Saturday, Aug. 23, 2008
I've seen the aftermath of three traffic accidents here, and I'm shocked I haven't seen more.
Beijing's boulevards can be a free-for-all. Blinkers are rarely used, and there's no such thing as yielding. Cars pull out and just assume the other driver will notice.
The same goes for walking signals at intersections. There's often a carefree disregard of whether the sign at the crosswalk is green or red. Pedestrians are either especially adventurous or blissfully unaware. I've seen more near-misses than I care to count.
One of our Japanese colleagues said to me, "I can't believe the way things work. In Japan, it's totally different. You wait for a signal at the crosswalk, no matter what. No matter what time it is and no matter where you are."
Part of the issue here is that mass use of traffic lights and cars is new to Beijing. Two decades ago, everyone was on bikes. Now, they're behind steering wheels. My guidebook says 1,000 new cars enter the roads every day.
No city could accommodate that kind of growth without literally experiencing a lot of bumps in the road. They're still learning. And, to be fair, commuters in Beijing have at least one advantage over American drivers (this one included): I haven't seen any road rage. Drivers don't yell and scream or threaten. They maintain a straight face at all times, no matter what crosswalks or traffic lights get violated right in front of them. Drivers and walkers may be in the wrong, but everyone else seems surprisingly accepting of it. It's the unwritten rule of the road: Whoever gets there first, gets there first. Deal with it, drive around (or not, hence the accidents) and move on.
It's a similar situation when you're waiting in line -- if you can find a line. The Chinese, traditionally, don't do it. It's always been a survival-of-the-fittest routine. If you want something, whether it's a bowl of noodles or a taxi, and others do, too, you nudge and bump until you get there -- never mind the person if front of you. The other day, I was at the Forbidden City, and was a witness to frequent, flagrant line-jumps that would cause a riot back home, but the guilty parties said nothing and acknowledged nothing. I'm sure they felt there was no problem.
It turns out, this is also changing. Early last year, the government launched a campaign to get behind the idea of lines. Seriously. The 11th day of every month was named "No Line-Jumping Day," under the slogan, "It's civilized to queue (get in line), it's glorious to be polite."
From what we've seen, there's a ways to go. Whether it involves waiting, walking, or driving, Beijing is a work in progress. For outsiders, it can be both frustrating, and fascinating, to watch.
Friday, Aug. 22, 2008
As you may have noticed from my pictures, I'm not exactly in Olympic-caliber shape. I do have a gym membership back home, but it doesn't get much use. And all the Chinese food I've been eating these past few weeks isn't exactly helping. But once upon a time, I was a high school volleyball player. Granted, I wasn't that great a player (at 5'4" how good can you really be?). But we were a pretty good team, and I was inspired by my friends who were truly talented athletes to always push myself harder.
I hadn't thought much about my meager volleyball career in recent years, but it was on my mind today as I watched the USA men's indoor volleyball team take on Russia. These guys were incredible. Beyond the sheer athleticism - powerful spikes, diving digs, crisp blocks over the net - I was hugely impressed by their composure and teamwork. Nearly the entire arena was filled with Russians, and they cheered loudly for their countrymen on every point. Each and every game was tight, right down to the finish. It was an intense struggle and it took all five sets, but the USA managed to pull out an incredible victory: 25-22, 25-21, 25-27, 22-25, 15-13. Now a team that wasn't expected to be on the podium is going to the gold medal game. And the USA's head coach Hugh McCutcheon, who is still coming to terms with a personal tragedy during these Games, is now leading his team to what could be their greatest victory.
That amazing win wasn't the only big story for USA Volleyball today. The men's beach volleyball team of Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser won gold, just a day after Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh did the same in the women's tournament. I had the pleasure of meeting Misty and Kerri today as they appeared on the Early Show from Beijing for an interview. These women are awesome. In addition to being buff and tan and gorgeous, they couldn't be nicer. And they're not afraid to talk honestly about how much they love the game and love winning. With another gold medal to match the one they earned in Athens - not to mention a streak of 108 consecutive victories - they have definitely cemented their place in my mind (and the minds of many others) as volleyball legends.
As for me - I don't think I ever had any "legend" potential - but perhaps my volleyball career isn't quite over yet. There are always recreation leagues, right?
Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008
Let's hear it for the girls. Today is an awesome day for USA women's sports. This morning we saw the historic gold medal win by beach volleyball stars Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor. They are the first duo to win back-to-back gold medals in the sport since it made its Olympic debut in Sydney in 1996, and it marked their 108th consecutive win.
We also saw the women's indoor volleyball team beat Cuba in a hard-fought match to earn a spot in the gold medal game. And by the time the day is through, USA women's water polo, women's soccer, and softball could all be gold medal winners as well.
But today is also bittersweet. Tonight's matchup between the USA and Japan could be the last time that softball is seen in the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee voted in 2005 to eliminate two sports from the Summer Games program, and softball and baseball took the hit. The official reason: these sports are played by too few countries and are dominated by even fewer. As for unofficial reasons, there are several - including the notion that softball is being unfairly linked to baseball by Europeans who don't understand the differences between the two sports. And those European IOC officials are angry that Major League Baseball will not release its professional players to compete in the Olympic Games.
Whatever the reason, it seems unfair to the USA softball team that they're being removed from the Games because they are just too good. (Although they were denied a fourth straight gold medal, losing 3-1 on Thursday to Japan). It also seems unfair to the thousands of young girls across the U.S. who have dreams of becoming the next Jennie Finch.
There is hope, however. While softball will not be making an appearance in 2012, there is a chance it could be voted back into the Games for 2016. The International Softball Federation has launched a campaign called "Back Softball" to get the sport reinstated.
So if you see the U.S. women's softball team on the medal stand collecting their silver medals, savor the moment. It could be the last time you see that at the Olympics.
Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008
It's instructive to see how competing countries display medal counts. When you watch American television shows or read American newspapers, medal counts are listed by overall medals. Thus, if the U.S. has 26 golds, 26 silvers, and 27 bronzes (which is how it stands as I'm writing this), it is listed first overall in the standings, with a total of 79 medals. China is listed second, with a total of 76. Nothing too complicated about that.
It's a much different story, however, if you're watching the coverage in China. Here, medal standings are weighted to favor the number of golds. So, if you flip on CCTV (China Central Television), you'll see the host country in "first place," and the U.S. in second, because of China's 43 first-place finishes, even though China doesn't have as many medals overall.
I won't get into a lengthy debate about which one is right and which one is wrong (I've heard the criticism that we spend too much time talking about medal counts), but there's no question that governments, and fans, still take those totals very seriously, and there are always ways to adjust the evaluation criteria if doing it means coming out on top.
Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2008
Is it wrong to say that I'm a little Phelps'd out? At least for today, anyway. I know, I know. I'm not going to get much sympathy from people about spending too much time with the man now considered "The Greatest Olympian Ever."
Don't get me wrong, it's an awesome experience. Michael seems to be a very cool, down-to-earth guy and it was an honor to meet him. But the majority of my day today revolved around arranging the logistics for not one but two interviews with Mr. Phelps.
One was a three-camera shoot on tape, conducted by Jeff Glor at Speedo's facilities here in Beijing. The other was a live satellite interview at the Hilton Beijing, with Harry Smith in New York asking the questions. By the time the live interview rolled around at 8 p.m. this evening, Michael seemed about as tired as I am (very!), so I think that even Mr. Phelps might be a little Phelps'd out at this point too.
I hear that his schedule barely slows down. He has a few days of R&R in an undisclosed location, and then he is off to London for more media. He will be a superstar in that city for a few days, just as he will be four years from now during the 2012 Olympic Games.
Speaking of rest and relaxation, I seem to be lacking in both categories - so off to bed I go. More tomorrow …
Michael Phelps isn't just the breaker of Mark Spitz's record and the holder of more gold medals than anyone, he's now the recipient of what may be more media attention than anyone on the planet gets, as well.
The kid from Baltimore appears to be handling it with the grace and poise of someone far beyond his 23 years. I sat down with Phelps for an interview today, and I emerged impressed.
Whether it's a question he's heard one time or a thousand, he seems to respond effortlessly. He doesn't over think his answers, he's quick to laugh, and he's also not afraid to say he doesn't know if he doesn't know.
Part of this is because he's been through the ringer before; this is his THIRD Olympics, if you can believe it. But the demands on his time, from sponsors to fans to reporters, are crushing, regardless. Everyone wants a piece of him. Yes, he has a network of support to help, but ultimately, he's the one steering the ship. So far, he's done so deftly.
Here's the raw version of the interview, if you want to take a look:
Monday, Aug. 18, 2008
We've had our fair share of challenges covering the Olympics as a non-rights holding network. For example, we don't get the first interviews with medal winners, we can't enter the sports venues, and we can't shoot on the Olympic Green. Today, however, we may have faced our toughest challenge thus far.
After Michael Phelps won his record 8th gold medal this weekend, the entire planet wants to hear from the man that the Chinese have dubbed "The Flying Fish." Since CBS can't talk to him moments after a race while he's still dripping wet (like some other network which shall remain nameless), we have to find other ways to get sound from him. Today we attempted to do that at an event put together by Visa. (Phelps is sponsored by Visa, among other companies.) Following a press conference that was open to everyone, Phelps was going to do short one-one-one interviews with select media outlets.
Try as we might, CBS was not one of those outlets. Don't get me wrong: we were at the event. We had two cameras, tripods, two crews and Jeff Glor to conduct the interview. We were friendly. Then we were pushy. We were told by Phelps' agent that he could make something work for us, and we patiently waited for hours as Phelps sat down with everyone from ESPN to BBC to China's state-run network CCTV. We weren't even asking for a sit-down interview - just five minutes of Michael's time, standing in front of the camera.
But it didn't happen. Given our status as a major competitor to the U.S. network who has the broadcast rights to the Olympics, we were barely given the time of day. Only when we left did it catch someone's attention.
Despite our frustrations, you can't blame Visa or Phelps' agents for the tight control they had over today's event. And you can't fault CBS for trying to muscle our way in to get an interview. On both sides - you have people who are just doing their jobs. And let's face it - our relationship with these people is symbiotic. In the end, I know we will find a way to make it happen. In fact, I suggest you tune in to The Early Show on Tuesday.
The weather here has been gorgeous the last few days -- mostly sunny skies, not too hot, not too humid.
One of the locals said, "It's amazing. Three or four days in a row like this. This never happens."
Over the weekend, after a spectacular Saturday, another person who grew up here remarked, "This is the best weather day I've EVER seen in Beijing."
I guess there's a chance it was going to be like this anyway, but it looks like the government pollution control plan is making a difference. They shut down factories and took cars off the road in advance of the Olympics, hoping to create a healthy atmosphere for the athletes and a more scenic surrounding for visitors.
It didn't work right away.
The day we arrived, the smog (what the government calls haze) was bad. It was even worse the day of the opening ceremony, Aug. 8. The difference between then and now is amazing. We're hoping it lasts until we leave.
But I can't help think about what it's going to be like for all the people who stay, after the coal factories and cars come back. This is a city of 16 million, after all. They're the ones who have to live with it.
Friday, Aug. 15, 2008
I've stood for the national anthem at hundreds of baseball games and dozens of school assemblies … but I learned today there is something very special about hearing the Star-Spangled Banner at the Olympics. I had the chance to experience that at the Women's Gymnastics Individual All-Around event, where Americans Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson took gold and silver, respectively.
This was my first time seeing a medal ceremony in person, and at first I thought that the pomp and circumstance of the winners marching out, taking their place on the stand and giving the double-cheek kiss to the men awarding their medals was all pretty cheesy. But then I heard that national anthem, and got chills as the last few powerful bars reached their crescendos. It was a pretty cool moment, and I'm not too proud to say that there may have been some tears in my eyes.
Ryan Lochte told CBS News this evening he had the same feeling when he won his first individual gold medal in the 200m Backstroke earlier today. In the swimming world, Ryan was the "always the bridesmaid" who could never beat Michael Phelps or Aaron Peirsol when it really counted. Today that changed, as he beat Peirsol in the backstroke in record-breaking time. The very mellow, laid-back Floridian told us that when he felt the tears in his eyes while watching the American flag being raised, he thought to himself, "What is happening right now? This has never happened before." Ryan learned today there is a first for everything, including a gold medal of his very own.
Here's a partial list of what we ate at the Donghuamen Night Market:
A friend e-mailed me and said, "Did you do this because of a story, or a dare?"
I wrote him back and said, "Both."
We wanted to get an idea of what things are like on "Snack Street" (the Western name for it). It's a long line of stalls lining a main street in downtown Beijing. Yes, it's a tourist trap, but it's also a study in how the Chinese eat, both now and many years ago.
The brave sport who agreed to join me was Diana Kuan, a food expert in Beijing who writes a blog called "Appetite for China."
The first unusual dish that really struck me was centipede. This long bug is presented on a stick, tossed in a large wok, and deep fried. Everything here, really, is deep fried, which creates a pungent smell in the marketplace. Not the kind of sensation that whets your appetite, but there was eating to be done, ready or not.
Before the centipede touched my tongue, I'll admit I was reluctant. I'm usually game for anything at the dinner table; this felt like eating in the garden.
Neither my palette nor my writing skills are sharp enough to describe exactly what the centipede tasted like, but let's just say it wasn't good. It was bitter, with an aftertaste that was even more bitter.
The bees were better. So was the snake, actually, which was crunchy, maybe even a little sweet.
Granted, I wasn't wolfing down Hungry Man-size portions. I nibbled, if anything, especially with the starfish, which came next. The guy behind the counter sliced it open and told me to eat the guts, which looked like green cottage cheese. Against my better instincts, I obliged.
While it may have looked the worst, the starfish probably tasted the best. Diana said it reminded her of "saltwater eel." In a penetrating piece of culinary analysis, I observed that it was reminiscent of... chicken.
If it sounds outrageous to do all this, well, it is. But believe it or not, there is a history here. Many years ago, Diana explained, if you had to eat, and there wasn't a nice hunk of beef or pork or lamb sitting around, you ate insects, or whatever else was available. It beat starving to death.
I was also intrigued by the lack of waste in Chinese cooking. Diana told me when they butcher an animal, they use it, whether it's the lungs or the kidney or the brain. Diana said, "They'll take a whole sheep's head and make a soup out of it."
Plus, there's ancient Chinese medicine behind many of these unusual dishes. Seahorses, for example, are supposed to increase your virility. As a long-suffering victim of back pain, I was encouraged when they told me centipedes would help my spine.
I'm still waiting.
Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008
As I've mentioned before, I have a credential that can get me into nearly every Olympic event. (Take that, Glor!) While it unfortunately does me no good for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and swimming finals - due to their high-demand nature - I can sit in the press area for pretty much everything else. Today I used that to my advantage in order to meet with the press reps for the U.S. Women's Beach Volleyball Team.
The duo of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh are pretty much THE stars of the beach volleyball world. They are the top-ranked, gold medal-defending team. And they also happen to be "friends" of The Early Show, having stopped by our New York studio earlier this summer. Needless to say, we are very eager to do a live interview with them again now that we are all in Beijing.
Unfortunately, however, today was not our day. While the women had an awesome match, defeating Norway easily in a 2-game set that lasted under 45 minutes, they were not in a position to do media this evening. Instead, they are anxiously awaiting the results of today's competitions in order to learn what time on Friday they will be playing their next match and who they will be facing.
My begging, pleading, schmoozing, chatting, cajoling with their press contact did me no good (at least not yet). Try as I might, it is hard to argue with an elite athlete when they tell you that their focus at the Olympics really needs to be the competition. The good news is that I got to take in my first beach volleyball match. And something tells me that these ladies will be on The Early Show soon. So stay tuned!
Lauren keeps teasing me to write about this, so here goes. In Beijing, we've been posing for a lot of pictures, whether it's in the vast open territory of Tiananmen Square, or in a very narrow street-side food market. Locals will walk up and either kindly request a picture with us, or start snapping photos surreptitiously, hoping we don't notice, even though they're standing right next to us. When it's the latter, we always stop, tell them it's no bother at all, and give them what they are looking for.
I'm under no illusion that it's because they recognize us as globetrotting journalists from CBS News. The reason they do it is because, well, we're different.
It's pretty easy to spot a Westerner here in Beijing, even during the Olympics. It's not like living in New York City, a multi-cultural melting pot where you expect to see a mini-version of the U.N. on many blocks. The vast majority of the people who live in Beijing grew up here, as did their parents, and their parents, and so on. When they see us, they're curious.
Of course, there's nothing special about our crew. You'll hear similar stories when you talk to other Americans. But if your travels ever bring you to Beijing, here's some advice: Give yourself extra time when you walk the streets, be prepared to smile a lot, and learn how to say "Qiezi!" (that's "cheese" in Mandarin).
Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008
Today I got to wear my first gold medal. Yep - wear it! A real one. It was a great reward at the end of a long and crazy day of booking for The Early Show.
As a booking producer for The Early Show here in Beijing, my job is to line up athletes (preferably the medal-winning variety) for live interviews. This may sound easy, but it really isn't. And it's a process that I started long before arriving in Beijing. For the past three months, I've been establishing working relationships with all the press representatives for each sport in the Olympics. I have to walk a fine line between being in touch and being a nuisance. The press representative walks a fine line between promoting their athletes and protecting them. It's an interesting balance to say the least.
For a week I've been reaching out to USA Swimming. Each day we are hoping that they will make a medal winner available. (What about Phelps, you ask? Nice try. With finals nearly every day for 9 days, he will only do media outside of the Water Cube venue once he is completely done with competition.) Today all of those friendly phone calls paid off. Ricky Berens - who won gold earlier in the day as part of the Men's 4x200m Freestyle relay, would be available for an interview. After the Today Show, that is. That's fine - you can't outbook the Today Show in this scenario. What you can do, however, is pick up Ricky (and his press rep, and his parents, and his sister) at the Olympic Green immediately following his NBC appearance and hightail him a half-mile down the road to The Early Show studio to have him on the air as quickly as possible. And that's exactly what we did.
I won't go into the gory details of the logistics of moving everyone around Beijing, calling the control room in New York to make sure it was a go, calling an intern from the car to hold the slow elevator for us in the lobby. But we made it work. Keep in mind that we also had two other guests at the top of the show - gold medalist Cullen Jones and former Olympian Gary Hall. They both needed transportation and escorts to get to and from our studio as well.
All of the guests were fantastic, but Ricky and his family were particularly lovely. I couldn't tell who was more excited about gold - Ricky, his family, or me! As I stood in our makeshift control room with the Berens, they just couldn't stop chuckling over the fact that their 20-year-old son was doing national interviews live from Beijing with a gold medal around his neck!
Speaking of that gold medal … Ricky let me wear it, and I have the picture to prove it. It was awesome! In my busy state, I nearly forgot to take it off and give it back to him - but I don't think Mr. Berens would have let me get away with that.
It was a good day for The Early Show, in my opinion. I guess you could say we won our own gold. Until tomorrow, that is … when we try to do it all over again.
How about all the sports that don't get as much attention -- the ones that never make it to the front page?
There's archery, badminton, modern pentathlon, and shooting, just to name a few.
When I was growing up, outside Buffalo, I used to watch these out-of-the-mainstream events all the time. In our home, because we lived so close to the border, we used to get Canadian stations, in addition to the usual American outlets. The Canadian network that carried the Olympics used to broadcast these events in real time, in their entirety. We'd get a big kick out of it. The weightlifters. The kayakers. The horse-jumping competition.
I was just talking to my relatives about this and reminiscing. One of them said what he really loved about watching the games back home was that you got to see everything: the long jumps that weren't so long, the high jumps that weren't so high. You got a feel for the whole competition, not just the best of the best. The production was sparse and the commentary was limited.
Here in Beijing, I find myself enjoying the same sort of thing. China Central Television (CCTV) has nine different TV channels, and there's compelling material on all the time. The other day, I couldn't keep my eyes off an archery contest between South Korean and France. Don't ask me why. Maybe it's because somewhere, subconsciously, I appreciate what this means for the athletes. All of their work, all of their sacrifice, hours, days, years, come down to this. They pull back on the bow, concentrate, squint, wait... and release. As they, and I, wait to see where the arrow lands, hopes and dreams ride on its flight pattern. If it strikes the bullseye enough, it'll mean a gold medal. Can you imagine the pressure? Can you imagine what it would feel like to win, to stand on the podium with a medal around your neck and listen to your national anthem? It gives me chills.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to judo. It's repechage, round two, in the women's 63 kilogram competition.
Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008
One of the more amusing, though necessary parts of all big international events is the credentialing process.
I've been given no fewer than five different pieces of identification to hang around my neck, and they stay there at all times, save when I'm sleeping. For credentials, there's one for the building we work in, one for the CBS News Beijing Bureau, the Beijing International Media Center, a generic Olympic card just labeled "Journalist," and one from the White House (because of the President's now-completed trip, though my colleague, our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Axelrod, expertly handled this). I need to display one of these cards if I want to get anywhere important and, lately, far less important. A hotel employee insisted that I show him my room key card before I could ride the elevator the other night.
The bureaucratic red tape involved in obtaining these credentials can be extraordinary. Calls and e-mails and faxes and letters, sent to and from government officials, building owners, media handlers, and more. This is just a small part of the very large amount of work involved in this Olympic broadcasting operation that you don't see when we're on the air. The folks who handle the credentialing process, both at our workspace here in Beijing, and at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York, have far more patience than me, and so far they've come through every time -- especially when you consider they've been operating with one hand tied behind their back. As a broadcasting non-rights holder, the last thing we can expect is a special favor from Olympic organizers.
We joke about these placards we're required to carry: "Oh, you have this one and I have that one. This one makes you more important. That one makes you less important. This one can you get you inside this building but not inside that building."
Because I'm one of the more forgetful people you've ever met, I had to get a special pouch that could accommodate all the credentials, as well as my passport and wallet, just so they could stay in the same place. So far, I haven't lost anything.
But it's still early.
Monday, Aug. 11, 2008
Well, I think I'm getting a taste of just how busy things are going to be here in Beijing. The Early Show had two live correspondents and three live guests here in Beijing. Not only was I responsible for booking the guests and compiling information on them, but I also had to sort out the logistics of picking them up, bringing them to our studio, and then getting them home. It was a lot of juggling, but it was a great way to kick off what will be a full first week of Olympics coverage.
Our first guest was swimmer Gary Hall, Jr. The three-time Olympian is the owner of 10 medals, including five gold. It was great to hear from him on a day when the U.S. men's swimming team pulled off an amazing victory in the 4 x 100m relay - out-touching the French by eight hundredths of a second! Gary was a great guy, and at about 6 feet 6 inches he was by far the tallest person in our crowded office.
Shortly after Gary's live interview, we spoke live to Sada Jacobsen and Becca Ward - two of the first Olympic medalists for the U.S. at these 2008 Beijing Games. Sada and Becca competed in the women's saber competition and along with teammate Mariel Zagunis, who took the gold, pulled off a clean sweep for the U.S. in the event. Sada and Becca, while TV novices, were great interviews. They even brought their sabers for the live shot.
The best part, however, was seeing our crew of editors, engineers, cameramen and even Jeff Glor, get a little star struck around these young women. These were Olympic medalists! Everyone was offering their congratulations, taking pictures, and wanted to see Becca's medal (Sada left hers at the hotel for safe keeping.) Thankfully these talented, and no doubt tired, girls were great sports about it all.
This very long day ended at the Beijing Hilton, where we met up with the Lopez family for a piece we're producing. The Lopez's are an amazing bunch, with three siblings having all made the U.S. Olympic Tae Kwan Do team. You'll get to meet them in our story next week.
Finally leaving the office and heading to bed. I'm sure tomorrow will be just as hectic! Wish me luck!
Before these Games began, much of the attention was on an aging, yet extraordinary, American athlete. Despite being a senior citizen in swimming years, this person was defying expectations and leaving youngsters in a whitewater wake. Now that the Games are under way, this competitor has followed through, delivering what was the most exciting American moment of the Olympic Games so far.
If you think I'm talking about 41-year-old-Darra Torres, try again. The new golden-oldie-turned-golden-boy is 32-year-old Jason Lezak, who turned in a draw-dropping performance in the men's 4x100 meter relay. Lezak, the oldest guy on the team, swam the anchor leg for the U.S. and, swimming from behind, turned in the fastest freestyle relay split in history. It was a thrilling photo finish; he barely touched out the favored French team. Gold medal, Team USA.
The victory was especially sweet for the U.S. because of what French swimmer Allain Bernard was quoted as saying to a newspaper reporter before the race. He said his team would "smash" the Americans. In the end, Bernard was forced to swallow his pride, and a whole lot of water. He's the one who lost the lead.
The win also preserved Michael Phelps' quest for a record eight gold medals. The experts said this would be his biggest test since, swimming a four-man relay, he was only 25 percent in control. I guess a few of the experts forgot about the old man. He did just fine with his 25 percent slice of the pie.
Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008
I know swimming, gymnastics and track are the high-interest sports here, but volleyball is suddenly my must-see event. How can you not root for the U.S. men's team -- especially after what happened here over the weekend? There was that horrible incident at the Drum Tower in Beijing, where a Chinese man stabbed tourists. The victims, as you know, were related to head volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon. McCutheon's father-in-law was killed, his mother-in-law critically hurt.
McCutcheon has taken a leave, and I can't even imagine the madness, and the sadness, that has enveloped his life. This isn't something you plan for. It's something you can't plan for. You come to the Olympics to compete and meet new people and explore a new culture. Then this happens, one of the most horrendous and unexplainable tragedies that could befall any family, especially on the eve of the volleyball team's first match. This is a family that lived -- and loved -- this sport. McCutheon's wife, a former Olympic volleyball competitor, was with her parents at the time, though she wasn't hurt.
After a dramatic match on Sunday, the men's team beat Venezuela -- a back-and-forth contest that went five sets. You can only imagine how many different emotions the players were dealing with. They needed to get up the energy to play, yet there's the knowledge of this attack trying to pull them down. And they didn't have their coach with them on the sideline.
At this point, it's not clear when McCutcheon will be back. But we will root for him, his family, and this team -- both during these Olympics, and long after.
Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008
It's a tragic way to kick off the Olympic competition. Late Saturday we got word of an attack on two Americans in Beijing via the Reuters newswire. The Chinese news agency Xinhua was reporting that one American was killed, another injured, after being attacked by a Chinese man at a popular tourist attraction downtown. The assailant then killed himself. Immediately, our makeshift Beijing newsroom jumped into action. Our fixer Xiyun began reading Chinese news reports to see if we could learn more that way. Asia bureau chief Jake Haselkorn sent a team of cameramen and producers out to the scene of the crime. Jeff began to rewrite his script for The Early Show.
About 45 minutes later, I received a breaking news email from the US Olympic Committee. The two Americans were related to a coach for the US Men's Indoor Volleyball team. These new details ratcheted up the importance of the story. As I began calling my Olympics contacts for more information, the senior producers in New York rearranged their show to make this their lead story.
We stayed in breaking news gathering mode for the rest of the afternoon. Jeff was live at 7pm and 8pm with the story. Things died down for a little while, but then we were back in the newsroom at 11pm to file another piece for Weekend News.
It's the real reason we're here - to cover breaking news stories. It's just sad that this is the type of news we are covering on what should be an exciting day for all the Olympians.
Friday, Aug. 8, 2008
Let the Games Begin!
Well I sort of feel badly now that I didn't stay at the CBS workspace to watch the fireworks. We definitely had one of the best views in the city for the Opening Ceremonies - except, of course, from inside the stadium. But I'm enjoying watching on TV and hearing the rumble outside my window. And if I stretch my neck out far enough, I can even see the lights in the sky. I can also see my new Chinese neighbors down below cheering as they watch on a TV screen in the apartment complex courtyard.
The Chinese put on quite an elaborate show, and the security efforts appeared to be just as intense as the precision of the drummers who kicked off the Opening Ceremonies. Streets were completely blocked off to traffic and police patrolled on foot everywhere.
While this is really just Day 1 of the Olympics, it's been a long day for the CBS crew. I began my morning at the Main Press Center, where I attended a series of press conferences with Olympic athletes. The most compelling moments - by far - came while listening to the U.S. flag bearer, Lopez Lomong, tell his story.
Lopez is a former "lost boy" from Sudan. As a child, he was taken from his parents and jailed. He watched as his young friends died in the room next to him, while he always assumed that he might be next. He did manage to escape only to live in a Kenyan refugee camp for 10 years. In 2000, after helping a farmer milk a cow, he was given 5 shillings for the job. The farmer told him, "Keep that for the Olympics." Olympics? At age 15, Lopez didn't even know what the Olympics were. Then one night a friend came to him and said, "Let's go, we're going to watch the Olympics." Lopez and his friends walked for 5 miles to a house with a black and white TV. The owner charged 5 shillings to get inside to watch. The first athlete Lopez saw was sprinter Michael Johnson wearing his USA uniform. Lopez said, "I want to run that fast. I want to wear that uniform." Long story short - Lopez became a citizen of the United States on July 6, 2007, and made the Olympic team exactly one year later.
Back at the office in the afternoon, I focused on potential athlete bookings for the coming days on The Early Show. I have to say, with a U.S. roster of 596 athletes and 302 gold medals being awarded over the next 16 days - it's a little tricky staying organized. But I think we have things under control. The workspace was busy this afternoon, as Jeff Glor had some late changes to his piece about the Opening Ceremony preparations. And while we hadn't planned a party, by the time 8:08:08 rolled around, our workspace was full of people eager to watch the Ceremonies on TV. Our researchers, fixers, interns - even our drivers - all came up to watch. And when the fireworks began, we all ran to the window to take pictures.
But I couldn't last the whole 4 hours at the office, and I retreated to my apartment where I will now head to bed, just as the colored haze (smog?) from the final fireworks fades away.
We're on lockdown today. The word is that pretty much nobody is allowed to go much of anywhere -- all because it's opening ceremony day.
Security officers blanket the city and, unfortunately for organizers, so does the smog (what the government prefers to call "haze"). The much-discussed multi-billion dollar plan to clear the air for the Olympics -- the government unilaterally took cars off the road, and shut down factories -- has improved the air, but it certainly hasn't created a clear sky. The fireworks tonight are supposed to be spectacular -- if we can see them all.
Since we're likely stuck here for 15 hours, it gives me a chance to show you our CBS workspace.
Staffers who've been on the ground for weeks, including CBS Asia Bureau Chief Jake Haselkorn, as well as producers Lisa Weaver and Anna Matranga, deserve a ton of credit for getting this office ready in time. We only got final approval for the room on July 19. That means, in two short weeks, engineers and builders and technicians had to transform this relatively small space into a broadcast center capable of handling 40 people and round the clock transmissions. They did an impressive job.