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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 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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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.