Friday, August 15, 2008

Beijing Olympics - Day Eight - Phelpsian Phinish!

The final stroke from Michael Phelps, right, allowed him to edge out Serbia's Milorad Cavic at the finish of the men's 100-meter butterfly final at the Water Cube in Beijing. "It's almost too close to see," Phelps admitted of his winning margin of one-hundredth of a second. By Greg Baker, AP

7:00 p.m. - Back to NBC after the exciting midday tennis action. I had a rare Olympics-free late afternoon--I figured they'd show the Blake-Gonzalez tennis match. I already knew its disappointing outcome.

First event of the evening is prelim of the 400-meter medley relay. Phelps isn't swimming, but will swim in the final. Big pressure on replacement swimmers to avoid a disqualifying false start, which they have done. Ian Crocker is swimming Phelps' butterfly leg. US trailing Russia in this heat. Now US ahead. American anchor Weber-Gale just blew past the Russian in the last 15 meters. US will swim in Lane 4 of the final next to Australia. Phelps, Crocker and Serbian Cavic will swim in tonite's premier event, the 100-meter butterfly. Cavic has been extremely fast in the prelims. After the freestyle relay, this seems like the most dangerous race for Phelps, who does better the longer the race is, up to a point.

NBC reruns most of Liukin and Johnson's performances to lead into an interview with Bob Costas. Nice to see the performances again. Liukin is no less beautiful in replay.

Now they replay "Belavision" - it was all Bela Karolyi could to keep from kissing Bob Costas. I wonder if this was a planned feature, or something that was developed on the fly.

Shawn is so short - her legs don't reach the floor from the NBC couch. Now she sits forward so they do.

Both girls are still focused on the event finals rather than speculating about the future, though Shawn implies that she'll be in London in 2012 if her body holds up.

When this interview happened live, Shawn hadn't talked to her parents. She appeared with them on the Today Show this morning.

The studio crew gives a round of applause.

Over to the Birdsnest for track - a heat of the 1,500-meters. Reiging world champ is Bernard Lagat, a former Kenyan, now an American citizen. Kenyans would love to deny him the gold medal. Lagat won bronze in Sydney and silver in Athens. Top five advance. Lagat near back of pack. He finishes fourth. Had to work a little too hard. Got boxed in a couple of times.

Next heat includes Lopez Lomong - was a Lost Boy abducted from Sudan. In a Kenyan refugee camp he was inspired by watching Michael Johnson in Sydney Olympics. Lomong at back of pack. Moves outside. Lomong now six wide. Now in third. Finishes in fifth. Faster heat. Times in 3:36 range. Previous heat was 3:42.

Beach volleyball next. Back to Rogers and Dalhausser. The Prez likes these guys so I guess we should too. The opponents prove that you don't need a beach to play beach volleyball. They are from Switzerland. Were 20th seeded. This is a round of 16 match--loser is eliminated. Winner goes to quarterfinals.

US wins first set easily, 21-16. Swiss have set point in second set. Dalhausser kills. 20-20. Lanciga finds open court. 21-20 Swiss. Second set point. Rogers kills. 21-21. Schnider kills thru Dalhausser. Ace wins second set for Switzerland. One set each.

Swiss race out to 6-1 lead in third set. This set only to 15. Now 6-2. Timeout Switzerland. Schnider bunts out 6-3. Block by Dalhausser. 6-4. Another Dalhausser block 6-5. 7-5. Well placed by Rogers. 7-6. Dalhausse blocks. 7-7. Laciga upset about set. Big kill by Schnider 8-7. Kill by Dalhausser 8-8. Laciga to open spot. 9-8. Dalhausser kill 9-9.

Away to women's 200-meter backstroke final. Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) and Margaret Hoelzer (US) are favorites. They were roommates at Auburn. In that order at 100-meter. Coventry has nice lead. On world record pace. Coventry wins and sets world record. 2:05.24. Her seventh Olympic medal.

Back to volleyball. US has match point at 14-13. Rogers bunts onto sideline to win 15-13. Whew! Back to swimming.

Men's 100-meter butterfly final. Phelps going for 7th gold medal. Ian Crocker holds world record, but hasn't beaten Phelps since 2005. Cavic in Lane 4; Phelps in 5; Crocker in 6. Phelps won on last stroke. Wins by 0.01 second! Cavic stretched for wall. Phelps took one more stroke. 50.58 is Olympic record. Was behind until last inch--maybe part of an inch. Will do the calculation. Crocker finishes fourth. At a pace of 200-meters in 50.58 seconds, the swimmers travelled about 1-1/2" in 0.01 second. I think the clock rounded the margin up. The physical difference looked like the length of a fingernail. Ms. Phelps had to sit on the floor in surprise. She had two fingers up for 2nd.

Women's 800-meter freestyle final is next. No Americans in the final. Favorite is Rebecca Addlington from Great Britain. She's cruising with a big lead well ahead of the world record. Unbroken since 1989. Broke WR by 2+ seconds. Other swimmers well behind. Previous record held by American Janet Evans.

Next feature race is women's 50-meter freestyle. 41-year-old Dara Torres is the sentimental favorite, if not the race favorite--she might even be that. This is a semifinal.

But first comes the men's "splash and dash" - the 50-meter freestyle. Bernard and Sullivan are the favorites. Wildman-Tobriner of US is in lane 8. Brazilian Cesar Cielo Filho gets the gold. Bernard gets silver. You can't see the swimmers for the splash. Tears of joy. Sullivan finished 6th. No breaths in this race.

Cavic's coach is filing a protest on the finish of the 200-meter. In the meantime Cavic accepts the silver medal. Phelps was seventh at the turn. Scary and amazing. Officials accept the original result. As winner, Phelps qualifies for last relay race.

Now women's 50-meter freestyle semifinal. Libby Trickett of Australia is a favorite along with Brigit Steffen of Germany. Torres in the next semi. Lanes 3-5 finish 1,2,3. 24.45. "Nothing special" per Rowdy Gaines.

Dara Torres next. 41-years-old. Five-time Olympian and missed two others (96 and 04). Swedish girl in Lane 2 broke her suit. Back with new suit. Torres pointed this out. Torres wins easily 24.27. Best time of any qualifier. Final is tomorrow. Torres has ten Olympic medals--none are individual gold.

Now replay of men's 100-meter dash heats. Saw some of these today, but didn't take notes. Kay remembers that American sprinter Tyson Gay was the subject of a rewritten Internet article where the word "gay" was changed to "homosexual"--it was hilarious. Focus on the Family, or some such anti-gay organization, routinely reprints article with the substitution made. Gay finishes second, saves hamstring for the next round.

Jamaican Usain Bolt wins the next heat in style - runs 9.92 while looking left and right over the last 40 meters. No telling how fast he can go while trying. Usafa Powell is next Jamaican. He gets a great start and cruises to 10.02 win. Let up at the end.

US-China in men's volleyball while NBC sets up interview with both Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps. US won first two sets. Lead 11-9 in the third. US serve long 11-10. Serve long the other way. 12-10. Now 14-10. Timeout. Coach's father-in-law was killed by assailant on first day of the games. Remarkably, the team is undefeated. China kill 14-11. US answers with kill 15-11. Another kill, 16-11. Commercial. Looks like US will win in three sets. Now up 23-15. 24-16. Eight match points. Serve wide. 24-17. China blocks 24-18. US kill ends it 25-18. First game back for Coach McCutcheon.

Costas' interview with Spitz and Phelps is very gracious. Spitz showed no bitterness about Phelps' accomplishments. Call them "epic" and said that he knew that Phelps could do it even four years ago.

10:30 a.m. - Now watching Nadal and Djokovic in men's tennis semifinal. Nadal won first set. Djokovic took second set easily, 6-1. Sad result to other semifinal between Blake and Gonzalez. With Blake up 9-8 in the deciding third set, he hit a ball that appeared to glance off Gonzalez racket on the way out of bounds. The referees missed the deflection and Gonzalez didn't self-report. Gonzalez went on to win the game and eventually the match. In a post-match interview, Blake expressed disappointment with his opponent's sportsmanship. I didn't see the match, but felt bad for Blake who is such a classy player--self-effacing and erudite in his interviews. I'll root for whoever wins Nadal and Djokovic in the final. The loser will play Blake for the bronze medal--a very tough matchup for Blake.

Fabulous tennis by Djokovic and Nadal in the third set--slugging it out. Nadal leads 2-1, but match is on serve. Djokovic double faults by 15 feet. Follows with an ace. 40-15. Nadal nets a backhand. 2-2 in third set. No tiebreaker in third set. Nadal serves and volleys to hold serve for 3-2. Most aggressive play of set by Nadal. Djokovic holds his serve. 3-all. Great match. Djokovic wins first two points of next game. Then great serve by Nadal. 15-30. Blake dropped triple match point before the controversial call. 40-30 Nadal. Another good serve. Serve wide, hit long by Djokovic, 4-3 Nadal. Love game for Djokovic evens match at 4. Djokovic hits long. Nadal leads 5-4. Djokovic needs next game to stay in match.

Nadal gets Djokovic's drop shot then wins point with one of his own. 15-all. Djokovic nets a forehand. Unforced error. 15-30. Nadal two points from the match. Nadal mishits second serve. 30-30. Overspun by Nadal. Djokovic nets forehand. Match point Nadal. Monster forehand by Djokovic puts game at deuce. Let serve. Forehand groundstroke and backhand volley wins for Djokovic. His ad. Going for 5-all. Sensational passing shot by Nadal wins point. Great return of 2nd serve by Nadal. Second match point for Nadal. Djokovic hits sitter overhead wide. Nadal wins! Great rescues by Nadal to give Djokovic a chance to make a mistake. Nadal advances to final against Fernando Gonzalez of Chile.

Kudos to Jimmy Arias for outstanding analysis of this match--the best I've heard in any Olympic sport so far. He pointed out that the match was Djokovic's to lose--he would have to make some mistakes for Nadal to win. In the last game, Djokovic made two forehand errors as well as the game-losing botched overhead. Arias also picked up on a serve to the body that Nadal was using effectively in the third set. Arias didn't root for either player; as with many analysts he "oohed" over the great shots, but he also took the extra step of finding and communicating the key strategic elements of the match. Admittedly, I'm too ignorant of the technical aspects of swimming, water polo and volleyball to really appreciate the analysis (the volleyball analyst was doing a pretty good job with this, but I just had too far to go). I've watched a lot more tennis, and therefore was able to keep up with what Arias was saying. Still, a job well done--in keeping with the excellent tennis on the court.

Women's kayaking was won by Slovakian Eneda Kaliska by 14 seconds. An Aussie was delighted to take the silver. Other key competitors from France and Czech Republic missed gates in the final run and fell out of contention.

US beats Russia 12-7 in women's water polo. Should be able to advance to semifinal. Disappointing Olympics for mother Russia, who also lost to the tiny Chinese girls.

Time for a break after mopping floors during the lulls in the action. Back later, perhaps with a couple of new features. (Please see for the daily Michael Phelps Award For Best Performance By Athlete Not Named Michael Phelps.

8:15 a.m. - Opening with women's volleyball today. Match between US and China. Games are one all. China leads third game 21-14. Great blocking by China. Their tenth "stuff". Knuckleball serve for a US ace. 22-17 China. Spike error by China, now 22-19. Spike into antenna. 22-20. A US kill. 22-21. Finally a Chinese kill. 23-21. US needs this point. US stuff. 23-22, China. China kill. Set point at 24-22. Blocked to sideline. 24-23. Great kill by China wins the set. 25-23. Two sets to one for China. Good comeback by US falls a little short.

Bathroom break. 8-7 US in 3rd set. US and China exchange kills. 9-8. US over the net. 9-9. Good kill by Willoughby. 10-9. US stuff 11-9. Outside Chinese kill 11-10. Chinese stuff 11-11. Poor set. Chinese block OB 12-11 US. Back row spike. 13-12 US. Now 14-13 US. China blocks for 14-14. US coach Long Ping is most famous female Chinese athlete of all time. Great kill by Kim Glass. 16-14 US. Lots of volleyball left. Rest of this set and perhaps a fifth. Technical time out.

More play during the commercial. China takes lead 17-16. US wins next point after great rally. 17-all. Sitter killed by US. 18-17, US. China timeout. Chinese fans chanting. No love for US in this one. Chinese kill off the block. 18-18. Angled kill by Scott for US. 19-18 US. Chinese spike into net. 20-18. Spike out of bounds. 21-18 US. Getting close now. Spike into antenna. 22-18. Six of last seven for US. Outside kill by China. 22-19. Second kill attempt by Scott. 23-19. Scott is hot. 35-years-old. Outside kill by China 23-20. Kill by Logan Tom. 24-20. Four set points. Four hits by China. Two sets all. Fifth set tiebreak to 15 next.

President of PRC is in the stands. China stuffs first US spike. 1-0. Scott kills. 1-1. She is four-time Olympian. Spike long 3-1 US. US stuff. 4-1. Best match so far by US. Kill by Logan Tom. 13 for her. 5-1. Hit long by China 6-1. China timeout. China gets next two 6-3. Stuff by US. 8-3. Change sides.

Next two for China. 8-5. US timeout. Serve long by China. 9-5. Lift on China 10-5. US kill, 11-5. Monster kill by China 11-6. Logan Tom kills. 12-6. Her 15th. Two going for same ball--should have put it over. 12-7. Chinese kill off bad pass. 12-8. Chinese stuff. 12-9. Timeout US. Big kill by Glass. 13-9. US hits out 13-10. Scott kills. 14-10. Four match points. China gets kill 14-11. Scott stuffs. US wins 15-11! Second heartbreaker for China. They blew two sets to none lead to Cuba.

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