Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bye Bye Beijing

The Olympic Closing Ceremonies are finishing up in Beijing as I write this. These whole three weeks have been quite an adventure, and I appreciate all of you who checked in on this blog from time to time and also read my stuff in the paper. The U.S. had a nice final day of the Olympics, winning gold-medal finals in both men's basketball and men's volleyball (see below for a description of the basketball game).

For those who wonder what I'm going to do next, I'll be starting a "Scott Says" blog within a couple of weeks after I get back from China. So look for that online at And I'll be up to my ears as usual in Panthers football, college sports, NASCAR, etc., writing 3-4 columns a week for the newspaper.

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!

U.S. Redeem Team wins gold

The U.S. men's basketball game finally got itself in a battle Sunday in Beijing, in the gold-medal game vs. Spain.

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

Women's team rolls as Kobe watches

If the U.S. men's team was looking for inspiration Saturday night in Beijing, it certainly could have found some in the form of the U.S. women.

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

U.S. men's hoops advances to gold medal game

The U.S. men's basketball team has moved onto the gold-medal game here with relative ease -- again.

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.

Were the Chinese gymnasts too young?

This is the controversy just won't go away. Gymnasts must turn 16 in 2008 -- or already be at least 16 -- to compete in these Olympics. But various online and media reports have said that at least a couple of the Chinese gymnasts weren't old enough who competed here, and China's team success with those gymnasts has fanned the flames of discontent.

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.

U.S. volleyball continues to rock

Score it two gold medals down and two to go for the U.S. Volleyball teams, which arguably are having the best Olympics of any of the American squads.

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.

Relay blues for Shelby's Padgett

Can you believe that BOTH the U.S. men's and women's 4x100 relay teams dropped the baton on the same night in the preliminaries of their races?

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

Bolt gets ripped by Olympics' head honcho

Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, criticized Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt Thursday for showing a lack of respect to other competitors after his record-breaking gold medal performances in the 100 and 200 meters. After both events, Bolt celebrated effusively following his world-record runs.

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."

U.S. volleyball having its best Olympics ever

The U.S. volleyball teams have had an extraordinarily good run in the Olympics so far. There are four disciplines in the sport -- men's and women's beach volleyball and men's and women's indoor volleyball. The U.S. has a good chance to medal in all four events and might even win gold in all four.

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

Shawn Crawford's strange silver medal

Local sprinter Shawn Crawford just won a very odd silver medal.

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.

Shawn Crawford about to run 200 meter final

Shawn Crawford -- the sprinter from Van Wyck, S.C., Indian Land High and Clemson -- will run in the 200 meter final in just a couple of hours. It's night time here in Beijing, where I'm sitting at the Bird's Nest track and field complex, and Crawford is in one of Wednesday night's marquee events.

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.

Weird T-shirts

You know how sometimes you see a teenager in America wearing a shirt with Chinese symbols and you think, "No way they know what that says?"

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.

Pandas and raccoons at Beijing Zoo

With a couple of hours to spare before covering the men’s 200-meter final Wednesday, I went to the Beijing Zoo. It’s an interesting place. Some of its exhibits are charming. Some are very out-of-date, which makes some sense given that this zoo has been around in some form since 1906.

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

Shawn Johnson finally gets a gold

I almost missed the gymnastics competition at the Olympics. It conflicted with swimming almost every day. And since there were three Charlotte swimmers and zero Charlotte gymnasts in the Olympics, I had to be at the pool most of the time.

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.

Local athlete Olympic medal count update

As the Olympics are now about two weeks old, it's understandable if you've lost track of how the athletes from the Carolinas have done so far. Here's an incomplete rundown, but one that should help:

GOLD MEDALS: Swimmer Ricky Berens (Charlotte), 4x200 freestyle relay (pictured here); Swimmer Mark Gangloff (Charlotte), 4x100 medley relay; Swimmer Cullen Jones (Charlotte and N.C. State), 4x100 relay; Rower Caroline Lind (Greensboro), women's eight.

Gangloff, the only one of those 3 to also qualify for an individual event, finished eighth in the men's 100 breaststroke.

BRONZE MEDALS: Shalane Flanagan (UNC), women's 10,000; Bershawn "Batman" Jackson, men's 400 hurdles. Flanagan still has the women's 5,000 to run but isn't expected to medal there -- the 10K is her best event.

FEELING DISAPPOINTED: Dremiel Byers (Kings Mountain), who was upset in the quarterfinals of the heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestling category and felt terrible afterward.

RETURNING TO TEACH FOURTH GRADE: Jeremy Knowles (Charlotte), the Bahamian, probably knew he wasn't going to medal at these Olympics. He didn't make the final 16 in his events, but he did set some more Bahamas national records. He starts teaching fourth grade in Charlotte on Aug.25.

STILL IN THE HUNT: Shawn Crawford (Indian Land High and Clemson) will run the finals of the 200 Wednesday, assuming he makes it there. Travis Padgett (Boilings Springs Crest and Clemson) will run in the 4x100 relay later this week. Jamaica will be favored in both those events, paced by "World's Fastest Man" Usain Bolt in each.

Hutong time

What is a hutong? It's a traditional area of China that is slowly disappearing. Hutongs are constructed in narrow alleyways. Families live in small houses that sprawl around a central courtyard. Sometimes it's one family, sometimes it is several. The alleys are often dead ends, and you need a guide to find some of the ones remaining.

We found a nice guide whose English name was Lizzie. She was 18 years old and about to begin as a college freshman as an electrical engineer. She took us around a hutong in Beijing -- the family inside was happy to accept our visit for about $3 of American currency apiece. They apparently do this sort of thing a lot.

Where we're sitting now is at a place where family members play Chinese chess outside -- it's a little like the regular game of chess, but not much. That's me, Observer sports editor, our friend Liz Clarke from the Washington Post and Lizzie.

The family also had some interesting pets: a cricket for the kids, a school of goldfish in a bowl (where people throw coins for good luck) and a couple of birds they kept outdoors in cages.

A Chinese Christmas tree?

Check this out. These are all over Beijing. It looks like a Christmas tree, doesn't it, with the alternating bands of green and red.

What is it really? A whole lot of plants in pots, artfully arranged inside a metal frame to resemble a tree. They are everywhere. It's a nice illusion. And it's also a little symbolic of China. They don't just plant a tree and be done with it -- they do something like this instead. It's sometimes more about how things appear -- than how they really are -- in China. Here are some more of my thoughts on that concept.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chinese paper money

Here's what the money looks like over here. Chairman Mao -- the controversial former leader of the People's Republic of China -- is all over it. Here's a profile from Time about Mao Zedong if you're curious as to who the man is on the money.

As for how much this is worth: the 100 yuan bill (upper left corner) is worth about $15.00 by current exchange standards. It goes down from there. The 20 yuan bill is worth $3, the 10 is worth $1.50, the 5 is worth 75 cents and the 1 yuan bill -- it only is worth 15 cents but I keep accumulating them. Then there's that 0.5 yuan bill -- it's worth a measly 7.5 cents and fills up your wallet, too.

To me, anytime I'm in a foreign country, I spend money a little more freely because it all feels like Monopoly money to me. It morphs into something very real when it gets onto my credit-card account a few weeks later, but I always seem to forget that part.

KFC in China

Yes, KFC is another one of the American companies to invade China. This one is sort of near my hotel.
What's interesting is first, they deliver. Second, they deliver by bicycle. Notice the Chinese flag and the picture of the ever-present colonel in this photo.

An exploding Chinese menu

We went to an authentic Chinese restaurant in Beijing for lunch Monday -- myself, my editor and buddy Mike Persinger and Washington Post reporter Liz Clarke, who's our friend and used to work at The Observer.

The restaurant had a menu with English translations of the dishes, and they were so peculiar it felt like something Monty Python would have dreamed up. Here's a picture of the menu, but I know it's so small you can't read it. So let me give you some of the choices we had -- EXACTLY as they were written on the menu -- and you decide what you would have picked:

Explodes the loose meat; Sweet and sour sauce with black fungus; stomach kernel; cow tendons; and lamb tripe.

Don't want any of those?

We also could have chosen: Sheep's head meat; Ox tripe; The water explodes the mutton or the always popular "Explodes fries the sheep's internal organs."

What did we have? We're not sure. We had our Chinese guide order four different things for us, we tried them all and we're not sick yet.

The Chinese hero is out

Liu Xiang, the hurdler who in China shows up even more than Yao Ming on billboards and in commercials, is out of the 110-meter hurdles in the Olympics.

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

Vamos Rafa

I just watched Rafael Nadal win the gold-medal men's singles match here in straight sets over Chile's Fernando Gonzalez. "Rafa" has had a magical year and rightly assumes the No.1 spot in tennis on Monday -- hard to argue after he has won the French Open, Wimbledon and now the Olympics.
Gonzalez plays a high-risk, high-reward game -- absolutely swinging as hard as he can on his forehand on every shot. But Nadal ground him down, slowly and surely. As a tennis player myself, I admire his tenacity as much as I admire that wicked lefty forehand.
In women's doubles, the Williams sisters won gold. In men's doubles, Roger Federer showed how good he could be in doubles if he tried, winning gold. Federer had lost in the quarters in singles to American James Blake, who then lost to Gonzalez.

This tournament was like a fifth major for tennis hidden away inside the massive sports festival that is the Olympics. I'll only write one story about tennis in the three weeks I'm in Beijing -- about Nadal, for our Aug.18 paper -- but it was a pleasure to watch him play.

Would you jump from here?

I watched some of the Olympic divers warm up the other day. Their pool is right next to the swimming pool that Michael Phelps ruled all week, but the events never run at the same time.

If you look closely at this picture, you can see the diver who has just jumped from the high dive. When these guys are warming up, there's a lot of action -- several divers jumping at once from different boards. The ones that do the handstands on the end of the high board always amaze me.

Bird's eye Bird's nest view

You can see from the big picture here the way the Bird's Nest stadium -- the opulent 91,000-seat venue for track and field -- looks up close. Those crisscrossing steel girders are what makes it so cool.

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.

No soup for you (Rules of the stadium)

I don't know why the old "No soup for you" Seinfeld line popped to my head when I saw this sign, but it does.

This picture is just No.8 in a long, long list of rules at the Bird's Nest, posted before you go into the 91,000-seat stadium.

If you can't read the list in this picture, I understand. Here's what No.8 says: "The following behaviours and actions are strictly forbidden: assaulting athletes, judges/referees or other staff; gambling of any kind; taking part in or organizing a march, sit-in or demonstration; causing a disturbance after drinking alcohol; streaking; behaving in any other matter that disrupts events or is prohibited under Chinese law."

Now, if I'm reading this right, you can cause a disturbance BEFORE drinking alcohol, just not after. I don't know that argument would hold up, though, in front of a Chinese judge.

Great eight for Phelps

Michael Phelps did it. Eight gold medals in eight events -- a perfect Olympics, really. "What more could I accomplish?" Phelps wondered in his press conference afterward, and that's a good question. This was remarkable. It almost went away several times -- he won by 1/100th of a second in that great 100 butterfly and was the beneficiary of Jason Lezak's great final 100 in the 4x100 relay -- but bottom line, he did it.

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

A Bolt from the blue

Jamaica's Usain Bolt is an astonishing runner, and he just did an astonishing thing here in Beijing in the 100-meter final.

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.

Tyson Gay doesn't make the 100 final

Tyson Gay, the top U.S. hopeful in the 100-meter dash, just failed to get out of the semifinals in his heat.

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 Amazing Race -- how did Phelps do it?

I now have two contenders for the "Best Event I've Seen at the Olympics In Person" award.

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

Shalane Flanagan's bronze

Former UNC star runner Shalane Flanagan won a surprising bronze medal at the Olympics Friday in Beijing -- a very good result in an event that the U.S. hadn't won a medal in 16 years. Read my early story about Flanagan's victory here -- it will be expanded into a longer version for Saturday's paper.

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.

What Phelps must do for No.7 Friday night

Just got out of a press conference with Michael Phelps here in Beijing, and he explained his strategy for the race that might derail his quest for eight medals -- the 100 butterfly, which will start at 10:10 p.m. Eastern time on Friday.

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.

Women's U.S. gymnasts go 1-2

The women's gymnastics individual competition just finished in Beijing, and the U.S. went 1-2. Nastia Liukin won gold -- a slight upset over her teammate Shawn Johnson.

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.

Not quitting my day job

I'm sure our news partner WCNC-TV wouldn't mind a plug in this blog, so here goes. I understand they are doing an excellent "pre-Game" Olympic show back home in Charlotte each weekday night from 7:30-8 p.m.

Undoubtedly the low point in these shows are my brief guest appearances from Beijing. Despite that, I hear the rest of the show is quite good. I'm not the only Charlottean who comes on from Beijing -- Observer sports editor Mike Persinger and Bill McMillan (this time in his role as the head PR guy for USA Canoe and Kayak, which is based in Charlotte) have been on as well.

Again, 7:30-8 p.m each weeknight. It's coming on next week, too. And I don't mind at all if you hit the mute button when I'm on there.

Hooters in China?

Somehow, I didn't think a communist culture and Hooters went together. It turns out they do, though.

This advertisement was displayed prominently in the "China Daily," an English-language newspaper in Beijing. No, I'm not going to be going to Hooters -- I just thought it was an interesting American export.

Note the slogan at the bottom of the ad: "Hooters Makes You Happy."

A sensational six for Phelps

Michael Phelps is going to test the adjective knowledge of every writer at the Summer Olympics before this is over. He just won gold medal No.6 here in Beijing. That's six golds and six world records.

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

Thursday night Olympic preview

This will be a big Olympic night on NBC, but I hope you're ready to lose some sleep over it.

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.

A soldier in China

There's about a million of these guys standing around. I ride by him or someone else standing at this station in Beijing every day. At least he has an umbrella -- useful, because it seems to rain about every other day here. But he -- or one of his comrades -- is always standing at attention on that block. I would think it would be a boring job.
There are other soldiers who are carrying machine guns -- more of them now than there were a few days ago. Near the Main Press Center (MPC) there are a number of soldiers' barracks. To dry their clothes, they often hang them outside their windows, so you ride by the barracks and there are all these shirts and pants flapping in the breeze.

Carrying a torch for China

I thought this was a cool sculpture. It's at the Olympic Green area in Beijing, where thousands of people wander around each day between events (but not as many as were in Athens, Greece -- I think it's because of the tight security. It's harder to get in there and just mill around).

In any case, I'm not much for outdoor art, really, but I liked this enough to take a picture of it. That's either the fencing or the gymnastics hall in the background -- I can't keep those two straight, because they look a lot alike from the outside.

Kings Mountain wrestler loses

Kings Mountain’s Dremiel Byers was a very unhappy man after his unsatisfactory Olympic debut in Greco-Roman wrestling early Thursday morning (Eastern time).

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

Dremiel getting ready

I'm at a new venue today (Thursday morning my time, Wednesday night Charlotte time).

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.

Phelps, Berens and funny press conferences

The Wednesday press conferences for Michael Phelps (by himself) and Ricky Berens (with two other 4x200 relay teammates) both had a funny moment following the U.S.'s gold-medal performance in the event.

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?"

Berens wins gold!

Charlotte's Ricky Berens won a gold medal Tuesday night (Wednesday morning here in Beijing), swimming the third leg on the best 4x200 relay team ever. The powerhouse U.S. team won the relay by more than four seconds and clocked in at just under seven minutes -- the first team ever to break the 7-minute mark.
Here's a picture of Berens on the starting blocks during the first of two relays he swam in Beijing, courtesy of Ricky's father John Berens. Ricky's dad admitted it wasn't the best picture when he e-mailed it to me, but said his hands were shaking so much from the stands when he took the shot (from nervousness) that he's surprised it's in focus at all.
The U.S. has unmatched depth in the 4x200, so whoever made the Final Four on the relay for America was going to get a gold and join Michael Phelps and company on the medal stand.
It's quite a testament to Berens that he made it (with a great performance in the preliminaries). Berens was by far the least well-known of the four American swimmers in the 4x200 final, but that doesn't matter when you have a gold medal hanging around your neck.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Big Buzz at the pool

There are more American media here in Beijing Wednesday morning (Tuesday night back on the East Coast) at the Water Cube than there's been all week. Why?

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.

Berens in Jones' footsteps?

Charlotte native Ricky Berens may be about to pull a Cullen Jones in these Olympics.

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.

Ricky Berens' turn at bat

Of the three U.S. swimmers with deep Charlotte connections in these Olympics, two have already splashed around in China: Cullen Jones and Mark Gangloff. Now it is Ricky Berens' turn -- he will swim a leg of the 4x200 preliminary relay for the U.S. tonight in Beijing (about 8 a.m. Tuesday in Charlotte -- watch for results both on this blog and on

If Berens has a great swim, he may advance to the final, where he would join the big dogs like Michael Phelps (who doesn't swim the relay preliminaries to save the wear and tear on his body).
Berens is sort of the opposite of Gangloff and Jones in terms of his Charlotte connections: he lived here basically his whole life until age 18, then left for college. Gangloff and Jones lived somewhere else all their life until at least 2007 (and 2008 in Jones' case), then moved to Charlotte to train under coach David Marsh.

Here's a picture of Berens, who is 20 and a rising junior at Texas these days. He is coached there by legendary head coach Eddie Reese, also the head men's swim coach in Beijing. Thanks to his parents for sending it to me awhile back.

Berens is considered one of the rising young stars in American swimming. In a sport that is growing older -- in part because swimmers can now afford to pursue it into their mid and late 20s -- Berens is one of the youngest men on the U.S. team. He is seen by many here as likely to swim multiple events at the London Olympics in 2012.

Chinese dancing girls at beach volleyball

I'm working on a story for the Wednesday Aug.13 newspaper right now about a trip I took to the beach volleyball venue. It is probably the most "American" of all the venues in Beijing. Classic American rock blares out of the speakers between every point -- "Shout," "Don't Bring Me Down" and so on.

And then there are the Chinese dancing girls, who perform during breaks like they are a squad of Top Cats or something. In this demure and communist society, it's quite a striking change from the rest of Beijing I've experienced so far. It feels a lot like an NBA game in terms of the entertainment.

Like the women's beach volleyball players, these Chinese women wear bikinis. I thought it was an odd contrast here -- a beach volleyball player studiously practicing her serve right before a match while the Chinese dancing girls shimmied in the background.

A Chinese tank

I've been taking a digital camera with me everywhere in Beijing the past few days and occasionally running upon something where I've really been glad I had it. Here was one example: This is a working Chinese tank of some sort. You can't tell from this picture, but there are soldiers inside. You could see them through the glass.

This was parked outside the Main Press Center for some reason -- another Chinese mystery.

A pause for some Coca-Cola Light

I'm not sure why, but I always like to see the names of familiar American products in unfamiliar languages when I'm overseas.

So here's a picture I thought you might enjoy of three Coca-Cola products in their Chinese variations.
From bottom to top, that's Diet Coke, Coke and Sprite. Diet Coke is often called Coca-Cola Light overseas.
Also, you know on the nutritional label where it lists the amount of caffeine a soft drink has? In China it has the same label, but it calls caffeine "energy."
So a caffeine-free drink here is apparently an energy-free drink as well.

Cullen and his Mom

Before we leave the topic of that amazing U.S. relay race and Cullen Jones -- whom I tackled one last time in a fairly thorough story here for the Aug.12 newspaper -- I'll say a couple more words about him.

First of all, he was raised right. I've included a picture here of Cullen and his Mom, who is a sharp woman with Cullen's smile. She and her late husband nurtured Cullen's swimming dream throughout his life ( Cullen's father, a non-smoker, died of lung cancer in 2000).

Second, he wasn't afraid to strike out of his comfort zone when things weren't working. I'm convinced Jones wouldn't have made this Olympic team had he not moved from Raleigh to Charlotte four months ago, taking up with a new coach (David Marsh) and changing several things about his technique.

Third, it's just too bad Jones didn't make an individual event here as well. He was soooo close to also qualifying in the 50 freestyle, but didn't make it. That would allow him to stay in the spotlight he obviously enjoys a little longer this week. But if you're only going to swim one event in these Olympics, Cullen ended up in the right one. That 4x100 -- with its backstory and its amazing comeback -- was a race for the ages.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Cullen's gold: The aftermath

Former N.C. State swimmer Cullen Jones has been making the rounds a little bit, his gold medal on his neck, in the aftermath of helping the U.S. win the 4x100 relay Sunday night (Eastern time). On Monday, I caught up with him twice.

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.

Cullen Jones wins gold!

Former N.C. State star and current Charlotte resident Cullen Jones just participated in one of the most thrilling events of these Olympics and one of the best races I've ever seen in any sport -- the 4x100 freestyle relay. Jones swam the third leg for an American team that set the world record by nearly four seconds -- and needed every last bit of it to edge France for the gold.

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

Gangloff finishes eighth in his best event

Charlotte's Mark Gangloff fell short of his dream Sunday night (Charlotte time) in the 100-meter breaststroke, finishing in eighth and last place in the final of his specialty event.

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.

Men's hoops blowouts

Get used to what the U.S. men's basketball team did to China Sunday -- a 101-70 rout that looked like an NBA All-Star dunk contest (if the best players actually competed in the dunk contest instead of skipping it).

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.

Cullen Jones helps set world record

Cullen Jones just had an exciting night in Beijing (which translates into an exciting morning in Charlotte). The former N.C. State standout and current Charlotte resident swam the fastest leg in the preliminaries on a U.S. 4x100 team that set a world record in the event.

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.

Gangloff makes final by skin of his teeth

Charlotte swimmer Mark Gangloff has been living right so far in these Games.

He almost got eliminated twice Saturday night in his specialty stroke, the 100-meter breaststroke, but he managed to do just enough to stay in the field as it was cut from 65 to the final eight.

Gangloff qualified seventh-fastest of those eight, so he would need a major improvement to work his way onto the podium for a medal in the Sunday night final (10:30 p.m., NBC).

Here's the story I wrote about Gangloff's day of living dangerously at the Games after watching both of his swims at the Water Cube (pictured here in red and below in blue -- it's quite a spectacular place).

Phelps starts with a bang

Michael Phelps isn't messing around.

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

Gangloff makes Olympic semis -- barely!

I just watched Charlotte's Mark Gangloff eke out a spot in the semifinals of his specialty event -- the 100-meter breaststroke.

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.

An awful tragedy

The first terrible news from these Games has been sounded. The US Olympic Committee released the following statement just a little while ago on this, the first full day of competition in Beijing:

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.

Yao Ming's pants

I wasn't able to get this story that former Wake Forest star Chris Paul told into my column that will run in Sunday's Charlotte Observer about the U.S. men's basketball team -- nicknamed the "Redeem Team." So I'll let Paul tell it here.

"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.

Food in China

I'm somewhat embarrassed to report that I ate in a Subway here (here's the picture of the sign). There are KFCs and, especially, McDonald's all over the place in Beijing, but I had steered clear of it the first few days. After four days of mostly Chinese food, however, I was ready for a break.

So Subway it was. The setup was pretty much the same as in America, as well as the cost. It served its purpose, I suppose. But I was back to Chinese food the next day. Lots of folks warned me that it wouldn't taste or look the same here as it does in America, but honestly I haven't noticed a great deal of difference except for one thing -- there are far more grilled or steamed items for sale and far fewer breaded or fried ones.

Perhaps this is why one stereotype about the Chinese appears true: you hardly ever, ever see a fat one. I must have glanced at several thousand Chinese people by now, and I've only seen two fat ones. And one of those was a baby, so he doesn't even count.

Notes from 8-8-08

A couple more things about Aug.8, 2008, a date that many Chinese people will remember for a long time (and so will I, but for a different reason -- see No.3):

1) You should have seen the near-riot at the post office at the Main Press Center on 8-8-08. There were dozens of Chinese journalists and photographers, all in what had been a mostly deserted post office until now. They were all in a hurry. There was some pushing and shoving. And why? They were all trying to get things mailed with an 8-8-08 postmark. If you haven't heard by now, the number "eight" is considered lucky in the Chinese culture, which is why the Opening Ceremonies began on that date.

2) What was really cool about the Opening Ceremonies were how basically everyone in China stopped to watch. I took a bus back to my hotel while the Ceremonies were still going on and there were people in the streets, everywhere. Why? The bars and restaurants were so crowded that they couldn't get in, but they were watching the TVs through the plate-glass windows. And applauding whenever something spectacular happened.

3) My boss and friend, Observer sports editor Mike Persinger, and I picked Friday to go to the Great Wall. It was our only "light day" -- there were no other events scheduled, and I wasn't writing live off the OC. We had a rare break.
The Great Wall is far steeper than we imagined, and in beautiful country that reminded us of the North Carolina mountains. To get there, though, you had to traverse through a bunch of Chinese vendors aggressively trying to sell you stuff. Mike said it reminded him a little of Myrtle Beach at first, but then the Great Wall itself is like nothing I had ever seen. (In the picture above, that's Mike on the left, me on the right and our guide Selina in the middle -- she was about 4-foot-7 and spoke great English).

Friday, August 8, 2008

A spectacular Opening Ceremonies

I'm here in Beijing right now watching the Opening Ceremonies on TV, which is actually the best view for both Opening and Closing Ceremonies, I've found out. The TV cameras can zero in on things a lot better than the human eye.

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

On the verge

Three observations from Beijing on the verge of the Olympics:

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

Beijing oddities

Here are three odd things I have seen in my 24 hours so far in China:

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!”

Beijing arrival

How long does it take to get to Beijing? For me, it was about 24 hours door-to-door. That was time enough for our 5,900-mile second flight, from San Francisco to Beijing, to show a couple of Chinese movies, along with “10,000 B.C.” and “Blades of Glory.” Now if Will Ferrell on skates doesn’t get you primed for the Olympics, nothing will.

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

Great Olympic websites

Hi, everyone: The title of this blog will make more sense starting with the next post, as I will actually be "At the Olympics" by then. I'm in a flurry of pre-Olympic packing right now, and also attempting to remember things like calling my credit-card company to make sure they don't shut my card off when I use it for the first time in Beijing (Do you know that happens sometimes if you don't call and you're overseas? I didn't).

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: Great overall site and the one I use the most. Helpful for athlete bios (not just the Americans) and the all-important TV schedules. -- Concentrates on the Americans, obviously, with good news and multimedia components. Official website of the Olympic movement. More of an international flair. -- 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. -- 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

U.S. Olympians state by state

The US Olympic Committee sent me an interesting list today -- a state-by-state chronicle of where the 600 or so Americans competing in the 2008 Beijing Games currently live.

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.