Beijing Olympics 2008

Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 22, 2008 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports writer Barry Svrluga was online Friday, Aug. 22 at 11 a.m. ET from Beijing to take your questions about swimming, Michael Phelps and the Summer Olympics.

A transcript follows.

Full Coverage: 2008 Olympics


Barry Svrluga: Ni hau, folks back in Washington -- or elsewhere. Another big night at the Beijing Games. Usain Bolt and his Jamaican teammates, including anchor leg Asafa Powell, set yet another world record, this time in the 4x100-meter relay. The U.S. men's water polo team advanced to its first gold medal game since 1988. The men's basketball team leads Argentina in the second quarter. And Bryan Clay won the decathlon.

I haven't seen everything (swimming, beach volleyball, water polo, taekwondo), but I'll try to answer as much as I can. Thanks for dropping by.


Gainesville, Va.: Do you see any chance that Bolt could go the Hayes/Nehemiah route as an NFL receiver? On the plus side, I see his height and upper body strength as huge advantages, in addition to his scare-corners-out-of-their-socks speed (he also has the whole showboating diva thing down pat, another prereq for today's wideouts). The unknowns would be his ability to make cuts and run precise routes, and to overcome fear and take a hit over the middle. Still, I would imagine that any QB in the league would salivate at the prospects of throwing to this guy.

Barry Svrluga: So Dave Sheinin (who traveled to Bolt's home town in Jamaica for a story before the Olympics) and I were arguing about this earlier in the Games. He was saying that Bolt's a much better athlete than Michael Phelps, and he used the NFL wide receiver idea as an example. I, though, would wonder about his hands.

What an intriguing idea. Still, wouldn't you like to see him back in London in 2012?


Idio, CY: I was heartened to see that Rogge (prez of the IOC) finally took a principled stand. Not on human rights abuses, censorship, or other moral issues, but on Usain Bolt's behavior after his two amazing accomplishments on the track.

Can you comment on whether Rogge is an vertebrate or invertebrate creature?

Barry Svrluga: Anyone who feels the way you do, Idio, Cy, should read Sally Jenkins's column today, in which Sally does a spot-on impersonation of Mr. Rogge.

Perhaps Paul, our Web host, can dig that baby up and link it.

Bolt, by the way, danced after the relay tonight. More great stuff.


Silver Spring, Md.: Barry--I can't understand why people are/were sick of Phelps. We are witnessing history. I am THRILLED to finally have athletes that are my contemporaries making history (Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong) in amazing ways, unique ways (and not just through baseball). Having grown up hearing about Mark Spitz, Arnold Palmer, Ted Williams,even Yaz (I went to his last game but barely remember it) it is so amazing to witness Phelps. I watched every race.

Also -- a shout out to Tracee Hamilton, she makes me laugh out loud every day.

Random question: Heard the swimmers were dealing with intestinal issues -- were those food/water related or virus related?

Barry Svrluga: As someone who was there for all of Phelps's races, both here and at trials, I was completely enthralled. I didn't watch on NBC, and I could see that maybe it would get a bit overwhelming, but from my vantage point, you're exactly right. We witnessed history, and it was accomplished -- thanks to Jason Lezak and Milo Cavic -- in incredible fashion.

Tracee, by the way, makes us laugh every day too. She also makes us cry when she doles out the assignments and flogs us deep into the night (though truth be told, no one here works harder or longer than her, our Olympics editor). (For those who don't know: Read her daily "Kung Pau" feature in the Olympics coverage.)


Chinese gymnast investigation: What are the the odds that the IOC will find that China cheated? The same as the Nationals winning the pennant?

Barry Svrluga: I think you're right on with that analysis. Liz Clarke, who covered the gymnastics for us and has continued to cover the age story, believes that the IOC will not do much, and the IOC has said as much. They're basically asking FIG, the international gymnastics federation, to look into it more closely. FIG considers the matter closed because of the ages on the athletes' passports. It seems there will be no repercusions if, in fact, the Chinese athletes were under age.


Fairfax, Va: Don't tell me this Bolt guy isn't taking performance enhancing drugs.

Barry Svrluga: That's the age we live in, right? When seemingly super-human feats are performed, we are immediately suspicious. I have heard the same of Phelps. It seems that given Marion Jones and others who have lied to the public before the truth came out that we will always have to raise an eyebrow at such accomplishments.


Alexandria, Va.: In the 400m relay, are the teams required to use four people. I was just thinking, suppose Usain Bolt were from another country without the depth that Jamaica has. Would he be allowed to run 200 meters himself, so they would only use 3 runners?

Barry Svrluga: He would not be allowed to, because the exchange of the baton is such a big deal. (Just ask the Americans.) But I love your idea. That would have been a blast.


Washington, DC: Is the IOC's investigation into the real age of the Chinese gymnasts going to have some teeth to it or is just window-dressing to appease the media? I'm thinking the latter, but although I hope it's the former.

Barry Svrluga: Window dressing. The media, however, does not seem appeased.


Phelps: So theres been a lot of chatter that Phelps isnt a "boyscout" and actually a jerk in person. The other WaPo writers who've been hosting these chats say we should ask you about it. Whats the deal?

Barry Svrluga: So I would say a couple of things about that. I think Phelps carried himself quite well in public during the entire time he was here, and he was quite pleasant in his exchanges with the media. This is, however, a rather contained environment. I have not heard stories about him being a jerk. He has never been a jerk to me. But he is 23, just past college age, and it will be interesting to see how he handles his burgeoning celebrity as he moves back to Baltimore, his home town.


Olympic Pins: Is the collection of and trading of pins still a big thing?

Do the pins say 'made here' on the back?

Barry Svrluga: Yes, it still goes on, though some people are more into it than others. I have only my Washington Post pin on my credential, and I have a few other strays laying around. Maureen Fan, one of our Beijing staffers, has perhaps 20 on hers. She seems to have gotten into the trading. And there are people who have gigantic collections who sit outside the gates to the Olympic Green in hopes of trading for obscure pins.


Washington, DC: Barry - I know you caught some beach volleyball, any thoughts on the indoor teams? I've been losing sleep staying up to watch the games live, and both the Men's and Women's teams look much stronger than they have in the past. Any chance there will be live blogging for the Gold Medal matches? Think the USA can pull off a sweep of all 4 golds in volleyball?

Barry Svrluga: You know, I keep hoping to get to an indoor game (I think I might be down to do one tomorrow), but I haven't been yet. Therefore, I don't have a good handle on their actual chances. There will be some sort of live blogging on our Heavy Medal blog, no doubt. And I have to say (and this is no disrespect to the athletes who perform on the beach), the indoor game is so much better. It's not, for instance, staged on the set of a beer commercial.


Bowie, Md.: Where did this Jamaican track team come from? Did people expect them to be this dominant? I'm a little upset that they've pretty much taken away America's chances to win the gold medal count by killing us in sprinting, but the non-jingoistic part of me thinks it's pretty cool that some little island nation can dominate such prominent Olympic events over the bigger powers (namely America). I mean, there are other places that love track, but those don't necessarily become this dominant.

Barry Svrluga: A couple of things here. First, Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt were known commodities coming into these Games. Bolt had already set the world record in the 100, and though he's young, his raw talent was apparent. Many of the female sprinters were established. And the Americans had a few reasons for their struggles, not the least of which was dropping the baton in the prelim heats of both the men's and women's 4x100 relay. Throw in Tyson Gay's injury problem, and the balance swung.

I have covered only one major track meet outside the Olympics (and I have only attended some of the events here, with Amy Shipley leading our coverage, with an assist from Sheinin). It was the Penn Relays one year in Philly. And I have to say that the Jamaicans' love of track was on display there. It was a really cool vibe, and I can only imagine how they're dancing in the streets of Kingston tonight.


River City, VA: Are the closing ceremonies expected to be as jaw-dropping spectacular as the opening ones?

Barry Svrluga: Closing ceremonies are typically more subdued and, frankly, anticlimactic. In this one, they'll hand the Games off to London. Phelps and David Beckham are supposed to be in London to be part of the ceremony from there, and apparently Jimmy Page (of Led Zepplin) is to be involved in some manner.


Bethesda, MD: Do you notice the Olympic Village emptying out at all, kind of like the last week of finals in college where some people who are finished start to go home?

Barry Svrluga: We're actually not in the Olympic Village where the athletes are. But yes, many competitors trickle out after their events are over.


Silver Spring, Md.: Who is the world's greatest athlete? Phelps has been declared the best ever by many, despite the fact that Lezac won one gold medal for him. But should we not include the winner of the decathlon or the winner of the women's equivalent, the heptathlon to be greater? These events test speed, strength, skill, endurance, and perseverance. I am not saying that Phelps - and others don't have all of that. But shot put, high jump, pole vault, javelin, discus and running three different distances including a grueling 1500 meters at the end of the event seems to be more difficult than winning in short distance swimming events, even when considering the 400m medley.

Barry Svrluga: It's a great debate, and the release just sent out about Clay's victory in the decathlon said he gained the title of "world's greatest athlete." But I would point out a couple of things: Phelps had a great deal to do with that victory in the 4x100 relay, swimming a superlative opening leg. It obviously wouldn't have happened without Lezak, but Phelps did his part, too. And Phelps also swam 17 races in nine days, which must count for something.

And now, introducing Usain Bolt.

I hope this discussion lasts beyond this week. It's fascinating.


Relay, Fiasco: I hope the lesson USATF learns this year is that the relays and their order needs to be set early and the members will spend sufficient time practicing handoffs. Unfortunately, we've been saying this for years and still can't seem to get it right.

Barry Svrluga: According to Amy Shipley, who has covered more track than I'll ever see, this is a major issue. The relays are actually TEAMS, and the U.S. doesn't seem to do it that way. The handoffs have been an issue, as you say, for years. Really a shame we didn't get to see the Americans run against the Jamaicans in the final -- though judging by what I saw, they wouldn't have had a prayer.


He Kex, IN: I noticed last week that it appeared like He Kexin was missing a tooth and that this was part of the controversy as the common speculation was that she didn't have her permanent teeth in yet - a strong indication that she wasn't 16. I also noticed this week that the gap has been filled in.

Couldn't they simply see what class she goes to in the fall? Will she attend junior high school or high school?

Sad thing is that she will have lost 2 or 3 years for the rest of her life.

That said, she still did a great job in gymnastics no matter what her age.

Barry Svrluga: This was part of why the controversy erupted even more during the Games. Martha Karolyi, the U.S. women's national team coordinator, said she saw one of the Chinese competitors without a tooth. Her husband, Bela, called them babies.

And if you think the Chinese government is above sending someone to a class that's like three years too advanced just to prove its point, well, then, you haven't heard all the other stuff they've pulled over here.


Best athlete discussion: Let's end this silliness now and say that Brian Clay, or anyone who wins the decathalon, is the greatest Olympic athlete. No other event combines speed, strength, endurance, and agility.

Re where Jamaica came from: remember that Ben Johnson, Donovan Bailey and a few others ran Canada but are Jamaican.

Barry Svrluga: That's an excellent point about Jamaicans who competed for other countries.

I don't, however, believe declaring Clay the greatest athlete ends the silliness. What would we discuss over beers if the debate was over?


Manassas, Va.: Barry,

I am happy for the women's soccer team and for the new crop of women playing. I like Pia Sundhage's emphasis on possession instead of long balls.

I have found the discussion of Hope Solo somewhat curious in the press and during on air discussions. Solo has almost achieved victim status and (former coach) Greg Ryan villain status. All we hear and read is that Solo griped to reporters after the Brazil World Cup game that she could have made the saves Scurry missed.

In fact, we now know that Solo broke team rules in the World Cup last year twice, including missing curfew before a match. Also, we know that captains Abby Wambach and Kristine Lilly agreed with the benching decision. There is something to be said of the women wanting to put team first. Ryan also showed character at the time for not airing Solo's dirty laundry.

Barry Svrluga: I find the whole Solo angle curious as well, though I have to say I simply haven't been around the team enough (one press conference, which is about as superficial as it gets) to comment. It is, though, a remarkable turnaround, and I can't imagine anyone thought the Americans would shut out Brazil after that 4-0 loss in the women's World Cup last year. That Solo did it -- regardless of her behavior before or since -- made it more intriguing.


Washington, DC: First they said the singer from the opening ceremony was unacceptable because she had teeth. Now they say a medal winner is unacceptable because she does not have a tooth. Remember the first rule of the Olympics for the USA media: China cannot win.

Barry Svrluga: Um, no. I think the Chinese determined that the singer from the Opening Ceremonies was not cute enough, so they brought in a cute girl to lip sync.

And if the Chinese continue to tell us everything is great when, in fact, they don't allow their own people to voice their opinions, then, indeed, China will not win.


Washington, DC: For the athletes who finish early or don't start until late, what do they do during their free time? Do they get free tickets? Are they forced to participate in multiple media day type events? Do they just sleep and do tourist things?

Barry Svrluga: Most have training schedules, whether they're in an individual or a team sport. But they're basically allowed to prepare themselves as best they see fit. They've got coaches, etc., who determine all that.

And if the U.S. basketball team is any indication, they go to as many events as possible.


Oh, the irony: Do you realize that when the Chinese girl gymnasts are older, they'll be trying to claim they're younger than they really are?

Barry Svrluga: Just wait till He has her fourth consecutive 39th birthday.


Nationals Park: You're at the Olympics, Chico is covering a 12-game losing streak. When you get back into town, you need to buy that guy a beer.

Barry Svrluga: But wait! They snapped the losing streak! Austin Kearns's tie-breaking single up the middle in Philly in the eighth!

(You think I'm not paying attention? Wrong. And you think I don't sympathize with Chico? Man, the beer I buy him will be frigid.)


Bernie from Reston: Hi Barry

(We truly miss you on the Baseball beat)

Come on Barry, Bolt as a Redskins.. Danny Boy would love to do that wouldn't he. Heck he decided to spend all he's top picks on receivers why not Bolt.

IN Bolt We Trust

Barry Svrluga: Thanks Bernie. I miss baseball, too.

Bolt going over the middle with, say, Roy Williams teeing him up. Hmmm. Could he hold onto it?


Specter of prior drug use: I am reading that some Jamaicans, and others, are speculating that the US is not dominant in track this time due to tighter drug testing rules. Sounds like a roundabout way of saying several of our past gold medals were drug-tainted. They bring up Marion Jones, but she wasn't winning all of them. Is there some truth to this -- that some prior US winners were on "the stuff" but simply not caught -- or is this just a case of taking potshots at USA Track and Field while they're down?

Barry Svrluga: This is an interesting discussion, and it is certainly possible. There is a line of thinking that lots of athletes were on something (and perhaps still are) but are/were way ahead of the testers. Remember, the people who have found themselves in trouble in the U.S. -- including Jones -- never tested positive. They were ensnared through Balco, etc. Clearly, the testing was not up to the chemistry. Whether it is now is up for debate.


Bethesda, Md.: We hear a lot about how the Chinese athletes are taken from their families at a young age to train etc. We have noticed that at least NBC never shows the parents, friends, etc. of the Chinese athletes. They do show the families etc. of the other athletes, even non-Americans. Are the families of the Chinese athletes invited to the games? Are they in the stands? Thanks,

Barry Svrluga: I cannot say across the board, but I believe your instinct is right. Some Chinese athletes have talked about calling their parents on the phone, etc., after victories. I do think it's possible -- I do not know this -- that the Chinese parents are not made available to the NBCs of the world. Certainly the Chinese organizers of the Games don't want the training methods of their athletes to be highlighted for the world to see.


Hope Solo: I would imagine after last year's 4-0 loss and this year's 1-0 victory, she is giving a giant (expletive) you to her haters. She certainly appears vindicated.

Barry Svrluga: Totally possible.

Is she Han's son or niece? I can never remember.


Pittsburgh: What with all the technology available to measure times on swimming races, including relays, and with all the technological improvements in field equipment like vaulting poles, why should running relays still use such low-tech equipment as batons? Surely high-speed baton-passing is not an athletic skill to be prized on its own merits. (Unless it's a prerequisite for developing buck-passing abilities).

Barry Svrluga: So you're saying slap hands or something with an electronic thing attached to the palm? Sure, it would be possible. But all the records -- including the one set tonight by the Jamaicans -- were established the old-fashioned way. Plus, we know from the American experience that the baton-passing adds some, um, drama to it all.


Silver Spring, Md.: I realize that I do not follow track and field very closely (outside of the Olympics) but it appears to me that in all of the "disappointment" being levied against the USA Track and Field Team, what is getting lost is the fact that the team has garnered more medals thus far than any other country. And the only countries (two) that have more Gold Medals than the USA - only have one more. Seems like a pretty good showing to me.

Barry Svrluga: It's a worthy debate. We ran a chart in the paper the other day -- I believe yesterday -- that highlighted track and field medals the U.S. expected to win and did win, ones they expected to win and didn't, and surprise medals that came from nowhere. The disappointments are large: Gay not making the final of the 100, Bernard Lagat not advancing to the final of the 1,500, Allyson Felix not winning the 200, the relay botches, etc. Those kind of things set a certain tenor, but then they're offset by such developments as a sweep in the 400.

Part of this discussion has to start with the Americans' very high standard for track success.


D.C.: That Sally Jenkins column on Rogge is PERFECT. Great work!

washingtonpost.com: The Paradox of a Paragon of Virtue

Barry Svrluga: Here it is, for those who haven't seen it. Sally swings for the fences on this stuff, and when someone like Rogge grooves a pitch, she never, ever misses.


Bangor, Maine: Do you think that NBC makes us hate the athletes like Phelps with all the over-the-top back stories and endless shots of his truly annoying mother in the stands just so they can have the "where did the anti-Phelps backlash come from" stories. They've been doing it with Bolt in different ways as well. I also can't stand Misty May's dad because of the repeated line of commentator that he is never happy with his daughter's success and always tells her she should should have done better. Do powers-that-be at NBC really want to make us hate the athletes and their families or are they that clueless?

Barry Svrluga: You know, this always comes up in Olympic chats, and I never know how to handle it. The one disconnect we have with the Games is the filter of NBC, through which most of the U.S. sees them. We have NBC on one TV in our office, but the sound is down and we almost never watch it because, well, the stuff isn't live. Even the stuff labeled "live" seems to be slightly delayed.

Anyway, I'm sure NBC is giving lots of dramatic back stories on the athletes. I doubt, however, it's to make the American public hate them. It could, however, have that effect, I suppose, if you're sitting there simply saying, "Just get to the event!"


Pittsburgh: "But all the records -- including the one set tonight by the Jamaicans -- were established the old-fashioned way."

Ah, but technology has kept up with equipment in the swimming relays (and many other sports events). There were never batons in swimming, to my knowledge.

Barry Svrluga: Right. But there has always been a "you leave when the other guy takes off" approach in swimming.


Post's Olympic coverage : Not trying to kiss up, but the coverage has really been stellar. So many articles and columns and so many angles. Nice to see in the age of newspaper downsizing, the Post put a substantial investment into covering the Olympics (the photo of Boswell sleeping on a cot under his desk notwithstanding).

Barry Svrluga: You are kind to say so. It's been a blast to provide (and again, Tracee Hamilton, sitting in the Captain's chair, gets most of the credit for steering all of us to the right places). We're wearing thin now, but can see the light. Hopefully we've got one more stellar weekend in us.


Barry Svrluga: And yes, this would be Boz, actually sleeping under the desk of photog Jonathan Newton. We call it The Sleeping Cube.


Men's Basketball: So once again the US is on its way to victory in men's basketball. Why is it so hard for just one writer to say that the U.S. is going to destroy everyone? Seems that most writers are cautioning people before every game that This Could Be The One That They Lose. Yet every game is a blowout. At this point it's like crying wolf

Barry Svrluga: I'm sure 2004 had something to do with it, and the general improvement in the rest of the world. I will say this, though: Our NBA writer, Michael Lee (who is here spending all his time at the basketball venue), told me months ago that the U.S. would win and win handily. He has enormous respect for the other nations, but he really felt that this American team was too talented and too together. Apparently he was right.


Re testing: Actually isn't the IOC or some other governing body mandating keeping bloodwork samples for 10 years? That way as better tests are developed cheaters who may be ahead of the testing curve today will retroactively lose their titles. Personally, as sad as it is that we have to do this, I'm all in favor of this method of policing.

Barry Svrluga: Yes, they are building a library of blood samples. It'll be interesting to see if they ever catch anyone that way.


Bethesda, Md.: Just a thought. If the IOC doesn't do anything about the underage Chinese gymnasts, I say, in 2012, give our gymnasts birth certificates and passports saying they are 87 years old. Using the IOC logic they can't question it and we'll get all these records such as oldest athlete in history to compete and win a medal in the Olympics.

Barry Svrluga: Great idea. "Man, for a grandmother, she can really tumble."


Ballston Dude: So the wife wants to know why track athletes seem to wear more 'bling' as the kids say it these days.

Any input?

Also, we had the tv on mute last night. A runner dove or fell across the finish line. I think he received a medal for his effort. Is diving like this allowed (outside the pool)?

Barry Svrluga: Bling: Can't speak to it. Personal preference.

Diving: Allowed. Just don't cut anyone else off.


Barry Svrluga: Folks, I've got to finish up a water polo story -- big 10-5 victory over Serbia in the semis -- before I head out of here. Sorry if I didn't get to your question.

Thanks for stopping by. And hope you enjoy the last few days of the coverage from here.



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