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August 29, 2008

Who is doping?

I keep saying I think Usain Bolt is clean (actually, I hope he’s clean), but I’m not such a naif that I think track is drug free. Who should we be suspicious of? Two kinds of athletes: Americans, and entire countries which appear to support a national doping program.

Let’s take the first one first. I’m not suggesting all American athletes are doping; what I am suggesting is that America (and, to a lesser extent, Canada) has a unique combination of relatively well-paid athletes and relatively accessible and advanced domestic pharmaceuticals. American athletes are more likely to have the means to obtain the juice, and more likely to be financially rewarded for juiced performances. For that, despite our federation’s admirable dedication to doping controls, they get a special exception from class #2.

That is “entire countries.” Out-of-competition testing is considered the backbone of doping control, because it’s easy to duck competition tests: you train on the juice for months, then stop in advance of competition, flush it out of your system, kick ass and give a clean test. Simple, unless someone shows up un-announced and asks for a test while you’re training. Athletes are required to comply with these requests; there are stacks of stories of otherwise-blameless athletes receiving bans for missing tests or refusing tests.

Ducking out-of-competition tests requires extensive planning and support. IAAF staff tell some chilling off-the-record stories about how it’s done. Imagine, for example, that the athlete gets a call from national customs agents warning them that testers have just arrived at the airport. Alternately, the tester knocks on the athlete’s door, but is arrested by local police before the athlete answers. When the tester is released several hours later (“So sorry, a misunderstanding,”) the athlete(s) are all ready and waiting at a local hotel.

Samples have to be handled carefully for accurate results, and there’s room to skew things there, too. Perhaps the tester is arrested after collecting the samples, and the samples are “accidentally” destroyed. Perhaps there’s a national law against removing blood from the country, so samples need to be smuggled out. (One story involved a testing team making plane reservations to throw the authorities off their track, then leaving town by train.)

None of this can happen without some degree of governmental support from bureaucrats who believe the medal table is more important than drug-free athletics.

What countries are doing this? Not Kenya, for one, and probably not Ethiopia either. There are some African countries viewed with great suspicion, however, even though, like Kenya, some of their stars are now winning medals for other countries.

We saw a corner of the Russian apparatus uncovered in July, and most of the stories I’ve heard involve them; unfortunately, nearly every Russian athlete (there are a few exceptions) has to be viewed with a jaundiced eye in the wake of their scandal just as every American looked suspicious after BALCO. Russia’s neighbors bear watching; Ukraine lost a heptathlon medalist to a positive test during the Games.

Catching dirty athletes is like stopping spam, though; there’s no hard-and-fast rule, but rather a series of factors which make an athlete’s performances suspicious. It just looks like “being from Russia” is one of those factors now.

Now Playing: Leaves And Kings from Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter

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Posted by pjm at 1:34 PM | Comments (0)

August 28, 2008


(Yeah, I’ve been busy.)

In the event that anyone cares, I thought it might be interesting to gather up my full Beijing output, excluding what I posted here. Roughly speaking, that’s three things: The IAAF “Competition Blog,” the Daily Summaries on the IAAF site, and seven or eight event reports for the Running USA Wire. And then there’s the 50km walk report.

50km Walk Event Report

Running USA Wire:

Leaving out the blog, I filed 14,793 words. (Editing probably changed that number.) When you include the blog, that number goes up by about 50,000 words to 64,901, which is about the length of a shortish novel. Given that it was written over about ten days, though, it would probably make for a pretty ugly novel.

Posted by pjm at 8:04 PM | Comments (0)

August 23, 2008

Test pattern

I’d really love to know why the video screen at the Bird’s Nest appears to be showing data from the departure monitors at the Beijing Capital Airport.

(Update, August 24: That would be because it’s part of the closing ceremonies. Just a bit over 14 hours to my own flight.)

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Posted by pjm at 12:22 PM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2008

Cruel deception

The vending machine in the press tribune asks for a paltry 5 yuan (about $0.72) before coughing up “cold” caffeine in the form of Coke and iced tea. (“Hot” caffeine in the form of free coffee comes from machines in a lounge near the mixed zone.)

Frustratingly, the machine tends to dispense green iced tea when one presses the button for black iced tea. I’ve done this three times now and I still haven’t learned.

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Posted by pjm at 1:27 AM | Comments (0)


I don’t have a real, rational belief in some kind of supernatural ledger that keeps score on our every move. But I find it easy to believe that when people, in groups or individually, behave well, good things are more likely to come their way (there’s more good around) and when they behave badly, they’re more likely to have bad things happen to them.

So Wednesday night, when the U.S. track federation gave up their protest of Wallace Spearmon’s DQ in the 200m final (Spearmon crossed the line third) but then filed one against the Netherlands Antilles’ Churandy Martina (who crossed the line second) for a similar lane violation, I cringed.

Part of it, selfishly, was just that the Netherlands Antilles is a long country name to type, grammatically awkward, and burdened with an obscure abbreviation (AHO).

But more troubling was that I felt like this protest did us no good. Shawn Crawford, who crossed the line fourth, was getting a medal anyway. DQing Martina got him silver and Walter Dix bronze, medals neither of them seemed to want—at least not by disqualifying runners who’d finished in front of them. The Netherlands Antilles’ tiny federation decried what they saw as big-nation bullying, a fit of pique and minor-medal greed from a nation used to dominating the individual sprint events and having a bad Games. I pretty much agree with them; Team USA has known how to win for decades, but they frequently need lessons in how to lose gracefully. (N.B. Individual athletes, for the most part, have been excellent losers; it’s the coaches and managers who’ve been the worst sports, as exemplified by this protest.)

But karma, at least as far as I can see, has come back on Team USA. Last night was an absolute massacre in the men’s 4x100m relay, with four of the eight teams starting the first heat failing to negotiate the third exchange. Only ten of the sixteen teams that started the heats finished with a legal mark, and eight advanced to the final. It could’ve been pure bad luck that the Americans bobbled the baton, especially given how many times they’ve dropped the stick before. (They’re infamous for it, in fact.)

But then the women dropped their baton in the same way, in the same spot.

It’s gotta be karma. I can’t describe it any other way. And it’s a shame that the athletes are losing out. Tyson Gay hoped for three gold medals like he won in Osaka, but now he’s leaving Beijing empty-handed. Allyson Felix could’ve contended for three or even four; she has a silver (mild disappointment) but now won’t even have one relay to race. Hopefully they’ll be able to get the 4x400m quartet in the final for her.

It’s the coaches, and the agents, and the lack of a sharply defined process for picking a relay squad without politics and forcing them to practice their handoffs until they can swap the stick in their sleep. It’s the officials, in other words. The ones who protested the 200m. The ones who promised too many track medals to the USOC and went scrambling to gain one by protest when the Games were going badly.

Poorly done, gentlemen.

(As I wrapped this up, I got a press release from USATF with a “blog entry” from the new USATF CEO, in which he says the right things:

Ultimately, the athletes on the track are the only ones who can successfully pass the stick around the track. But they need the proper leadership and preparation. These are professional athletes who are the best in their field, and anybody who ever ran a high school relay cringes when that baton hits the track. It reminds me of NBA players who have horrendous free-throw percentages. All it takes is repetition, preparation and focus to make a free throw. The same goes for baton-passing. As an organization, we owe it to our athletes to provide the preparation they need to succeed. We will do everything we can to figure out what went wrong and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Now let’s see what happens in 2009 in Berlin.)

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Posted by pjm at 1:23 AM | Comments (1)

August 21, 2008

Facts about Usain Bolt

(With a hat tip to chucknorrisfacts.com and Bruce Schneier facts)

  • When Usain Bolt starts from the blocks, he doesn’t push himself forward. He pushes the Earth backward.

  • Usain Bolt never false starts. Sometimes the starter is so amazed by Bolt’s start, he forgets to pull the trigger in time.

  • Usain Bolt has two paces: World Record and Celebrate.

  • Pluto is actually a collection of spikes which were insufficiently tightly laced and kicked into space by Usain Bolt.

  • Usain Bolt doesn’t use performance enhancing drugs because steroids would slow him down.

  • Usain Bolt isn’t too tall to be a sprinter. His presence makes other sprinters shorter.

  • When Usain Bolt falls in the steeplechase pit, he doesn’t get wet. The water gets Usain Bolt.

  • Usain Bolt’s house has no doors, only walls that he walks through.

  • When Usain Bolt was denied chicken nuggets at a McDonalds, he ran through the restaurant so quickly it became a Wendy’s.

  • If Usain Bolt could be contained by a treadmill, his 200m would produce enough energy to power the entire nation of Jamaica for 22 years.

  • The Chinese built the Great Wall to keep out Usain Bolt. Obviously, it did not work.

  • George Bush asked Usain Bolt not to run the 400m because of the potential damage to the U.S. GDP.

  • Usain Bolt has to train on a different track every week due to spike erosion in the lanes.

  • Usain Bolt can watch an entire season of 24, with commercials, in 22 hours.

  • Usain Bolt can slam a revolving door.

  • Usain Bolt is the only person who can text-message a sub-20 200m.

  • If at first you don’t succeed, you’re not Usain Bolt.

  • Usain Bolt tried swimming, but no lane lines exist that can damp the turbulence of his kick.

  • Usain Bolt could have won a medal in archery, but all of his arrows were sub-10.

  • Usain Bolt’s races aren’t timed. HE decides when the clock should stop.

  • There are two types of people in the world: slow people, and Usain Bolt.

  • Usain Bolt feeds Schroedinger’s Cat on his back porch. Without opening the box.

  • Usain Bolt isn’t on the internet. He can’t find a connection fast enough.

  • Usain Bolt’s times in thousandths always round down.

  • There are no unbreakable World Records, just times Usain Bolt hasn’t decided to run yet.

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Posted by pjm at 4:06 AM | Comments (2)

August 19, 2008

Here's a spoiler

I’ve now heard four… no, make that five takes of… no, six. Six takes of a race call on the women’s 100m hurdles. There are a lot of annoyed noises coming from the other working writers on the tribune. (Seven.) He’s yelling. And it’s all about a hurdler who hit the ninth hurdle and did not medal despite being ranked first all year. Over and over, we hear about how she has lost, how her dream is over.

Not a word about who actually won the race, of course. Even though the gold medalist, too, is an American. Apparently NBC built all their preparation for this race around the hurdler who goofed.

Is it any wonder everyone complains about NBC’s Olympics coverage?

They’re still at it, by the way. Top volume. Amazing. Hey, NBC? You’re doing it wrong.

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Posted by pjm at 11:56 AM | Comments (3)

Heck of a track meet

I’ve been a lousy tourist. A solid week in Beijing as of this afternoon, and I’ve left the Olympic Green twice, both times to downtown hotels for various dinners. (Hooray for traveling with a jacket and tie.) The schedule, which generally keeps me in the stadium past midnight and requires me to be up around 7 for morning sessions, has had me too tired to concentrate on anything but my work. I hope to change that, but aside from the firewall and the large numbers of Asian spectators, these Olympics might as well be in Spain. (I can’t even blame jet lag; I’m tired in all twenty-four time zones.)

The trade off has been that it’s been an awesome track meet. Three world records might not sound like much after the swimming section of the program, but track, as one of my colleagues sniffed, does not give away World Records like door prizes. Most of these events have been around decades, if not centuries. World Records mean something.

To put it another way, I’ve seen three world records in three days. In my entire career to date, I’d seen three other world records in outdoor track, and for one of those I didn’t actually see it; I was in a press conference when it happened. I’ve seen probably around five more for indoor track, with one of those now likely to be revoked under doping suspicion. And one in the marathon (again, I didn’t see it; I was in the press room). So maybe around ten in twelve years. Now I’ve seen three in three days. And there are at least two more events in which world records are possible this week.

Also, I have to say the Olympic mascots, the fuwa, have to be the best mascots I’ve seen at a major event in ages. They’re actually kind of cute.

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Posted by pjm at 2:51 AM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2008

Not quite a free pass

Well, despite our earlier success in gaining entry to other venues, today’s expedition was less productive. We walked over to the team handball venue, almost as close to our hotel as the Bird’s Nest is, in hopes of catching a game between sessions. Unfortunately, it turns out those venues, on the south side of the 4th Ring Road, are not part of the Common Domain.

Our OIACs, I should mention, do in fact have some kind of RFID insert, because we hold them up to a reader when we go through security. Usually the reader’s red light goes green, but today it turned yellow, which I presume means a valid credential but no entry allowed. (Invalid credentials would stay red, I guess.) Spectator tickets have the same kind of machine-readable tag embedded, because the spectators do the same stunt with their tickets at security. So we weren’t allowed in.

I’m speculating that had we gone up to the Main Press Center and caught a media bus to the venue, as we did when we went to archery, we would’ve been fine, because we wouldn’t have had to go through that security gate. But maybe they would’ve checked our credential to get on that bus? We don’t know.

Most of the events we’re looking at conflict with the track schedule. (Field hockey, for example, has a lot of interest for us, but they play their games in the morning and evening, which is also when the athletics sessions are held.) The soccer (excuse me, football) final is in the Bird’s Nest, but on Saturday, which is one of our precious no-morning-session days which means we’ll likely be trying more non-Olympic tourism. It may be now that our other-events exploring will be less than we’d expected.

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Posted by pjm at 4:40 AM | Comments (0)

Another theory for the U.S. team's collapse

…the Olympics don’t take American Express.

(There’s a Finnish sprinter named Visa in the 200m.)

The horizontal jumps, normally a strength for the USA, has been another meltdown. There are no Americans in the men’s long jump final for the first time in ages, nor are there any in the triple jump.

It gets worse: Terrence Trammell is out. Trammell has been a reliable medalist since Sydney, but he only cleared three hurdles here before cramping. (The heat before Liu Xiang’s withdrawl; Liu was in the same lane of the next heat.)

Posted by pjm at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)

National disaster

Remember the biggest race of the Olympics? It just got a great deal smaller.

Liu’s been nursing a hamstring problem all spring. It’s why he didn’t run in New York in May and (some say deliberately) false started in Eugene in June. He tweaked it coming out of the blocks—ironically a false start—in his heat less than an hour ago. He hadn’t even stopped before stripping off his hip numbers. He limped back to the blocks and then back into the ready room.

After this spring’s earthquake, it feels a bit over dramatic to call this a national disaster. As someone else pointed out about Deena Kastor’s broken foot, it’s not like he had a heart attack and died. But it’s certainly the biggest disappointment of the Games for China.

Posted by pjm at 12:17 AM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2008

Defeating the Great Firewall

The so-called Great Firewall of China turns out to be made of swiss cheese, not that anyone didn’t already know this. I’m bypassing it at will.

And I need to. Thanks to the IOC’s ridiculous cave-in to the Chinese government, allowing the firewall restrictions to apply to internet connections within the Olympic venues and Main Press Center, China still blocks the IP addresses associated with major blog sites. That means if your weblog is hosted with LiveJournal, Typepad or Wordpress—pretty much any blog that’s not self-hosted—and you don’t publish the full text of your blog in your feed, the Chinese can’t read you. (I’ve had mixed success with Blogger blogs.) (If the same host also hosts your feed, they can’t see that, either; if you use Feedburner, your feed is still available.) This means that without bypassing the firewall, I couldn’t read JohnL’s blog. I wouldn’t be able to see what Amby’s writing for Runner’s World because it’s hosted by Typepad.

(So much for the blocked sites “not being Games-related.” The IOC should damned well be ashamed of that.)

I intended to complete and publish this explanation of how I’m bypassing the firewall only after returning from China, but I’ve realized that the same route I use to bypass the Chinese firewall is useful for avoiding geographic blocks on streaming video. (In other words, this is also how you get live streaming video without NBC’s bizarre 12-hour time warp. Sort of.)

What I did was install Squid. Squid is an internet proxy server, which means it accepts requests from one source and forwards them on to another without necessarily revealing the original source. I’ve installed Squid in two places, a server in the basement in Amherst which I used as an off-site backup for certain work servers, and one of those work servers (hosted in Dallas if I recall correctly). The default configuration was almost sufficient, but I did change the configuration so Squid would only accept connections from localhost. (Here’s a good HOWTO explaining Squid configuration.) This means the proxies aren’t public; only people on the proxy host (or people who can establish authenticated connections to them) can use them.

This is the trick: you need a proxy which is in the IP space you want to be “from”. I need a proxy outside China; if you’re trying to get video from outside its restricted area, you need a proxy inside the restricted area.

Connecting to the proxy is the easy part. I open a connection to the proxy host by opening up Terminal (actually iTerm in my case) and using ssh -L 2008:localhost:3128 pjm@proxyhost to set up the connection. This means my localhost port 2008 is “tunnelled” to Squid’s default port on the proxy host. Anything I send to localhost 2008 will be delivered to proxyhost 3128, transparently and over an encrypted connection. I could change Squid’s port or even the port used by SSH arbitrarily to disguise this connection, but so far there’s been no reason to bother with this.

Now I open Firefox’s preferences. In the “advanced” section, I look under the “Network” tab. In “Connection” I click the button (“Settings”) next to “Configure how Firefox connects to the internet.” I switch from “No proxy” to “Manual proxy configuration”, fill in localhost for the host and 2008 for the port.

If you’re using an open proxy by permission, you fill in its settings here instead.

Click “OK” and it’s over. I’m through the Great Firewall of China.

Obviously, though, I had one big advantage: access to servers in the USA on which I could install proxy software. If you lack such access, you’ll have to find an open proxy, which requires some care.

Posted by pjm at 10:45 PM | Comments (1)

On relative access

My guilty conscience about breezing by the lengthy lines for entering the Olympic Green made me think about previous major meets and how I passed security there (insofar as there was security; my two World Championships before Osaka were Seville and Edmonton in ‘99 and ‘01, both before September 11 spurred a proliferation of security theater).

I realized that even in Osaka, the security lines for media were entirely separate from those for most spectators (although I could wait in the spectator lines if I was so inclined.) And by “separate” I mean “in another location entirely.” The fact that the event was confined to one stadium made this easier, of course, but when one stood in a short media security line, one wasn’t doing so under the glare of hundreds of spectators standing in lines an order of magnitude (or two) longer.

The sprawling size of the Olympic Green (supposedly the “common domain” is about three times the size of New York’s Central Park) makes this impractical. However, I’ve heard that media staying in official media hotels go through security at their hotel, before boarding the shuttle bus. The bus then drops them inside the security perimeter, saving them both the lines and the glares.

But also, it’s worth noting that the line we go through is signed for credentialed staff plus “the elderly, the disabled, the little…” or something like that. So using that line may come with some small loss of face I’m unaware of.

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Posted by pjm at 2:37 AM | Comments (0)

I blame Bubba Thornton

Not really, of course; the U.S. Olympic men’s team coach has little to do with the individual performances of the athletes he supposedly coaches. But Thornton appeared at a TAFWA function during the U.S. Olympic Trials and suggested that “the men’s shot put is going to set the tone for Team USA on the first day of competition.”

And it did, I suppose. Adam Nelson failed to make the top eight with his first three puts in the final, thereby missing the chance to take three more attempts. Reese Hoffa could barely get beyond 7th. Christian Cantwell did win silver behind a Pole on a tear, but one silver is severely underperforming from a trio which has dominated every competition since Athens.

So, since then:

  • All three women’s 800m runners wash out in the first round.
  • Tyson Gay can’t make the 100m final.
  • None of the discus throwers, all guys who can throw 68m with their eyes closed, can get beyond 62m to advance to that final.
  • Hyleas Fountain bombs the heptathlon long jump and loses her lead, only saving bronze with a PR 800m run.
  • Magdalena Lewy Boulet and Deena Kastor—the latter the defending Olympic bronze medalist—both suffer minor pre-race injuries before the marathon and drop out before halfway, Kastor not even making it to 5km.

Certainly Shalane Flanagan’s 10,000m bronze in AR time is a bright spot, but a team which projected as many as 27 medals has only four after seven events—none of them gold. Thornton had better find a new tone for the team.

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Posted by pjm at 12:01 AM | Comments (1)

August 16, 2008


I can easily write the bullet points for a classified ad for this job:

  • Track geek
  • Able to write grammatical English sentences correctly employing athletics jargon
  • Able to reliably spell Stuczynski, Isinbayeva, and Gebrselassie

What I can’t come up with is how to write the classified for people who feel how I do this morning. I couldn’t sleep last night—I got one hour between arriving back at the hotel at 1:30 AM and leaving for breakfast at 6:30 AM. Seeing the crowds (seriously, the Bird’s Nest is filling up with excited spectators to watch the marathon on the giant monitors) and the Games volunteers and staff is making me absolutely bubbly—no other word for it—with excitement despite my high level of fatigue.

I’m honestly excited about this race. I’m going to have fun watching it and writing about it. Dig in.

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Posted by pjm at 7:14 PM | Comments (1)


More so than ever before, the IAAF has attached my name and face to the “blog” I’m writing for them here. I wish I knew what that means.

I’m so excited about the marathon (or maybe about the 100m last night, the second WR in that event I’ve seen this year and both from the same amazing athlete) that I can’t sleep. It’s quarter to five in the morning here, and I was up past one writing last night, so that’s not a good sign for my Sunday. I think I’ll have fun writing about it, though.

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Posted by pjm at 4:49 PM | Comments (0)

About those credentials

So if I’m a “sport-specific journalist”, what was I doing in the media seats at the archery venue?

It turns out that unless the event is “ticketed” (think finals of marquee sports like the morning sessions of swimming) the access control is relatively loose. Rather than looking closely at the sport blocks on our passes—mine says “AT” for Athletics—they just look for the number which denotes level of access. I have a 4, which is the print media number at all venues. (5 is broadcaster, which is a higher level of access; the others are in different classes altogether.) Unrestricted media have a infinity symbol for the sport listing.

So as long as nobody is looking closely to see my AT, I can get in most venues. We’ll see what I have time for in the next week; I’m pretty exhausted already and today’s between-sessions time may just involve a nap.

There’s another advantage to the credential: when entering the “OCD”, credential code for the Olympic Green, there are generally long, long lines. When we leave our hotel in the morning, the line already passes the hotel door and extends up the street out of sight. But we obnoxiously walk up to the front of the line, wave credentials at the volunteers at the gate, and are waved through to a “fast lane” of security checking. I try not to look back at the faces of the people we’re passing as they stand in the sun waiting.

An official in our hotel referred to his credentials as his “Get out of jail free card.” No wonder they’re so careful about who gets them.

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Posted by pjm at 12:14 AM | Comments (2)

August 15, 2008

On track meets and information systems

At every World Championships I’ve attended, we generally have spread along the tribunes touch-screen terminals for the “CIS” or Commentator Information System. With this we can not only see the start lists, we see splits as they happen, field events mark by mark, and we can tap through to get athlete bios, years’ best lists, and so on. Tremendously helpful, and they’ve spoiled me to the point where I can barely watch field events without them.

We don’t have them here.

There are video monitors along the tribune (clearly visible on TV, if you see the tribune at all) and by changing the channels we can see certain video feeds, a cycling update of the field events (if you have more than a screen-full of information, they rotate) and the most-recent results… and that’s it. This morning, with the heptathlon high jump going and about 40 women jumping on two pits, the screen alternated at unpredictable intervals between Group A and Group B, and each group had about four screenfuls of data cycling. It was next to impossible to determine who was jumping, who had been passing, and everything else you pretty much need to know to follow the high jump.

My neighbor is calling it “DDR technology”, referring to the former East Germany. But of course, it beats most US meets, where there’s nothing of the sort at all, and we rely on printed results after the fact to work out what happened in the field events—unless we follow them attempt-by-attempt on home-made sheets.

For me, though, trying to deliver minute-by-minute reports, it’s a real challenge to keep up.

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Posted by pjm at 5:22 AM | Comments (0)

No fans like Korean fans

Well, that’s not really true everywhere. But where I’m sitting now, specifically the press tribune of the archery venue, it is true.

The quarterfinals start any minute now. There are maybe three sections of the bleachers opposite which are pretty near full, and one of them is almost entirely full of Koreans. They’ve spent the last ten minutes chanting, bashing thunder-sticks, and waving scarves. I’ve seen less-organized football fans.

Supposedly there’s at least one American shooting. I’m wondering if I’m the only American here.


No, not the only American; when the American (Kirk Wunderle) shot in the last of four quarterfinals, quite a few Americans came out of the woodwork. The Korean had to go to fourteen arrows to put away his Cuban challenger; normally they shoot twelve in a match, scoring a maximum of ten points per arrow. After twelve, they shot a thirteenth where both scored nine, and then it was a ten from the Korean in the fourteenth that advanced him to the semifinals. Was it ever loud.

(The Ukrainian and the Russian have gone to fourteen arrows in the semifinal as well.)

We’ve retreated to the workroom to watch the semifinals in air conditioning, but we’ll go back out for the medal rounds if we have time. We figure it should be less than an hour to get back to the Bird’s Nest from here, and they should finish by 6. Competition resumes there at 7.

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Posted by pjm at 5:11 AM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2008

This wouldn't happen in the States

Well, maybe it would. But I doubt it.

It’s raining this afternoon in Beijing. (On the plus side, the rain clears the smog up nicely; it rained on Monday and my arrival on Tuesday featured nearly-blue skies.) In a lull, I started walking back to my hotel from the main press center, but the pouring accelerated as I passed the Water Cube and I took shelter along with a few dozen others under the umbrellas of a snack counter on the Olympic Green.

After I’d stood there for fifteen or twenty minutes with my feet getting wet, a young man came up to me and offered me an umbrella. By that I determined that he was happy to walk me wherever I was going, under his umbrella.

And he did walk me all the way around to the exit closest to the hotel. He was on vacation for the day and had no tickets to any events; he was just walking around the green soaking up the atmosphere. He was very excited to learn that I was American; he’s been studying English for about seven years and did pretty well with it, though I doubt he’s reached the point of thinking in the language. He was quite effusive about how happy he was about the brief encounter.

I left him at the exit gate and started splashing up the sidewalk to the hotel. I hadn’t made it fifty meters before a woman going the same direction ran a few steps to catch up with me and hold her umbrella over me. She didn’t speak a word of English; she was just going the same direction, and I clearly lacked any kind of rain gear. She stopped at the volunteer’s booth near the hotel, and I had just a few more steps to go.

Ever had total strangers offer to share an umbrella with you before?

(Things I wouldn’t be seeing on US TV: women’s archery. The woman shooting in the bronze medal match for South Korea has a pink bow and a pink shoulder guard with hearts and pandas on it. And she’ll put a shaft of aluminum in you at fifty meters.)

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Posted by pjm at 6:13 AM | Comments (1)

My temporary office

Starting tomorrow morning, I’ll be spending many of my waking hours in what may be one of my best seats yet for a major meet. It’s unlikely that you’ll see me on television, because most angles shoot from outside the track, where I am, towards the infield, but if you see a wide shot of the stadium you’ll notice banks of grey desks near the finish line. That’s the press section.

My seat is about even with the last row of hurdles on the homestretch, five rows back from the track. I’m here now; the stadium seating is largely empty, but the infield is crawling with people prepping the venue for the start of competition, now less than 24 hours away.

Although there is some interest in other events (the daily question: “How many is Phelps up to now?”) there’s a general attitude of “Let’s really get the Games underway” among my colleagues.

The torch is quite loud in the otherwise quiet stadium (this may be why they’re frequently blasting Chinese pop music, which is sweet almost beyond tolerating for Westerners). Occasional groups of people go to the infield and take pictures on the medal stand.

Posted by pjm at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2008

Do your research

My roommate here in Beijing is also doing a lot of work for this magazine. I had a copy arrive a few days before I left (it apparently went to Medford first; someone hasn’t updated my address) and it’s worth a look if you’re a track geek… or if you want to know what’s going on when you watch over the next week.

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Posted by pjm at 6:15 AM | Comments (0)

24 hours in Beijing

I’m in a hotel room in Beijing, watching the Italy-Cameroon soccer game with the sound off (the commentary is in Chinese anyway) and trying to get caught up. The ethernet connection in the room is slow, but free.

I spent a lot of time in the air to get here, right over the Arctic. Might as well take the shortest path, I suppose. I went through the border control at the airport behind the Kenyan Olympic team and Brian Sell.

The sky was almost blue yesterday (before I collapsed and went to sleep) but it’s grey and brown today. Some of that’s increased overcast, but it’s also much smoggier. It hasn’t bothered my breathing much yet and everyone’s continuing to dismiss it (“It’s foggy,” says the IOC president) but yikes.

The Olympic park is crowded with people taking photos of themselves with the Bird’s Nest and the torch in the background, and the fences around the green (the secured area) are also lined with photo takers.

I seem to be doing OK with the time change so far, in the sense that my level of fatigue doesn’t seem to have a direct relationship to either local time or U.S. Eastern time.

The most interesting problem with the so-called “Great Firewall of China” is that Runner’s World has a lot of its coverage on sites hosted by Typepad, and Typepad’s IPs are largely blocked. So it’s easy for them to log in and post stories, but they can’t then check that the stories look right online. I can get their feeds but can’t click through.

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Posted by pjm at 5:50 AM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2008

Yet another reason to love shot putters

I know, for a distance runner I’ve displayed an inordinate fondness for the steel ball in the past, but this is just priceless.

Adam Nelson pointed out that as respiration isn’t a serious factor in the shot (the only heavy breathing these guys do is on a victory lap), Beijing pollution was not something he was very concerned about. Here’s how Lynn Zinser wrote it up in the Times “Rings” blog:

When someone joked [Nelson] could carry one of the marathoners, he said, “They’re pretty light, but they get slippery in this weather.”

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Posted by pjm at 2:30 PM | Comments (1)

Where to find my work

I’ve been asked a few times in the last week where my work during the Olympics can be found. Here’s the quick summary:

  • The IAAF Olympics site is the place to start. As in Osaka and Valencia, I’ll be writing the “Live Competition Blog” during every competition session. It’s not really a “blog” (it’s timestamped, but there are no comments or permalinks) and there’s no feed for it, but it will be updates on what’s happening in and around the stadium on a disturbingly frequent basis. I’m pretty sure there’s an XML file involved somewhere so I could potentially generate a feed using Pipes, but I don’t have the time to suss out the source URL right now.

  • I’ll also be writing daily summaries of competition which will appear on that page. Those will turn up in this feed; it’s not a full-text feed, so you’ll need to click through, and I don’t think I can filter my stories out with a pipe because the feed doesn’t carry author data.

And, of course, I’ll keep posting here now and then.

For a great visual look at the experience of being a journalist in Beijing, I recommend Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar’s blog, Best Seat in the House.

Now Playing: Hummingbird from Songs for a Hurricane by Kris Delmhorst

Posted by pjm at 11:57 AM | Comments (0)

August 8, 2008

Still not quite right

The preview which got fouled up by a doping suspension is online now in its revised form. Of course, there may still be one glitch; I think the Russians may have substituted Kirdyapkin, the walker I say isn’t coming, as the alternate for Kanaykin, the one who was withdrawn. It’s hard to find a definitive list of the Russian team which includes alternates, and those alternates will be working hard in Beijing.

Now Playing: Tales of Ordinary Sadness by Electrocute

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Posted by pjm at 8:20 PM | Comments (0)

When anticipation gives way to panic

As I write, the Opening Ceremonies are happening, twelve hours ahead of me in Beijing. Three days from now I’ll be on a plane.

I’ve been trying to keep a lid on it, but I’ve been anticipating this trip since the prospect arose last fall. Until a few weeks ago, it had the feeling of a long drive: as long as the destination is over the horizon, eight months and two months are pretty much the same. I accumulated some unread guidebooks, a fresh passport, and a trickle of organizational paperwork.

Now things seem to be approaching at a terrifying rate. I’m looking at my to-do list and wondering how much of it will actually get done, and getting a little stressed out about making sure all my ducks are in a metaphorical row by the end of the day Sunday.

Last night this was reaching the point of a tension headache as I peered at the command line of a new server. Then the house went dark. A downed tree somewhere in town had cut power to our neighborhood. My laptop would still run on batteries, but the network was down, so what was the point?

I used a flashlight to dig a few candles out of a box in the basement, and went to bed early, reading by candlelight for an hour or so. I woke up in the middle of the night—probably hearing the buzz and whir of powering-up printers in the office—to discover a light on in the dining room, and the power back on. But I slept better than I had in days.

Update: …and the Onion is not helping.

Now Playing: King’s Crossing from From A Basement On The Hill by Elliott Smith

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Posted by pjm at 9:32 AM | Comments (1)

August 7, 2008

The biggest race of the Olympics

You wouldn’t know it from the hype in the USA, particularly if you aren’t a track fan, but the biggest night of the Beijing Olympics will only involve Americans as bit players.

Liu Xiang is the defending World and Olympic champion in the 110m hurdles. Until earlier this summer, he was the World Record holder in that event at 12.88. Ever since he won the World title in Osaka last summer, track fans have been speaking of the short hurdle final, on Thursday the 21st at 9:45 PM, in hushed tones. There’s only one marquee event with 1.4 billion fans behind a potential winner.

It’s not really possible to describe the weight being placed on this event, though Jere Longman of the NYT makes a good effort. Fans who remember Sydney in 2000 raise, as a reference point, Cathy Freeman in the women’s 400m there. Freeman, the Australian aboriginal who lit the torch in Sydney, made her win look so easy we forget the crushing pressure she was under, and Freeman had neither the championship history of Liu, nor as capricious and difficult an event.

And, of course, Australia is a good deal smaller than China. But still, Sydney’s Olympic stadium will probably never again be as full as it was that evening, with spectators and media from other events cramming the aisles. I’ll be bringing earplugs that night.

2004 World Series Red Sox? Little league. It’s easy enough to imagine the jubilation if Liu wins. It’s hard to guess about the despair if he loses (the phrase “national disaster” leaps to mind), and there will be seven other men on the track pretty determined to take that medal for themselves.

Now Playing: Aphorism by Collin Herring

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Posted by pjm at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

August 6, 2008

Blog that fix

I’ve spent some time in the last week searching the web for those precious documents that tell me HOW TO do stuff. How to fix my broken rmagick installation. How to make a series of one-page PDFs into one multi-page PDF. How to make TrueType fonts accessible to Ghostscript.

About that last one. Seems like the basic steps are, “Put the font file in the right directory. Then update the font map file with it.” OK, I get that. It’s that second one that’s the problem: every description of updating the font map file shows a format which is not at all like the one my version of Ghostscript has.

And this is where I passionately wish one of these how-to guides was a weblog post. If it was a weblog post, it would have a date on it. And then, even though the writer has (ugh) neglected to mention which version of Ghostscript they used in their how-to, I’d have a good idea of how old the article is, and whether I should consider it current information or not.

I’d rather have a sketchy description of how it works with a recent date than a step-by-step hand-holding guide to a too-old version of the software.

(I still haven’t solved the Ghostscript problem, but the trick seems to be finding the font map file in the first place. On my Mac, it turned out to be in /usr/local/share/ghostscript/8.54/lib/Fontmap.GS.)

Now Playing: Here & Now from Aurora Gory Alice by Letters To Cleo

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Posted by pjm at 8:54 PM | Comments (0)

August 5, 2008

Another reason to hate writing previews

I spent part of Friday writing a 400-or-so-word preview of the Olympic men’s 50km racewalk. (Never mind why, it’s a long story.) There aren’t many well-known contenders in the walk; I only mentioned four by name. I sent it in yesterday; I think the article was due to go up soon.

This afternoon, I learned that one of them was busted for EPO and won’t be walking in Beijing. (The Russians, I must say, are looking pretty bad nowadays.) I know I’ll need to rewrite at least one paragraph; I may need to restructure half the story.

Now Playing: Splintering from Welcome Back Dear Children by Arizona

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Posted by pjm at 4:05 PM | Comments (0)

Wait, he was still alive?

Is it bad that my first reaction to learning that Solzhenitsyn died on Sunday was to think, “Didn’t he die a few years ago?”

I hope they don’t make me return my degree for not knowing that.

The only Solzhenitsyn I ever read was One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which is in fact a very impressive piece of history. It’s history, though; as literature, it doesn’t stand up to, say, Master i Margarita or Less Than One in my mind. I have to admit his reputation for pedantry and preaching kept me away from most of the rest of his work. My closet-slavophile grandfather had a copy of the first volume of The Red Wheel.

Now Playing: Give It All Away (Reprise) from Bang! by World Party

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Posted by pjm at 9:29 AM | Comments (0)

August 3, 2008

Working the connections

I ran Beach to Beacon this weekend. This was the 11th running of the race; I’ve run it at least four times, maybe five. It’s a good course, the race is well run, and despite the crowds I tend to run decently well there.

I’ve also had remarkably good luck working my “connections” here, though never as good as at the first running, when for reasons I’ll never understand I was given an elite athlete number (with all the attendant privileges.) I think I ran about 36 flat that year, so you can understand that I didn’t get the number for my speed.

This year it started when I bought a pair of shoes from the owner of the National Running Center at the Expo. He remembered me from RW and asked for my card so he could ask about their website. I don’t know if that’s going to generate any business (more on that later, if I remember) but business cards are like seeds.

At the end of the race, I heard a familiar voice as I approached the finish line. I called and waved, and as a result I can be picked out in the finish line video because Toni Reavis reminded me over the PA that I didn’t manage to break 40:00.

(My brother and I shortened the race name to “Beach to Bacon” and had decided we would go to the food tent after the race and ask where the bacon was, but apparently we were both too tired to remember this joke post-race.)

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Posted by pjm at 9:34 PM | Comments (0)