Olympic Dispatches

Beijing Dispatches:
by YouNews correspondent Dr. Robert Elliott

Dr. Bob Elliott is a freelance photojournalist with over 20 years of experience.  His major focus is on athletic competitions, particularly track and field.  When his schedule permits, he competes in road races.  Dr. Bob works as a neuropsychologist in Los Angeles and resides with his wife in Manhattan Beach, California.

What an exciting adventure we had in Beijing at the 2008 Olympic Games.  Days after we arrived, I agreed to provide dispatches on my experiences and impressions.  | MORE BEIJING DISPATCHES

My initial self-imposed task was to write about the community of Beijing and its’ people, with the Olympic Games as the background experience, but after the athletic competitions began I got caught up in the excitement of the athletic events, especially track and field.  At that point the community and the people remained important features in my experiences but the primary focus of the dispatches changed to the competitions.  

My wife and I had no expectations when we arrived, other than it was exciting to be visiting Asia for the first time and we had an opportunity to see a nation in rapid transition. We attended the Games with a “tourist” visa--not a “Journalist” visa, since a number of my photojournalist colleagues had been denied “Journalist” visas.  No reason was given for the denials. Consequently, many journalists gained entry into China with “Tourist” visas.

The experience of Beijing took on two faces--the people and the culture of Beijing and the athletic competitions. Our reflections are based on our personal experiences, a few comments from other fans, an occasional news media disclosure and brief comments from our four adult children who reported to us from stateside.  Access to media outlets (i.e., BBC, NY Times, etc.) that were likely to provide objective commentary was denied in our hotel.  Only one English-speaking TV station (CNN) provided any content on controversial events in the world but did not televise any competitions. All competitions (including the Opening and Closing ceremonies) that were broadcast were done so only on the CCTV Chinese-speaking stations.  Almost all of the CCTV content was limited to competitions in which the Chinese athletes were hoped to have a strong showing.

People and Culture.  From the beginning of our journey we experienced nothing but friendliness and graciousness from the volunteers that were everywhere in the city late into the evening.  Other citizens would occasionally greet us with a friendly smile and comment, “Welcome to Beijing.”  The only time we encountered “aggressiveness” was when we would wait in a line--it was “every man for himself” in lines for anything.   Size was not a factor as the smaller and obviously very agile elderly Chinese grandmothersplowed their way though anyone who was in front of them.  Generally, they were very successful in their effort.

Language was a major problem in the sprawling city. We were surprised to find that none of the taxi drivers we encountered spoke English. Seldom did we encounter staff at major tourist sites that spoke more than a couple of words of English in their efforts to sell food and trinkets. English was spoken fluently in major downtown Beijing hotels and by occasional “plain-clothes undercover” security personnel who were strategically placed around tourist sites to engage with the visitors.  In some cases they stood out, but often they merged into the background. At first we had the feeling we were constantly being monitored, but soon found ourselves lulled into a false sense of privacy.

Finally, we must make a brief comment about the air quality in Beijing, which was “fair” on a good day.  We were in our hotel for days before we looked out the window and discovered that there were mountains nearby!  The skies were often a dull shade of gray and you could not see the sun.  Reportedly, the Chinese system for rating air quality is quite different than the system we have in the U.S.  It is our understanding that some athletes chose not to compete in long-distance races because of the very poor air quality in Beijing.  My wife is still struggling with allergies triggered by the smog during our trip.

Athletic Events.
 The 2008 Olympic Summer Games for Team USA ended on a positive note in he men’s marathon as Dathan Ritzenhein (Eugene), who experienced severe leg cramping just past the 30km mark, took 9th place (2:11.59) and Ryan Hall (Mammoth Lakes, Calif.) took 10th place (2:12:33) on the final day of competition.  Teammate Brian Sell (Rochester Hills, Mich.) finished in 22nd place 2:16.07.  This is the first time the U.S. has placed two athletes in the top 10 of the men’s marathon since the 1976 Olympics in Munich. The Gold Medal went to Samuel Kamau Wanjiru (Kenya) with an Olympic record performance of 2:06.32. Jaouad Gharib (Morocco) was second and Tsegay Kebede (Ethiopia) was third.  At the conclusion of the marathon Ritzenhein, 2008 Olympic Trials runner-up, stated, “I am pretty happy.  I thought I had a good shot at a medal…To be able to come here and finish ninth at the Olympics, it’s a big step for me.  Hopefully I can continue to climb the ladder.”

Although much has been written about the disappointing Olympic performance of the current U.S. track and field team, Team USA was the leader in the medal count in track and field at the conclusion of the 2008 Summer Games. The total medal count for the U.S. track and field team in Beijing equaled the number of medals won in Atlanta in 1996 and exceeded the 17 medals won in the Sydney Games.  The women’s team won nine medals.  This was the best performance by a U.S. women’s track and field team since 1992 when they won 10 medals, and was the third all-time best performance in history.

In the final analysis--it must be pointed out that these young adults were chosen to be on the U.S. team because of their outstanding athletic accomplishments.  Not all of their Olympic performances lived up to their expectations (or ours). However, elite athletes are their own harshest critics.  Instead of criticizing them for “under-performing”, let’s celebrate their victories and support the athletes who are dealing with disappointment over their performances.   These fantastic, dedicated and hard-working athletes will carry their Olympic experiences with them for the rest of their lives.  They will always be able to declare, “I AM AN OLYMPIAN!!!”

Disclosure by Dr. Bob: Shortly after my arrival in Beijing, I received a request to submit articles about my experiences at the Olympic Games. Throughout the month that my wife and I were in Beijing I have diligently written almost daily Dispatches.  After completing a draft of my first Dispatch, my wife, Dr. Twila Elliott, and I decided that my Dispatch would benefit from a co-writer and editor. While I consider myself a competent writer, my wife has added color and texture to the dispatches.  I tend to be a “technical writing” kind of guy—she adds much of the flair and has spent hours adding meaningful twists and correcting my grammatical errors. In a number of the Dispatches she spent more time re-writing and editing the content than I did writing the original articles (including this paragraph). We’ve had a great time writing the articles and we hope you have enjoyed hearing about our experiences. We’re already making plans to attend the 2012 Olympic Games, which will be held in London.

What went right Saturday night for the U.S. 4x400-meter relay teams overshadowed what went wrong with the sprint relay teams a few nights ago.  U.S. relay stars arrived at the stadium with a focus and intention to put everything on the line on the final night of track and field at the Bird’s Nest. Read more »
The “World’s Greatest Athlete” has been declared at the 2008 Summer Games.  Read more »
BEIJING -- It was raining on the track as U.S. runners LaShawn Merritt (Suffork, Va.), Jeremy Wariner (Waco, Texas) and David Neville (Valencia, Calif.) finished in a 1-2-3 sweep of the men’s 400 meters. Read more »
BEIJING -- Nick Symmonds of Springfield, Ore,, the 2008 Olympic Trials 800m champion, advanced to the semi-finals in a perfectly executed race that had fans sitting on their edge of their seats.  Read more »
Believe it.  Dawn Harper (Los Angeles), 2003 USA junior champion in the 100m hurdles, shocked the stadium audience and her fellow competitors with her 12.54-second Gold Medal winning performance last night at the Bird’s Nest.    The time was a personal record (PR) for Harper, who was considered by many to be lucky to make the finals in the 100m hurdles. Read more »
The Bird’s Nest National Stadium was jammed with anxious spectators, including U.S. fans who were hungry for Gold. Fans were not disappointed, as they once again witnessed a night filled with amazing performances. Read more »
There will be no tours of Beijing or the countryside today.  Our focus will be on serious issues involving track and field competitions at the Summer Games last night (Sunday) and today (Monday).  Read more »
We awoke to cloudy skies and warm, but not stifling, weather.  A few drops of rain fell in the morning that cleared the skies. Before the evening track and field session, we took a few hours to tour the Summer Palace, a sprawling landscaped park on the edge of Beijing. Read more »
Finally, after many days of anticipation, track and field competition has begun!  Many of the U.S. visitors attending the athletic competitions are well informed about most, if not all of the track and field events. The majority of individuals from the U.S. with whom we have talked are from California or Oregon.  Read more »
It was afternoon thunderstorms and pouring rain in Beijing today, making travel into the community difficult.  Read more »
As we visited Chong Wenman Market, a fresh food specialty market located in central Beijing, we encountered two-time Olympian Seth Kelsey and his mother, Susan. 
Read more »
Today began with a break in the weather. Last night’s rain appeared to cool down the temperature, although the high humidity continued. Read more »
After last nights thunderstorm we awoke today to a view of the nearby mountains and the glimmer of a little sunshine.  We had no idea that there were mountains a few miles away.  Later in the morning the sky clouded over, and the mountains were once again invisible.  The afternoon produced a few drops of rain.  The temperature has cooled to the mid 80s but the humidity remains oppressive. Read more »

As thundershowers and rain moved into the area, Dr. Bob Elliott still finds himself having trouble getting tickets to Olympic events. In the meantime, he notes how meticulous the Chinese have been about maintaining cleanliness and orderliness in his hotel and in the tourist areas. There is absolutely NO litter to be found on the streets or at various tourist sites, he says.

Read more »

On the first day of Olympics competition, Dr. Bob Elliott reflects on the frustration of being a spectator. Some venues sit practically empty, and yet the staff refuse to allow people to go sit in the seats, saying that the seats are already sold. He wonders how a sea of empty seats will appear on television as the events move into the finals. | OLYMPIC SCHEDULE

Read more »
Dr. Bob Elliott covered the Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene for YouNews. Now he's in Beijing sending back reports from the 2008 Summer Olympic Games for KVAL.com readers. | OLYMPIC SCHEDULE Read more »
Dr. Bob Elliot covered the Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene for YouNews. Now he's in Beijing sending back reports from the 2008 Summer Olympic Games for KVAL.com readers. | OLYMPIC SCHEDULE Read more »

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