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Sunday, Aug. 24, 2008

BEIJING POSTCARD

Days running together as Olympics near end


BEIJING — It's easy to lose track of time while on a three-week reporting assignment.

On Monday, I kept thinking it was Tuesday. Two days later, my brain was telling me it's still Tuesday. As I write this, I'm hoping it is Friday, but it is in fact Saturday.

Oh well.

Time moves too quickly, especially on deadline. (Note to self: tomorrow isn't Thursday.)

Sleeping habits are in disarray here in Beijing. Some mornings I wake up at 6 a.m. and re-write the previous night's stories with quotations and more details for the early edition because the events ended too late to make it into the newspaper before deadline.

I've also stayed awake until 3:30 a.m. because I have the same task at hand and morning events to report on the next day. Twenty-minute naps on the shuttle bus are a requirement here.

The IOC's scheduling geniuses didn't effectively factor sleep into the equation when they made plans for the two-week extravaganza. For instance, the United States-Argentina men's basketball game ended a few minutes after midnight on Saturday.

Dozens of reporters waited around the mixed zone for a few sound bites from players and then hustled into the press conference room to hear U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski talk about what a quality opponent Argentina has been over the past 10 years. This "prized" information could have been issued in a press release before the game.

By the time the bus reached the Main Press Center it was 1:30 a.m., but the next bus I needed to catch, the one headed to the hotel, didn't leave until 2:05 a.m.

The best option was to get a taxi, but not before the cab driver asked three different volunteers for directions after I had handed him a card from the hotel with the street address and a small map. Five minutes and 15 or so questions later, the taxi departed.

Hey, it's been time well spent.

* * * * *

The great debate before the Olympics began was if it's better to win more gold medals or the overall tally.

The United States had the second goal in mind. China expected to be successful with the first objective.

By Saturday morning, China was winning the debate. China had 47 gold medals, more than half of its overall medals (89), while the United States led the overall medal haul with 31 golds (eight by Michael Phelps), 36 silvers and 35 bronze, or 102 overall.

China also had 17 silvers and 25 bronze at the point.

Which is a bigger accomplishment: to have more medals or a greater percentage of those medals being of the gold variety?

Every Chinese person I've spoken to about this topic believes getting as many golds as possible is the one true objective for China's Olympians.

If there has ever been a greater collective euphoria for gold medals, I've not seen it, heard it or read about it.

* * * * *

What did 200 people crammed into a subway car slightly bigger than a dentist office's waiting room have in common on Friday night?

They wanted to watch the Olympics.

Our eyes gazed intently at the small TV screens inside the train, keeping up with the latest results of the table tennis tournament on CCTV-1, the primary station of China Central Television.

It was time well spent, marveling at the quick reflexes and superb hand-eye coordination of the players. It was much better than getting irritated at the guy standing by the door shouting on his cell phone.



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