Beijing Diary, August 13, 2008, Day 5-Hot Day (Muggy too) in the City, by Larry Eder

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Just rolled in from Beijing, about 11.45 at night and text comes in from ad agency in New York-they read the blog and checked out the websites! Can we get out a proposal in one hour? I love this country!

Special treat: very cool video clip on Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica, who should tangle with Allyson Felix and Muna Lee in the 200 meters! http://www.roadstobeijing.com/news/707/57/Olympic-gold-medalist-Veronica-Campbell-Brown-on-defending-her-title/
d,vid-full.htm

Beijing Diary, Day 5
August 13, 2008
Wednesday
5 p.m. Beijing Local time
Main Press Centre

****************

Tuesday night

Tuesday night was spent with James 0'Brien and Pat Butcher. James is the publisher of Winged Foot and is covering the 40 odd NYAC athletes who are competing in Beijing. Pat is writing a column each day for the Financial Times in London on the British athletes.

Hailing a cab in Beijing is not that hard. The new Orange and brown Audis are everywhere. However, the challenge is communicating to them where one wants to go. We normally find a volunteer and ask him or her to write down what we are trying to communicate in Chinese. We have nearly mastered " Ni Hauh" -Hello, and "Schi Shauh" or something akin
for thank you.

Tuesday we headed to the drum tower, one of the oldest buildings in China. It was also where an American tourist was killed the other night. Note that this murder in Beijing was quite unusual. Do not get me wrong, there are neighborhoods where you could get into trouble, but Olympics are usually not the time when tourists get murdered.

James O'Brien and I took a taxi to the Drum Tower and located a small bar behind the Tower. This neighborhood was another world. We went down an alley way behind the tower. There we found several markets, with a silk store. Next to the store, in an open fire, a man was grilling sticks of what looked to be chicken. Next to that stall was a small fruit and vegetable market. Across the alleyway, a family was sitting down, eating vegtables, rice and some meet, with a young man sleeping on a bed frame and mat. People walked by, looking at the markets and considering the several coffee shops nearby.

Across from the alley was another tower, and in front of this one, a small park was full of locals, Kids running around playing ball and several couples playing badminton under the light from the tower and a few scarce streetlights. It was across from this park that we found a coffee house, which had a small bar and a large television. James and I parked ourselves in this small coffee house, made of adobe and quite ancient, and proceeded to down a very cold bottle of TsingTao beer.

The heat and humidity, even in the past few rain supported evenings is omnipresent. It saps you of energy. But the Beijingers continue to pour onto the streets, searching as we were, for a place to have dinner.

After Mr. Butcher showed up and rehydrated, we went out to search for a restaurant. After several blocks of searching, including finding a lake surrounded by restaurants and thousands of diners, we found a well lighted restaurant and sat down. We ordered a local fish (with heads), Ma Pao tofu, chicken and peanuts, a spicy beef and peppers, and some veggies plus the omnipresent beer. Dinner for three at this establishment was about $18. This was the nicest meal we have had. The vegetables were fresh, the fish was excellent, and sauce on the tofu was spicy, but not napalm on one's stomach but warm, and of course, the beer was cold and refreshing.

Finding a taxi home after we settled all of the world's problems was a little more challenging and I nodded off on my forty five minute ride home. My security pass got me past the guards at the front of my compound and after a 'Ni Hawh" to the guard at my building door, I was up t my room and fast asleep.

******

Wednesday starts early

I woke up about four in the morning, after five and a half hours sleep, a record here, and checked my email, then fell asleep for another hour. Then the phone started ringing, it was calls from the states on our various magazines and two advertisers. I finished those and went to breakfast. After breakfast, I was exhausted, so I crashed for two hours, took a forty five minute walk and headed into the city.

The press conference for Jeremy Wariner and Bernard Lagat was on when I got there-traffic had been quite heavy, but my taxi driver got me to the MPC and I rushed in, saying hello to several colleagues from the IAAF, and seeing our ATF editor, James Dunaway
for the first time.

********

Press conference with Bernard Lagat, Jeremy Wariner and Bubba Thorton

It is two hours after a press conference with Jeremy Wariner, Bernard Lagat and Bubba Thornton, emceed by Jill Geer. Jill is the Media/Communications Director for USATF
and she shows her a) experience b) enthusiasm and c) knowledge of the sport in how she manages the press conference. There is a art to doing a good press conference: give enough the the media to write about, give them some good names each day, who know how to reveal without revealing too much. Jill also knows she has to take care of the media who, day in, day out are writing about the sport, as well as the Olympic beat folks, who give our sport it's huge bump during the Summer games, as well as questions from left field by foreign media or first timers. Then there are also the statements that leave the media savvy crowd going, " Just what type of crack is the gentleman smoking who asked that question?"
Jill kept the room of hungry media types crackling for an hour and gave the media some good quotes from Bernard Lagat, Jeremy Wariner and Bubba Thorton.

Bubba is a college track coach. He is also a man whose next job should be the spokesperson for the State Department. He is so eloquent at saying absolutely nothing that it is a true art form. He is the consummate poker player and he makes sure he does not put any undue pressure on his athletes, that he does not cause an international incident, and that no one can misconstrue anything he says. Bubba Thorton is the is the zen master Head coach.
Oh, he did have one wonderful quote, I am sorry, " At the end of each day, I want there to be enough U.S. medals that the crowd will be humming our national anthem as they leave the stadium." I loved that. No promises that need to be reassessed or denied, no room for mis interpretation. Get one thing clear, Bubba wants to kick butt, he wants his U.S. team to hit those baton passes perfectly and pick up the gold in both relays. He knows that he has a team who could a) sweep the shot put, b) win both the 100 meters and 200 meters, c) sweep the 400 meters, d) pick up three medals in the 1,500 and 5,000 meters, d) medal in the marathon, d) pick up two medals in the pole vault, e) shock in the high hurdles and f) sweep the 400 meter hurdles.

The head track & field coach for the U.S. Olympic team means that, your peers, the good old boys and women you have have coached with, drank with, shared cold bar food with after late meets, think you are deserving, even though you beat them five straight times in
Conference, of heading the creme de la creme position in the sport. The head coach is head cheerleader. It is also the guy or women who gets blamed for all that goes wrong
with the U.S. Olympic track team. As this sport has the largest number of events in Olympic sports (47), and is the most winning sports team of any team EVER fielded by any U.S. sports franchise, there is some pressure not to screw the pooch, so to speak.

Bernard Lagat is at the top of his game. Lagat knows he could medal in both events, even take gold, or not medal at all. And in both cases, he could run superb races. He is at a point in his career where he makes few mistakes, and he knows that his adviser, Coach Li, the Olympic team manager, knows his every strength and weakness. He knows when to follow directions, and when to improvise. He also knows how to keep his cards so close to his vest that there is no savoring his winning move, as it comes in a flash, with forty meters to go. Some say that Kenenisa Bekele will change the approach to the 5,000 meters, my thoughts are if he wins the 1,500 meters, good luck to anyone beating him at 5,000 meters.
Bernard is eminently quotable, to wit " For me the Olympic gold medal, that chance comes once in a lifetime. So the gold medal is more important to me than a world record...Lopez Lomong is the American story. His struggle as a child is an American story and he was a perfect representative for the Olympic flag bearer....My mom told me after Athens that I would win the gold medal next Olympics. I hope that I do that and fulfill my mother's dream, even though she will not be here. " Remember, Lagat won the bronze at the 1,500 meters in 2000, the silver in Athens in the 1,500 meters. It would be appropriate.

When one hears Bernard speak, one hears a man who has responsbilities-a wife, a son, a professional career as an athlete. He is an American of Kenyan descent, and while he obviously holds his birth country as special, he sees himself as a perfect American. America is the country that has opened its doors to 75 million immigrants. That the men's 1,500 had three young men who are all immigrants, with engaging stories, is what our country is all about, period.

In 1907, Teddy Roosevelt made a speech about being Americans. He noted that he cared not where a man was from,but that when he got here, he acted like he was an American. He did not want a man treated differently because of his country of orgin, because all that mattered now was that he was an American. Lagat, Lomong and Manzano. All three made the U.S. team at 1,500 meters because a) they ran their way to it, b) they are American citizens and c) they are the best team we could have put into this event.

Our Olympic Trials is a brutal process. It is the only way, however, in my mind to put together a team where veterans, new comers and absolute surprises make the team, whisking away positions for the athlete who should be "guaranteed, First, this is a sport,
not a staged wrestling match. There a no sure things. In the end, it comes down to which in the field of nine to twelve athletes want has the presence of mind, the luck and the right position to capitalize on in the final few moments of the race.

Jeremy Wariner is in a different place than Bernard Lagat. Wariner is the defending Olympic champion at 400 meters from Athens, he is the World champion from 2005 in Helsinki and 2007 in Osaka and he has a real race this time around. In 2004, Wariner was
the new kid on the block. The second of Clyde Hart's 400 meter vunderkids, Wariner had won the 400 meters at the NCAA, won the Olympic Trials and won the Olympics at the age of twenty!

Earlier this year, Jeremy changed his coaching situation. Much is still unknown about what happened, but the fact is that Clyde Hart, the man who brought Jeremy along, is no longer coaching him. Clyde Hart is coaching Sanya Richards. Wariner and his team tried to control the damage, but the situation was not dropped by the media and Jeremy tried to ignore it. Finally, in April, at the adidas Track Classic in Los Angeles, Wariner spoke to the media about it, still showing some of the wounds from what he must have felt was a pointed attack.

In my mind, Wariner's team had let him down. That his agent, Michael Johnson could not see this coming and once the word got out that it was over a small amount of money, which may or may not be, it just would not go away. It must also be said that Clyde Hart is one of the most respected coaches in the world and most track writers and many fans could not see the logic in changing coaches in an Olympic year.

Wariner ran 44.4 in February to start off the year. La Shawn Merritt went faster in his opener, then Wariner ran faster, then Merritt went faster. Then La Shawn ran again, and the stage was set for some real track battles.

This summer has been a revelation for Jeremy and in my mind, he is the better athlete and man for it. But that, is for history to judge, not me. On June 1, in Berlin, Jeremy Wariner went mano a mano with La Shawn Merritt, all of twenty two. Wariner and Merritt came off the turn together and fought, meter by meter, stride by stride, battling to the finish line, where Merritt took the race, 44.03 to 44.07. Wariner had been beat.

The next weekend, Wariner ran 43.98 to run the fastest time of the year. On July 3, at the U. S. Olympic Trials, Wariner and Merritt came off the turn, this time with Merritt having a slight lead. Jeremy pushed, but, there was nothing there, and he began to overstride with forty meters to go. Merritt continued his fine form through the finish, winning 44.00 to 44.20 for Wariner. Jeremy was devastated, Merritt obviously elated.

On July 11, at the Golden Gala in Rome, Wariner changed the positions, winning by a step, 44.37 to Merritt's 44.37. Literally a step divided them. On July 18, at the Stade de France in Paris, Wariner seemed to truly be back on form. With a start called " Iingering" in the noted world athletics tome, Athletics International, Wariner focused and ate up the deficit he had on his competition by two hundred meters. By the top of the final turn, Wariner was in control and ran his patented flying last one hundred meters, taking the world lead down to 43.86. La Shawn Merritt ran for second, running 44.29, and looking strained the entire last straightaway-his strong kick was gone on this race as Wariner clearly was on game. The week after that, July 22, in Stockholm, Jeremy Wariner ran a 44.29 all by himself.

Jeremy Wariner looked relaxed at today's press confernce. When asked by this writer, which he would prefer, the world record or the Olympic medal, he was honest: "While I think both are important to me, I know that a gold medal is once in a lifetime opportunity...I have been working very hard and I do think that the world record for 400 meters is in my future.."

World records or world championships? If one is a true track fan, not a track geek, the world champs or Olympic Games medal is the best way to judge an athletes' career. I am quite confident in Jeremy Wariner to believe that he will have the 400 meter record in the next year to 18 months. The problem is, La Shawn Merritt is not that far behind.

The best thing that has happened to Jeremy Wariner in his career was his two losses this season. It looks like he has learnt that he can make an error and come back from it. He also
has learnt to give much better interviews, which he did at the adidas Track classic. He seems to be realizing that as a professional athlete, his value to his sponsors is based, in part on his recognition and level of popularity with fans, and his importance to the sport.

Wariner will be ready for his final early next week. La Shawn Merrett is a worthy opponent and has been Wariner in the past, but my read of Jeremy is that a) his best game is back and b) the two losses to Merrett brought Jeremy back to reality.

********

Continued concern over the lack of full stands in the various venues. There seems some concern over track & field, although I think the stands in the 91,000 seat stadium should be pretty full in the evenings, I doubt that the morning sessions will be full. I guess that the BOCOG folks never thought of just filling the stadium with locals who would be thrilled to see an Olympic event.

For more on Bernard Lagat, please check http://www.nike.com/running

For more on Jeremy Wariner, please check www.roadstobeijing.com

For more on the sport, please check http://www.runningnetwork.com

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