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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 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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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.