/Getty Images


David Letterman, between feigned chokes and coughs, discussing the air in Beijing tonight:

"Everybody in Beijing already has 'Olympic fever' -- or as it's also known, bronchial asthma."

Dave also offered up some sympathy for U.S. cyclists caught on camera arriving in town with breathing masks. They had to, he said. "The only way they say they're going to be able to get fresh air is to suck it out of their tires."

Meanwhile, funny blog post by Randy Harvey, sports editor of the L.A. Times, about Chinese officials' air-quality ratings:

According to Bloomberg News, the World Health Organization recommends a maximum reading of 50. I repeat: Maximum.

In Beijing Wednesday, the reading was 87 inhalable particles. Now remember that the maximum is 50. Yet, Beijing officials declared the air quality that day was good.

On Tuesday, the reading was also 87. Also good, according to the officials.

What does it take to be bad?

On July 27, the reading was 118. What was that, hell?

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August 6, 2008 1:37 PM

Coughlin: Fellow swimmers would put Kirk on team "in a heartbeat"

Posted by Ron Judd

Ace swimmer Natalie Coughlin, a veteran Olympian, offered up a comment in Beijing to San Jose Mercury News reporter Elliott Almond about the Jessica Hardy dope test, and the way it left Bremerton swimmer Tara Kirk off the Olympic team:

"In a heartbeat we'd put her on the team," Coughlin said of Kirk. "For the future we have to pick the team a little earlier, or change the procedures.

"Hopefully, we'll never be in this position again."

kirk.jpg
In happier times: Jessica Hardy, left, world-record holder breaststroker Leisel Jones of Australia and Tara Kirk of Bremerton, right, at the 2005 World Aquatics Championships in Montreal. Of the three, only Jones will swim in Beijing. (Photo: AP)


UPDATE: 6:20 p.m.: Kirk meets with arbitrator

Kirk, meanwhile, reported on her blog at WCSN that she has met with an arbitrator to discuss the matter.

"The Arbitrator found that the system was flawed and that that flawed system was applied to me and I suffered from it, she wrote. "He felt that he did not have the power to name me to the Olympic team because USA Swimming did not go outside of its rules to avoid naming me to the team."

The arbitrator also opined, she wrote, that "I still may have cause to ask for damages and a rule change. Since there isn't any urgency to these two things, the Arbitrator has set the matter over for a least a month."

Kirk agreed with that decision, she said, because she doesn't want the tiff to affect her teammates in Beijing.

"I wish Rebecca Soni, the person who is going to swim Jessica Hardy's vacant spot, the best of luck," Kirk wrote. "I'll be cheering for her as hard or harder than anyone else."

The news is "disappointing but not devastating," Kirk wrote. "It simply means that we can't turn back time on what happened and make me a 2008 Olympian as I should be."

But she said the matter was far from closed.

"USA swimming should not take this decision to mean that they won and that they don't have to change anything," she wrote. "Clearly, the selection procedures were flawed and only a fool would leave them as they are to await the next disaster. Let's hope that at some point they are willing to acknowledge their mistake."

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August 6, 2008 11:18 AM

U.S. athlete's flag-bearer choice is one for history

Posted by Ron Judd

Perhaps the USOC (see post below) could take a lesson in courage from its own athletes.

Wednesday night in Beijing -- just after word spread of Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek's banishment from China, presumably because he dares speak of China's reputed role in the heart-rending humanitarian crisis in Sudan -- U.S. team captains met to elect the flag bearer for the opening ceremony.


USOC

LOPEZ LOMONG

Their choice to carry the stars and stripes? Lopez Lomong, middle distance runner -- and a former Sudanese refugee.

Lomong, informed of the decision, sounded thrilled and humbled.

"This is the most exciting day ever in my life," said Lomong, who will run the 1,500 meters alongside former Washington State Cougar Bernard Lagat, also an immigrant, from Kenya.

"The American flag means everything in my life -- everything that describes me, coming from another country and going through all of the stages that I have to become a U.S. citizen," Lomong said. "I don't even have the words to describe how happy I am."

Lomong, 23, of Tully, NY, was born in Sudan, fleeing the country at age 6, when he lost touch with his family. He lived in a Kenyan refugee camp for 10 years, becoming one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan." In 2000, he reportedly walked 5 miles to watch the Sydney Olympics on a black-and-white TV, and became inspired watching American sprinter Michael Johnson. He emigrated to the U.S. in 2001, became a track star at Northern Arizona University, and was granted citzenship last July.

"Seeing my fellow Americans coming behind me (in the Opening Ceremony) and supporting me will be a great honor -- the highest honor," Lomong said.

It's a richly deserved one. And a bold stroke by U.S. athletes to put the Sudan story back in the world's face -- probably in the only way they'll be allowed.

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August 6, 2008 8:50 AM

U.S. cyclists caught in facemask dustup: Whose side is USOC on?

Posted by Ron Judd

Apparently in the eyes of the U.S. Olympic Committee, winning at these Olympics comes secondary -- to honoring the Benevolent and Protective Host City of Beijing and people of China.

That's the message sent loud and clear yesterday after four U.S. track cyclists, including Kirkland's Jennie Reed, committed the cardinal sin of entering the smog-choked Beijing Intergalactic Airport wearing protective breathing masks.

The masks, aimed at curbing Beijing's world-class pollution, were developed by the USOC's own sports physiologists to protect athletes' lungs from particulate matter. They were distributed by the USOC to athletes, who say they were directed to don them immediately upon landing in the city.

In spite of rancid air that was so bad this week that it apparently fouled breathing inside venues such as the Water Cube for swimming, few U.S. athletes had donned the masks, apparently out of fear that it would look bad. So when Reed, et al, were photographed walking through the airport wearing the black masks, it sparked a minor tizzy. Particularly when a USOC official at the scene -- unidentified at this point -- reportedly dressed down the athletes for embarrassing the hosts.


AP Photo/Alastair Grant

JENNIE REED

The cyclists, Reed, Mike Friedman, Sarah Hammer and Bobby Lea, said they were only following protocol. And they had good reason: Reed said she had competed in Beijing before and been literally sickened by the air. She told Velo News in March that the city's notorious smog even fouled the air inside the velodrome at a previous competition there.

"You can see the smog layer (inside)," she said. "I did the World Cup there and got really sick, so it was very bad. In fact, most of the team got sick."

Reed told Velo News most of the team wore masks throughout their stay. "We even started to wear masks on the track, but it's hard to get the high air-flow," she said.

So the athletes were caught off guard by yesterday's hubbub.

"They have pollution in Los Angeles, and if the Olympics were in Los Angeles, we would probably wear these masks, too," Friedman told the New York Times.

But a USOC spokesman seemed to suggest the cyclists had broken some unwritten rule by wearing the masks in a public place.

"We've said all along that it is the athletes' choice whether to wear one if they feel it's necessary," said spokesman Darryl Seibel. "I'm no scientific expert, but walking through an airport doesn't seem like the place where it would be necessary to wear them."

That's right; he's no scientific expert. And ironically, physiologist Randy Wilber, the scientific expert the USOC pays to make these calls told athletes that wearing the masks -- specially designed for the cause -- was a good idea.

Yet the USOC this morning took the amazing step of coughing up a public apology from the athletes. Some important background might suggest why. This is an organization, remember, helmed, by Peter Ueberroth, who reportedly feels he has a lifetime debt to repay the Chinese because they failed to honor the Soviet boycott of the 1984 Olympics, thus saving Ueberroth's beloved Los Angeles Games. And it is the organization currently carrying the water for Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid, which, the paranoid among them feel, will be thrown to the dung heap of history should any American official or athlete do anything to offend the IOC in the interim.)

That gets you to stuff like this:

"We offer our sincere apologies to BOCOG, the city of Beijing, and the people of China if our actions were in any way offensive. That was not our intent.

"The wearing of protective masks upon our arrival into Beijing was strictly a precautionary measure we as athletes chose to take, and was in no way meant to serve as an environmental or political statement. We deeply regret the nature of our choices. Our decision was not intended to insult BOCOG or countless others who have put forth a tremendous amount of effort to improve the air quality in Beijing.
There you have it.

You're supposed to believe the apology was a completely spontaneous act by the four -- after they were summoned last night to a meeting with Steve Roush, the USOC's head of sport, according to a report in The Guardian.

"Unfortunately, you never want to go to somebody else's place and cause any embarrassment," Roush told The Guardian. "But in this case I think they did."

It's unclear at this point whether any U.S. track cyclist was actually waterboarded into signing the mea-culpa. But nothing would come as a surprise.

"It probably wasn't the most opportune time for these athletes to wear these masks," USOC CEO Jim Scherr was quoted as saying. "They were overly cautious."

Message delivered: We gave you those masks, but you really shouldn't wear them. To hell with your lungs; it's all about saving China's face.

The incident occurred, remember, at the same time Chinese and International Olympic Committee officials were trying to convince reporters that the air, which looks bad, feels bad, smells bad, tastes bad and breathes bad, really isn't so bad after all, and is in fact just another Western-media-hyped figment of the world's imagination.

The USOC -- buying into this, apparently -- was so busy attempting to smooth ruffled Chinese feathers, it couldn't find time to condemn the benevolent hosts for banning Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek from China. At a news conference Wednesday in Beijing, Scherr dismissed Cheek -- the USOC's "Sportsman of the Year" in 2006, as just another "private citizen who's trying to make his way to these Games."

Sort of makes you wonder: Whose side is the USOC on? China's, or America's athletes?

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August 5, 2008 6:19 PM

Athlete/activist Joey Cheek banned from China

Posted by Ron Judd

So much for tolerating dissent.

The Chinese government, which so far has issued a grand total of zero permits for its own citizens to protest legally during the coming Olympics, has revoked the visitation visa of U.S. speedskater and Winter Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek.

Cheek, an organizer of Team Darfur, a group of Olympic athletes seeking to bring an end to the humanitarian crisis in the African nation, was to arrive in Beijing Wednesday to help make the group's case that China is undermining efforts to end suffering in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Cheek was informed by embassy officials Tuesday that his visa was withdrawn and that the government needn't provide a reason, a spokesman for Team Darfur told the Los Angeles Times. Another of the group's founding members, former UCLA water polo player Brad Greiner, also got a call and was asked to meet with Chinese embassy officials on Wednesday.

Cheek, inspired by the prior humanitarian work of speedskating legend Johann Olav Koss of Norway, donated all of his $40,000 bonus money for winning a gold and silver medal at the 2006 Turin Games to Koss's Right to Play foundation, a sports group working to improve the lives of children in disadvantaged areas around the globe.

Other athletes met his challenge, and so did their sponsors: Cheek wound up earning $1 million in charity earmarked for Darfur relief, and is considered a hero among many athletes and others in the sports world. His latest endeavor, Team Darfur, is an effort to raise money and awareness of the Darfur crisis by selling wristbands to athletes and fans. More than 70 Beijing Games athletes from around the world have signed on to Team Darfur.

Cheek released this statement on Tuesday:

I am saddened not to be able to attend the Games. The Olympic Games represent something powerful: that people can come together from around the world and do things that no one thought were possible. However, the denial of my visa is a part of a systemic effort by the Chinese government to coerce and threaten athletes who are speaking out on behalf of the innocent people of Darfur. Team Darfur's main efforts have been to advocate for an Olympic Truce for Darfur, and to raise awareness about the crisis and ask for lasting peace on behalf of the children of Darfur.

The Olympic Truce captures the spirit of the Olympics: around the Games, the world should come together to work for peace and speak out against conflict. The Chinese government's efforts to suppress athletes, even those who are competing in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, who speak about essential human rights issues, is a violation of that core Olympic spirit.

Cheek and others have criticized China for buying oil from Sudan, and selling the Sudanese weapons that reportedly are used in Darfur.

Now he's banned from China, latest Olympic host, for the crime of pushing the joint causes of fair play and human rights -- both key tenets of the Olympic Charter.

UPDATE: If you were expecting the IOC to take a stance against an Olympic host denying a gold-medal winning Olympic athlete entrance to an Olympics, think again.

An IOC spokeswoman, contacted by the New York Times, essentially washed the organization's hands of the matter, saying it's all up to the Chinese:

Emmanuelle Moreau, a spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee, said she was aware of Cheek's visa situation but said she could not comment. Because Cheek is not a current Olympian, "visa applications from non-accredited persons do not fall within the I.OC.'s remit and we are therefore not best placed to answer you on this question," Moreau said in an e-mail message.

A spokesperson for the Beijing Organizing Committee, meanwhile, had no comment, the Times reported.

So this is how it's going to go. The Chinese government will simply stonewall and deny complaints about any controversial facets of "its" Olympics -- from the polluted air inside Olympic venues to the outright banning of prominent Olympic athletes from the Games -- and the IOC will plead impotence.

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August 5, 2008 3:33 PM

USA Swimming still owes USA answers about Hardy case

Posted by Ron Judd

As the Opening Ceremony nears, the U.S. swim team has arrived en masse in Beijing -- reportedly to a layer of smog inside the Water Cube swim venue, which can't be of much comfort to the asthmatics in the crowd.

And earlier today, or yesterday, or tomorrow, or whatever it recently just was in Beijing, Mark Schubert, the U.S. National Team director, finally took a few minutes to answer some questions about the Jessica Hardy case.

Sort of.

Schubert told reporters that USA Swimming was just following protocol when it learned of Hardy's positive drug test -- which, he reiterated, was not until the afternoon of July 21. That happened to be the same day the final Olympic swim roster was due to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which had its own, international deadline two days later. Unlike other sport federations, USA Swimming, inexplicably, does not have a procedure for adding alternates to the team. So once the roster is final, it's final, he said.

Schubert also insisted Hardy was not officially "off" the team until she withdrew from it herself last Friday -- a development that might come as a surprise to other athletes busted for doping, who usually find themselves suspended immediately. Therefore, it was impossible, Schubert insists, to name other swimmers who finished third in events behind Hardy at the Olympic Trials -- such as former Standford swimmer Tara Kirk of Bremerton -- to the squad.

Kirk was livid, and probably rightfully so. She's not going to feel any better after reading Schubert's one noteworthy admission in his mini press briefing in Beijing: Yes, the selection system is flawed, he acknowledged, and needs to be amended next time around.

"Absolutely. Rightfully so," he said in response to a question from a New York Times reporter about the need for reform in the selection process.

"Nobody thought we would be getting drug test results on the 21st and 22nd of July," Schubert added, according to the Los Angeles Times.

All of this, coupled with yesterday's revelation, reported below, that Hardy essentially put her appeals case "on hold" while testing her nutritional supplements for traces of clenbuterol, the banned anabolic agent for which she tested positive, still leaves a shroud of confusion hanging over the matter. Some obvious questions that still need to be addressed by USA Swimming -- and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency:

-- We're all now painfully aware that USA Swimming has no rules provisions for alternates. But why? Why doesn't USA Swimming adopt a process, like most other sports, where third-place finishers are automatically granted provisional, "alternate" status until it's clear everyone on the Olympic team will be injury-free, dope-free, and ready to compete? What happens if an entire busload of swimmers, God forbid, gets in a bus crash after the roster is set? The U.S. just stays home? Who are the geniuses responsible for this? It's not the first time a U.S. swimmer has tested positive, and likely won't be the last.

-- How in the world can it take, in today's modern, supposedly high-tech anti-doping world, 17 days to get from pee-in-the-cup time to alert-the-authorities time? Don't they get these test results overnight at the Olympics?

-- Is anyone at USA Swimming aware of how bad this all looks when one considers the background of officials likely in on this decision? The swimmers filling Hardy's 100-meter breaststroke and 50 meter freestyle slots in the Games will be Rebecca Soni and Kara Lynn Joyce, respectively. They've done nothing wrong, and did nothing to deserve being thrust into a controversy. But most swimming insiders know that Soni, who finished fourth -- one place behind Kirk -- in the 100 breaststroke, swam for Schubert at USC. And Joyce's club coach is Jack Bauerle, who happens to be the current Olympic women's swimming coach.

Yes, they're just following the rules, which stipulate those two swimmers fill the slots. And granted, it's hard to avoid those sorts of potential conflicts of interest in a world as insular as swimming. But it still smells a bit, especially in light of the close-mouthed approach to the matter. At the very least, the governing body opened itself up to charges of favoritism.

-- Why was Hardy allowed to "withdraw" from an Olympic team from which she presumably already had been suspended? USADA officials, in a news release following her de facto plea deal last Friday, practically cooed about her selflessness, which they said was in the best interests of the U.S. Olympic team. OK. But since when are the best interests of the U.S. Olympic team a legitimate matter of concern for USADA, an agency that's supposed to be policing that Olympic team?

Clearly, USA Swimming officials hoped the Hardy deal would make the matter die away quietly before the focus returns to the Swim Team in Beijing. And, sadly, they may yet succeed in that effort.

Or maybe not. People like Kirk, a former national team captain, are still out there, livid, trying to tamp down a burning well of anger, feeling the powerlessness that comes with having multiple doors slammed in your face. You get the sense that Kirk, even though she deserves them, hasn't gotten any better answers to all of the above questions than the rest of us have.

She deserves at least that. And so far, not a single one has been forthcoming from USA Swimming, the organization she has always been assured is there to look after her rights.


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August 4, 2008 10:05 AM

Hardy presses forward with tainted-supplement defense

Posted by Ron Judd

Attorneys for U.S. swimmer Jessica Hardy, bounced from the Beijing Olympic team after a positive doping test for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol at the Olympic Trials July 4, told arbitrators she believes the substance came from a tainted nutritional supplement -- or through sabotage.

Hardy deferred an appeal of the doping conviction -- and its accompanying two-year suspension -- because testing of supplements she took in July could not be conducted before the American Arbitration Association hearing on July 31, the order from the arbitration panel reveals.

The panel thus agreed to split her appeal into two phases. The first, determining the validity of the July 4 positive -- which has been described by Hardy attorneys and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency as a "low positive," although no actual test results have been released -- was settled last week when Hardy conceded to the test's accuracy. Both her "A" and "B" samples had tested positive for the substance, which often is used, illegally, as an aerobic enhancer and weight-loss drug.

The second phase will be to consider "exceptional circumstances ... that might reduce or eliminate the presumptive period of ineligibility." A hearing on those matters, according to the arbitration decision, is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 5 UPDATE: A USADA spokesperson now says the hearing will be rescheduled to a "later date.") Issues in that hearing will be limited to "(1) the issue of supplement contamination and (2) the issue of sabotage," the arbitration order states.

Hardy, 21, of Long Beach, has proclaimed her innocence, saying she had never heard of clenbuterol until the positive test results. Some of her surrogates, including one coach, immediately pointed to the possibility of tainted supplements after her positive test. But Hardy has not spoken publicly about the supplement issue, nor has the possibility of sabotage been mentioned publicly by anyone in her camp.

It's not known what supplements Hardy was ingesting leading up to the Olympic Trials. But she is one of a handful of U.S. Olympians listed as endorsers of nutritional supplements produced by AdvoCare of Carrollton, TX. That company has issued a statement saying it has a long, clean record with Olympic-level athletes and nutritional supplements.

Tainted supplements by other manufacturers have, however, been proven in court to have tripped up elite athletes in doping tests. Swimmer Kicker Vencill in 2005 won a legal judgment against a company that provided him with multivitamins contaminated with steroid precursors that resulted in a positive dope test and two-year ban from the sport. The process of clearing his name took two and a half years.

Vencill sued the manufacturer, Ultimate Nutrition of Farmington, Conn., after having his own, independent tests done on the supplements. Vencill received a judgment of $578,000 in May, 2005, but his suspension from swimming was never reduced nor set aside, and he missed a shot at the 2004 Athens Olympics while adjudicating the matter.

Under U.S. and international doping rules, ignorance of the ingestion source is no defense. USADA operates under a policy of "strict liability," meaning that athletes are responsible for any banned substance they put into their own body, through any means. The agency does, however, have the ability to reduce ineligibility bans if confronted with evidence of "exceptional circumstances," such as the one Hardy clearly hopes to establish in her case.

Hardy is represented by Los Angeles attorney Howard Jacobs, who also represented Vencill and many other athletes who failed drug tests. Jacobs, at the time of Vencill's trial, said the verdict should send a message to supplement manufacturers to clean up their acts. But U.S. doping officials long have warned against using nutritional supplements, which, becuase they are not regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration, essentially set their own standards for safety and purity.

Hardy "withdrew" from the U.S. Olympic squad last week, in spite of the fact that she already was under suspension for the positive test. The unusually accommodating stance of USADA in the matter -- positive-tested athletes don't really have the legal right to "withdraw" from anything, and USADA CEO Travis Tygart actually praised Hardy for her selflessness in a news release -- suggests that the agency might believe she ingested the substance without her knowledge.

Hardy in the abritation decision also maintained the right to appeal her initial postive-drug test to the international Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), presumably in the event she could prove accidental ingestion of the banned substance, within 21 days.

Hardy's suspension from the Olympic team -- specifically the handling of it by officials with the sport's parent organization, USA Swimming -- has sparked rancor throughout the swim community. USA Swimming officials maintain they did not learn of the positive doping test until July 21 -- the same day they had established as a deadline to submit the final Olympic roster to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which submitted the names to international officials July 23.

Some swimmers and coaches, however, including third-place Trials finishers such as Tara Kirk of Bremerton, who in most other sports would have moved into an Olympic team spot after Hardy's results were disqualified, have angrily denounced USA Swimming's failure to immediately name team alternates after learning of the dope test.

Instead, the organization stuck to its internal rules of filling the Olympic-race slots vacated by Hardy, who qualified in two individual and two relay events, by other swimmers already on the Olympic team. As a result, swimmers such as Kirk -- who beat Rebecca Soni, Hardy's eventual replacement in the 100 breastroke, at the Olympic Trials -- will remain on the sidelines as the Beijing Games begin.


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August 3, 2008 10:21 AM

Solving the mystery of that SI swim photo

Posted by Ron Judd

Sports Illustrated's Beijing preview issue (the one with Michael Phelps on the cover) has a ... well, breathtaking underwater photo inside of Team USA's top swimmers all standing, flatfooted, on the bottom of a pool. (We haven't been able to locate it online; if you have, please post the link.) So few ripples or bubbles are visible that, at first, you might think the picture was not taken underwater at all, if not for the rippling surface high above the swimmer's heads.

But it was, assures Margaret Hoelzer, the backstroke ace from King Aquatic who's one of this region's top medal hopes. Hoelzer, pictured in the photo third from left, between Katie Hoff and Cullen Jones, reports via email from the team's training camp in Singapore that not even Olympic swimmers are so devoid of body fat that they can stand flat-footed on the bottom of a pool without a little assistance.

In this case, that aide came in the form of compact, 5-pound weights, which the swimmers either held in their hands behind their backs, or stuck in the back of their suits.

"Five pounds isn't really heavy, and it it was still hard not to float up," she says.

The swimmers didn't have any breathing aids -- they just held their breaths, which happens to be something swimmers are good at.

"The photographer (Michael O'Neill) had a scuba tank, so he was underwater the whole time, but we would go up and down as a group," Hoelzer says. "We'd all go down together and when one person needed air they'd come up, and then the rest of us would follow."

(If you take a close look at the picture, the one person clearly about to "need air" is Hoff, whose cheeks are pooched out as if she's about ready to burst forth with a huge stream of bubbles.)

Hoelzer and her teammates, including King Aquatic training partner Megan Jendrick and local coach Sean Hutchison, have been roughing it the easy way at the Singapore Country Club, which Hoelzer says is surrounded by forest land filled with monkeys -- some of which have been visible from the club's outdoor pool.

The weather, she says, is preparing them for Beijing.

"It is very humid here and all the West Coast people are dropping like flies when outdoors," Hoelzer says. "I am from Alabama .. and I'm taking great pleasure in watching everybody else swoon!"


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August 2, 2008 10:56 AM

Another day, another medal stripped for USA Track and Field

Posted by Ron Judd

An indelible stain continues to spread over the U.S. track and field program, with the IOC yesterday stripping the Sydney men's 1,600-meter relay team of all its medals in the wake of Antonio Pettigrew's doping bust. The story notes that this is the fourth gold medal and sixth medal overall stripped from U.S. track athletes in the last eight months.

Marion's shadow still looms

The IOC, meanwhile, continues to struggle with what to do about the domino effect of Olympic medals in the wake of disgraced U.S. sprinter Marion Jones' disqualification from her events in Sydney. If they do the usual thing and move the second, third and fourth place finishers up, they would wind up awarding a gold medal in the 100 meters to Katerina Thanou of Greece, who later would go on to infamy as one of the notorious dope-test-evading athletes in her home-nation Games of 2004. Not exactly the sort of example you want to set for the vaunted "youth of the world."

Some IOC members have expressed a desire to leave the gold-medal slot from 2000 blank, and IOC President Jacques Rogge has said gold medals will only be awarded to athletes proven "clean." Thanou, who literally ran away from drug testers before the Athens Games (with her boyfriend, on a motorcycle), doesn't seem to fit that bill.

Ah, the tangled web the dopers weave. But this is nothing new.

Doping through the ages

Doping rumors have long swirled around winners of the Olympic sprints, both men's and women's. It's interesting to look at the scoreboard, and race times, for the past 40 years and 10 Olympics, and speculate about the clean (and dirty) spots on the record for the women's race, which, until Jones' disqualification, had been won five Olympics in a row by Americans.

The rundown:

2004: Yuliya Nesterenko, Belarus, 10.93
2000: Marion Jones, USA, 10.75 (disqualified); silver: Katerina Thanou, Greece, 11.12
1996: Gail Devers, USA 10.94
1992: Gail Devers, USA 10.82
1988: Florence Griffith Joyner, USA 10.54 (wind aided)
1984: Evelyn Ashford, USA 10.97
1980: Lyudmila Kondratyeva, Russia, 11.06
1976: Annegret Richter, West Germany, 11.08
1972: Renate Stecher, East Germany, 11.07
1968: Wyomia Tyus, USA 11.08

Certain times, like that 10.54 laid down by still-world-record holder (10.49 seconds) Flo-Jo at Seoul in 1988, certainly stand out in hindsight. The winning time at the Athens Games, 16 years of nutrition and training science later, was nearly a half-second slower. And the only woman to ever come close to Flo-Jo's times, Marion Jones (10.65 seconds, 1998), has since admitted to steroid use and been stripped of all her medals and records.

Rumors about drug use swirled around Flo-Jo, and intensified after her unusual death, in bed at her home, at age 38 in 1998. The cause of death was listed as asphyxiation as a result of severe epileptic seizure. Medical records confirmed she had been treated for seizures on several occasions before, and an autopsy confirmed a congenital brain abnormality.

She was accused near the end of her career by athletes, including one U.S. teammate, of using human growth hormone and other substances. Those rumors were fueled by her sudden retirement after the '88 Games -- where Ben Johnson, a sprinter with whom she had collaborated on training and technique, was stripped of his gold medal. She also bowed out of the sport just before mandatory random drug-testing was to begin for track athletes, Olympic historian David Wallechinsky notes in "The Complete Book of the Olympics."

But Flo-Jo, like Jones, never failed an in-competition drug test. Medical examiners said her body could not be accurately tested for steroids and other substances after the fact.

It's the kind of story that lends weight to some athletes' contention that all Olympic-caliber competitors give blood samples that can be kept frozen for testing years later.

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August 1, 2008 6:16 PM

Hardy withdraws, USA Swimming affirms: No athletes added to Beijing roster

Posted by Ron Judd

This just in:

Swimmer Jessica Hardy has reached a deal to withdraw from the U.S. Olympic Team after a positive doping test. But swimming officials immediately reiterated that other swimmers who would have gone to the Beijing Games if she had not competed -- including Bremerton's Tara Kirk -- will not be added to the team.

(Begin quoted statement:)

Statement from USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus:

"As a result of Jessica Hardy's withdrawal from the U.S. Olympic Team, USA Swimming will follow the published U.S. Olympic Team selection procedures, which were approved by the USOC, and posted in their final format on February 22, 2008. According to the pre-approved procedures, swimmers from the existing roster will be placed in the open events. Rebecca Soni will swim the 100m breaststroke and Kara Lynn Joyce will swim the 50m freestyle."

Excerpt from 2008 Olympic Pool Selection Procedures included below…


U.S. Olympic Team Selection Procedures: Section IV - B

If, for any reason, an additional Team position or an additional event position shall become vacant after July 21, 2008, (entry deadline), no additional members shall be added to the Team. If USA Swimming is permitted to fill a vacant event position, such vacant event position shall be filled with the swimmer already on the Team who has recorded the fastest time in such vacant event during the period beginning January 1, 2006 through July 6, 2008, provided, however, that the replacement swimmer must agree, after consulting with the Head Coach and National Team Head Coach and General Manager, to compete in the additional event. If the replacement swimmer does not agree to swim in the additional event, then the replacement swimmer shall not be considered an Available Swimmer for that event. This process shall repeat until the event is filled.(End quoted statement)

The statement confirms that third-place finishers from the U.S. Olympic Trials, one of whom was Kirk (who beat Rebecca Soni, now officially slated to swim the event in the Olympics, at the Trials) will not be added to the team.

USA Swimming's action comes after the Associated Press reported, moments ago, that Hardy, who tested positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol at the Olympic Trials on July 4, has withdrawn from the Olympics on her own accord, "in the best interests of the team."

The Long Beach swimmer, 21, who has professed her innocence and suggested any ingestion of clenbuterol must have been accidental, apparently has struck her own deal: After being granted an opportunity to have testing data reviewed by independent analysts, Hardy reportedly chose not to contest the clincial findings, but instead offered to return and provide reasons she might have tested positive -- perhaps to receive a suspension shorter than the typical two years.

See the story here.

The key portions:

A panel from the American Arbitration Association issued a decision Friday that was jointly agreed to by Hardy and USADA (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) after Hardy had a full opportunity to review the laboratory test results and to have those results analyzed by independent experts.

Hardy did not contest the laboratory findings and was granted additional time by the arbitration panel to investigate possible causes of her positive drug test.

The decision allows for a two-year period of ineligibility but allows Hardy to come back to the panel to present evidence that could reduce her period of ineligibility.

"While some might have chosen to exhaust their legal options to try to force their way into the games, Jessica instead chose to put her team's interests ahead of her own," said Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of USADA.

More on the story from the Long Beach Press-Telegram:

Hardy's legal team said Friday that they would no longer contest a positive drug finding, according to her stepfather, Bill Robinson, an attorney who has been working on the appeal.

"We didn't want to turn this into a circus and there wasn't enough time left for us to get all the information that would clear her name," Robinson said.

"But we continue to maintain she never knowingly took an illegal drug," he added.

Hardy had qualified for four events at the Beijing Games.

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August 1, 2008 6:08 PM

The view from here -- way over here

Posted by Ron Judd

SOFA, The Living Room -- The rumors are false: My living room actually does NOT look like the Situation Room -- either the one at the White House, or the one manned by Wolf (The Droning) Blitzer on CNN.

But it is a bit unkempt. There's the traditional flatscreen in the corner, hooked up to DirecTV satellite and DVR -- mostly for watching NBC and its mind-boggling array of subsidiaries, in HD. And then that white coax cable running up from the basement, across the floor, into a supplementary, non-HD TV (you have to make sacrifices somewhere) carrying the feed for CBC.

On the coffee table, a pair of dueling laptops, one to watch live coverage from Beijing, the other from which to file columns and posts to this site. Next to those: Hundreds of pages and numerous linear feet of TV schedule printouts and assorted other press-release flotsam.

The Seven-Day countdown has begun: One week to launch, and we're locked and loaded.

If you haven't guessed by now: I'm not going to Beijing. After covering the past five Olympics for the Times, I begged out of this one many months ago, mostly for personal reasons (getting married this summer, with potential date conflicts). But I did have another kernel of motivation: It's been 10 years since I've seen an Olympics from the outside, like most people do, rather than the inside. I suspected that gaining that perspective might open up an entire new field of commentary. And I hope readers will find the inside/outside comparisons illuminating, too.

So, starting at 4 a.m. next Friday with the Opening Ceremony (live on CBC; half a day later on NBC), I'll be stationed here, in Escrow Heights, taking in the Games via cable, satellite and broadband. In addition, when we're awake at the same time, I'll be communicating via telephone and Skype with friends on the scene. I'll be posting random thoughts on Games events, and critiquing media coverage, here in this space and in a daily column in the sports section of the printed paper. The two might share some information, but won't be exactly the same.

Assisting me with event triage -- at least when I goad her into it -- will be my wife, Emjay, another veteran Olympic journalist who will be breaking her own string of personal Games coverage by sitting out Beijing. Emjay, whose Olympic experience began when the five-ringed circus came to her hometown of Lake Placid, NY, in 1980, has been providing much of The Times' early Beijing coverage by writing (under her actual name, Meri-Jo Borzilleri) a weekly Olympic notebook in the Sunday paper, not to mention a large chunk of the Times' special Beijing preview section, which will appear in the paper this coming Thursday. (The section, which includes a fascinating guide to Beijing, full TV schedule and information on every athlete with a Washington connection, should not be missed.)

What it all means is more, not less, coverage of this Olympics by The Times, in spite of lean times in the newspaper biz. We will have an extremely capable, experienced team on the ground: Veteran columnist Steve Kelley will write daily about local athletes and the Games' biggest events. Reporter Kristi Heim, who is fluent in Mandarin and has traveled and reported extensively in China, will cover the Games from a broader perspective, offering insights into China's emergence onto the world stage. As she recently wrote in her blog:

When the Games start in Beijing, the events will be well choreographed, but the way Chinese authorities (and the public) respond to unpredictable situations will be the most revealing. Thirty years ago Deng Xiaoping ended decades of isolation, and now the Olympics will test how far China's door is open.

Photographer Rod Mar will bring all this to life, in print and online, with still images and some video.

In addition to their work in the printed paper and on the Times' Web site, all of them will add their personal experiences from Beijing on their own blogs on the Times Web site, at www.seattletimes.com/olympics. Links to all of our Olympic coverage can be found at that central location.

One another note: My Thursday column, Trail Mix, will be on hiatus during the Games. Sunday's The Wrap by Ron Judd will continue, perhaps taking a week off in the middle of it all.

It'll be quite the ride, and we hope you come along with us.

And no, you can't come over to our house and watch the East Coast feed of NBC.


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August 1, 2008 12:52 PM

Chinese censors give in; we're not taking the bait

Posted by Ron Judd

Reports from Beijing Friday indicate that Chinese censors have capitulated to the International Olympic Committee and restored Press-Center Internet access to sites of China critics, including Amnesty International.

That's cool, but our campaign to get blocked in China will not relent. When it happens, it'll be even bigger news, because we shall stand alone. Mark our words -- in invisible Chinese ink.

Some Web sites specifically decrying the granting of the Games to the Chinese, such as this one, reportedly remain blocked in China.

Meanwhile, a reader asks: "Aren't you worried about riling the Chinese government before you land there to cover the Games?"

Answer: No way. I'm too fearless to let that get in the way of my journalistic mission. That, plus the fact that I'm not making the trip over for these Games. More on that later today.


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Blogroll and links

www.olympic.org: The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information.
www.nbcolympics.com: Olympic news site from one of the Games' primary sponsors.
NBC Olympics columnist Alan Abrahamson's column/blog
Chicago Tribune Olympic sports writer Philip Hersh's blog
www.usolympicteam.com: U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site.
www.aroundtherings.com: Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription).
www.wcsn.com: News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions.
www.beijing2008.com: Beijing Organizing Committee Web site.
www.vancouver2010.com: Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site.
www.london2012.com: London 2012 Summer Games site.
www.sochi2014.com: Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site.
www.chicago2016.org: Candidate city Chicago's summer 2016 bid committee site.
Olympic swimmer Tara Kirk's highly entertaining WCSN blog
Bellevue Olympian Scott Macartney's WCSN alpine ski-racing blog
Other WCSN Olympic athlete blogs.