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Back In Beijing - 2008 Olympics Blog Report #4

Aug. 8, 2008

Ni Hao,

It sounds like "Knee How," and it's the greeting you hear everywhere... unless you're taking a phone call. Then you answer Wei ("Way"). Now add the name of President Hu (sounds like "Who") and the Premier, Wen (just say "When") and you've got the makings of a modern day Abbott & Costello skit best performed by Wayne and Garth. Party on, Wayne.

The party is ON tonight. Opening ceremonies Fri. at 8pm - or 8am EDT back home in the states - a tough ticket to find anywhere on the street, on par with the Superbowl.

Among those of us hu have no ticket, some will be heading to the Olympic green to surround the stadium for a slightly muffled ear full of what goes on inside and a full feel of the fireworks at the end. (In Athens `04 they had large portable "big Mo" displays outside Olympic Stadium in-front-of-which to throw a blanket down on the dusty desert crust - but I've heard of no such plans here.)

Others will try to find the dozen or so public areas (parks and such) throughout Beijing that will have the big screens and audio. Our red-and-white swirly shirt brethren (foreign workers of the Olympic Games) staying at the hotel are organizing a trip to a bar on a lake to watch their TV's (see email string below for all it takes to plan a small gathering here). And for the least adventurous, there are the hotel rooms and television. My options tend toward the latter with a twist. My French announcing comrade has a room on the 10th floor that overlooks the bird's nest wen (if) the smog is down. I am told that there is also a "penthouse" restaurant on the top of our building. If we can't get in up there, our rain check will probably to be watching the ceremonies on Michel's television and the grand finale through his window.

Last time around I got to go see the closing ceremonies for Athens, and they were spectacular! I still have the handkerchief they handed out on the wei in to wave goodbye at the end. Hoping for a return engagement this time around come Aug. 24. It's an easier ticket to find as most of the foreign visitors and many athletes have already gone back home by then.

I'm considering not washing my right hand for a while after shaking hands with NBC TV's Peter Diamond (VP) and David Michaels (senior producer) yesterday in a nearly empty National Indoor Stadium. They are the nos. 1 & 2 guys at NBCSports wen it comes to televising gymnastics. Only the die hard holdouts were still in the arena for the 4th formal training session of the day, which didn't start until 8pm. (Sure, I live a scant 90 miles from NBC's New York headquarters, but I had to come here for this opportunity.) I had first met David in San Jose at last year's Visa (National) Championships, but this was a first in meeting his boss.

Quick hits:

>When coming to China, please beware that political correctness in conversation may not be quite as developed as it is back in the states, depending on the speaker. And descriptions of other people here can be blunt and based on appearances. I was recently introduced to a new member of the working team of university students: "This is Gloria. She is a very beautiful girl." Also, there is a healthy curiosity among the young people in our group of university students working in Sports Presentation here. Do not be alarmed when you are seen taking a pill of any sort to be asked what it's for. And if you spend a little time sifting through an open backpack, you may have a few additional sets of eyes over your shoulder - likely just to help you find what you are looking for.

>Why we should care... about the USA Mens Gymnastics Team, and about an American gymnast who had no choice but to decide yesterday to stop what he's been doing since childhood two days away from the Olympic Games. Because more so than just about every other sport, there can be NO weaknesses to make it this far - mind, body, psyche. Because, like wrestling, it is a lifestyle sport. EVERYTHING you do, every bite of nourishment, the time you go to sleep, the dreams you have while asleep, revolves around the sport. Because when your years of competing are done, you need to find not just a new job, but a new life. And the career is abrieviated. There are only eight 30-somethings competing here among 98 athletes. Six of those are 30 or 31. Then there are two that must be made of Kevlar: World Champ horizontal bar behemoth Igor Cassina of Italy (his toes nearly touch the mat on high bar) and another perennial favorite, rings master Jordan Jovtchev of Bulgaria. They have no right to be doing what they're still doing at age 35, except that they are specialists that can extend their careers by picking their shots. Morgan Hamm is an all-arounder, not backing away from any apparatus when healthy. He's traveled in the shadows of his famous twin brother but never far behind and always outrightly earning his stripes on the US Men's Team. He was hoping to duplicate one of the best meets he ever had, taking 4th on H-bar and 8th on Floor Ex at Athens. Morgan was a big reason the US Mens team captured the Olympic team Silver. His replacement, Alexander Artimev, has potential to keep the team effort strong in events like pommel horse and floor. I was told by Allison of NBC that he will be flown in from a training facility in China that is 6 hours away. He will walk into a sold out arena and will perform on equipment that he has never touched, having missed the pre-event training gym sessions and formal podium training session. He'll need the same fortitude of a Morgan Hamm to get it done, but don't count him out.

Can't wait. Will the Games Begin Already?