Beijing Olympics Blog Thu, 07 Aug 2008 10:51:29 GMT Tracking the Chinese sports world as the 2008 Olympics approach The Chaoyang District government requests your cooperation The familiar ring of my Chinese mobile phone - not the SI-issued one whose ring I couldn&#39;t recognize for the first few days I was here in Beijing, but the one I&#39;ve been using for years on various trips to China - beeped again this afternoon. It&#39;s the Chinese/Nokia version of &quot;You&#39;ve got mail!&quot; and this time, it was a Chinese-language missive from the Chaoyang District government, reminding me that the Olympics start tomorrow and to ask my support in helping to wish the athletes luck and to be extra-conscientous in order to have a successful Olympics. It&#39;s one of the peculiarily fascinating aspects of the social education story in China: the missives asking residents not to spit, to remember to stand in line and wait their turn to enter a subway car, and most interestingly, to pay attention to fire safety at home. (A few days ago I saw a large group of placards with cartoon illustrations and with text in Chinese and English on the general theme of fire safety: don&#39;t leave oil cooking unattended in the kitchen, make sure your fire extinguisher works, etc.) When I taught university in a small southern Chinese city, the local government sent along a message the day before local high schools students were to take the nationwide university entrance exam, reminding us to be extra-quiet over the weekend to give the students the best chance to succeed at the exams. In this country, nothing is left to chance when it comes to helping citizens understand their social responsibilities - so sometime this afternoon thousands upon thousands of cell phones in the Chaoyang District of Beijing beeped, one message for the masses a day before the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Thu, 07 Aug 2008 10:51:29 GMT Mary Nicole Nazzaro New Beijing <p>I spent this morning (Tuesday Beijing time) at Beijing Normal University (&quot;Normal&quot; in this case being an old English usage of the word to denote a university dedicated to training teachers). My assignment was to visit USA Judo&#39;s open practice; but I couldn&#39;t help but to walk around the campus a bit afterwards, because my first experience on this campus was eight years ago this summer, when I first came to Beijing to study Mandarin in an immersion program sponsored by Princeton University.</p><p>All of Beijing can tell this story - the story of new buildings being raised (and old ones torn down, sometimes to the chagrin of historians and sometimes displacing residents in the process). But at BNU, I had to squint to look for the buildings I recognized. There was the experts&#39; building and the adjacent Friendship Restaurant, where the USOC has placed a press office to accredit visiting media (there are 22 U.S. Olympic teams using BNU as their training base this summer), both of which were there when I was a student. There was the old auditorium with the steps leading up to it where we stood for our group photo, all 180 students or so, eight years ago. There were the two tracks - dirt tracks back then, now both state-of-the-art training facilities - where I ran laps to prepare for a fall marathon in 2000.</p><p>And then there was all the new. The brand-new gymnasium where USA Judo&#39;s team members were working out. The buildings going up left and right (like so much of Beijing, there are definitely &quot;works in progress&quot; on this campus, in various states of completion). The apartment blocks near the fancy new sports facilities. I walked around campus for as long as I could in the stifling heat, remembering how I used to run around campus when circling the track for long runs made me feel like a hamster on a wheel. The old apartment blocks housing faculty members and university workers hadn&#39;t changed; nor had the fact that you could find vegetable stands and cheap drinks (20 cents for a bottle of water) at kiosks on campus. I stopped for lunch right outside the university at a place that&#39;s been there ever since I was a student; a plate of pork and scallion dumplings and garlic cucumbers set me back 14 renminbi, just over two dollars. Student life all over again.</p><p>The Chinese-language motto of these Olympics is &quot;New Beijing, New Olympics.&quot; In English they morph it to &quot;New Beijing, Great Olympics&quot; but it&#39;s the &quot;New Beijing&quot; I saw today, mixing with the old. I stopped in at my old dorm looking for the program director to say hello. He wasn&#39;t in, but I looked around and felt all the old feelings of what it was like to be here in Beijing eight years ago, when the front gate consisted of one lone security guard and there was no such thing as the &quot;Beijing Normal University Gymnasium&quot; with completely modern facilities for national teams and the 2008 Olympics were just a dream of the bid committee. Whatever else these Olympics have done for China, they&#39;ve brought all kinds of modernization to their universities, and that is a good thing.&nbsp; </p> Tue, 05 Aug 2008 08:36:13 GMT Mary Nicole Nazzaro Sunny skies in Beijing <p>&quot;Here we go.&quot; That was my sendoff to my seatmate on United flight 889 from San Francisco yesterday, the same one that transported the U.S. women&#39;s gymnastics team, a handful of track athletes - including all of the men&#39;s long jumpers - and a smattering of athletes from Mexico and Costa Rica to Beijing for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. I sat next to the CEO of a major sports marketing agency and we spent much of the flight reminiscing about our favorite athletes, moments in the Olympics, moments in sport...and as we did, I knew that whatever happens in the next three and a half weeks, there would be much to talk about for many years to come from these Summer Olympics.</p><p>The first good piece of news came quickly, as we admired the view of the mountains north of Beijing as the plane approached Beijing Capital Airport. The skies were gorgeous yesterday, and today - Saturday - there was more of the same. Blue skies in Beijing are a welcome sight after what I experienced during my last trip to Beijing in June, when the sun was literally invisible all week behind the grit of metallic-tasting smog so thick it obscured buildings three blocks away. Whatever&#39;s making things better, I hope the Chinese leadership keeps doing it - and well past these Olympics; their citizens deserve to live in far better conditions than having to deal with perpetual smog and dangerous levels of particulate matter in the air.</p><p>The second piece of good news was that apparently the IOC and BOCOG have been able to come to some agreement about lifting the blocks on at least some of the websites that were inaccessible from the Olympic press center earlier in the week. I&#39;ll have more to say about that issue in the coming days.</p><p>But for now, it&#39;s off to rest after fighting the jet lag yesterday and today. The SI team arrives in Beijing in waves over the next few days and six days from now, it&#39;s go time for real. SI will be there to bring you all of the news from Beijing, both on and off the field of play.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp; </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p> Sat, 02 Aug 2008 10:20:19 GMT Mary Nicole Nazzaro Off to Beijing... <p>My plane leaves in a little less than eighteen hours, and by midday Friday Beijing time (12 hours ahead of the U.S. east coast) I&#39;ll be back in Beijing, my third trip in eight months - but this one, of course, is the big &#39;un.</p><p>And none too soon, given that it&#39;s really starting to look like we&#39;re going to see a showdown between a host country and the International Olympic Committee over what the host&#39;s promises are really worth, now that it&#39;s clear that the Internet access at the Olympic press center is <a href="">subject to the same censorship</a> that China&#39;s citizens deal with every day. It&#39;s not a surprise that Amnesty International is blocked in China - honestly, that&#39;s old news. As is the news that the Great Firewall is quite easily scalable by anyone who knows how to use a proxy server. But the release of the Amnesty report this week was very clever, timed as it was to coincide with the bulk of the Olympic press corps arriving in Beijing. All they had to do was to suggest the media try to access their report from the Olympic press center and whammo: desired effect created. Outrage at the less-than-fully-free conditions that Olympic journalists are going to be subject to in China, despite the <a href="">promises by Chinese authorities</a> that the international media would enjoy complete freedom to report.</p><p>This is a conversation with many facets, which is one reason why I&#39;m going to lay low for a day on this issue and see what develops. I suspect there&#39;s a lot going on behind the scenes right now, because the news reports that came out today were truly embarrassing to the IOC and made it look like they were being bullied by China. I suspect the truth is far more nuanced. We&#39;ll have to wait and see. Whatever happens, it&#39;s clear that we&#39;re now living fully in a tale of two Olympics: one on the field of play, the Michael Phelpses of the world going for the gold, and the other the political struggles for the soul of the Games. Do they belong to the world - which would suggest consistent rules for engagement no matter where they&#39;re hosted - or do they belong to the host committee, with the power to trump the IOC on critical issues? I&#39;m fascinated by these developments because there is a much bigger story playing out here than any of us can report quite yet. There will be more to this one, I&#39;m sure of it.</p><p>As always I welcome your comments, but just to be extra-clear on a day when I&#39;m delving into the political story: No bashing (of China, of any other country, or of any poster on this site). Good, well thought-out discussion is awesome, and I welcome your thoughts on the coming Games in all of its facets.&nbsp;</p> Wed, 30 Jul 2008 22:12:04 GMT Mary Nicole Nazzaro Iraq back in <p>Kudos to the IOC and everyone involved in sorting out the <a href="">mess regarding Iraq&#39;s national Olympic committee</a> today. Iraq has been cleared to send a team to Beijing; the only awful part of this story is that it didn&#39;t happen in time to clear all of the athletes, only those competing in track and field - of which there are just two.&nbsp;</p><p>Four years ago in Athens, Iraq&#39;s Olympic soccer team gave us one of the biggest feel-good headlines of the entire event, making the semifinals and raising their country&#39;s esteem at a time when Iraq&#39;s future seemed to hang in the balance. So when word came that Iraq had been banned by the IOC from sending a team to the Beijing Olympics - because of political interference when the government dissolved the Iraqi Olympic Committee - it was a huge blow to a country where games aren&#39;t just hobbies - they&#39;re literally life-savers.<br /> </p><p>In 2003 Afghanistan sent two athletes to the world track and field championships in Paris. I don&#39;t remember a single other thing that happened <a href="">the day Afghanistan&#39;s first athlete, Lima Azimi, competed</a>. She ran the 100 meter heats and finished dead last by seconds. But everyone watched that race like it really meant something - the world-class racers had to take a backseat for at least one heat of that competition. Sure, there were cynical journalists sneering that she wasn&#39;t worth the ink. But I wasn&#39;t one of them and never could be - Azimi was a symbol of sport as an agent for freedom, achievement, and pride, and I was happy to be there to see her run. </p><p>So Iraq is back in the Olympics, but because of the political brouhaha - and through absolutely no fault of their own - five athletes missed the entrance deadlines set by their individual sports. Here&#39;s a suggestion: perhaps the Olympic entrance guidelines need to be a little less stringent for war-torn countries than for first-world superpowers. The Olympic Truce is a part of the Olympic movement, after all, recognizing that during every Olympics, somewhere in the world somebody is at war. Things don&#39;t always go well in war zones. If there&#39;s somebody at the IOC who can flick the right switch and get Iraq&#39;s full participation in Beijing - which means allowing all of the athletes originally slated to be there to compete - I&#39;d send that person flowers. </p><p>As Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraq government spokesperson, told the AP, &quot;sport is really important for us in Iraq right now. It brings the people together.&quot; In this case, size does matter. Seven Iraqi athletes earned the chance to compete in Beijing; seven should be in the opening ceremony a week from Friday. </p> Tue, 29 Jul 2008 22:46:48 GMT Mary Nicole Nazzaro Paul Hamm's classy decision <p>There&#39;s no more difficult moment in an athlete&#39;s career when injury takes away those world-class skills on the eve of the biggest competition of a lifetime. In gymnastics, as in so many other sports, the Olympics are the biggest and the best stage on which to perform. There&#39;s just nothing like the Olympic gymnastics contest - for any athlete who gets to compete, it&#39;s a once-in-a-lifetime chance. </p><p>Paul Hamm did everything he could to make it to Beijing after breaking a bone in his right hand in May during the U.S. championships. He rehabbed, he rested, he demonstrated to a selection committee a few days ago that he was competition-ready. But then, according to Hamm, he suffered a physical setback, and earlier today <a href="">made the decision to withdraw from the team</a>.</p><p>That&#39;s an honorable stance, coming as it does early enough for one of the men&#39;s gymnastics team alternates to get to Beijing - to have his own once-in-a-lifetime chance, as it were. But it&#39;s a tough moment for one of America&#39;s true Olympic stars. His accomplishments speak for themselves: an Olympic gold medalist in the all-around and a silver medalist for his team, and one of the finest gymnasts ever from the United States. </p><p>Best wishes to Paul for his recovery.</p> Mon, 28 Jul 2008 18:58:18 GMT Mary Nicole Nazzaro Must-reads at the newsstand <p>I can&#39;t help but to brag on the fabulous work of SI&#39;s magazine staff for <a href="">this week&#39;s Olympic preview issue</a>. It&#39;s one of those every-two-years collectors&#39; items, but the summer edition especially deserves attention for the sheer breadth and depth of the coverage. Resident Olympic expert Brian Cazeneuve has compiled his list of medal picks for every sport, and I just have to wonder: will the Chinese deny his entry visa because - gasp - he picks Dayron Robles over Liu Xiang for the 110-meter hurdles gold medal? (Just kidding - those Olympic credentials are solid.)</p><p>Be sure to check out Alexander Wolff&#39;s <a href="">on-target opening essay about what these Olympics mean to China</a>; Susan Casey&#39;s eight-part explanation of why, in a country where eight is the most auspicious number, <a href="">Michael Phelps has the goods to go for eight gold medals</a>; Tim Layden&#39;s <a href="">nuanced look at China&#39;s greatest track athlete ever</a>; and of course, all those medal picks. </p><p>While you&#39;re putting together your weekend reading list, add one more thing: Time magazine&#39;s list of <a href=",28804,1819129_1819134,00.html">100 Athletes to Watch</a> at the Beijing Olympics. This project is impressive: it&#39;s not just a list with a couple of sentences per athlete - it&#39;s an in-depth look at 100 of the personalities who will make the Beijing Olympics truly special. They don&#39;t shy away from controversy - Dara Torres, who&#39;s swimming faster at 41 than she did two decades ago, has come under all kinds of scrutiny since making the Olympic team and Time puts her story into perspective. She&#39;s number two on the list. For number one, and all the others - you&#39;ll just have to go there and check &#39;em out yourself. </p> Fri, 25 Jul 2008 16:56:49 GMT Mary Nicole Nazzaro Ping pong diplomacy <p>There will be absolutely nothing diplomatic about the way China&#39;s table tennis stars summarily dispatch of the rest of the world at the Olympic tournament this year. Throughout the next few days I&#39;ll be highlighting the big Chinese stories of the Games - and we&#39;ll be doing all we can in Beijing to cover Team China in depth as well. China is reportedly bringing its largest-ever contingent of athletes to compete, and the one sport in which they&#39;re assured to boost their medals holdings of all colors is table tennis - <em>pingpangqiu</em> (&quot;ping pong ball&quot;) in Mandarin.</p><p>In 2005 Shanghai hosted the world table tennis championships. It was the first time I&#39;d seen the sport played live after months of watching it on Chinese television, and it was honestly one of the most exciting sports events I&#39;ve ever witnessed. Everyone in China plays the game, so everyone is deeply knowledgeable about the athletes, the strategy, and the history. One of China&#39;s most famous sports celebrities, in fact, isn&#39;t Chinese at all: he&#39;s Swedish table tennis legend Jan-Ove Waldner, known in Chinese as &quot;lao wa.&quot; &quot;Wa&quot; is the first syllable of his name when it&#39;s written using Chinese characters, and &quot;lao&quot; translates as either &quot;old,&quot; or in this case &quot;familiar&quot; (like an old friend - somebody who is deeply known and trusted). Waldner didn&#39;t have his best outing in Shanghai that year, but the crowds were with him all the way - so much so, that he had to be escorted out of the stadium so that he wouldn&#39;t be overrun with autograph-seeking fans.&nbsp;</p><p>In Beijing, the Chinese team is full of superstars. The last two women&#39;s Olympic singles gold medalists, <a href="">Zhang Yining </a>(2004) and <a href="">Wang Nan</a> (2000) are on the squad; as is men&#39;s Sydney Olympic singles champ <a href="">Wang Liqin</a>. The two Wangs have also picked up three world championship titles apiece. To add another Wang to the mix (Wang is Chinese for &quot;Smith&quot; - a very, very popular surname) , the favorite on the men&#39;s side is <a href="">Wang Hao</a>. <a href="">Ma Lin</a>, the 2007 ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals champ, rounds out the men&#39;s roster. <a href="">Guo Yue</a>, the precocious 2007 singles world champion, is the third women&#39;s entry for China. </p><p>If table tennis is your thing, be sure to check out the sport previews by the <a href="">Associated Press</a> (at The competition schedule can be found <a 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age=olymp/2008/sport.aspx?s=Table_tennis">here</a>. The official Olympic site for table tennis can be found <a href="">here</a>. And finally, here&#39;s the link to the <a href="">International Table Tennis Federation website</a>, for all international table tennis-related news.</p><p>And if you missed the great SI story about the real history behind the incident that led to &quot;ping pong diplomacy&quot; and the thaw in U.S.-China relations, penned by Alexander Wolff with David Davis&#39; excellent background research, stop everything and click <a href="">here</a>. Right now. It&#39;s an excellent retrospective on what really happened the night a lone U.S. ping pong player found his way onto the Chinese team bus at the &#39;71 world championships in Japan...and the rest is history. </p> Wed, 23 Jul 2008 19:03:55 GMT Mary Nicole Nazzaro Okay, I'm impressed <p>Last week I was <a href="/blogs/post/218136">a tad harsh on USA Track and Field</a> for having taken so long to realize that the powers that be in the doping world are crooked coaches, not just dirty athletes, and that the coaches had to be banned well before they could amass large numbers of athletes who tested positive. Today in my email box, I received USTAF&#39;s response to <a href="">Marion Jones&#39; request to have her prison sentence commuted</a> - a letter to President Bush urging him to reject her request. The response from USATF to the news was fast and unequivocal. Coming as it does under the helm of brand-new CEO Doug Logan, it&#39;s a welcome development. The full text of the letter is below; and of course all of us at SI will have much more to say about the developing stories in the world of performance-enhancing drugs as Beijing marches ever closer. </p><p>*****&nbsp;</p><p>Dear President Bush,</p> <p>They say you can&#39;t always believe what you read in the papers. So, when I read that Marion Jones has applied to you for a pardon or commutation of her federal conviction for making false statements to investigators, I couldn&#39;t believe it. She lied to federal agents. She took steroids. She made false statements in a bank fraud investigation - not necessarily in that order. She admitted it. And now she apparently wants to be let off.</p> <p>As the new CEO of USA Track &amp; Field, I have a moral and practical duty to make the case against her request. </p> <p>With her cheating and lying, Marion Jones did everything she could to violate the principles of track and field and Olympic competition. When she came under scrutiny for doping, she taunted any who doubted her purity, talent and work ethic. Just as she had succeeded in duping us with her performances, she duped many people into giving her the benefit of the doubt.</p> <p>She pointed her finger at us, and got away with it until federal investigators teamed up with USADA and finally did her in. It was a sad thing to watch, the most glorious female athlete of the 20<sup>th</sup> century in tears on courthouse steps. </p> <p>Our country has long turned a blind eye to the misdeeds of our heroes. If you have athletic talent or money or fame, the law is applied much differently than if you are slow or poor or an average American trying to get by. At the same time, all sports have for far too long given the benefit of the doubt to its heroes who seem too good to be true, even when common sense indicates they are not.</p> <p>To reduce Ms. Jones&#39; sentence or pardon her would send a horrible message to young people who idolized her, reinforcing the notion that you can cheat and be entitled to get away with it. A pardon would also send the wrong message to the international community. Few things are more globally respected than the Olympic Games, and to pardon one of the biggest frauds perpetuated on the Olympic movement would be nothing less than thumbing our collective noses at the world.</p> <p>In my new job as CEO of USA Track &amp; Field, I must right the ship that Ms. Jones and other athletes nearly ran aground. I implore you, Mr. President: Please don&#39;t take the wind out of our sails.</p> <p>Respectfully Yours,</p> <p>Douglas G. Logan</p> <p>CEO, USA Track &amp; Field </p><p>&nbsp;</p> Tue, 22 Jul 2008 17:22:49 GMT Mary Nicole Nazzaro Dirk in tears; passport stamped to Beijing <p>On a day where we were bombarded with news items about the <a href="">headaches the Olympic broadcasters are still going through</a> to secure access to everything they need to do their jobs in Beijing, and a <a href=",0,1487952.story">bus bombing in Kunming</a>, Yunnan province, after months of warnings about possible terrorist threats to the Olympics, the one piece of good Olympics-related news had to do with a grown man crying. </p><p>There are definitely a few places where public crying is okay in my book (for both genders): wedding days, the birth of a baby, when the <a href="">New York Giants upset the Patriots to win the Super Bowl in the last minute of the game</a>, and when a bazillionaire NBA star who has done just about everything he could do in his sport has just qualified to compete in the Beijing Olympics. <a href="">Dirk Nowitzki</a> and the German national basketball team <a href="">qualified for the Olympic tournament yesterday</a>, the first time Germany will be there since Dirk was all of fourteen years old. There was just something lovely about seeing that for Dirk, as for many of his internationally-born-and-bred colleagues in the NBA, this game isn&#39;t all about money. (Note that I feel the same way about many of the American players; our men&#39;s national team in particular has grown leaps and bounds in positive attitude since Athens.) There really is something to this phenomenon of giving the best athletes in the world the opportunity to represent their countries in the greatest international sporting event in the world. For all of the negative press that these Olympics are generating outside of China, this was a good day to have a good story from one of the good guys in pro basketball. He&#39;s going to have a great time in Beijing, and something tells me that somewhere in a locker room in China where the Chinese national team is practicing, Yao Ming is smiling for his fellow seven-foot Texan-playing NBA superstar. Who, by the way, will play him when China matches up against Germany on August 16.</p><p>News coverage:</p><p><a href="">Associate Press (via</a>&nbsp;</p><p><a href="">Dallas Morning News</a></p><p><a href="">Fort Worth Star-Telegram</a>&nbsp;</p> Mon, 21 Jul 2008 18:50:20 GMT Mary Nicole Nazzaro