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Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008

OLYMPIC NOTEBOOK

Phelps in esteemed company at top of Mount Olympus


Staff writer

BEIJING — Here's the answer to an obscure trivia question: Michael Phelps' middle name is Fred.

Maybe he should consider changing it to Record-Breaker, or register the hyphenated phrase with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The American swimmer broke Mark Spitz's record of 23 records in an individual Olympic event on Tuesday at the Water Cube. Spitz set his marks from 1967-72.

Phelps' 24th record came in the men's 200-meter freestyle final, an event he won in 1 minute, 42.96 seconds.

That record also puts him in an elite fraternity — one for the most Olympic gold medals — that previously included four members: Finland's Paavo Numri (distance runner, 1920-28), the Soviet Union's Larissa Latynina (artistic gymnastics, 1950-64), Spitz (1968-72) and fellow American Carl Lewis (track and field, 1984-96).

What's more, Phelps matched the Olympic record for most swimming medals (11), joining Spitz and Matt Biondi in another category not reached by mere mortals.

After a pair of finals on Wednesday, the 200 butterfly and 4x200 free relay, Phelps has a day off from the pressure of finals on Thursday.

The other finals he's scheduled to appear in are the men's 200 individual medley on Friday, the 100 fly on Saturday and the 4x100 free relay on Sunday.

Clever marketing: Phelps' personal Web site can be viewed in Chinese, too.

That's a good thing for, oh, a billion or so people here who may be interested in more details about this extraordinary athlete.

A growing collection: The small shelf below my hotel TV is running out of room. Why's that? I keep bringing back assorted books and magazines devoted to China and the ongoing Olympics.

I added two more to the collection on Tuesday afternoon: "Our Seven Years Together: Stories about the Olympics in Beijing," a Beijing News Radio collection of 100 interviews with 100 individuals, and "300 Chinese Sentences for the Olympics," a helpful paperback that begins appropriately with Useful Expression No. 1: "ni hao" (hello).

What others are saying: Indian shooter Abhinav Bindra's gold medal in the men's 10-meter air rifle competition on Monday evening gave India its first-ever individual gold medal in any Olympiad. Nalin Mehta of India Express tackled the greater meaning beyond this story in a fine column on Tuesday.

Mehta began his thought-provoking commentary this way:

"When Sir Dorabji Tata organized the first modern meet of Indian athletes with an eye to the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games, he found that despite running barefoot their performance compared 'well with the times done in Europe or elsewhere.' Suitably impressed, Tata personally financed three of the best runners for Antwerp, a move that, in his own words, 'fired the ambition of the nationalist element in the city.' Eighty-nine years after that wind-swept day when Tata first dreamt of an individual Olympic gold for India, Abhinav Bindra has finally found the Holy Grail.

"As the tricolor was hoisted in Beijing, to the stirring tunes of 'Jana Gana Mana,' the poise and pride on his bespectacled visage spoke to a billion Indians, telling them that India could win too. Bindra's achievement is as much a testament to his own skill and courage as it is a metaphor for the larger story of India.

"His gold medal-winning shot on the final attempt is the clarion call of a new India, an India that is not scared of looking destiny in the eye, a nation that goes out to win, not just to participate. Bindra has shattered the grand narrative of failure that has characterized Indian sport just as the emergence of the IT industry in the '90s signified the end of the 'Hindu rate of growth' that defined the economy since the '50s."

A fine impression: The architectural of the Bird's Nest, aka National Stadium, has attracted much attention by those visiting Beijing — not to mention people pausing from their walks to and from Olympic events to snap a few pictures.

"The Bird's Nest has already revolutionized people's view of China," Andrew Young, the cochair of the 1996 Atlanta Games, told reporters.

Young also said the Bird's Nest is "maybe the best stadium ever designed."

Did you know? The Silk Market is one of Beijing's hot spots for shopping these days. As of Tuesday morning, four presidents and 11 first ladies had stopped in for a visit, according to China Daily.

Ex-U.S. President George H.W. Bush spent $250 on six gowns on Monday morning on the market's third floor, including a "dark blue (one) with an embroidered dragon on the back," the paper reported.

Bush also gave salesman Zhang Ting a story he'll surely tell for the rest of his life.

"The gowns are pretty and of good quality. I love the colors," the paper quoted Bush as saying to Zhang.



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