Tuesday, Aug. 19 at 10 a.m. ET

Beijing Olympics 2008

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Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 19, 2008; 10:00 AM

Washington Post sports writer Dave Sheinin was online Tuesday, Aug. 19 at 10 a.m. ET from Beijing to take your questions about the Summer Olympics.

A transcript follows.

Full Coverage: 2008 Olympics

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Cleveland Park, DC - Pole Vaulting coach: Ee-Yow! Talk about a dressing down of an athelete for winning a silver. NBC panned to the mic'd up coach of U.S. vaulter Jenn Stuczynski and he really went to town on her. i.e. "Well what did you expect?" I realize this isn't fakey-fake gymnastics, but even the NBC commentators were taken aback. She won a medal and set a US record for Pete's sake!

Dave Sheinin: Ni hao, folks. Good evening, if you're here with us in Beijing. Good morning, if you're back in the states. Just got back from dinner with staffer Barry Svrluga and IT wiz Chris White. The three of us found a restaurant off-campus, but within walking distance of the Olympic Green, that was translated to us as Country [Rear End] - and, well, we felt as if it was a place we needed to check out. Long story short, we ate some donkey. No, it didn't taste like chicken.

Let's go to the questions while I'm still keeping down my dinner....

You know, we don't get NBC's feed here. So I'll take your word about Stuczynski's coach. I could tell, though, without any volume on the TV here, that there was no love lost between Jenn and the gold-medal-winning Russian.

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Arlington, Va.: Have you gotten any sense of the reaction from the other athletes (especially the sprinters) to Usain Bolt coasting and showboating in the 100M final. Yes, it was a dominating performance, but as a spectator it came off as arrogant and disrespectful. I was wondering what the reaction in Beijing and among his fellow athletes was?

Dave Sheinin: I have not been covering any track and field, but I've been reading a lot of the coverage and haven't heard very much criticism of Bolt. My guess is that he gets a pass for two reasons:

1) As Muhammad Ali said, it ain't bragging if it's true.

and 2) He's Jamaican.

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Liu Xiang: This quote from today's Post: "When Sun Haiping added that Liu could barely stand before the race, despite the assistance of three doctors, Chinese reporters began sobbing as well."

I just find this amazing. Did you sob when you learned that Nick Johnson was injured and out for the year (pick any year)?

Dave Sheinin: No, can't say I did. But then again, a Nick Johnson injury is pretty much to be expected.

Seriously, I've been rather astonished -- this is my first Olympics, remember -- at the level of cheerleading by reporters from other countries. In the U.S., we'd be appalled by such behavior. But it appears as if the standards of objectivity are not so much in play in other countries.

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Beijing weather: What was it like to have an actual blue sky in Beijing?

Dave Sheinin: In all honesty, we've had nothing but blue skies for about 4-5 days, and before that we had a couple of days of rain. So it's been about a week, maybe more, since we've had a day with intolerable smog. I covered both the women's marathon and women's triathlon, and in both cases, competitors were raving about the conditions.

I don't know if it's just Mother Nature, or some crazy manipulation by the Chinese government -- but the smog has been a non-issue for most of the Olympics.

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Reston, Va.: Hi Dave -- thanks for doing the chats. Yesterday, Steinberg said in his chat: "I really wish I had taken advantage of the first few days here just to walk as much as possible and go into as many places as possible." Is this something you would be allowed to do? Just go anywhere you wanted? I am thinking that the movements of foreigners are severely restricted. Maybe not as much during the Olympics, but being a reporter I would think you would be especially controlled -- or certainly watched very closely.

Dave Sheinin: I'm guessing that Dan meant he wishes he had gone to more of the tourist places in Beijing -- the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, etc. -- as opposed to place like, say, Tibet or the earthquake-ravaged Sichuan province. But at the same time, everyone here is feeling as if they are being watched closely.

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Bob Bowman: Hi Dave,

We have heard a lot about Mr. Phelps, of course, but what can you tell me about the compensation for his coach, Bob Bowman? Does he get a cut of Michael Phelps income for his role as coach? And while on the subject of coaches, does the USOC pay the coaches for their work with Olympic athletes?

Dave Sheinin: Bowman is officially listed as an assistant coach of the U.S. swim team. He also coached at the Univ. of Michigan and will move to the North Baltimore Aquatic Club after the Olympics. Also, he receives some compensation from Speedo. So I think he's doing OK for himself. But most of all, I have to believe Phelps is taking care of his coach in some meaningful way.

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Re: Cheerleading...: I am not sure how old you are but I remember quite a bit of cheerleading from American reporters when the U.S. Hockey team was vying for and won the gold medal in 1980. Let's face it, no matter what country one hails from, if an individual or a team is poised to win the Gold medal, that country's citizens, even reporters, will cheer them on...

Dave Sheinin: Well, I was 11 years old when the Miracle On Ice occurred, and I was cheerleading like crazy in my family's living room. But I disagree about your last sentence. In the U.S., the no-cheering-in-the-press-box rule is well-understood and well-policed internally. And it simply doesn't happen.

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A Boz Chat?: Hey Dave, is Boz going to take one of these late night chats or does his seniority exempt him from such mundane journalistic duties while over in China?

washingtonpost.com: We're working on getting both Tom and Sally Jenkins on before the end of the week -- Sally should be on tomorrow, in fact. I believe the idea was to give them the most flexibility possible in order to respond to the biggest story of the day.

Dave Sheinin: There you have it, folks, from our fine producer, Paul.

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Woburn, Mass.: Is it possible to go back and review the Gymnatics scoring after the fact? Does each judge have to name their deductions and justify why they do not deduct points for each of the 6 or so balance checks by the Chinese entry on the balance beam in the team event for one example?

Dave Sheinin: This is from Liz Clarke, our gymnastics expert: There is a very short window of time for a coach or country to challenge or dispute a score, and it closes the moment the next gymnast starts his or her routine. And yes, each judge's deductions are part of the official record, identified by name and country and the number of deductions they took. So one could argue the Australian judge was very harsh to Nastia Liukin.

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Chinese Gymnasts: Are these girls required to sit in booster seats on the team bus?

Dave Sheinin: I don't know much about gymnastics, but I know plenty about kids. And those Chinese gymnasts look like they're 12. I'm just sayin'.

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Beach Volleyball: When will it be over? I live in Southern California, so I can go see it live any given day of the week. It really sucks having to stay up until darn near midnight every night to see the best events of the Olympics (ie. gymnastics, track & field, and just about anything/everything else!) because NBC chooses to show eye candy in primetime.

Dave Sheinin: If I were to compile the list of top complaints I've heard from folks back home about NBC's coverage, I think this would be No. 1. Apparently, y'all are getting a lot of beach volleyball in prime time. When I first got here (again, remember this is my first Olympics) I couldn't figure out why beach volleyball was even IN the Olympics -- it seemed redundant to me, when they already had a legitimate form of the sport with a long tradition. But NBC's overexposure of it has answered my question, apparently: It's all about getting all that skin on prime time TV.

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6.5 is Usain Bolt's height and age: Bolt qualified for the 200m final. Do you think he will dominate the competition as he did in the 100m? And more importantly, do you think he'll begin his celebrations 20m short of the finish line?

Dave Sheinin: Yes, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind Bolt will dominate the 200. He will not be seriously challenged. But the difference here is, he doesn't already own the world record, like he did in the 100. Thus, while all he really wanted in the 100 was the gold medal, in the 200, he might actually go for Michael Johnson's record.

When I went to Jamaica to do a story on Bolt in July, former sprint champion Donovan Bailey told me he believes Bolt can run a 19-flat. Johnson's record is a 19.32. I suspect the number will be somewhere in between.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Dave, Do you think it's fair to say that the objectivity of reporters differs a bit from one medium to another? It seems to me the written press has been pretty objective. But NBC's commentators (I know, you haven't seen them) have been pretty clearly rooting for the U.S. team in a number of events, from beach volleyball to gymnastics, to swimming. I've always wondered if they have a different standard -- more "commentators" than "reporters"?

Dave Sheinin: Yeah, I don't see the NBC announcers as being objective journalists. They're more entertainers than journalists.

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Cleveland Park, D.Cc: Michael Phelps is the best Olympian of all time. Ok, I get it. But lets talk out of the water. I've heard rumors that Phelps is no boyscout in real life -- arrogant, uber competitive, rude -- how does the competitiveness evident in the Olympic games translate to every day life?

Dave Sheinin: Barry Svrluga, who covered all things Phelps for us, says, "I can tell you that Phelps is no Boy Scout." But if you want an amplification, fire that question to Barry when he stops by here to chat on Friday.

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Coolest Thing: Okay Dave, since you are an Olympic rookie journalist, what's the coolest thing you've witnessed to date?

Dave Sheinin: That's incredibly easy. It was Bolt's performance in the 100. I didn't cover it, but went to see it in person, and it was probably the most amazing thing I've ever personally witnessed in person. I say "probably," because I'm having a hard time pushing it ahead of Tiger Woods winning the 1997 Masters by 12 strokes, his first major victory. In both instances, you felt as if you were witnessing the start of a new paradigm.

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washingtonpost.com: In Fast Company (Post, Aug. 1)

Dave Sheinin: This would be the story on Bolt I did a few weeks ago, which I referenced above.

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Your old beat: Dave - just to help you readjust to your regular beat - do you have an over/under on the number of walks tonight in the Dice-K/Cabrera match up before fan 50 million at OAPCY?

Can you tell anything about LaPorta, Arrieta, or other baseball players from the Olypmic tournament?

washingtonpost.com: Poor LaPorta.

Dave Sheinin: You know what? I covered a women's water polo game today that took about 45 minutes. I said to someone sitting near me, "I've covered INNINGS that have taken longer than that." Yeah, I think the over/under on number of walks is 13, and the over/under on time of game is 3:50.

I've only covered one baseball game thus far -- LaPorta actually looked terrible (and this was obviously pre-concussion), while Arrieta didn't pitch. Sorry.

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Just let it go already ...: I am a 23 year old Chinese American woman. I was born in China and raised in the U.S. from age 3. First, I've visited China many times over the years, with a U.S. passport and an abominable accent, and I have never noticed any surveillance or governmental heavy-handedness aside from the sort of bureaucratic incompetence

Dave Sheinin: OK, well, I hear what you're saying, and I'm not turning this into an indictment of the Chinese government. But unless you're here right now to see what I'm seeing, I don't think you can rightfully tell me I'm crazy. Doesn't it stand to reason that things would be slightly different during the Olympics than they were when you have visited in the past?

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Washington, DC: Enough of Michael Phelps already. He is lucky to compete in a sport in which he has an opportunity to compete for multiple medals while doing the same thing: swimming. In my view, his interviews have been disasters, he was ungracious bordering on insulting when he was paired for an interview with Mark Spitz, he exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of the sport of swimming in the American imagination when he claims he wants to be the "Michael Jordan" of swimming. He could be inspiring to thousands of kids with at least a few words of wisdom, but instead he says he is looking forward to coming home and seeing his "cars" and setting up his house. Enough. Really.

Dave Sheinin: I tend to agree with most of what you said -- except the part about "doing the same thing: swimming." Fact is, he swam all four strokes during the course of winning eight golds. I don't want to minimize the achievement. But the rest of what you said? I don't have a problem with it.

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Manassas, Va.: Hi Dave!

Baseball Questions! Regarding yesterday's scuffles vs. China, the umpires aren't going to hand out any suspensions are they? Personally, I think if you're blocking the plate, I'm going to do everything in my power to knock the ball out of your glove and score!

Cuba lost?! Wow. What are the U.S. chances of winning gold? If not the U.S., then who? Korea?

Dave Sheinin: I'm appalled by the level of whining in the baseball tournament -- not only by the Chinese team (yes, if you don't want to get run over at the plate, don't block the plate), but also by Davey Johnson during the Jayson Nix bunt fiasco. Johnson claimed that the pitcher was throwing at Nix, when in fact, pitchers are always taught to throw up and in when they see someone trying to bunt -- because it's much harder to get down a bunt on an up-and-in pitch.

Yeah, the U.S. can definitely still win the gold. But they're going to have to play better, and they're going to have to do it short-handed.

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Chicago: I always thought that a controversy implied some sort of dispute -- now I learn, thanks to NBC's gymnastics coverage, that "controversy" means "whenever the American doesn't win." But enough about what we're hearing in the U.S. -- are there any brewing controversies you're hearing about over in Beijing?

p.s. People need to get over Bolt. I deplore showboating in sports and I think his race was simply awesome.

Dave Sheinin: Actually, there seems to be a mini-controversy in just about every sport. Gymnastics has its scoring thing. The scoring in boxing has been deplorable. James Blake went off on the Chilean dude, Fernando Gonzalez, over not calling a point on himself. In Greco-Roman wrestling, there are some changes in the scoring this year that have some people upset. And even in swimming and the sprints, which would seem to be fairly cut-and-dried in terms of determining who wins, there have been protests and challenges.

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Re: Beach Volleyball: To think, the FCC went ballastic over Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction. Where is the FCC now, when we need them?

Dave Sheinin: Good point.

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Dupont Circle: Why have we not heard more about that German mom who got silver on vault? She appeared out of nowhere (if that's possible for someone at their record fifth Olympics), looked like a little boy and then kicked the teeny boppers butts! I demand more info about this woman.

Dave Sheinin: I will certainly pass that along.

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Silver (not Gold) Spring, MD: Have you been able to see a variety of different events? It seems like swimming and beach volley ball are the difficult tickets.

Also, have you been able to mingle among the athletes? How much cross-cultural exchange is going on, vs. whether the athletes are only hanging out with their own countrymen?

Dave Sheinin: In 11 days, I have covered 11 sports. (Want me to list them? Fencing, weightlifting, baseball, softball, shooting, wrestling, beach volleyball, track and field [marathon], triathlon, water polo and ... OK, I can't remember the 11th.)

I haven't done much mingling with the athletes, apart from the "mixed zones" where we are allowed to interview them.

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Phelps: Do you think it is natural for people to want to put down Phelps now that he has done so well? I am amazed at how many people can't just enjoy his wins and have to complain about the coverage he receives, or try to find out if he is a "boy scout." Can't we just relax and enjoy the fact that he is a great athlete!

Dave Sheinin: That's a fine perspective. Beyond all the talk about his personality or his maturity level or his Boy-Scoutness, the man did something that was absolutely incredible, and it ought to be appreciated for what it was.

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V-Ball: Oh, I must disagree! I have watched every Olympic sport (after working hours) on television - and they are all great. BUT! I find myself more vocal, more engaged, during the volleyball games. I for one am thrilled with the amount of v-ball coverage.

Dave Sheinin: Good to hear a different perspective.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I don't get why people are all huffy about Bolt's celebration, particularly the ones who feel they were somehow entitled to watch someone beat the world record by even more than he did.

Cmon. It's a competition...and he won. Let him celebrate! I was happy for him, and I still am! Dude's fast!

Dave Sheinin: I'm with you on that, big-time.

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Angry Chinese-American woman again: Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you're crazy. My comment was targeted more towards the original poster, who seemed to think that foreign reporters weren't allowed to walk around. ("Is this something you would be allowed to do? Just go anywhere you wanted?") I just think many people have misconceptions of China, and I'm happy that so many Americans are there now to tell us what it's really like. Hopefully this will encourage more people to visit as tourists and see for themselves! Thanks for holding this chat; it's great to have this live interaction.

Dave Sheinin: Ah, thanks for the clarification. I have to say: I've found the people here to be incredibly welcoming and accomodating, and have never once felt threatened in any way, in any situation. The times I've gotten "off-campus" for sightseeing and meals have been wonderful experiences.

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St. Louis, MO: During the team qualifying event they had a whole segment on the German gymnast (she's originally Uzbeski)

Dave Sheinin: Well, there you go.

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Reston, Va.: I get that the coaches can't challenge a score after the next athlete has begun his or her routine. But if the IOC or the gymnastics federation does investigate and finds that any of the Chinese gymnasts are indeed too young to compete, would the medals be taken away and re-awarded to the athletes who were next in line? I've read a comment from a Chinese gymnast (can't remember her name) who said she was 14 in the 2000 Sydney games, but I don't think her medal has been stripped. Is there a statute of limitations of sorts?

Dave Sheinin: Unfortunately, our gymnastics expert, Liz Clarke, has left the office, so I can't consult her on this one. But from what I understand, it's a moot point -- because there will never be a revelation about the age of the Chinese gymnasts. The IOC has basically said there is nothing to investigate. The official documents (including passports) say the gymnasts are of legal age, so in the IOC's mind, they're of legal age. Case closed.

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Columbia: For Dupont Circle: NBC actually ran a lengthy feature on that German mom - she competed for the former Soviet Union in a much earlier Olympics, and then for a former part of the Soviet Union in several other Olympics (this has been her 4th or 5th Olympics). A few years ago, her son was diagnosed with leukemia, and through gymnastics contacts, she was able to move to Germany so that he could receive adequate medical care. Her son is in total remission now, and she became a German citizen. It was an interesting feature and certainly made me cheer her on in that event.

Dave Sheinin: Thanks, Columbia.

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More on Phelps: I find Michael Phelps to be engagingly awkward and tongue-tied in his interviews. He seems geniunely unable to articulate what his achievements mean to him. In other words, he's like a million other guys in their early 20s who can't talk about their feelings to save their lives. Maybe the fact that I'm old enough to be his mother makes me more forgiving toward him, but I think he's just fine the way he is. Give him time, he'll grow up some more.

Dave Sheinin: I suspect you are correct. Thanks for the perspective.

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Charlotte, N.C.:"He could be inspiring to thousands of kids with at least a few words of wisdom, but instead he says he is looking forward to coming home and seeing his "cars" and setting up his house." Man, Phelps just can't win. If he'd tried to "be inspiring" he'd be taken to task for grandstanding. He honestly talks about missing his dog and wanting to get moved into his new home, which he hasn't been able to settle because he's been, well, a little busy, folks, and he's taken to task for wanting to lay back a bit. Hey, I'd miss my dog, too!

Dave Sheinin: Thanks, Charlotte.

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Ordway Street NW - US Discus: Hooray for Stephanie Trafton! The field half is the only thing saving our "track and field" team so far...

Dave Sheinin: Hooray, indeed. It's amazing to think the U.S. got shut out in the women's 100 meters.

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Falls Church, Va.: I am still shaking my head in dismay after watching the coach blast pole vaulter Stuczynski after her silver metal performance. I can find no merit in his comments. His is an angry public tirade. Any thoughts?

Dave Sheinin: Wish I had seen it. Maybe I can dig up a clip online...

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More info on German woman...: everybody has derided NBC's coverage of non-American athletes, but they actually did do a story on this woman. She was on the "Unified" team in 1992 made of members from former Soviet Republics. She moved to Germany and became a German citizen due to better treatment for her son's leukemia. I think people are too hard on NBC, they do have compelling stories from other countries even if their focus is an American one.

Dave Sheinin: A rare vote of confidence for NBC...

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Dave Sheinin: OK, everyone, I'm out of time. Thanks for all the fine questions. Les Carpenter will be chatting tomorrow at 11 a.m., Washington time. Make sure to stop by again for that.

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