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Back In Beijing - 2008 Olympics Blog Report #5

Aug. 11, 2008

Hi Gang,

Hope you got to see the Opening Ceremonies this weekend. outSTANDING !!! Magical... and so unique to this land of culture and history of which the Chinese people are very proud.

I and a small portion of our sports presentation team trekked many meters and popped our heads into countless establishments for about an hour around the touristy yet culturally-sound "Ho Hi" area to find a restaurant with a decent sized TV AND strong air conditioning (...NOT a layup around here..). We found a few, but they wanted to charge 200 or more yuan a head just to walk in the door. Communism & capitalism - the best of BOTH worlds!

The walk lasted from about 4pm until 6:30pm when we luckily found the last open table at a tiny 16 seat restaurant called the Cottage in the heart of a hovel near the university that specializes in theatre and performing arts. The hovel is little more than a labyrinth of low-lying government-built low income houses with limited plumbing and fairly new and clean public toilets every few blocks. I mention this because residents and restaurant patrons alike must leave their buildings to go wash their hands and take care of other personal hygiene. Blocks. That's the style, but the low roofs and personal touches add a unique charm to the "hu tong" neighborhoods that are sprinkled about Beijing. The walls of gray are oddly more uplifting than depressing. This hu tong neighborhood near the university has actually become a magnet for foreign travelers who want to mingle with all people of Beijing and take in all the flavor. For us this ironically included pan pizza, "fried fries" (French fries) and Budweiser. Western heaven!

I had to leave early during the athlete march-in to the bird's nest to rest and prepare for our first (long!) day of competition. You would not believe how empty the streets were! ALL of China was inside, watching the opening ceremonies on TV... except for the department store windows, which were a beacon to flocks of viewers enjoying the scenes on wide-screen TV's through the glass in showroom windows.

Back in the hotel, I could hear the Opening Ceremonies fireworks going off from my room -- from the wrong side of the building. Or we are under attack. But in the distance from the 10th floor I can see one of the many sites throughout the city that have a Red Army Truck with about 30 fireworks cannons aimed skyward from the stake body. We saw one today, parked in front of the Forbidden City, which lived up to it's name. It closed early for this special Opening Ceremonies day.

Another adventure in fooding

Earlier in the day on Friday of 8/8 - my first of only two days off while I'm here -- I went out to lunch with my French-speaking co-announcer Michel from the South of France, and we invited our crew to join us. Some actually showed up to join us old men, eager to absorb whatever info they could of how life and culture is different in the West.

Once we found a good quality authentic Chinese restaurant, I came to realize that no matter what you think you're ordering from their point-and-order picture menu, you'll be surprised at what you get. I got bold and ordered "fresh cooked fish," which could be an adventure in land-locked Beijing.

The special request sent several wait staff scurrying while our waitress had several follow up questions. Did I want it spicy? Will you be accepting of bones in the fish? Before I could answer, three college-aged wait staff gathered `round our table. One of them had a tight two fisted grip on a long handle. On the end of the handle, a red net. Inside the net, curling its body and snapping its gills... my lunch, presented for my approval before preparation. The puddle path between table and kitchen was allowed to remain on the floor only a few seconds after the live offering was whisked back to be cooked. It turned out to be an excellent meal. We shared our selections with each other, getting a true taste of all that good authentic Chinese cuisine can be.

The next day at the arena, one of the Brits that monitors photographer positions on the Field of Play at the arena joked that that one fish probably gets to see eye-to-eye with a lot of diners... and then goes right back into the tank, waiting to be presented for the next order of "fresh cooked fish."

Olympic Qualification - the most important day of a gymnast's life

As you all know by now, just because you're one of the best athletes in the world at your sport and were sent to Beijing to represent your country doesn't give you an automatic ticket to the gold medal round.

In gymnastics, there is the qualification.

To me, this is the most important day of the gymnast's life. One shot at each routine. Catapult to glory, or crash, burn and go home. Each score counts towards qualifying as a team and as an individual on each apparatus. And for those iron men and women that perform all events, each score counts for the All-Around competition.

If you finish in the top 8 on one of the apparatus against the nearly one-hundred elite athletes that are here, you gain entry into the final for that event.

If you participate in ALL SIX apparatus and finish in the top 24 of the All-Around Competition, you gain entry into the All-Around Final.

One caveat, and it's HUGE. Each country is limited to only two qualifiers per final. OUCH!

Can you imagine being one of the top 8 individuals on an apparatus or one of the top 24 all-arounders and NOT getting to the Olympic finals? -- It happens.

It's happening here to Russian Federation women. They had FOUR gymnasts in the top ten of the All-Around qualification... and only two will advance.

Two Russian women will have to watch the All-Around Final from the stands or on TV (after finishing #6 & #10), even though on Sun, Aug. 10, they were among the top 10 gymnasts in the world. The Russians are not alone. Because of this rule, seven women that finished in the top 24 cannot compete in the All-Around Finals, opening the door for the women who finished 25th - through - 31st into the medals competition.

And it happened to the USA Women - on Balance Beam. Can you believe we have 3 of the top 4 athletes on Beam? Twenty-year-old Alicia Sacramone, 4th best in the world on this day (Sun., 8/10) came up .025 short against teammates Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson ( 2nd & 3rd respectively with equal scores of 15.975 that went through a tie-breaking process).

Gymnastics is one tough sport.

Unfortunately, decimated by injuries, our lads don't have such lofty problems as too much depth and strength in the All Around and individual events. However they are proving to be a plucky bunch.

"Sasha" Artemev, who came in cold to replace the injured Morgan Hamm, held his own in unfamiliar surroundings, having not had any lead time to train on any equipment in the building prior to competition.

Artemev had a slow start on his signature event, Pommel Horse, but then went into his high-flying scissors and flares and wowed the audience. His score, the 6th highest of 76 other Pommel Horse gymnasts, secures his position in the top 8 and provides him entry to the Pommel Horse final and a chance for an individual medal. If his routine in finals is as sound as it was in qualification, look for him to place even higher now that the judges have seen his routine and know what to look for.

Our only two men to perform on all apparatus have qualified for the All-Around final. Jonathon Horton finished the qualification in 8th place out of 98 athletes. Artemev was next highest for the USA with a 12th place finish to make the cut. outSTANDING!!

Quick Hits

>Stadium Food. One of the leaders among university students, Eric, tells me the cost of each steaming "peel & eat" meal went up from 2Y in December to 2.4Y in August. That's about $ .42 US. And it tastes like every penny. Still not sure what meat is inside the compartments of that peel-&-eat tray.

Hope you're all able to relax and enjoy these Games. Will continue to send you updates whenever possible. Enjoy the Games!