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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 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

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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Browse the archives

August 2008

Blogroll and links The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information. 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 U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site. Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription). News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions. Beijing Organizing Committee Web site. Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site. London 2012 Summer Games site. Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site. 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.