So my time in China is done. As the sign says, "Visit is over. If you would like to return, you have to buy tickets again." I took that picture at the Forbidden City near Tianamen Square on the way out, but it really applies to my whole visit at this point. If all goes well, the next time you read something I've written, it will have been composed inside the U.S. Yes!
Sunday, August 24, 2008
So my time in China is done. As the sign says, "Visit is over. If you would like to return, you have to buy tickets again." I took that picture at the Forbidden City near Tianamen Square on the way out, but it really applies to my whole visit at this point. If all goes well, the next time you read something I've written, it will have been composed inside the U.S. Yes!
After so many beastly 20-40 point wins, this one was a beauty. Spain ran with the U.S. and stuck right with Team USA for most of the game. When you watch the highlights, you are absolutely not going to believe the dunk that Spanish player Rudy Fernandez tomahawked in over Dwight Howard. That was the best dunk of the game, and it came from Spain!
But the USA ultimately prevailed, 118-107, to return the title of Olympic champion to America.
"We put American basketball back where it belongs, which is at the top," Carmelo Anthony said.
My MVP for the game for the U.S. would have to be Dwyane Wade. He had 27 and was good offensively all day. Kobe Bryant played a nice fourth quarter, too, especially once Spain had cut the lead to 91-89. Kobe made a key four-point play in the fourth quarter -- hitting a three and getting fouled -- and held up his finger in a "Shhhh" gesture.
That was about as rambunctious as the U.S. got. They did break protocol in the postgame news conference. Instead of sending just coach Mike Krzyzewski and one player, as was standard, LeBron James decided it would be a good idea if all 12 players attended. (See photos above: Coach K had LeBron on his right and Kobe on his left).
This made for a somewhat chaotic but rather enjoyable news conference, with Kobe and LeBron taking the lead and Krzyzewski calling the Olympic experience the greatest of his life.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
The women -- coached by Charlotte resident Anne Donovan -- were superb throughout this tournament. In the gold-medal game, they blasted Australia, 92-65. The Aussies and the U.S. had both entered the final with 7-0 records here, but it was no contest.
Donovan said she had never seen a more "selfless" U.S. team. It was led by Lisa Leslie, who won her fourth Olympic gold medal here. Leslie wore all of her medals to the press conference and, when she got up, clanked them on the microphone. She was much more graceful on court, scoring 14 points for the balanced U.S. attack.
Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and about half the U.S. men's team were in attendance. They play in their own gold-medal final Sunday against Spain (2:30 p.m. Beijing time, 2:30 a.m. U.S. time on the East Coast).
Friday, August 22, 2008
The men jumped out to a huge early lead against Argentina. At one point, the U.S. led 16-4 and Argentina had committed six turnovers. Argentina got untracked in the second quarter, cutting the U.S. lead down to nine at halftime.
But then the "Redeem Team" got interested again, had a big third quarter and led by a comfortable 20 or so points throughout the fourth quarter. The final score was 101-81.
The U.S. will play Spain in the gold-medal final -- the Spaniards beat Lithuania in the other semifinal. That game will be at 2:30 p.m. in Beijing Sunday, which translates to 2:30 a.m. Sunday in the U.S. Unless Pau Gasol goes for about 40 for Spain, it's hard to imagine the Americans losing -- they have played a wonderful tournament under Coach Mike Krzyzewski so far.
There are some official-sounding Olympic investigations going on at the moment, and the U.S. contingent is officially welcoming that, saying "an investigation would help bring closure to the issue and remove any cloud of speculation from this competition."
But it sounds like the Chinese have all their documents in order -- passports and so on. And no, it doesn't count for you to watch the Chinese gymnasts on TV and say "they look about 12 years old, don't they?"
Yes, some of them do. And yes, some of it sounds suspicious. But I don't think any medals are ultimately going to end up being taken away from anybody for this.
The U.S. won the men's beach volleyball final Friday here in Beijing to go along with the women's gold in the same sport. Now both the men's and women's indoor teams have advanced to their respective finals, which neither were expected to do. They are each assured of at least a silver medal.
Those weren't even the finals. The U.S. only had to make the top three in its heat. All they had to do was NOT drop the baton. Yet they did.
Who do I feel most sorry for in this scenario? Probably Shelby's Travis Padgett, who now stars at track at Clemson.
Padgett made the Olympic team only in the relay, missing a spot in the regular 100-meter dash by .01 of a second in the U.S. Trials. So he waits around the whole Olympics to run the relay, then he does his part, executes a clean handoff and runs fast in an early leg.... and then his teammates let him down.
No final. No medal.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I didn't see much wrong with Bolt's celebration. Rogge did.
The IOC head said about Bolt in an interview with three international news agency reporters: "I have no problem with him doing a show. I think he should show more respect for his competitors and shake hands, give a tap on the shoulder to the other ones immediately after the finish and not make gestures like the one he made in the 100 meters.... He still has to mature.... That's not the way we perceive being a champion. But he will learn in time. He should shake hands with his competitors and not ignore them. He'll learn that sooner or later."
Local sprinter Shawn Crawford, who ended up winning the silver medal in the 200, said he enjoyed Bolt's histrionics. Said Crawford following the 200: "There are mixed feelings from athletes about him. Some are a little disappointed with the way he acts. But to me, I don’t feel like it’s disrespectful.… He deserves to dance. Dance and laugh and have a good time because you put in the work. I don’t think it’s disrespectful. It doesn’t bother me. I love it."
One gold medal is already certain: the powerhouse women's beach volleyball team of Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor won their gold Thursday morning in a rainstorm in Beijing.
I went to the women's indoor volleyball game that started a couple of hours later, where the U.S. indoor team upset Cuba in three straight sets. That puts them into the final.
Meanwhile, the men's beach volleyball team of Dalhausser-Rogers is in the final Friday in Beijing and the men's indoor team has made it to the semis. It also plays Friday.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
In the 200 meters, he originally finished fourth behind Jamaica's dazzling Usain "Lightning" Bolt, who broke a 12-year-old world record with a time of 19.30. Bolt was the clear No.1 all the way -- he won the race with an unbelievable first 100 and beat everyone by at least half a second, which is a huge margin in a short sprint. But behind him there was turmoil.
Churandy Martina from the Netherland Antilles finished second originally at 19.82. Then the three American sprinters were in almost a dead heat for third. Wallace Spearmon finished in 19.95 for bronze, Crawford (of Van Wyck, S.C.) in 19.96 for fourth and Walter Dix in 19.98 for fifth.
Spearmon took a victory lap for bronze, draping an American flag across his shoulders. But before he finished the lap, he was disqualified for stepping out of his lane. Crawford was suddenly in third place.
Then the U.S. delegation watched video of the race, thinking they might protest Spearmon's DQ. Instead, they found that the Netherlands sprinter stepped out of his lane, too. They protested that instead.
An hour later, the Netherlands sprinter was kicked out. Suddenly, Crawford had a silver to go along with the gold he won in this event in 2004. He also had, he said, a "hollow feeling." But he was able to joke that, hey, if they go ahead and threw Bolt out, too, he could have another gold.
Bolt ran the race straight and true, though, and faster than anyone ever has. More on this controversial race and Crawford's reaction to it in Thursday's paper.
The overwhelming favorite in the eight-man final is Jamaica's Usain Bolt, who became the world record-holder at 9.69 seconds earlier in the Olympics despite slowing up at the end. He will run out of Lane 5. Crawford will be right next to him, in Lane 4. Two other Americans are also in the final -- Walter Dix of Florida State and Wallace Spearmon.
Bolt's career best in the event is 19.67. The world record? Michael Johnson's 19.32. I was there in 1996 the night he set that mark in Atlanta -- one of my favorite memories of those Olympics. Crawford says of Bolt: "He's beatable."
Soon, we'll see.
Same thing in China, just vice versa. I saw one young woman wearing a T-shirt that read: "I'd trade my boyfriend for a Miller."
And here's a picture of one of the shirts I saw a young lady wearing. In case you can't read it, it says: "Many have collected the book and music with a new topic."
Did Confucius once say that? Somehow, I don't think so.
The main attraction, of course, are the giant pandas. They were beautiful.
But here’s the strangest thing about the zoo: Its American animal exhibit. First of all, there were hardly any animals from the U.S. whatsoever. I know we’re not exactly Africa in terms of impressive mammals, but c’mon. Do you know which American animal rated the most prominent display?
The common raccoon. A raccoon family had its own glass cage in a prime area and was very popular. Chinese folks kept touching the glass and excitedly taking pictures.
Cost of an adult admission at the Beijing Zoo: $2.25. Cost of an ice cream and a bottled water at the zoo: 45 cents each. Cost of watching the Chinese people who were watching the raccoons at the zoo: Priceless.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Plus, to be honest, I like to cover swimming more than gymnastics. I prefer Olympic sports where you can see the finish line and know who won -- swimming and track, for instance -- compared to "judged" sports.
All that said, though, I'm really glad I went to the women's balance beam final Tuesday -- the last event of the women's competition. Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin went gold-silver in the event -- Johnson's first gold of the Olympics in her last event. Johnson deserved it, too -- even an untrained eye could see that. That's Johnson in the center of this picture -- all 4-foot-7 of her -- and Nastia on the left of the picture.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Liu didn't even get started, pulling up with an injury in the very first round. This is somewhat of a mystery -- Liu has basically disappeared from competition this summer. He won a gold in 2004 in the 110 hurdles to become a national star but his world record has been broken and there is speculation that maybe he did not want to fail in front of the home crowd.
On the other hand, perhaps the injury is legit. In any case, it ends one of the storylines of these Olympics before it ever really began.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
But it's also cool that the lamps that light the paths at night also are decorated in a "bird's nest" motif. See for yourself.
What will he do now? Take a vacation. Phelps said he hasn't had an honest-to-goodness "stay dry" vacation for four years, since the end of the Athens Olympics. That gives you an idea of his dedication -- not only is he immensely talented, but his drive is Jordan-esque.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Not only did Bolt win, and not only did he set a world record while doing it (9.69 seconds), but he also slowed up and showboated toward the end.
How fast would he have gone if he hadn't?
Probably in the 9.5 range, I would think. But you can't really argue with a world record. If Bolt chooses to hold his hands down, look to the side and then thump his heart -- all before crossing the finish line -- well, no one was going to catch him anyway. The only threat to Bolt's world record right now is Bolt.
American Walter Dix (of Florida State) finished third. In a surprise, Trinidad's Richard Thompson was second. The other well-known Jamaican sprinter, Asafa Powell, was a disappointing fifth.
The other Americans in the race didn't fare as well -- Darvis Patton was eighth in the final, and Tyson Gay had such a bad semifinal that he didn't make the final at all.
Gay, trying to recover from a hamstring injury suffered at Olympic Trials, looked like he was laboring in the race. The top four advance in each of the two semifinal heats, and Gay finished fifth. Two other Americans -- Walter Dix and Darvis Patton -- did make it to the final.
The heavy favorite in the 100 final -- the race that popularly terms "The World's Fastest Man" -- will be Jamaicans Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell. They both ran so smoothly to win their respective semifinal heats. It'd be an upset if they didn't go 1-2.
The first was the men's 4x100 relay, when American Jason Lezak chased down France's stud swimmer Alain Bernard in the final five meters.
The second just happened Saturday morning (Beijing time). Michael Phelps, who was seventh out of eight halfway through the 100 butterfly, somehow won the race in the final centimeter for his seventh gold medal. Phelps beat Serbia's Milorad Cavic by the closest margin possible in swimming -- 1/100th of a second, 50.58 to 50.59 seconds.
I was watching the race live at the Water Cube, sitting with another reporter, and I thought Phelps had lost even after both swimmers touched. My angle wasn't the greatest, but he was clearly behind until the final stroke. Then Cavic tried to glide in and Phelps windmilled his arms one more time -- a short and choppy half-stroke -- that propelled him to the victory.
The Serbs questioned the result and (sort of) protested, but swimming officials reviewed the results by video, frame by frame, slicing it down into 1/10,000th of a second increments. And Phelps still won, every time. "I'm completely shocked," he said afterward.
Cavic said he believed he would beat Phelps if they raced again -- and it's quite possible he would -- but he didn't this time. Phelps said he chose the half-stroke because he knew he needed to rally -- it was something of a mark of desperation.
And it was unbelievable. The eighth gold medal is now a formality for Phelps unless the U.S. false-starts in the 4x100 medley relay.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Also Friday, Raleigh's Bershawn "Batman" Jackson easily advanced to the semifinals of the men's 400 hurdles. Jackson, nicknamed Batman because of his large ears and the way he can fly over the hurdles, is a definite medal possibility in the event.
Phelps has two main competitors in the race: U.S. teammate Ian Crocker and Serbia's Milorad Cavic. Crocker holds the world record (50.40 seconds; expect it to be broken here). Crocker has beaten Phelps three times in the event (but not since 2005). Cavic is not as well known in the States but it sounds like Phelps considers him just as serious of a threat.
The race is up-and-back in the 50-meter pool at Beijing's Water Cube. Phelps wants to go under 24 seconds in his first 50 -- that should take him 16 strokes, he estimates. At that point, Cavic and/or Crocker may be ahead of him. That's OK, Phelps figures, as long as it's not by much.
"I just can't be a body length behind," Phelps said. "When I allow them to get to open water, it makes it harder to fight through the waves."
If Phelps is close after 50, he figures he will win. He's a great closer -- and a great front runner, for that matter. But this is the one that will determine if he has a perfect Olympics or not. Phelps' eighth event -- the 4x100 medley relay on Saturday night (Eastern) -- is almost a given for the U.S.
Johnson was just behind, winning silver. It turns out America has the two best women's gymnasts in the world -- just not as much overall depth as China, which won the team gold.
The only rough part about the event is it ended close to 1 a.m. Eastern time. That means a lot of newspapers won't have very complete stories about it in their Friday papers -- if they have stories at all.
Note the slogan at the bottom of the ad: "Hooters Makes You Happy."
But it's not going to be a cakewalk for Phelps to get to No.8. His most difficult remaining test will come Friday night Eastern time (Saturday morning Beijing time) at 10:10 p.m. That's when he will face off in the 100 butterfly with Ian Crocker, a specialist in the event who not only holds the world record but also has beaten Phelps in it three different times.
Then again, Phelps won the event in the 2008 Trials, Crocker hasn't beaten him since 2005 and I think Phelps is in Crocker's head. I don't see Phelps losing, but it'll be very close. In the 100 butterfly, the best men do it in just over 50 seconds.
On another note: It's a pretty day in Beijing today (Friday here). Lots of Olympic events will be made up after rain washed out a number of the outdoor competitions yesterday, so oughta be fun.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Given that I'm in China, I really don't know how NBC is handling the Olympics back home. But I do know that there are going to be some very late starting and finish times for a couple of key events tonight. Michael Phelps swims for gold medal No.6 sometime a little after 10 p.m. Eastern. (He should get it, but it's never for sure -- what if he has another goggle goof?)
The other marquee event is the women's gymnastics final, the one that may well feature America's Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin going 1-2?
That baby is tentatively supposed to end at 1:07 a.m. Eastern time. Yes, 1:07 a.m. And it might go a few minutes longer. So take a nap or something if you really want to see the pixies. By the time they finish, even Michael Phelps will already be in bed.
Byers won his first two matches -- I took this picture of him beating a gargantuan Chinese wrestler in the second round -- but then he was upset by Sweden’s Jalmar Sjoberg in the quarterfinals. The defeat ended up knocking Byers out of medal contention. I don't think he would have won the gold anyway -- a Cuban and a Russian were the class of the heavyweight field -- but bronze would have definitely been in his sights.
But Byers couldn't get by the Swede. He was disconsolate afterward. “I could have brought a whole lot bigger fight,” Byers said. “I’m kicking myself for that. "
Byers did beat a Ukrainian wrestler in the first round and a Chinese wrestler in the second round to advance to the quarters. At age 33, he said he hopes to wrestle again in the Olympics -- in 2012 in London. That is iffy, though -- the U.S. only gets to send one wrestler per weight class, which means Byers will first have to fend off all challengers on U.S. soil.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
It's called the Chinese Agricultural Gymnasium. There is no agriculture in sight, but Greco-Roman wrestler Dremiel Byers of Kings Mountain, N.C., is in the house, representing the U.S. in the largest weight class.
Byers is a few minutes from competing in his first match here. There are 20 wrestlers in his event -- the heavyweight division, 264.5 pounds and under. He made weight and faces a wrestler from the Ukraine in the first round. His draw isn't the greatest -- he did not get a first-round bye -- but it could have been worse.
The favored wrestler in his half of the draw will be Cuba's Mijain Lopez, whom Byers would probably have to upset in the semifinals if he was headed for gold. We'll see how it goes.
Charlotte's Berens handled himself well in a room full of about 500 journalists. He said the last time he had been taken into a press conference, there were "maybe 2-3 reporters." But he did make a mistake in one answer. While trying to tell a story about Phelps and how he kept pushing his teammates to break the elusive seven-minute mark in the relay, Berens slipped and said Phelps had wanted them to break the "eight-minute mark." A teammate gently corrected him.
Breaking eight minutes, of course, wouldn't even get you to the final 16 at the Olympics. Afterward, Berens told me: "Darn! I can't believe I screwed that up!"
Phelps' press conference was moderated by a stern Chinese man who kept reminding everyone that Phelps couldn't be there very long. Once, Phelps told the journalists he was going to read them a text message from a high school friend. He pulled out his phone and started scrolling through the messages.
"You have one minute!" the stern Chinese man told Phelps. The moderator then looked surprised when the room broke up in laughter about a moderator telling an 11-time gold medalist to hurry up.
Phelps finally found it. An old high-school friend, referring to how many times Phelps has been on NBC in these Olympics, had written him sarcastically asking: "How many times do I have to see your ugly face?"
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
It's all got to be for Charlotte hometown boy Ricky Berens, right?
Well, not really. Not yet. Maybe in four or eight years. For now, though, they're basically all here (except me) to cover Michael Phelps, first and foremost. Phelps should win gold medals 4 and 5 tonight unless there's a huge upset -- he just kills people in the 200 butterfly, and the U.S. creams people in the 4x200 freestyle relay.
I just received this e-mail from David Marsh, the Mecklenburg Aquatic Club coach who's pretty plugged in and is in Beijing. He also sent it to some of the MAC people back home in Charlotte:
"Just got word from "inside" that Ricky has been selected to swim on the finals relay for the 800. This relay no doubt will (at the risk of sounding French) SMASH the world record. For all who have been affiliated with SwimMAC from the bubble days to the Latin pool project (ongoing project let us not forget) and even now in building for the future, take pride--- in Ricky, the USA, and yourself! This will be another big step for Ricky who continues to make Phelps-ish type strides."
We'll know in a couple of hours if David's words are correct. He's been right on target at this meet so far in every prediction I've heard from him. He's right about one thing: Berens is definitely swimming the final -- the third leg, to be exact. The order for the U.S. will be Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Berens and then Peter Vanderkaay as the anchor.
As you may recall, Jones swam in the preliminary in the 4x100 relay, earned a spot in the final by swimming the fastest leg and then got both a gold medal and a world record because he was part of a powerhouse U.S. team that included Michael Phelps.
Berens just swam the fastest leg in the 4x200 preliminary Tuesday. He will probably earn a spot in the final by doing that -- although it's not certain, I'm hearing from some folks very close to the U.S. swim team that's what will happen. If it does, then the 4x200 relay team will almost certainly both win a gold medal and set a world record.
Not a bad place to be if you're 20 years old and just about to begin your junior year at the University of Texas, as Berens is.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Once was at the Bank of America Hometown Hopefuls center in Beijing, which is geared toward assisting athletes' families who are going to the Olympics. The other one was by mistake, when Jones showed up at the same TV studio where I was taping an interview in (which is for broadcast Monday night on WCNC somewhere between 7:30 and 8 p.m. if you care).
In any case, Jones (who now lives in Charlotte) talked to reporters and also some regular folks at the B of A appearance. One of the most interesting questions he was asked came not from a reporter but from the 50-year-old mother of a U.S. Olympic boxer. The lady said she had almost drowned when she was 12, and as a result of that terrifying experience had never learned to swim. "Is it too late for me?" she asked.
"It's never too late," said Jones, who wants to use his gold medal as a springboard to help get more minorities swimming. Then he gave her some more encouraging words. It was nice.
I'm writing another big story on Jones and that extraordinary relay for Tuesday's paper -- watch for that. He's a fun subject.
For Jones, it capped an unbelievable 14 hours in which he actually had a hand in two world records. He swam the fastest leg on the preliminary relay team for the U.S., which also set a world record. That made Jones the only American swimmer to advance to the final out of the prelims, joining the relay Big Three of Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale and Jason Lezak.
Jones swam about the same time in the final, and when he pulled himself out of the water the Americans were second and world-record holder Alain Bernard of France had a half of a body length lead on U.S. anchor leg Jason Lezak. But the 32-year-old Lezak swam one of the most unbelievable times you will ever see in an Olympics -- a 46.06 that would have set a world record had it not come in a relay. He out-touched Bernard at the wall.
The Americans had heard rumors that the French said they were going to whip the Americans in the final, and even though they never were quite sure that the rumor was true, it motivated him.
"They had talked a lot about it, and we would just rather do it in the pool," Lezak said. "I never lost hope. I don’t know how I was able to take it back that fast, because I’ve never been able to come anywhere near that for the last 50.”
That amazing effort by Lezak and the U.S. team also kept Michael Phelps' dream of eight gold medals alive -- by an eyelash.
Jones gave his bouquet to his Mom in the stands afterward. I saw him following his swim and he was exuberant, often touching the gold medal around his neck.
"Four months ago, I made a change," Jones said, referring to his move to Charlotte and his adoption of David Marsh as his head coach. "That change got me on the relay. That change got me this gold medal. So I'm really happy."
Sunday, August 10, 2008
I just talked to Gangloff here in Beijing -- he was still dripping wet from the pool -- and he sounded more upbeat than you might expect.
“My best just wasn’t good enough today,” Gangloff said. “That was the fastest field in history for this event.” The gold medal was won by Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, who set a world record at 58.91 seconds. Gangloff swam the event in 1:00.24.
Gangloff had qualified seventh-fastest for the eight-man final, which earned him an unfavorable lane. He raced from Lane 1, which like Lane 8 receives more turbulence from other swimmers than the middle lanes.
After the first 50 meters, Gangloff was fifth. But he lost some momentum late.
“My stroke felt pretty good in the first 50,” Gangloff said, “but I faded a little bit in the last 10-15 meters. I was actually pretty happy with my time – I got faster in every race here – but it just wasn’t enough.”
Gangloff still has a medley relay to swim in the Olympics, and in that he will have a very good chance at some sort of medal.
China stayed close for awhile thanks to its three-point shooting -- even Yao Ming drilled a three to open the game. That's the only way anyone has a shot at beating the Americans -- if the other team goes about 12-20 from three-point land and the Americans go 2-15.
And even then, it might not matter. I expect the U.S. team to roll through this competition, as I wrote in this column. The U.S. will certainly be able to name the score in its next game, against Angola Tuesday.
By swimming a sizzling 47.61 in his 100 meters, Jones made a strong case to swim in the 4x100 final in about 14 hours. He was ecstatic after the race and admitted he would be "kind of devastated" if he didn't make it to the final after that performance. And it indeed looks like Jones will be on the final relay now -- his coach David Marsh just e-mailed me to tell me that Cullen had been told he was in the final and would probably swim the third leg.
Officially, though, U.S. coach Eddie Reese has until about an hour before the race to turn in the four swimmers who will swim the final. Michael Phelps is a given -- he didn't have to swim the prelims since he has such a heavy load already. This race will be one of the biggest challenges for Phelps and his quest for eight gold medals.
The rest of the squad who set the world record in the prelim were Nathan Adrian, Ben Wildman-Tobriner and Matt Grevers. Jones may be the only one of the four to advance to the final, or one more might be brought in as well.
"The four of us set out to do something a lot of people didn't think we could do," Jones said. "We weren't afraid to feel the pain."
In the 4x100 final Sunday night (that's Eastern time -- it'll be Monday morning in Beijing), the U.S. is far from a given for the gold. France, Australia and Italy will all be strong competitors. The 4x100 is scheduled for 11:23 p.m. Sunday night (Eastern time) after Charlotte's Mark Gangloff swims in the final of the 100 breaststroke at 10:30 p.m. If NBC doesn't televise it live, some network executive heads should be rolling.
He is The Man this week at the Water Cube (pictured here), a gorgeous venue, especially at night when it can change colors.
Phelps blasted his own world record in the 400 individual medley in the first final of these Games Saturday night, winning the event going away. American Ryan Lochte was third.
The medal ceremony was cute. Phelps was blinking back tears as a pre-recorded version of the national anthem played and the U.S. flag was hoisted.
Then, just at the "O'er the land of the free" part, the recording malfunctioned and ended suddenly. It sounded a little like one of those old vinyl records when someone would just rip the needle to the end. Phelps broke up laughing, as did most of the crowd.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
It worked -- for now -- but it wasn't pretty.
Although Gangloff was very confident entering the event due to a run of great practice sessions, he finished fifth in his heat, was surpassed by a number of other swimmers in other heats and was in major danger of missing the 16-person semifinal altogether. If he had been 1/10 of a second slower, he would have been 17th and would be out of the race already. On a secondary note, my story on Gangloff in Saturday's paper that you can read here would already be out of date.
“I felt good before it started, but maybe I just took it out too fast,” Gangloff told me following the race. “I’ll have to adjust a little bit. But the important thing is that I qualified for the next round, even if it was 16th.”
For you swimmers out there, Gangloff swam the first 50 in 28.26 and was third at the split before fading to fifth in his heat. (He usually leads his races at the halfway point). Brendan Hansen, the other American swimmer in this event and the world-record holder, also struggled some, qualifying in 10th place.
Gangloff and Hansen swim again in about 13 hours (at about 11 p.m. Eastern time Saturday night), when the field gets cut from 16 to 8. Judging from Gangloff's first performance -- he swam the race in 1:00.71, or about 6/10 of a second off his career best of 1:00.10 -- he's no certainty to get there. Neither is Hansen, although he sounded more confident than Gangloff following this race.
"There are a lot of peacocks out there showing their feathers," Hansen said, referring to the many swimmers who posted faster preliminary times than he did.
But prelim times don't always hold up in the semis and the final (which would be held Sunday night at about 10:30 p.m. Eastern time, whether Gangloff gets there or not). NBC usually shows the swimming live -- the big events are held in the morning in Beijing so they can go on live in prime time in America -- so you can probably see Gangloff tonight and see if he can rebound from this performance.
FROM THE USOC: The United States Olympic Committee has learned of an incident that occurred earlier today involving two family members of a coach for the United States Olympic Men’s Indoor Volleyball Team.
While at the Drum Tower in central Beijing, the two family members were stabbed during an attack by what local law enforcement authorities have indicated was a lone assailant. One of the family members was killed and the other seriously injured.
Following the attack, the assailant took his own life.
Our priority in this hour is to attend to the needs of the family members, the U.S. Olympic Men’s Indoor Volleyball Team and Staff, and the entire U.S. Olympic Delegation. In addition, the USOC is working closely with the United States Embassy, United States law enforcement authorities and local law enforcement authorities. The United States Olympic Committee will make additional information available when possible. END OF STATEMENT
UPDATE from the USOC: The man who was killed was Todd Bachman, father-in-law of United States Olympic Men's Indoor Volleyball Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon and father of Coach McCutcheon's wife, 2004 U.S. Olympic Women's Indoor Volleyball player Elisabeth Bachman McCutcheon.
Mr. Bachman and his wife Barbara were visiting the Drum Tower in Beijing, China, when they were attacked shortly after noon by an assailant wielding a knife. Their daughter Elisabeth was with them at the time of the attack.
Mr. Bachman, of Lakeville, Minn., died as a result of injuries sustained in the attack. Mrs. Bachman suffered serious injuries and was transported to a local hospital for emergency treatment. Her injuries are serious and life-threatening. Personnel from the U.S. Olympic Committee and the United States Embassy are assisting the Bachman family at the hospital.
Elisabeth Bachman McCutcheon was not injured. END OF UPDATE
Without knowing more, this is difficult to comment upon, other than to say I will pray for those involved, and I'm sure many of you will too.
"I really got to know Yao and interact with him for the first time at this year's NBA all-star game," Paul said. "What people don't know about Yao is that he's always joking and goofing around. So we're in the locker room one time, and he holds up his pants [not his basketball uniform pants, but the pants he's changing into after the game].
"They are absolutely huge," Paul continued. "So he comes over to me, and he holds them up right beside me. And I'm not kidding, they were exactly my height."
Yao is 7-foot-6. Paul is officially 6-0, although I think he's really about 5-10. In any case, that's some big pants.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Most people will watch it tape-delayed tonight on NBC, or else yawn and flick right past it. But I'm here to tell you that you need to give this one a try. No need to watch the entire thing -- you can get the idea in just 10 minutes if that's all you've got. But it is utterly spectacular, and I say that as someone who generally skips this sort of stuff. I'm not sure how China will do during the un-choreographed part of the Games -- see my column today about this -- but the country did a smash-up job on the OC.
So far there have been about four parts of the performance where I've gone "Now how did they do that?" There's one part fairly early on where they turn some people into human Christmas-tree lights, and it's awesome. There are a ton of illusions that look very real, and I think about half the people in China are actually going to be in the thing by the time it is through. You don't need to give it three hours by any means -- skipping all or most of the athletes' (snooze) parade is a fine idea -- but it's worth a look.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
1) There are 22 different American teams training at Beijing Normal University before and between their competition dates. I visited Beijing Normal Thursday to interview Greco-Roman wrestler Dremiel Byers (who grew up in Kings Mountain) and it seemed, well, normal. If you’re a Chinese family and you’ve got a kid who’s not too extraordinary but not too bad, one you want to turn out normally, I guess it’d be an ideal place to send him to college.
2) The Chinese are extremely friendly, but there’s one thing I could do without. At the nearest restroom to our office in the Main Press Center, a friendly Chinese restroom attendant always smiles widely as you enters the restroom and then gestures toward where the urinals are. Thanks, buddy – but I think I can take care of this one myself.
3) In my hotel, there’s a sign on the faucet that warns you not to drink the water that comes out of it. Then the hotel conveniently provides you a teapot that you can boil water inside if you really want to drink from the tap. It’s not worth the trouble. A bottle of water goes for about 45 cents here.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
1) At my hotel, there was not a small bottle of complimentary shampoo in the bathroom as you would find in most American hotels. There were, however, two combs, two toothbrushes and two complimentary condoms. Seriously.
2) Many of the Chinese signs are translated into English, and the translations are sometimes a little awkward. There was one sign posted above a highway that showed a drawing of a driver who was yawning widely. The caption read: “Do not drive tiredly.”
3) The word for “no” in Chinese translates, very roughly, to “Boo-yah!” For example, if someone asked you, “Sir, are you driving tiredly today?”
You could reply: “Boo-yah!”
The people in Beijing have been very nice so far. It is obvious the Olympics are a great source of pride. There are lots of college students among the Olympic volunteers who approach you, trying to be helpful. They like to practice their English, and most of them are pretty adept.The first one yesterday asked me "Are you tard?" soon after I got off the plane. I thought I was back home for a moment, for she sounded almost Southern.
What she meant was "tired." Then on the bus ride to my hotel this one volunteer tried for 20 minutes to teach me a few basic words in Chinese. I was a fairly hopeless student, but it was fun.
For breakfast, my hotel in Beijing has a buffet with a lot of strange items and a few familiar ones. I had fried rice mixed with scrambled eggs and some type of onions this morning – don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. My goal for the next couple of days, until the Olympics actually begin, will be to get the lay of the land here and to interview as many athletes with Carolina connections as possible. I have traveled here along with Observer photographer Jeff Siner and sports editor Mike Persinger, so the three of us can all get a Charlotte fix by talking to each other when we need to.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
In any case, I thought you might like to scan some of the Olympic websites and blogs I like before the Games begin. Also, if you missed my story today on Olympic athletes' amazing motivation, here it is.
On with the websites. If you know of others that could be helpful or entertaining, please feel free to add them in the comments:
www.NBCOlympics.com: Great overall site and the one I use the most. Helpful for athlete bios (not just the Americans) and the all-important TV schedules.
http://www.usolympicteam.com/ -- Concentrates on the Americans, obviously, with good news and multimedia components.
www.Olympic.org: Official website of the Olympic movement. More of an international flair.
http://jeremyandheatherknowles.blogspot.com/ -- Jeremy Knowles lives in Charlotte but will swim for his native country, The Bahamas, in these Olympics. Then he comes home and starts teaching the fourth grade in Charlotte. He's a great story -- one that I will chronicle next week in The Observer -- and the blog he and his wife Heather are writing is a gem.
http://www.markgangloffbeijingexperience.blogspot.com/ -- Charlotte swimmer Mark Gangloff -- who already has an Olympic gold medal -- has a great post on here about what the U.S. swimmers are doing at training camp besides swimming. His wife Ashley will be the primary poster during the Olympics.
Friday, August 1, 2008
Of course the list is imperfect. For instance, swimmer Margaret Hoelzer came from Alabama, currently trains in Seattle and has her permanent residence in Charlotte (where she used to train). She's counted as one of Alabama's three Olympians. Cullen Jones is listed with the New Jersey contingent, even though he went to N.C. State, spent six years in Raleigh and has lived the last few months in Charlotte.
Nevertheless, the list gives a good snapshot of where the Olympians consider themselves to be from. Want to guess which state is No.1?? It's not even close. California has supplied more than a quarter of the Olympians, with a staggering 174. Texas is a distant second with 44.
North Carolina has 11 on the list. South Carolina has two.
Those 13 Carolinians, according to this official USOC document, are: (From North Carolina): Michael Anti, Winterville NC, rifle shooting; Ricky Berens, Charlotte, swimming; Dremiel Byers, Kings Mountain, Greco-Roman wrestling; Bershawn Jackson, Raleigh, 400 hurdles; Caroline Lind, Greensboro, rowing; Charlie Ogletree, Columbia, N.C., sailing; Travis Padgett, Shelby (and Clemson), 4x100 relay; Chris Paul, Winston-Salem, men's basketball; Alice Schmidt, Chapel Hill, 800 meters; Leigh Smith, Raleigh, javelin and Jesse Williams, Raleigh, high jump.
(From South Carolina): George Hincapie (who used to live in Charlotte), Greenville SC, cycling; Libby Callahan, Columbia, shooting.