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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 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.


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.
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.
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?
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.

Comments | Category: Beijing 2008 Games , Canada , Olympic media , Vancouver 2010 Games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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:


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.

Comments | Category: Beijing 2008 Games , Canada , Olympic politics , Vancouver 2010 Games |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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.

Comments | Category: Beijing 2008 Games , Olympic History , Olympic Medals , Olympic Records , Olympic Trivia , Past Olympians , Track and Field , World Records |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine







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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.