Once you blow away the world, simply running wondrously isn’t enough.
The question becomes: When will you blow us away again?
Usain Bolt yesterday nipped two-hundredths off Michael Johnson’s 19.32 mark in the 200 meters set at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a mark once thought unassailable. In doing it, the Jamaican also won his second gold medal of the Beijing Games.
The U.S. women's basketball team, women's softball team and the beach volleyball duo of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh are all only their way to gold medals. The question is, will anyone put up much of a fight? Consider:
After their 104-60 win over South Korea in the quarterfinals, the Americans have won 31 consecutive games since losing in the 1992 semifinals and have made the medal round in every Olympics they have entered.
So, Nastia Liukin missed out on a gold medal Monday. She and her father immediately blamed the low scores of an Australian judge, then blamed Aussie judges in general for other low scores Liukin has received over the past few competitions.
Then they puched a kangaroo, trapped a koala, ripped Paul Hogan's thespian genius and called Elle MacPherson a stretch-marked hussy.
So here’s the question, as you try to sample a culture unfamiliar to you:
If you had the chance to go to a Chinese bath where little tiny fish chew on your naked body as a means of exfoliating, would you?
Or, if you knew of a restaurant that specialized in the fried genitalia of various animals, would you give it a go?
Even if it would make, in the words of more venturesome and foolish colleagues – OK, Marcus – a great blog.
But be assured both exist. A reporter from Denver blogged the restaurant experience (tastes like chicken?) and I ran into an Aussie camerman who had sampled the fish bath.
``They go right to your feet first,’’ he said. ``and then they work their way up.’’
``They chew on everything?’’ I asked.
``Everything,’’ he said.
Before I get in trouble with my newspaper, I think I will stop here.
Visiting the Wall
Week 2, the Chinese workers are still friendly. But our novelty has worn off. Exuberance has been replaced by politeness. And they walk, instead of run, to help you.
Went to the Great Wall with Marcus and his friend Milo on Saturday. Beautiful blue skies brought big crowds. Been on it once before in 1984. It blows you away, thinking of all the labor that went into the thing, and it’s really a blast to be on it. There are scribes here who haven’t been yet, and most of them don’t realize how unique it is. I think it even caught Marcus by surprise.
The Forbidden City is great, and so are the tomb sites and various other things to see. But if you’ve been to Epcott, you’ve really seen the Forbidden City already. Disney or anyone else can’t replicate that wall. They’ve kind of messed with it though, putting a Starbucks down below and a huge ``One World, One Dream’’ sign on the mountainside.
Then again the bottom is filled with cheap t-shirt and hat kiosks, each manned by a screeching woman. Dare to enter the sidewalk in front of them and they will practically tackle you to get you into their store, and then to buy. No prices on the items. They say a number, you say a number, and eventually you settle somewhere in between. In 84, you could buy shirts for a buck. I was pleasantly surprised that you could still get some of them for six or seven, if you haggled.
By the way I do empathize with Beijing organizers. They spent a substantial part of the beginning of these Olympics dealing with weather and health concerns. Now that the games are midway through and the air quality and weather much improved, no one is writing about it. But it’s been mostly fine, and certainly mostly smog free since those first few days. What a break.
Jersey guy looking ahead
Today, Monday, begins the portion of the Olympics that I have looked forward to the most. I live in South Jersey, in Haddonfield, and a local girl named Erin Donohue is getting ready to race in the 1,500. The schedule called for preliminaries, but there were not enough entrants so the entire field will make the semifinals Thursday, with the final scheduled for Saturday. Erin has been running around my streets for as long as I can remember, and was my daughter’s hero when she was playing basketball growing up. She focused on running after her freshman year in high school, but there’s no doubt she would have been D1 if she kept going. Anyway, a great kid, and it’s going to be real hard to stay neutral when she runs a qualifier tonight.
Blaine Neal, a pitcher from Bishop Eustace and from the next town over, is the closer on the baseball team that I hope to get to on Tuesday. I’ve already interviewed field hockey Olympian Rachel Dawson, whose younger sister Meghan was on my daughter’s AAU hoops team for a couple of years before she focused solely on field hockey. They’re from Voorhees, another neighboring town.
Anyway, that’s a first for me, all these Olympians from my backyard, two of whom I know. Blaine even introduced himself and bought me some beers down at the Elbow Room in Lauderdale when he was with the Marlins a few years ago. Pretty neat.
Speaking of ball, I saw a Chinese guy on the street near the boxing venue wearing a green Phillies hat.
Looked like he could hit, too.
Valeri Liukin has straddled the line between elite coach and everyday father of Nastia Liukin, who won the all-around gold on Friday.
Valeri Liukin won four medals in 1988 for the former Soviet Union, including two golds. Nastia took bronze today on floor, and has a silver from team competition Wednesday. Tomorrow she competes on uneven bars, her speciality, then on beam Tuesday.
Valeri couldn't be happier at the possible eclipse: "I tell you what, every morning, I wake up with a humungous ... smile!"
Some days, the job is fun.
Saturday morning: Wake up, scramble to the Water Cube, see fading, fatigued Michael Phelps lose Gold No. 7 in the 100 butterfly to Serbia's Miloslav Cavic ... no no, he won it, by a fingernail, tying Mark Spitz's single-Games record for golds ... then have the Serbs protest, with vitriol and outrage, in the dim-lit warrens of the Cube's halls and byways ... then have the Serb -- a Berkeley dude, happy to win anything -- protest the protest ... then have the FINA decision formally explained by FINA officials straight out of Central Casting, in heavily accented English; the officials even drop in a product placement endorsement for Omega, whose timing devices and cameras they used to refute the naked-eye perception that Phelps lost ... and write five different deadline stories as the stuff unfolds.
Saturday afternoon: Sunny, no smog, little humidity, even a breeze. Snag a cab to the Great Wall, strike a deal for the cabbie to wait an hour, get there with no hassle, exit the cab and haggle with the streetside vendors, who hawk you like macaws, selling Olympic Games and Great Wall shirts, hats and pins.
It was all set: All Canada had to do was hold on to a lead in the completion of a rain-suspended preliminary game to hand Team USA its first loss in Olympic softball since 2000.
Smoked meat for everyone!
So there I was, walking from the swimming venue to the Media Press Center, Ipod in ears, feeling very much like a music video as I walked the streets of Beijing. ``I used to rule the world,’’ crooned the Coldplay song.
Back in the MPC, reaching for the phone card that accesses the internet everywhere here, I realized my wallet was gone. I had taken it out while resolving connection issues at the swimming venue. So I trudged back to the Water Cube -- this time feeling not at all like a music video.
It wasn’t on the table where I left it. ``That sucks for ewe,’’ a man with a French accent said. Couldn’t tell if it was a translation thing, or he was gloating over my American misery. Anyway, went to the Help desk, where the following exchange took place.