Tales From Turin
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'Tales From Turin'

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Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 13, 2006; 11:00 AM

So why, in the middle of February, is a college basketball writer trying to figure out how to use a Nescafe instant espresso machine in Italy?

In his blog " Tales From Turin," Washington Post staff writer Dan Steinberg answers this question, dishes about the 2006 Winter Olympic Games and characterizes his latest cheese of the day. (Barba Buch anyone?) Let's not forget the weather. He weighs in on that, too. And Mike Wise.

Steinberg was online Monday, Feb. 13, at 11 a.m. ET to talk Turin: the scene, the people, and of course, the Olympics. Steinberg is also curious about how much of your Olympic experience comes through choices in NBC coverage. And, yes, about cheese. Questions about Toma del Maccagno? Ask now.

The transcript follows.

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Dan Steinberg: Hey everyone. You've probably read quite enough of my commentary on cheese and curling. If not, you'll have 13 more days of it. So feel free to use this forum to ask anything about the mood of the Olympics, the logistical set up, the city, etc. Or about George Washington basketball. And if I don't know the answer, I guess I'll make something up.

I'm still at the curling venue now (5 p.m. local time). The women's round has just finished up, and the men will start again in about two hours. I will probably go watch some biathlon tomorrow, and beyond that I'm not really sure.

So fire away.

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Alexandria, Va., USA: I am very intrigued by the "Olympic Experience." How are the locals treating the press? Is the Olympic village like a Frat house during Finals week (quiet for those preparing to compete mixed with a blow out party for those who are finished or who have won)? How is the food?

Thanks for taking my oddball questions, I've enjoyed the blog.

Dan Steinberg: Hey Alexandria, thanks for reading.

The locals have been unfailingly polite and helpful. On one of my first days here, someone told me that residents were quite nervous about how the world would treat their city. Turin itself has never been a huge tourist mecca, and the Olympics have brought a lot of changes over the past few years. So this woman told me that everybody was very anxious to see the world's verdict. I have noticed this in little ways around town, and especially in my e-mail box, which is filled with locals offering me suggestions, offering to show me around town, etc.

I haven't yet been to the Olympic village. That will certainly be one of my field trips. Media members are housed in several dorm complexes, and the athletes are housed in separate villages, either in town or up in the mountains, depending on their sport. To get into the village in the city, you must sign a form. There is a maximum number of media members allowed in at one time. I have heard the same stories you have about the wild times in the village, but from talking to a few of the athletes it seems like wild times follow many winter athletes wherever they go.

As for the food, every time I've eaten in a restaurant it's been magnificent. With my schedule, though, at least 50 percent of my diet has been pizza that's about comparable to Sbarro rest stops.

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The District: Sweet blog! What is the percentage chance that George Washington will win the national championship?

Dan Steinberg: Hmmm. Let's assume the Colonials wind up a three or a four seed. Let's assume there's a 65 percent chance the tournament is won by a 1 or 2 seed, and a 15 percent chance its won by a seed lower than 4. (Totally out of thin air, but in my file cabinet at home I have extensive records on the seeding of past champions.) Anyhow, that would give us a 20 percent chance the tournament is won by a 3 or 4 seed, and if you divide that by the 8 teams that would fit that description, the Colonials would have a 2.5 percent chance.

That seems about right to me. Like others, I think GW could run into trouble against a disciplined mid-major team that can really shoot the three. I also think that, virtually regardless of what happens in the tournament, this season will have been a huge success. The publicity they're getting now probably rivals, or even exceeds, the publicity they would have gotten from going to the sweet 16 as a 10 seed.

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Columbia, S.C.: What is the mood of the Olympics? Some of the venues have seemed a bit subdued, especially when compared to Salt Lake City.

Dan Steinberg: I wasn't in Salt Lake City, so this is my first Olympics. And my unique blogging responsibilities have limited me to two actual venues so far (speedskating and curling, which are both pretty convenient to downtown Turin).

Here's my summary: curling is quite subdued. Speedskating was out of control entertaining. The Dutch fans were tremendous, but so were the Norwegians and Americans and probably some others I'm forgetting. I don't know that any of it rivaled the passion I saw in the bar last night watching Juventus play Inter Milan, but it was quite fun.

As far as the city itself, it's growing on me very rapidly. The greatest thing about it is the lack of pretension. It's like the difference between, say, Philadelphia and New York. Maybe that's not the greatest example, but Turin is such a large city and yet the people don't have any sort of superiority complex, at least the people I've met.

If you want passion, check out this summer's World Cup in Germany.

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Miami, Fla.: Dan - your blog is the best part of the Olympics. Any chance of bringing the Kiwis to the U.S. for a curling demo?

Dan Steinberg: Thanks Miami.

The Kiwis will probably be in North America sometime soon. I haven't had a chance to write up the full story yet, but the lack of quality rinks and competition back home means they spent the run-up to the games training in Canada, often staying with family or friends. It really is an interesting story; if the Kiwis somehow make it to the semifinals, I won't be the only ones following them, that's for sure.

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Bethesda, Md.: I've been enjoying your reports on the progress of the Kiwi curling team. Given how much Kiwis love all the extreme sports (inventors of Bungee jumping, zorbing, etc.) and a country with snowy and ski-able mountains, why don't we see more Kiwis in the Winter Olympics? I would have thought that snow boarding, the alpine events, luge (they have recreational luge runs which are very popular), etc., would have been just their thing. Or are the Olympics too sedate for them?

Dan Steinberg: I wish I knew. Anyone?

But NZ does have 18 athletes here, which is 13 more than Denmark. The only Danes here are actually the women's curlers, which is why the press room here at curling center is filled with Danes. If they should medal, the entire Danish delegation would go home happy. (Curling teams include a fifth member, or alternate, but the alternates also get medals.)

The lack of Danes is even more puzzling to me than the lack of Kiwis, considering the great numbers of Dutch and Germans and other Scandanavians.

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Cambridge, Mass.: Do you actually understand the rules of curling? Can you explain what they're doing?

Dan Steinberg: Well, I watched a lot today. I understand the rules, certainly not the strategy.

There are 10 "ends" (think of them as innings in baseball). Each team throws eight stones in each end (two from each curler). The teams alternate, and the team that scored in the previous end must go first, which is a sizable disadvantage. The team whose stone is closest to the center gets one point, plus an additional point for every stone closer than the opponent's best stone. After 10 ends (innings), whichever team has the most points wins. If the match is out of hand, the losing team will sometimes concede.

Basically, if you're going first, your object is to hold the other team to one point. If you're going last, your object is to get two points.

They call it "chess on ice," and there is a lot of strategy that goes over my head, but I will be back here for sure so stay tuned.

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Washington, D.C.: All I can say is that for someone who watched Arrested Development instead of the O.C., I think your blog is much better than the crappy NBC coverage. I want to know the people, the crazy things surrounding the venue. Enough Kwan hype...give me cheese and curling! And MSNBC pre-empting IMUS for women's hockey was a hoot!

Dan Steinberg: Do I know you? If not, thanks much.

Most of the e-mails I've gotten (and I'm getting way behind in posting them and responding to them) have actually been fairly positive about NBC, saying the coverage is better than in the past. See below. Do others disagree?

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Washington, D.C.: How about Ireen Wust's performance yesterday? I know the 5000m doesn't get the same coverage as the short-track stuff, but that was incredible.

Dan Steinberg: That's what I've heard. I didn't see the 5000 yesterday, but I had a great time at the men's 5000. I'm no expert, but short-track seems to have so much luck and so much controversy. Long track seems a lot more pure to me, if that makes any sense.

But as one of my newfound friends said, short track is like NASCAR, and people love crashes.

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Washington, D.C.: Paucity of Danes not so surprising. As you may have noticed, there aren't too many mountains in Denmark, and most winter events require some elevation change.

Dan Steinberg: Well, sure, I understand that, but I figured Denmark's proximity to other more elevated lands would be sufficient to at least have SOMEONE here besides the women curlers.

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All Kiwi, All the time!: Seriously--are you going to cover any other Kiwi athletics at the Games? It's way more fun to read your stories about our Kiwi friends, than to sit through the treacle that NBC broadcasts...

I say you should start an adopt-a-Kiwi program. Payment would, of course, be made in cheese.

Dan Steinberg: Sounds good to me.

I've gotten lucky with the curlers. I happened to see a "quote sheet" early in the games in which one of the Kiwi Curlers was explaining why they've been compared to the Jamaican bobsledders in the past (mostly because of the lack of facilities back home, certainly not because of their skill level). I had been thinking I should pick an athlete or two to follow in my blog, and this worked for so many reasons (they speak the same language as me, their competition lasts a long time and thus could become an interesting narrative, they've never made the Olympics before, etc).

Also, and I'm serious about this, the fact that they all have lives and careers outside of sport makes them interesting characters in a way some of the younger athletes might not always be. I haven't been able to write much about this yet, but that's my impression. To succeed at the Olympic level in, say, downhill skiing, you often have to devote your entire life to your sport. With all due respect to curling, I sense it's not quite the same. People who have other things going on in their lives often have a much more refreshing perspective on the Games.

The sample size is admittedly small, but that's my general impression.

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to Washington, D.C.: The Netherlands has never been known for very mountainous terrain, either. But they are great speed skaters (all that flat, frozen water...much like Denmark...). Plus, cross country is fairly flat. And hockey just takes a rink (Phoenix, LA, Miami anyone?).

Dan Steinberg: Thanks for the support. I'm sure there are historical reasons speedskating is so huge in the Netherlands that I don't quite understand, but I find it fascinating. I think I posted this the other day, but a bunch of fans agreed that speedskating was in the top five most popular sports in Holland, which shocked me.

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NZ/DK: Not only do New Zealand and Denmark both have surprisingly small Winter Olympics teams, they are both big manufacturers and exporters of cheese. Hmmm.....

Dan Steinberg: Conspiracy, for sure.

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Kalorama, Washington, D.C.: Dan, You're kinda cute. And funny. Is anyone under contract to have millions of your babies, or can I add my name to the list?

Dan Steinberg: Sorry, I'm married.

Even assuming one of my co-workers submitted this question, I had to post it, right?

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Southern Maryland: Hi Dan,

Sounds like you're enjoying yourself and that's great..honestly I have not been as thrilled with these Olympics as in years past and of course whenever they're in our home country, ie., Salt Lake in 02, then the excitement is much greater. I watched about 20 minutes of them yesterday but didn't see anything that kept my attention so I opted to watch something else and catch the news updates later in the day. Seems like Michelle Kwan's pulling out was the big news, although I read where Ohno took a fall, where Bode was blown out so what does it look like for the US??...maybe not our best olympics...although it is still early.

Dan Steinberg: As for enjoying myself, yes, immensely. I just took a pause from typing, in fact, to have a discussion with some European colleagues on the Swiss team's world ranking in curling. Everyone I've been with is overworked, and yet everyone seems to be having fun.

As for the U.S., home teams always do better, and the U.S.'s 2002 performance was particularly amazing. Nobody thought they'd come close to equaling that this time. I don't think the current medal pace is distressingly low, although the downhill news today was not good.

But some of these events are great television sports regardless of whether Americans are competing (for my money, I'll include speedskating, ski jumping and curling on that list).

Figure skating has never been of particular interest to me.

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20906: Not so much of a question but a comment. I have stopped watching the Olympics because of the commercials. There is literally only 5 minutes of the action then 2-5 mins of commercials (yes, I clocked it). It is just too much. Have you heard any other comments/complaints?

Dan Steinberg: You're the first. Anyone else notice this? That sounds awful. Tivo maybe?

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New York City!: Dan the man: Because NBC is something like the Voice of America but in the obverse (uh... whatever, you know what I mean), I am watching a LOT of Americans on American television. Apparently there are people from other countries there in Turin, but I'm not sure. Anyway, I have noticed that this is the year of the wacko facial hair on Americans. Ohno? Oh no! Is this the fault of the snowboarder influence? What gives? And can you tell an American in Turin from 40 paces due to their facial adornments? Please help!

Dan Steinberg: A lot of Italian kids (not athletes, kids around town) have wacky facial hair. A lot of wiry sideburns, and bushy sideburns, and full on beards.

I mentioned this in the blog, but to me the easiest sign of an American is the white sneakers. I don't know that I've seen a single European wearing white running sneakers for everyday activities. I still haven't bought new sneakers, and I'm actually wearing mine today, but it's horribly embarassing.

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Washington, D.C.: How comes all the curling team members are think? How much does the curling equipment weigh?

Dan Steinberg: I assume "think" was supposed to be "thick."

You know, this is interesting to me. The official book I have says stones weigh a maximum of 44 pounds, but much of the other literature talks about "42 pound stones." I need to ask Hans this later. Does anyone know for sure?

Press box in curling center is now discussing how it is decided which team has the hammer (basically last ups) in the curling matches. You won't believe it. For the final eight matches of the round robin, the hammer is predetermined. For the first match, though, it's a coin flip. It's unfair. Such a huge advantage, decided by chance. The Kiwis only lost 6-3 to the Swedes; who knows what the score might have been had the Kiwis started with the hammer.

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Arlington, Va.: While finding your blog v. enjoyable, I think we can agree that it won't be a total sucess unless and until you are asked to the Today show set for a little chit-chat with Katie and Matt. So, when's it gonna be?

Dan Steinberg: Gosh, you know, I was thinking this very thing the other day. I don't know what I'd have to do. When I was thinking about this, the vision I had was of Katie and Matt asking me to do some sort of cheese tasting with them. But the sad truth is, I'm not nearly enough of an expert to do that. Plus, they're having D.C. super chef Roberto Donna on the set later this week, so he'll probably take care of the food questions. Anyone know any NBC producers?

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Commerical Land: Oh yes...the commericals are out of control. During Curling at 3 a.m. and the hockey games are not bad, but the primetime seems to have more commercials than competitions. I agree it seems worse than past years.

Dan Steinberg: One person agrees....

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Tivo: Yes, use your Tivo to skip the commercials, ice dancing and Brian Williams, and you'll be a happier Olympic viewer. More ski jumping, fewer viagra ads.

Dan Steinberg: And another as well.....

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Washington, D.C.: Dude, your blog is the most amazing thing I've read all day. What exactly ARE your unique blogging responsibilities? And do you have any more Mike Wise stories for us?

washingtonpost.com: Dan Steinberg's blog: Tales From Turin

Dan Steinberg: Well, yeah, it's not that hard. Certainly not compared to what my colleagues have to do.

If you want to look behind the curtain, the thing that makes this difficult is that I gather material during the mornings and afternoons here, then try to write it up in a mildly entertaining manner in the evenings, when you all are still at work and looking at our Web site. Basically it means I work from about 9 a.m. until about midnight or 1 a.m. every day for three weeks. But when "work" includes going to a pub to watch soccer, you're not really allowed to complain.

Like I said, my colleagues are doing much, much more demanding work than I am.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Just finished watching the women's curling. Those Johnson sisters from Minnesota are hotties! Since they're actually competing, unlike Michelle Kwan, how about an in depth interview with them?

Dan Steinberg: When I arrived today the official said, "you're probably here to watch the Curl Girls, right?" I had no idea what he was talking about. If he wanted to talk Kiwi Curling, I was ready, but I didn't know about the Curl Girls.

But the ease of computer access here, its proximity to my dorm and the utter awesomeness of this sport means I will probably talk to the Curl Girls at some point.

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Washington, D.C.: Count me in on those disappointed with the coverage. I was so happy on Saturday morning to wake up to find that the biathalon was being shown, but I can't understand why after that, it was pretty much women's ice hockey or nothing until prime-time, despite the 5 NBC channels. And nothing on Sunday except some more hockey until late afternoon. Plus I can't stand the "did we get a medal? If not, don't cover it" attitude that NBC has. Sigh. I wish I could tune into the Canadian broadcast.

Dan Steinberg: Well, I am getting some of this.

A somewhat older colleague was explaining the other day that when she was growing up, EVERYONE watched the Olympics together at night, and EVERYONE talked about it at school the next day. I think those days are pretty much over, and with Internet and sports talk radio and headline news, I would think NBC would move towards more and more live coverage at some point.

One thing about the coverage of Americans.....maybe this is a lame excuse, but I've sometimes found myself flocking towards Americans just because I know I'll be able to interview them in depth. Most of the Europeans can speak great English, but not all, and it often requires a bit more work. I'm wondering whether language might be partially responsible for so many stories and television pieces about Americans.

On the other hand, Euro Sport here shows highlights of virtually every winner, and the interviews are translated, so it's obviously possible.

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no commercials: Curses on NBC and it's cable partners! Better option is to skip the coverage, check results on the internet (it's all done by about 5:00 PM eastern), and then enjoy a good book!

Dan Steinberg: Or a good blog!

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Boston, Mass.: If anyone cares why Holland is so big on speed skating, it goes back to the elfstedentocht (made famous by Hans Brinker) an 11-city race covering almost 200km. It can only be held years that it is cold enough that all the necessary canals freeze, which was last in 1997 (and before that in 1986). Every year when there is a bitter cold snap, a prime topic of discussion will be whether the race can be held. When it does occur, it is 10 times bigger for the Dutch than the Superbowl. Since the race has only occurred about 15 times in the last 100 years, skaters stay in shape on the short tracks.

Dan Steinberg: Thanks Boston.

Sounds somewhat similar to the South Island bonspiel featured in the Mainland Cheese commercials.

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Potomac Falls, Va.: Hi Dan...someone had to ask: Any inside scoop on Michelle Kwan's withdrawal? Did she gracefully exit or should she have stuck it out? Also, Bode Miller...all talk and no show? Was told he was using some new "superski's"-- did that effect his performance?

Dan Steinberg: I've got nothing on Bode, and most American columnists have probably already offered their Kwan thoughts, but it seemed plenty graceful to me. Many suggested she should have begged out earlier, knowing that her body wasn't right, but I don't begrudge her trying. Every story about her for the next 20 years will note that she never won the gold. Why not give it a try? She was pretty classy in her press conference yesterday, I thought.

The European journalists in the curling press center are now drinking beer. That is something I don't see much in U.S. press boxes.

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Shroud Town, Va.: I'm not feeling our women's rink right now, since they can't seem to hold leads. Even if we pull off a victory against the Norwegian women, can we hope to medal if we keep giving up three point ends?

Dan Steinberg: Wow, sorry, you know more than I do. But I know enough to know that giving up a three point end is not good. A three-point end, in the fifth, was what did in the Kiwis in their first match today (and I'm going to have to quit this chat at some point so I can write up the first match before the next one begins, in exactly an hour.)

Wait, are you a real curling fan, or are you making fun of me?

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Mike Wise's Beard: Could you link to your blog entry where you've got this pic? And is it winning him more friends than when he was clean-shaven, or is it just making him into an even uglier American?

Dan Steinberg: Sorry, we've fallen down on this task. I haven't even seen Mike for the past two days. We didn't really think ahead, and with the events so geographically scattered, we don't all see each other constantly like we did at the beginning. This could shatter the cheese tastings, too.

But if the beard doesn't work out, Mike and I have some other hijinks planned. Stay tuned.

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Arlington, Va.: NBC coverage stinks!!!! My husband and I were lucky enough four years ago to be in London, watching BBC coverage, which, due to time differences, were shown live. Coverage was far superior. And the announcers were great. And the hockey final was shown without commercial interruption. Can't imagine anything like that happening on network TV.

Dan Steinberg: Well, my e-mail chatter has been largely positive, but the posts on this chat have been overwhelmingly negative. I grew up near the Canadian border watching CBC, and I sympathize.

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Chicago, Ill.: Is most of the cheese sold at the shop locally made? What is the local wine? Is Chimay much cheaper in Italy and do they have it on tap?

Dan Steinberg: Maybe 1/3 of the cheeses in the shop come from Northern Italy. I've concentrated on those thus far, but will probably run out at some point, if I really keep this up. The C!O!F!D! could also be hurt by the fact that I'm now trying to go to venues, which are mostly in the opposite direction of the cheese shop.

Honestly, though, the blog is sort of ever changing, and if people like the COFD, we'll work something out. Let me know at steinbergd@washpost.com

The local wine we've had most is Barolo. I have yet to see Chimay on tap in Italy, but I've spent most of my nights in the media center writing about curling.

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Reston, Va.: Great blog, it adds to the Olympics.

The NBC prime time coverage is as lame as usual. Apparently snowboarding is what anyone wants to see.....that and the reel of Kwan highlights that they needed to burn off.

The cooler stuff is the daytime coverage with gems like luge, curling and women's hockey (gasp!... live)

Dan Steinberg: Well see, here's someone who likes women's hockey.

My dad loves luge, but it never did it for me. The thing I love about curling is you can watch and (sort of) understand the action. The differences in a good and terrible luge run are so minute, that watching it on television grew tiresome for me. I'm not really joking any more about curling; it's fascinating to watch.

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Chesapeake Beach, Md.: So who do you believe created curling, the Scots, the Dutch, or a bunch of drunk guys in a bar? Have you talked to any hard-core curling junkies who have an opinion?

Dan Steinberg: I read it was the Scots in the 16th century. Is that under dispute? The first North American curling club was formed in Montreal in 1807, if I'm remembering correcting.

Sean Becker, the skip of the Kiwi team, comes from Scottish ancestry, and actually spent 6 months honing his craft in Scotland with a Scottish legend.

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Washington, D.C.: Dan, great work. The winter Olympics are great, but my question is, based on how GW is playing now, how do you think they would fare in games with international rules against some of the foreign teams in Olympic competition? What a lot of the Olympic teams don't have is chemistry and experience, which No. 8 George Washington has plenty of. And why can GW reach the Final Four with the right draw?

Dan Steinberg: Ok, I'm gonna run and try to calm my nerves before the NZ-GBR match starts in 45 minutes, but I wanted to close with a GW question.

I'm not sure if you were being serious, but I don't think this GW team is at all built for international play. They've had some success shooting threes, and Elliott has been an unbelievable surprise, but this is a slashing team, not a shooting team.

But I'll agree that they have great chemistry. I was working on a story about the Colonial Athletic Association a few months back, and several CAA coaches said those teams get to be good because they get on a certain cycle. Talented but underrecruited players come in as freshmen, seeing the chance to play immediately, and they get killed. They grow up together and are a tough out by their junior year, an NCAA tournament team by their senior year. Then they graduate, and some other experienced team beats up on a new group of talented freshmen.

It's not exactly the same with GW, because they're going to be able to reload as long as Karl Hobbs is around, but this team is 20-1 because Mike Hall and Pops and Omar Williams, plus the two guards, have been playing together for years. It's pretty obvious when you watch them, I think.

As for the tournament, sure, GW is talented enough to reach the final four. In the abstract, they don't strike me as a final four team; I would worry about the outside shooting, and I'm not sure their pace will rattle the best teams in the country. But let's wait until Selection Sunday before we start thinking about that.

Ok all, thanks for reading, stick with me this month, and I'll probably do another one of these in the next few days.

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Carlisle, Pa.: I think you really hit the nail with the comment about how 'back in the day' the evening broadcast was successful, so NBC continues it. Maybe I'm not the typical NBC viewer, but I find myself needing to TRY VERY HARD not to go to espn.com, washingtonpost.com, etc., to avoid hearing what happened, so that I might have some tiny bit of interest in the evening's show, since I KNOW my wife will be watching so I might as well get whatever enjoyment I can out of it.

Dan Steinberg: Ok, I lied, wanted to post one more like this because I've gotten this comment several times from guys who say they know all the results from listening to sports talk radio, but their wives don't yet know what's happened. Interesting.

Ok, now I'm really leaving.

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