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Saturday, August 16, 2008



Eight in oh-eight...

A record setting day, in both medals and in low fluff...

• We open tonight with Bob Costas from the Water Cube giving us a rundown upcoming programming. Unfortunately for him, the people inside the cube are testing the PA system, so he's giving us this rundown while trying to drown out "O Canada" which is playing very loudly in the background. We stand on guard for thee, Bob!

• We jump immediately to the start of the women's marathon at Tiananmen Square which begins, if I'm not mistaken, at the very spot where the Unknown Rebel stood down those tanks. Is that really the best starting location the Chinese could have picked out? Maybe they'll start the race by having a tank lead the way over a crowd of people.

• Ooo... NBC has a 3d map showing the marathon route. Very nice! Hopefully this won't be the last time we see it.

• Helicopter shots at the women's marathon sure make it look like smog, but the American runner Deena Kastor says she thinks it's just overcast and humid. I'll take her word for it.

Early on, Kastor drops out due to a foot cramp while the runners pass through the Garden of Heaven. Well, if you have to quit, it might as well be in a pretty park.

• By the time you read this post, it'll be too late to try this, but keep it in mind for the men's marathon. Want a fun drinking game? Take a drink every time you see a police officer standing on the side of the roadway during the marathon (presumably looking for someone with a "free Tibet" banner). You'll be drunk within a mile.

• Now in front of the Forbidden City, analyst Craig Masback says that when he came there in the early '80s, people used to fly kites in Tiananmen Square. I'm assuming that's back before they used the square to crush citizens with tanks.

• In the midst of the marathon, we have some fluff about Chinese marathon runner Zhou Chunxia, who overcame a bone cyst to compete in the marathon. As part of her training, her coach now says she runs the equivalent of a marathon EVERY DAY. An incredible story? Yes. But still, three minutes of fluff. To be fair, though, during the marathon, how much can you watch of a giant pack of runners? If someone was breaking away, I might feel differently, but I think NBC timed this one right.

• What is going on with NBC's marathon coverage? They keep cutting to slow-motion close-up shots of the runners, but they never give any explanation as to why they're doing it. Is this an accident? Are they letting the B-team direct this event? If it had only happened once, I wouldn't have said anything, but it's happened five times now.

• An aside: I went out for Mexican food before I came home to watch this marathon. I think I had more fat in my meal than any of these women have on their entire bodies. But the quesadillas? Yummmmmy!

• Back to the 3d map. We're not even halfway? Oof. I don't think I could have kept my chips-and-salsa down that long.

• Hilton just had a commercial featuring the Hamm brothers. Oops. Neither made the Olympic team.

• NBC will sell me a DVD of the Chinese Opening Ceremonies. In the spirit of the Chinese organizers, can I pay in fake money?

• Beijing has had policemen every 100 feet along the Olympic marathon route, certainly to stop anyone from protesting, yet here around mile 12-ish there are some bicyclists riding alongside the marathon leaders with literally nothing separating them from the athletes.

• We take a break from the LIVE marathon to watch some TAPED coverage of the men's 100-meter semifinals on the track. Great shades of Carl Lewis! Jamaica's Usain Bolt looks fast. He's not even trying and he almost broke the Olympic record.

Back to LIVE marathon, where Romania's Constantina Tomescu-Dita has broken far away from the pack. It's interesting that NBC stayed with marathon when everyone was in a pack, but cut to another event just as someone broke away. The segment with the 100-meter race was pretty short and pre-recorded, so it could have been dropped into the program anywhere. I'm guessing NBC thought someone would break from the pack sooner and that's why they waited so long to cut away.

• Another cutaway from LIVE Tom Hammond at the women's marathon to TAPED Tom Hammond at the Bird's Nest and the men's 100-meter semifinal. Tom must not have gotten much sleep last night, since the taped segment probably happened around 9 p.m., and the women's marathon started at 7 a.m. the next morning. That's some professionalism right there.

Tyson Gay, the American favorite with the bad hamstring, fails to qualify. Analyst Ato Boldon does a good job telling us how the bad hammy would affect him. Incidentally, his non-qualifying time? 10.05 seconds. The slowest time that DID qualify? 10.03 seconds. Imagine training for four years and then missing the Olympic final by two hundreths of a second

Gay doesn't make any excuses, though. Bob Neumeier offers him the hamstring excuse in a post-race interview, but Gay says he was 100 percent, it just wasn't his day.

• The marathon runs by Peking University, which is famous for its humanities courses. Yes, for what is China better known than for its humanity?

The Bird's Nest is full of people waiting for the marathoners, and they're being led in song by dozens of singing children, I'm assuming only the beautiful ones.

Tomescu-Dita has a 54-second lead at the 18 mile mark. Can she hold that pace? I'm saying no. That's nine fewer seconds per mile over the last six miles. I think she overplayed her hand here. We'll see if I'm right.

• Tom Hammond asks Craig if the phrase "going to the arms more" means that Tomescu-Dita is getting fatigued. Masback waffles a bit, but basically says yes. It's too bad Tom and Craig don't know anything about gymnastics, because their interaction works a lot better than the interaction between Al Trautwig and Tim Daggett.

• Tomescu-Dita's lead is still huge, and Tom is asking good questions of Craig, as to whether she knows how far ahead she is, whether she would want to know, and whether she should look back. If Tom Hammond is going to be this good on all of the track and field events, then I'm really looking forward to the next week.

• Over at the Water Cube, Dara Torres is getting handshakes from... Tony Blair? The Olympics are weird!

Back at the marathon, the chase pack is 52 seconds behind Tomescu-Dita at the 22 mile mark. Four miles to go and they all have to make up 13 seconds a mile? Could I be wrong? Never!

• A long shot of the Bird's Nest through the smog... excuse me... the humidity, and Tomescu-Dita is getting closer and closer.

• More ads. I've had multiple experiences with United Airlines. None of them were good, and because of that I haven't flown with them for 10 years, nor do I plan to in the future. That said, I love their ads. Or maybe I just love "Rhapsody In Blue." Really, has there a better song ever?

• Back to the marathon, Tomescu-Dita is intent on making my prediction incorrect. Now her lead is over a minute with less than three miles left. NBC even gives us a slow-motion replay of her looking back and seeing no one within striking distance. The helicopter shot showing the distance between the runners is amazing. Good use of multiple cameras, NBC!

• Back from a commercial break and Tomescu-Dita is just minutes from proving me wrong. She has a minute lead with a mile to go. Amazingly, even after running 25 miles she can still run that final mile faster than I could. Now within sight of the stadium, she looks back again. That has to be a great feeling, knowing that you've got the energy to make it to the end and also knowing that no one is close enough to catch you.

A great helicopter shot from NBC starts with a closeup of Tomescu-Dita and pulls back to show her outside of the Bird's Nest. A shot from the motorcycle shows her checking her back again, probably in disbelief at her lead. Craig says the only thing that will cramp up on her is her neck muscles from looking back. Great line.

Great, great shot of Tomescu-Dita from within the tunnel entering the Bird's Nest. One victory lap of the stadium and, at 38 years old, she becomes the oldest person to ever win the Olympic marathon. The race for silver comes down to Chinese runner Zhou and Kenya's Catherine Ndereba. Ndereba pulls it out in a sprint for the end and wins silver.

After she crosses the finish line, Tomescu-Dita then takes a few of victory laps. Hey, after 26 miles, what's another 400 or 800 meters?

You wouldn't think a race that lasts this long could have this much drama in it, but NBC did a really good job covering it.

• And now, over to the Water Cube. Michael Phelps is going for gold number eight, and all the stars have come out. Tony Blair, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James... everyone wants to see greatness.

Before we get to that, it's picture time! Sports Illustrated has provided NBC with some pictures of Phelps' close win from last night, and Rowdy Gaines points out exactly where Cavic blew it at the end, allowing Phelps to win. Best of all, he does it without yelling.

First, the undercard. Dara Torres in the women's 50-meter freestyle final. Can a 41-year-old woman win a gold medal in swimming? Hey, a 38-year-old just won the marathon, so why not?

They're in the water and... No! Britta Steffen of Germany outstretches Torres by... what a coincidence, one hundreth of a second.

Is there some kind of irony filter at the Olympics? Moments after watching a replay of Phelps taking an extra stroke to beat the gliding Cavic, we see a replay of a gliding Torres losing to the surging Steffen by the same exact amount.

Still, it's old lady night here at the Olympics. A gold and a silver. Not too bad.

• At Steffen's medal ceremony, she sings along with Deutschlandlied (no, it doesn't mean "Germany lied") at least for the beginning. She also puts her flowers down at her feet. Is that some German thing? I don't know.

Right from the medal ceremony, Torres has to rush down to compete in the women's 4x100 medley relay. Natalie Coughlin starts it off strong for the U.S. with the backstroke and gives the lead to Rebecca Soni, whose slow breaststroke puts the U.S. in third. She taps out and Christine Magnuson swims her butterfly laps in second place, where she gives it over to Dara Torres, who now has to make up some time to beat Trickett from Australia. Can Torres do it?

Nope. Torres can't catch up to Trickett. Of course, she was behind at the start. In fact, she actually MADE UP time, but she was just too far back to being with.

The results aren't official immediately and Dan Hicks says that sometimes that means someone false-started. Indeed, someone did. The Swedes. Cheating Scandanavians! That's a DQ for you! But the Aussies still won.

Andrea Kremer asks Torres what she'll tell her 2-year-old about these games, since the child won't remember it. High-ranking Team Rockwood member Sandy says that Dara Torres should come back in four years and make another try for the gold medal. Then her daughter WOULD remember it.

• Phelps fluff! What would the night be without it? This is two minutes of quick cutting comparing Phelps to Mark Spitz. They've been building this up for three hours. Did I really need two more minutes of hype for this one race?

• And now the main event. An NBA crowd (and by that, Is mean a crowd full of NBA stars) watches. NBC puts a graphic up that says the U.S. has never lost the 4x100 medley relay in the Olympics when they've competed. Then they say the Aussies won in 2000. What? Did I misunderstand that graphic? I know stats guys look for odd statistics ("Mr. X has never lost when it's raining and in between 57 and 63 degrees"), but these appear to be contradictory.

Aaron Piersol starts off with the backstroke and finishes with the lead. Brenden Hanson takes the next leg and finishes second. Now Phelps and the butterfly. Phelps is behind at the split, but makes it up and touches the wall first. Now it's all up to Jason Lezak with the freestyle at the end. Lezak hits the wall first at the split and now just needs to hold off the Aussies to give Phelps eight golds! And...

He does it! Gold for the U.S.! Eight golds for Phelps!

Sandy says of the swimmers, "They all shave their armpits!" I tell her they shave everything. She says, "I'm surprised they don't shave their eyebrows." I say, well, they don't want to look like freaks.

• Visa and Morgan Freeman have an ad ready to go for Michael Phelps' eighth gold medal. What ad would they have run had Team U.S.A. finished second in that race? "Hey, Michael, one silver with seven golds ain't that bad." Nahhh...

• After a Phelps and U.S. team interview, NBC shows footage from the Baltimore Ravens' stadium where after the NFL exhibition game versus the Minnesota Vikings, the stadium jumbotron showed the last Phelps race to a cheering crowd. Okay, sure. But who won the football game?

• Jamaican fluff! Two of the runners in the 100-meter dash final are from Jamaica. Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt are friends and buddies and blah blah blah... they're really fast, okay? They could finish one-two. And by that, I mean Usain Bolt will be one, because he's, like, wicked fast. Now you know my prediction. Of course, I've been wrong before. Like earlier tonight, even.

• The Chevy Gold Medal Spotlight. Once again, it's an actual event instead of fluff. The 100-meter dash. It will be won by Usain Bolt. Whoops! I guess I should let them run it first, eh? But really, isn't "Bolt" the coolest name for a sprinter? "Bolt bolts to victory!" That's a great headline.

• There are two Americans here, Walter Dix and Darvis Patton. Maybe they can finish two-three to Bolt.

• Here's what I love about the 100-meter dash. It has about five minutes of buildup for a 10 second race.

• Bolt bolts to victory! 9.69 seconds, a new world record, and he didn't even run it out. Bolt dropped his hands and started showing off about 80 meters in. Amazing. Oh, and Walter Dix finished third, so an American did medal. Asafa? Fifth. Same as in Athens. So much for my one-two prediction. That, by the way, is the first ever gold medal for Jamaica in the men's 100-meters.

• And one more time, we go to the Water Cube. Will Michael Phelps or any of the American team sing when they top the medal stand? Why would they start now?

What's this? Before they present the medal, FINA presents a special award to Michael Phelps for winning eight medals. Why? Eight medals isn't enough? Methinks that FINA just wanted to get some name recognition here.

Phelps doesn't sing, but he does lick his lips repeatedly. He's done that at every medal ceremony. I know. I've been watching. Sandy says, correctly, that we won't ever know if anyone else was singing, because they only show Phelps during The Star Spangled Banner. Really, NBC, there are three other U.S. swimmers there. Couldn't we have shown them at least a little during the national anthem?

Afterwards, Phelps walks up through the photographer pen and to hug his mom. The photographers eat each other trying to get the picture.

• Costas interviews Phelps. Michael Phelps? Great athlete. Bad interview. The most interesting comment is that Phelps has passed... well... everyone, in his number of Facebook requests, apparently in the tens of thousands this week alone. Hmm... we need some of those hits. Maybe we can just repeat his name a lot. Whose name? Michael Phelps.

See that number up there? Six minutes of fluff. That's right, on Saturday, August 16, NBC's Olympic coverage had fewer minutes of fluff than a Michael Phelps had gold medals. That's unlikely to happen again, but count us happy that it happened this once. See you tomorrow!

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