Drew Ginn: farewell to Beijing

Drew Ginn was the athlete I went to first, the blogging gold medal winning rower from Australia, who, with his partner and childhood friend Duncan Free were going to repeat their success in past Games with a gold at Shunyi. Drew personified the kind of athlete that I wanted in the Voices of the Summer Olympics program, an avid blogger, photographer, vlogger. An athlete who understood del.icio.us, who knew how to present a story and build connections with fans. I tracked him down and one night late last winter we spoke on Skype. He was a little wary — rowers don’t get a lot of sponsors — but after some explanation he said, “I’m in.”

And so we were started, with a great paradigm of an athlete to show to other recruits as a model to follow.

Last night Drew sadly watched the closing ceremonies from the Athlete Village, incapacitated by a back injury, the bane of elite oarsmen. He’s facing surgery. He’s facing retirement. His final posts from the Games are a bittersweet reminder of the sacrifice and glory of competition at the very top of the scale. I wanted to post this to say “thanks Drew”; thanks for kicking off one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever been associated with. And to the other 99 athletes, words fail me. You delivered an insider’s view of the Games that has never before been made available. I don’t think the Games will ever be the same again.

“This has been the most amazing experience. The games, our performance, others performances, the support, the expectations, the conditions, wonderful reactions, failure, crushing moments, elation, and family and friends. The list goes on and on but from where I have sat it has blown me away and even with the pain of my back now become an increasing concern as to my longer term health, I am still buzzing and excited and about everything that I have seen and been part of. In fact it is as if I can not type fast enough.”

Drew Ginn.

Closing ceremony? I drank beer & went to dinner instead …

No fireworks and fan dancers for me. No way. I ate large with my buddies and caught the end of the show on TV. I’ll buy the DVD and watch it this winter when it’s nasty outside. Tomorrow is a day off! Going to go find some serious Chinese olympic garb (rowing shirts, baseball jerseys), load up on souveniers for the gang, maybe check out some sights with the camera, then hit the big staff party blow out (invitation says it goes until 2).

I can’t believe this is done. Longest three weeks of my life hands down. Need to find something to fill the gap the Olympics filled for the past 20 months of my life.  The next chapter is going to be an interesting one I think.

USA for the win — basketball and thus the Games end

I copped a last-second ticket to the gold medal game between Spain and the USA, jumped into the VIP van with one of the wealthiest men in India, (bet him 100 rmb the US would conduct a basketball clinic to the tune of a 35 point spread, a bet I lost and which proves I remain the planet’s biggest sports dork). The game was back at Wukesong Stadium (site of yesterday’s gold medal baseball game), and in no time I was walking in the sunshine amongst some rapper types and their ladies.

Nice stadium, classic Lenovo seats — mid-court and up in the first loge. Surrounded by frantic fans of Spain, with a good contingent of loud USA-chanters right behind me.

The game? Ummm….. Basketball after Larry Bird is lost on me.  It’s every man for himself, lots of travelling, and no precision teamwork. The old Bird-Parrish-McHale-Johnson teams of the early 80s …. that’s what I like to watch. But, enough bitching. I was at the last event of these Games and digging it.

Spain came out strong, never permitted the USA Dream Team to walk away with it, and actually led for a good portion of the first quarter. Spanish fans were insane, but for the first time in the past two weeks I actually heard some good old fashioned American fan spirit. This is our Game, so shut up and watch how it’s played.

The crowd was the action — as Fester puts it, leave the action photos to the pros with the Bazooka lenses and focus on people. People are the most interesting thing, and sure enough, that was indeed the case today.

I gave up a chance at a closing ceremony ticket. No sports there, I can see fireworks off of Oyster Harbors on the Fourth of July, and there’s a slim chance Zhang Yimou is going to top his opener (famous last words, I owe the dude from India a hundred yuan because the final margin was like ten points, not 35). I rather get a great dinner at the Xian place Mike Mann showed me last Sunday (I’ve since been back and am on my way there now), could Tsingtaos, some “fried rib” (best f$%%&ing thing I’ve ever eaten), “beef on fire” Guizou-style fried rice …..

I’ll watch the action from the bar on the roof of the Hyatt, check out the fireworks over Tienanmen … then call it a night and the end of these Games. I am ready for a swim on the point of Dead Neck, some rug wrestling with the dogs, and a deep breath of Cape Cod air!

Letter from Beijing: Anthony Lane is a funny man

Anthony Lane, usually the film critic at the New Yorker with David Denby, made me literally laugh out loud with his dispatch from the first week in Beijing.

“It was the same at Beijing Airport: the first thing I saw on arrival was a sniffer dog, but instead of some lunging German shepherd, with streaks of Baskerville-style foam along its jaws, there was a beagle. Now, beagles have been sniffing around U.S. airports for years, but this one was chasing a rubber ball. Running behind, at the end of its tether, was the dog’s keeper, laughing gaily, and behind him, somewhere in the seven years since Beijing won the Olympic bid, was a committee dedicated solely to canine propaganda. As long as one mutt-fancier from the tenderhearted West caught sight of the romping beagle and exclaimed to her husband, “Oh, look at little Snu Pi! See, they don’t eat them, they play with them!,” the committee’s job was done.”

Letter from Beijing: The Only Games in Town: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker.

The Twilight of the Games

Yesterday, Saturday, I snuck away for a doubleheader at Wukesong Park for the two medal round baseball games, the last two ball games to be played in the Olympics since the IOC has deigned to drop the sport (along with softball) thanks to a deadlock vote of 52-52. Baseball was on my pre-Games set of resolutions, and I am glad I got out to the western edge of the city to see the last games before they are gone. It is pointless to get into a comparison pissing match with “sports” that entail music, costumes, and judging. But I get pretty depressed when I look up at the television and see synchronized swimming instead of an epic pitching duel between Cuba and the USA.

International baseball is a strange beast. Of the truly global sports – football (soccer), Formula 1 racing, basketball – baseball has always had fervent support in a few farflung countries where the USA made itself known, but it is probably never going to expand much further than it has already. The Japanese are ardent fans thanks to their post-WWII introduction to besi-boru by the occupying forces under General MacArthur. Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean picked it up prior to Castro (who was a player himself). Taiwan consistently shows up at the Little League World Series and kicks ass. These Games marked China’s debut, but as my Chinese colleagues warned me last winter, baseball doesn’t have a chance in a country focused on events it can get a gold medal in, and football, their pervasive passion.

On the flight to Beijing from Dulles I sat in the second deck lounge of the United 747 with the coaches of the American team and overheard their general manager call the ultimate gold medalist, Korea. Last night I saw his prediction come true as the Koreans took on Cuba and won the gold 4-3 before a nutty mob of Korean fans at Wukesong. Earlier in the day I saw a better game between the USA and Japan for the bronze – though truth be told the Japanese deserve the gold for fan spirit – they had cheerleaders with whistles leading them in “Go Go Nippon !” chants for nearly every minute of the nine-innings, unflagging even after the USA extended their lead to four runs in the seventh inning.

Olympic baseball is a weird, indeed like most other western experiences transplanted to the East, hallucinatory experience. The sports organ guy, the snippets of rock and roll get-psyched music, the 7th inning rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” …. At least there was beer served and lots of it. I think the fans were pretty sophisticated and knew what was going on (reports said some Chinese fans were confused by the rules and didn’t know how to follow the game, cheering foul balls ((heck I cheer foul balls from time to time)). I would have had programs, I would have displayed some meaningful stats on the boards (pitcher’s percentages, pitch count, more batting averages, and for heaven’s sake the lineup), and skipped the obligatory appearance of the oh-so-cute Fuwa mascots.

The real action, as always, was in the stands. I continue to applaud the spirit of the Asian country’s spectators. These are truly their hometeam games and they are making the most of it. I wore my Dice-K Matsusaka Red Sox t-shirt with pride, and on my way of the USA-Japan game at least six Japanese spectators came up to me and shook my hand, beaming and repeating: “Dick-K Yes! Hideki Yes!” Boston was the only team represented on hats and shirts in the immediate vicinity of my seats. Interesting how a couple world championships will extend a brand. One Korean fan in a Green Celtics wifebeater screamed at me: “Go Go Gadget ARMS!!!!” in reference to the long-limbed Kevin Garnett.

So, now it’s all done and the temporary stands at Wukesong are going to be dismantled. Maybe we’ll see baseball rise gain in 2016. Let’s see which city gets the nod. If it is Tokyo or Chicago I’ll bet we witness the second coming of Olympic Baseball.

Nike denies web rumours it forced Liu to abandon race

A big rule in community relations — don’t ask the Chinese government to go fish for the identity of someone posting bullshit about your brand.

“NIKE on Tuesday issued a strong denial of Internet rumours that it forced Chinese athletics hero Liu Xiang to pull out of the Olympics, adding it had asked authorities to investigate the posting.

‘The posting is a malicious rumour, and has not only misled netizens, but also seriously damages the company’s reputation,’ Nike, one of Liu’s major sponsors, said in a statement emailed to AFP.

‘We have immediately asked relevant government departments to investigate those that started the rumour.‘[emp. mine]

Nike denies web rumours it forced Liu to abandon race.

CC BBaunauch

Blogger Blogs of Note

Thanks to our partner Google (host of our Olympic Podium http://2008.lenovo.com and our preferred blog provider for our blogging athletes) for featuring a ton of bloggers in the Voices of the Summer Olympics program on their Blogs of Note page.

Almost all of the blogs on this list are in the Lenovo program!

some of the athletes I’ve spoken to are very honored to be on this. Thanks Google!

Training the social athlete

I spent yesterday (Wednesday, Beijing) in our International i.Lounge in the Athlete’s Village playing the social media expert to any and all who would listen. I really get charged up hanging around elite jocks — they’re young for the most part, completely dedicated, excited, and grateful for the experience. I find any proximity to that is kicking a lot of cynicism out of me to the wayside.

Tatyana Lebedeva from Russia came by and asked me to help her set up a blog to accompany the website she has already launched.  We signed her up for a Google account, enabled a blog on blogger (tatyanalebedeva.blogspot.com), Skyped her significant other with the details, watched him via video check it out, wrote down the passwords, and were done. Fastest blog launch in my personal history. In the course of the sign up I learned she won a silver medal in the triple-jump.

Then I got to meet one of the bloggers in the Lenovo Voices of the Summer Olympics program, Canadian high jumper Nicole Forrester who blogs at Soaring to Excellence. She needed a new IdeaPad so I swapped her Y510 for a sleek U110 and our interactive media expert and iLounge manager, Sheji Ho, offered to perform a data transfer. Nicole and I talked about stuff for a half hour, me nervous to keep her staying too long as she was getting psyched for her big competition. She’s tall. Like really tall. Taller than me tall. She told me the story of the opening ceremony, of singing O Canada! in the tunnel leading out to the field, and reminded me that none of the athletes got to watch Zhang Yimou’s opening theatrics because they were waiting outside for their parade of champions.

Then I met a journalist from Uganda and we talked about getting his country’s delegation online and blogging.

Finally I got to meet Sanani Mangisa, who plays on the South African field hockey team. She loves to blog and was very complimentary about the entire blogging program, Lenovo’s iLounge, tech support, and overall goodwill.

I left feeling great about things and wished we could have done this for more athletes. It’s obvious athlete blogging is here to stay.

Olympic Baseball’s Two-Week Wake – WSJ.com

I suppose I still have time to knock off another of my Olympic resolutions — take in a baseball game before the sport is retired from the Olympic line up — but time is running short and it sounds pretty funereal out there at Wukesong. I do have my Dice-K Matsuzaka Red Sox t-shirt ready to go and would definitely have no problem sitting in the bleachers with a Tsingtao and a Fenway Wukesong Frank. My buddy Da Qian hit a game yesterday, had tix, but I was doing a blogger meeting at the iLounge. Report to follow.

As the end nears, there isn’t much joy at Wukesong Baseball Field. In the early rounds the atmosphere was sepulchral. One game, between South Korea and China, pulled in fewer than 1,000 fans. On Tuesday, about 6,000 showed up to watch the team from the place usually known as Taiwan (Chinese Taipei here) play the U.S. Paying customers were stuck in the outfield. Infield seats were reserved for the press and the “Olympic Family,” both in near-complete non-attendance.

Olympic Baseball’s Two-Week Wake – WSJ.com.

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