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  • Op Ed-- One Week Left, Beijing On Course to Victory


    It's less than a week before the flame goes out at the Beijing Olympics and all seems okay here in the home stretch.

    There are no major operational issues for stakeholders, whether sponsors, IOC, media, federations or spectators.

    Fears about the weather and pollution’s effect on sport performance have faded away with world records dotting the results tables. Rain has helped clear the air and provide a respite from the searing temperatures that marked the open of the Games.

    Remember the anguish expressed a year ago when the swimming finals were moved to the morning to accommodate U.S. broadcaster NBC? The swimmers setting world records during those morning sessions of the past week apparently were not affected by the change, nor apparently Michael Phelps on his way to eight golds.

    Today, this second Sunday of the Games, the women’s marathon was run under what were ideal conditions for the race: overcast skies, cool temperatures and good air quality. The marathon was one of the events the prophets of doom worried might be impacted by Beijing pollution. So far so good, although the men’s event the afternoon of August 24 is still to come.

    Empty seats at some early rounds of competition are always a problem for Games organizers, but capacity crowds have been the rule for marquee events such as swimming and track and field. For athletics in particular, a nearly full house at morning sessions seems almost otherworldly after the experience of some past Games, when half-full was a satisfying turnout.

    The big crowds in the Bird’s Nest Stadium have helped lead to a rise in the atmospherics for the Olympics. At the start the Olympic Green was a lonely place to be. But liberalized entry policies have made it possible for more people to enter the promenade, even if they are not attending sports events.

    The center of Beijing bustles during the day, but still could use a central gathering point or medals plaza that might encourage more of a festive spirit.

    Security is omnipresent, but not overbearing for the most part. The placement of an armored personnel carrier with a machine gun in front of the Main Press Center last week was a short-lived move. Security officials got the message quickly just how offensive this was to the visiting journalists and the mini-tank was moved.

    Journalists have done all the complaining that we are aware of, mostly about controversial issues that BOCOG and the IOC would prefer not to touch, such as China human rights policies and the blocking of certain internet sites.

    We are staunch believers in the rights of free association, speech freedom and the ability to do our work without intrusion by the government. So far, we have been able to report on these Olympics freely and fairly, despite much still needing to be done in China to bring policies in line with the rest of the world.

    Disappointing is the cancellation of press conferences by the IOC and BOCOG for two days running now, perhaps an Olympic record. True, there is little news to report from the organizers or the IOC. But after a series of contentious briefings, the cancellations make it look like organizers are coming up with a new way to avoid providing straight answers to the press.

    Thankfully, the mania around Michael Phelps will subside now that he has an eighth gold medal. The spotlight turns to Usain Bolt of Jamaica, already a marvel for what he did in the 100m Sunday night. Expectations will build as he heads to a possible gold and a second world record in the 200m. This final week also will bring hurdler Liu Xiang to the track, the weight of China on his shoulders. For him to finish second could put this nation into a deep funk.

    But an even bigger funk could hit the world about the Olympics if any of these new heroes prove not to be who they are. All around the press corps are the whispers, the suspicions. The class of 2008 needs to pass their drug tests with flying colors.

    Op Ed is a weekly column of opinion and ideas from Around the Rings. Comments, as well as guest columns are welcomed: