Today is Tuesday, August 12, 2008. My sleep was fitful, but I stayed in bed for five hours. Getting up at seven in the morning, I was happy to see actual sky, mostly clouds and a thing called the sun...this is not a common occurence in Beijing for the month of August....
After breakfast, I headed out for a walkabout of 95 minutes. I left the compound and walked through the other nice compounds, but headed then into an area that resembled the downtowns of many older American cities. Lots of old apartments being torn down and rebuilt. Most folks on bikes or walking back from the store, with a few bags of food in their hands. Around the worksites, large banners promoting the Olympics-one world, one dream, or also promoting the new shopping centers and a new Pediatric Emergency Hospital. This is a country growing in leaps and bounds.
I was greeted with looks and smiles as I walked through neighborhoods. I would wave and smile and say 'Hello" and young and old would smile back. I have never seen more people bicycling around, all on very old bikes, and also lots of motor bikes. I have also never seen anyone bike so slow, this one guy could barely keep his bike upright as he went just a bit faster than my walk.
I have my security pass now to get into the compound. The local Police held my passport for three days as they did not think I had a VISA. I finally showed them that I had a VISA number on my Olympic pass, and they were fine. Very few speak English out in the countryside and the variations of speaking and understanding are slim to none. Last night, I ordered a Coke and received a coffee. Seeing how overworked the poor young man was, I let it be and ended up listening to all of my old Rod Stewart before I fell asleep.
There are many who are without tickets in Beijing. People who ordered tickets, arrived and can not get their printed tickets. This is a phenomenon we are hearing of more and more..also, once one enters an Olympic event, there is no way to get stamped and return, it is come in, and stay for the duration. The food in Olympic venues is hot dogs, chips, some ancient candy bars and of course, Coca-Cola. In swimming, tennis and basketball, we were told this by different attendees.
Jenn Stuczynski had an amazing sendoff from her town, Freedonia, New York. Apparently the village got so behind her and wanted to do a fund raiser to send her parents to the Olympics. They raised more than enough and will now use the remainder for a good cause in town ( like supporting the high school or college track and field team?). Congrats to Jenn, our top pole vaulter.
Ryan Hall and his hometown of Big Bear Lake, CA have the million miles project (http://www.moveamillionmilesfo
rryanhall.com/), which they achieved by over 300,000 miles!
Maurice Greene, a spokesperson now for the IAAF project and the adidas brand is going to be a contestant in the TV show, Dancing with the Stars! Maurice and I spoke at the adidas showroom today and he heads back next week to begin training. He is looking forward to it , but also knows it will be hard work. Not like racing the 100 meters!
Tyson Gay has had some very good workouts and was warmly received by the press in Beijing. His USATF press conference was widely attended.
Usain Bolt, the world record holder, had a bit of a party at the press conference for him last week with the world press. Let's Run.com had a great piece on the conference and smart observations on the Western versus the Asian press.
While everyone talks about Asafa, Tyson and Usain, my gut tells me Derrick Adkins, Darvis Patton and Walter Dix are not guys to forget. Adkins is dangerous and Dix is yet to be determined. His 200 win at the U.S. Trials was masterful!
If the weather stays hot and humid all bets are off in the distances. It will come down to
the last kilometer in everything and then, kick, kick, kick! The marathon will have huge drop out rates, and athletes like Deana Kastor look all the more dangerous!
I think the U.S. will sweep in the men's shot put on August 15. I am also predicting a new world record by Yelena Isinbayeva, the most dominant athlete in any event. Her motivating factor, whether said or not, is an athlete such as Jenn Stuczysnski, who, so early in her career, is challenging new heights. Isinbayeva can clear seventeen feet before she is done.
The IAAF drug sting just before Beijing has totally opened the women's 1,500 meters and changed the 800 meters as well. Jamal and Rowbury are my two in the 1,500 meters.
Observations on China...
My beliefs so far here are that most Chinese support the Beijing Government, and if there was a legal election today, the Communist Party would win. Why? Economic prosperity! China is going from a mostly agrarian society through the Industrial revolution to a global industrial power in three generations! The pollution is a result of that sudden change, the need for cheap energy and the lack of concern, at this time, for the future. Countries like China and India, which both have huge middle classes wanting to move into more economic success find the Western nations who preach to them about sustainable fuels, clean air and clean water as being a bit disingenuous. Consider that all Western nations went through such soul searching as they reached economic prosperity, emerging economies such as India and China see the Western position as a lock on the door of economic development for much of their people. For many Chinese, gloomy skies are a small price to play for a better home, better wages and better things!
The price paid? Control of media, a level of control and scrutiny that many Westerners would find claustrophobic in all facets of their lives. In China, this is their life, they are proud to be Chinese and they are vastly proud of the Olympics being held here. That the government controlled questions asked by parents of children crushed when their schools collapsed during the earthquake is the price that they pay. The government paid them compensation ( about $1750 per child , per Financial Times) and will pay another $2375, which is, in part, an answer to the growing needs of this emerging middle class, who loves their country, but will require more and more of a voice in how the country is managed and grows. That will be the political challenge for the next leaders in Beijing--how to entitle a growing wealthy class, how to allow them to buy more Audis and appliances, and give them enough self determination that they do not upset the apple cart.
Fyodor Dostoevsky said it best. In his character, the Grand Inquisitor from Brothers Karamazov, the aging Inquisitor responds to queries by saying, " Don't you understand? We give them bread, they give us their souls." In China, it is not the orthodox Church, but the government orthodoxy that will quell change.
In the end, this very orthodoxy will predict the change. Every student who has studied Karl Marx will understand the economic imperative. That is, the suggestion that all change comes from economic need. The wheel? Well, according to Mr. Marx, there was a huge economic need for the wheel to be invented.
So, what will happen in China, when the world stage of Beijing 2008 is over, and in a decade the double digit growth stops and real change, in the infrastructure, in the idea of quality management, in the idea of the true sharing of ideas and creativity in the sciences, literature, sociology, the sharing of ideas that can change 1.4 billion people is needed? Look at the French Revolution. But, where there is a Robespierre, there always comes a Napoleon.
It will be fascinating to watch, and watch it you will, dear friends, as China is the next super power, if it is not already. 5,000 of years of history, of great change and great challenges have made the Chinese people patient and able to see the long road ahead...okay, enough contemplation.
IF the IOC really wants to revitalize the Olympics...
I am sorry, in my mind there are a handful of real Olympic sports, modern pentathlon,
track & field, wrestling all are there. Adding more sports dilutes the value of the brand, and dilutes the value of what global sponsors pay.
If NBC wants to get more viewers, make the relationships between fan and athlete more consuming. Stop waiting until thirty days before the Olympics to tell the stories. Cover swimming, track and field, wrestling all four years, build the stories, make new heroes.
There is a fundamental misunderstanding of electronic media. Now, most agencies and manufacturers use the web as a cattle call. Brands should develop the relationship with their events over time, and the web and print complement TV. NBC is notorious that way. Since Sydney, they have shot themselves in the foot, doing this bum's rush on pushing their programming until people hate them.
If NBC ever wants to get its true value out of the programming, then revisit your approach. Build the stories over three to four years, identify key print media, key electronic media, give the potential fan or targeted fan a chance to believe in the
possible stars, let them feel their training, their struggles, that is part of the Olympic ideal, now NBC, even with some fine coverage, presents a shove down the throat, cry a few tears, and here is the event, buy into it, type of coverage.
The technology is there to really make the relationship between fan and athlete very personal and, if built over a few years, the relationship becomes real. That is the success of NASCAR, the success of European soccer, the success of the NBA.
Track & Field, in the U.S., is seen 24/7 by fans as an Olympic sport, a true Olympic sport, and that means that the sport, its' practitioners, coaches, enthusiasts need to answer to a higher authority, a higher standard of behaviour, and if track & field does that, and the IAAF gets it, building the sport over the non Olympic years will reap the benefits in the future. No other sport can say that or do it in such numbers.
Okay, now off to the Main Press Centre....