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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 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.
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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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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.