Thursday, Aug. 21 at 10:30 a.m. ET

Beijing Olympics 2008

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Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 21, 2008; 10:30 AM

Washington Post sports writer Liz Clarke will be online Thursday, Aug. 21 at 10:30 a.m. ET from Beijing to take your questions about the Summer Olympics.

Submit a question or comment before or during the discussion.

Full Coverage: 2008 Olympics


Liz Clarke: Ni hao from Beijing!
It has been a calamitous few hours here, with US softball team losing gold-medal match for first (and last) time; BOTH U.S. 4x100 relay teams dropping baton and failing to advance to the medal round...and some high points, too. I won't go on any more; let's chat.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Liz - obviously this is a disappointing morning if you are US fan, (softball, water polo, 200 m) but maybe softballs prospects of returning in 2016 are improved because the US lost. As for the 2 4x100 relays, it makes you want to pull your hair out more than anything wise, because it robs fans of great finals in those 2 relays. You can practice handoffs all you want, but more often than not, the US finds a way to throw away medals in relays.

Liz Clarke: Well, yes, we'll start with the day's disappointments. The US softball loss to Japan, 3-1, was a stunner, though the Japanese were quite strong. Obviously the US women wanted to win gold in softball's final Olympic appearance. But if you're looking for a silver lining, it's this: (and it's a bit ironic). The IOC voted to eliminate softball (and baseball) from Olympic competition after the Beijing games because neither sport was perceived as international. The US women, of course, won gold every Olympics a medal was given (1996, 2000, 2004). So now that there's strong evidence that the sport is being played overseas--and played incredibly well--it's too late. I do think softball's chance to reinstatement may be helped by this loss. And let's remember, this "loss" gives the US women silver, which is a terrific achievement, too.
The US womens water polo team lost a heartbreaker to the Netherlands, but again--they won silver. That's a lot to be proud of in my book. and it was a terrific, high-scoring game. Dont miss it on TV, whenever its shwon.
The relays--what an unbelievable outcome, with BOTH the men and women botching handoff between 3rd and final legs. Ugh. It does take a lot of luster out of the final. And it should make coaches (and Tyson Gay) reconsider the decision to skip team practice and the chance to work on the handoff before it counted.


K St.: What are your thoughts on the IOC President chastising Bolt for excessive celebration?

Liz Clarke: I'm SO glad you asked. I am so confused by the time difference, even after 3 weeks here, that I'm unclear how quickly news reaches home. I was appalled. Actually, I was struck dumb.
To me, and this is totally my opinion, there are many many important matters on which the IOC president OUGHT to be taking a stand--China's use of underage gymnasts, the revocation of a visa for a former Olympic gold medallist to attend these Games, the noxious air quality that athletes have been subjected to, the roughing up of British journalists--I will stop there. I am stunned that the issue he finally takes a stand on is Usain Bolt's celebration of his 200m victory, which was one of the greatest achievements in sports. The IOC president's language in condemning Bolt's celebration was offensive and patronizing, to boot, in my view.
He look ridiculous, to me, in drawing an arrogant "moral line" over one athlete's joy. Not a single runner in the 200m, I dont believe, was offended in the slightest.


Harrisburg, PA: What is wrong with Jacques Rogge? Instead of congratulating Bolt on his stupendous performance, he criticizes him for "poor sportsmanship" when the crowd in the stands and his fellow competitors have no problem with his "showboating"?

Liz Clarke: Harrisburg! I stand with you. You said it better than I


Silver Spring, Md.: Liz, can you give your general impressions on the gymnastics competition? I know what the paid NBC "commentators" thought; I know what the hardcore gymnastics community thinks; I know what the average I-only-watch-once-every-4-years-and-hey-did-you-know-the-Chinese-girls-are-14?!?! American thinks. But what about you, since you were there and have a bit more objectivity than most of us?

Liz Clarke: What a sweet comment. Thanks for your trust and curiosity about my view.
I think there are at least 2 gymnasts on the Chinese team who, to my eye, cannot possibly be 16. I am not a mother; and maybe a mother would know better. But more significant than impressions are the documents that have been cited from regional competitions from a few years back listing their ages, if you extrapolate to today, as younger than 16.
That said, I feel badly for the Chinese athletes who have been in the position of fielding these questions. Im not sure China is alone on this. There were several girls competing, some from eastern Europe, who were 4-7 and under 75 pounds. The practice of distorting the age of female gymnasts didnt start in China. Also, Nadia was 14 when she scored a perfect 10; there were no age limits then. And I'm starting to wonder if the Karolyis dont have a point in arguing that age minimum should be abolisting if they cant be properly enforced.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Liz,

I have to say how happy I was for both Shawn and Nastia for being such classy, gracious winners! I think that while Shawn might have been underscored for some events including uneven bars, I also firmly believe that we all took Nastia for granted. When Nastia is putting her A-game together, she is on and unstoppable! Her scores in the qualifying round proved that she would be the one to beat! WE saw Nastia have a bad year last year and not such a great Olympic trials but she got it all together and deserved that all-around gold! Your thoughts?

Liz Clarke: I agree entirely with the spirit of your remarks; especially agree that Nastia and Shawn handles themselves beautifully, both in winning gold and in getting silver.
But I do think Shawn was underscored on the all-around, and I think she should have gotten gold ahead of Nastia. But I feel this by a very very narrow margin, and certainly dont feel the outcome was an injustice in any way. I just would have leaned more in Shawn's favor.
But you're right: I think Nastia was overlooked by many in the US, largely because of her history of injuries. Shawn has been so mentally and physically sturdy the last 2 years, it was hard for me to best against her. But Nastia is just a lovely, graceful performer, and there are few moments i have enjoyed more than her beam and unevens routines. They should both be so proud.


Langley Va.: Hi Liz,

Shawn (Johnson) finally won her gold! I was so thrilled. As a small, muscular girl (now woman)who did gymnastics, I am glad to see that she won. (Though how they can give the Chinese gymnast a medal for falling off the balance beam is beyond me).


Liz Clarke: Yes, I cheer Shawn's victory, too. Her beam routine is so risky, and she makes it look easy.
I think the bronze that's bugging you was on the vault, where Cheng Fei, the Chinese woman, fell on her second vault. She got bronze, which pushed Alicia Sacramone to 4th.
I dont think China got a bronze on beam, but I will check.
Anyway, Bela Karolyi was livid over Cheng getting bronze on vault, given her fall. In my view, it was like giving a make-up Oscar to a great actor who had been snubbed his whole life and is finally honored for mediocre work (an example eludes me just now, but you know what I mean? maybe paul Newman? martin Scorcese?).
Anyway, Cheng had not lost on vault in 3 years. She's beloved and the queen of the vault. and she had 1 brilliant vault and 1 botched one. I think that's why the judges worked so hard to give her a medal.


Takoma Park, Md.: Haven't IOC heads traditionally been patronizing to athletes and others, perhaps especially those from lesser developed nations? Think, Avery Brundage and perhaps Juan Antonio Samaranch. The IOC is a patrician club.

Liz Clarke: I think you have something there. Rogge's comments, to me, were not only out-of-touch and offensively pataronizing.


NW Washington: Did you attend the Women's Beach Volleyball game between USA and China?

Liz Clarke: No i did not, but barry Svrluga did. He has just come to my aid. and he wants you to know this:
"Misty May treanor and Kerri Walsh were clearly the class of the field tho China has come a logn way in this sport."
Liz adds: The US women are also 30 and 31, by the way, which totally rocks! And barry very much enjoyed this assignment. :-)


Adams Morgan: Liz,

Dan Steinberg and Sally Jenkins compared the air there, even on a good day, to the air at a NASCAR race. They said it felt like there is a film in the air. You're Ms. NASCAR. What do you think of the air quality?

Liz Clarke: ha! The air here is far worse than a NASCAR race. It is thick and sooty. And when you lie down, you realize there are particles in your gullet making you gag and choke.
It is not funny. Of course today it rained all day--most likely because the Chinese government shot someting in the air to make it rain so there will be a "blue-sky day" for Closing Ceremonies.
I hope that Beijing residents will demand their government do more to improve the air quality after the games are gone. they deserve better.


Arlington, Va.: US 1, Brazil 0 !! 24 minutes to go

Liz Clarke: Yes, I am trying to answer questions, and people in the office just let out a big roar so I felt sure I missed a goal. Wasnt sure who scored, so thanks for the update.
Dan Steinberg is there for us, so you'll get his take soon.,
More shrieking over my shoudler now; not sure what is happening..


Gaithersburg, Md.: Liz, China's Cheng Fei did win bronze on beam, but within gymnastics, it's considered a bit of a farce by most. Many feel that Cheng Fei was overscored and the bronze should have gone to Russia's Anna Pavolva.

Liz Clarke: Gaithersburg, thank you SO much! Your note has triggered my memory. Yes, Cheng finsihed with two bronzes. And i recall the Russian's routine well. It was far stronger than Cheng's, I totally agree.
many thanks


Arlington, Va.: The U.S. Softball Team beat Japan 2 out of three times during the Olympics and lost the Gold. Why doesn't softball use a standard bracket to decide the winner like other sports?

Liz Clarke: I hate to confess, I dont know. And sadly, if you or I can come up with a better way, no one will care. Softball is out of the Olympics now, and I think it's such a pity


Washington, D.C.: Hi Liz,

Getting rid of softball? Why not curling in the Winter Olympics? Now there's a sport that wouldn't have universal appeal.

Also, and I ask this not in a snarky way, but, how could beach volleyball every have gotten to be an Olympic sport?

Thank you!

Liz Clarke: The IOC, in its self-aggrandizing way, says that it based decisions on which sports to add and which to drop from the Olympics based on their international reach. That is a noble criterion indeed; the Olympics should be about fair play, so it follows that the sports contested reflect the interests and expertise of men and women throughout the world.
The problem is, that's hardly the rationale behind the IOC's recent decisions. Sports are added if they're likely to be appealing on TV. That's how beach volleyball made it, as well as snowboarding, freestyle skiing and BMX (which holds finals tomorrow).
I think curling better start worrying--unless, of course, they're willing to require curling teams to wear bikinis.


Santa Barbara, Calif.: Perhaps Mr. Rogge should be more concerned with the plight and fate of the two Chinese female septuagenarians who were sentenced to a year's labor camp for applying for permits for the supposedly "allowed" protest sites...

Liz Clarke: I think you raise a great point. It's not hard to find causes to advocate in this Olympic setting if you look. I dont think Bolt's celebration rises to that level.


Beach volleyball: So...who had the bright idea for May and Walsh to wear their white suits in the downpour yesterday? It had to be a man. Just had to.

Kidding aside, I purposely stayed up to watch them and they did not disappoint. They're two of the most dominating female athletes I've ever seen.

Liz Clarke: They are terrific competitors, aren't they. Consecutive golds; great sportsmanship; great partnership. Great athletes.


Re: Too much celebration: You said: He (the Chinese IOC guy) look-ed ridiculous, to me, in drawing an arrogant "moral line" over one athlete's joy. Not a single runner in the 200m, I don't believe, was offended in the slightest. But, Ms. Clark -- whatever happened to good sportsmanship, part of which was absolute JOY at winning but in a sophisticated modest way? I just think that this world we live in is ABOUT execcess, and so winning or losing are both at that level, and I think it looks ugly.

Liz Clarke: I'm sure you speak for many readers, and I also agree that excessive celebration is annoying and often tasteless. But to me, it's offensive when it involves taunting the person who didnt win. I didnt get that from Bolt's behavior. But I totally respect your view.


The 14 y.o.'s: I understand the controversy, and certainly the suspicions are reasonable, but what does it matter to the U.S. competitors?

The only people who have a legitimate complaint are other 14- year-olds in the U.S. (and elsewhere) who might be better than Nastia et al., but couldn't compete this year because of their age. Are we upset because we had to leave home some better gymnasts? If our 16-year-olds can't beat China's 14-year-olds, at least they go to compete instead of having our own 14-year-olds going instead.

Liz Clarke: For coaches, I think that is exactly the issue: That it's not a level playing field.
coaches will tell you that female gymnasts are easier to coach when theyre 13, 14 rather than 16, 17. They're also capable of more acrobatics because their center of gravity is a lot higher.
I guess the coverage of this controversy makes it sounds as if it's a bunch of hand-wringing over the exploitation of young girls. But honestly, your "take" is closer to the truth. From the coaches' perspective, it's very much about the playing field: If China is using 14 year olds, let everyone use 14 year olds!


Silver Spring, Md.: It wouldn't be the Olympics without the IOC taking a rediculous, moralistic stand on minor topics while ignoring huge problems that affect the integrity of the competition.

The games are a big deal here and Lisa de Moraes's column noted that the top 7 TV shows last week were the 7 days of Olympics coverage. The only reason the Olympics didn't sweep the Top Ten is that their are only 7 days in a week. 'Nuff said.

NBC Pins Its Hopes on Phelps and His Olympics Cohorts, and They Deliver -- Big Time (Post, Aug. 20)

Liz Clarke: I'll post this to share. Lisa is a fabulous columnist, isn't she?


I think curling better start worrying -- unless, of course, they're willing to require curling teams to wear bikinis. : I would disagree. Curling was one of the most watched sports last time because the commentators made it so interesting. I'd never watched it until then. Now I can't wait until Vancouver to see it again.

Liz Clarke: OK, I stand corrected of making a snarky remark. I'm glad you like curling with clothes


Odenton, Md.: Totally not Olympics related --

Have you or will you be making it out to the Wolong Panda Research Center? TK fans want to know!

Liz Clarke: A Mr. Tony fan! Me too. It has long been my dream to go to the Woolong Panda preserve, and i even clipped newspaper articles about it in the months leading to the Games in hopes I could carve out time to go. But as I understand it, the preserve was affected badly by China's terrible earthquakes, and many of the pandas had to be relocated. So I will not make that trip, which is quite far. the region has far more serious concerns than my wish to see pandas. So i will see the Great Wall instead.


Columbia, Md.: What has happened to USA Track and Field? Have other countries simply caught up to our level of talent, especially Jamaica? Is funding for USA Track down? Do they need to do a better job of identifying the young prodigies and helping them along?

Liz Clarke: I think USA Track and Field will be taking serious stock of its performance after these Games.
I think skeptics might suggest that the specter orf more aggressive drog-testing has had a way of curbing American performance.
The Jamaicans have been remarkable, havent they?


Arlington, Va.: Hi Liz,

Not sure if you've been covering the track and field events, but with Usain Bolt's incredible wins in the 100 and 200 meters, do you think we're seeing a "sea change" in the type of athlete that will compete in the sprints in the future? My understanding is that the common wisdom in the track and field world up until now has been that tall runners can't compete in the sprints. Well, Bolt's longer legs and two world records just put the lie to that assumption. Do you think that in London we'll be seeing more sprinters above 6-foot-5?

Liz Clarke: Interesting point. I have heard smart people say that Bolt represents precisely that--a totally new type of sprinter. It's so rare that a sprinter is 6-5, and his stride was something to behold.
But 4 years isnt a long time to see evidence of a sea change, i dont think. Am not sure. I bet in 8 years you'll see taller sprinters.
On the flip side, I think in 4 years you'll see shorter gymnasts on the parallel bars, in light of what China's athletes accomplished on the bars here.


Arlington, Va.: Liz - I am submitting this before the US women play for gold today in 3 different team sports, but the remarkable performance by the US women in five different team sports has not gotten a lot of attention on NBC prime time. Now that gymnastics has concluded, do you get to cover any of the team sports?

Liz Clarke: BOy, today saw a lot of highs and lows for US women. but again, even the "lows" resulted in silver medals (water polo, softball).
US womens soccer drawing to a close just now; i think US is up. US women's hoops playing in gold-medal game.
I have no insight into what NBC is showing ro emphaszing, as I cant see broadcast here in China. So in many ways, I'm useless to field any questions about the TV coverage back home.
As for me, no: I have no chance to see any team sports. Will go to BMX tomorrow, which was rained out today.
update: US beats Brazil, 1-0. Many tears are flowing


North of the Border: I've been trying to find footage of the American dude whose name I'm blanking on's horizontal bar routine that got him the silver. However, since I live in Canada, no luck on the NBC site (they won't allow their clips to be shown outside the U.S.). My own CBC, usually great for these kinds of things, only has a highlight video with the gold medal performance. Any suggestions?

Liz Clarke: Wow; that is a pity. His name is Jonathan Horton. It was a fabulous routine. you might google USA Gymnastics. There's a hyphen in the website somewhere, i cant recall. anyway, maybe USA gymastics will post it. I hope you can see it. It was a terrific, inspiring display of an athlete risking everything he had....very cool.


Manassas, Va.: I've heard so many comments on why so many Swimming records were broken. Everything to the swim suits (which everyone wore), to the lane dividers, to the depth of the pool (of course it's deep, it's used for diving also!)

Do YOU think that any of those factors contributed to the swimming records being broken?

Liz Clarke: I have consulted Barry, who notes that the same pool is not used for diving, though they are both at the Cube.
The pool is 1 meter deeper than the pool in Athens, and that was a major factor for records, too.
The suits dont hurt, either.
We thank Barry for his insight!

_______________________ Horton is one of 11 finalists for 2007 AAU Sullivan Award (USA Gymnastics)


Radford, VA: Liz, thanks for your excellent reporting. Loved your Chinese Philosophy posts. What's been the most difficult part in this assignment for you reporters? I guess I'm wondering if you've really noticed a difference in access to and ability to report information and observations from your usual sports reporting or other Olympics?

Liz Clarke: People from Radford are so nice! Many thanks for the kind words.
For me (and many of my peers), the most difficult thing about this assignment has been the very long hours (given the time difference and the interest in blogging news immediately as well as writing stories that give it broader context) make the work day never feels.
More importantly, though, there is a very real sense that information is harder to get. Internet access at venues, when China controls it, is very cumbersome, slow and sometimes interfered with.
Also, the success fo Chinese athletes has been a huge aspect of these Games. But even with translators, it is very hard to get access to them and difficult to know whether they feel free to express their own thoughts. The gymnasts in particular are rarely exposed to the media. when they are, they are flanked by their coaches and handles.
This has not been a normal sports reporting experience on almost any level. And it has been, frankly, distubring and dispriting. And I say this as someone who loves the Olympic Games and has now covered 5. thanks for the thoughtful question!


Liz Clarke: Im sorry I have been so slow and plodding answering these questions; we have so many great ones left in the queue, but we're out fo time (Am not sure 'queue" is spelled correctly)
Anyway, I wish I could have gotten to more. As ever, I really appreciate the thoughtful, insightful, provocative questions and remarks.
I hope you're enjoying the Games and the Post's coverage.
Bye from Beijing, Liz



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