In a country still struggling to cope with the needs of millions of homeless and bereaved citizens in the aftermath of May's deadly earthquake, and where recent outbreaks of unrest have roiled many towns, the leadership has declared that putting on a good games is its "No. 1 priority." Communist Party and government officials at every level know that their careers are at risk if anything occurs on their watch that disrupts the Olympics.
The government-organized vigilantes in their baseball caps and "Good luck Beijing" T-shirts patrolling the streets in search of potential troublemakers might look like a throwback to a China of the distant past: an era when no one was safe from the prying eyes of neighborhood spies. But few people seem to resent their presence, or even the party's relentlessly upbeat rhetoric about an event that has disrupted, sometimes massively, the lives of hundreds of thousands. Most Beijing citizens still seem proud and delighted that their country is staging the Olympics.
The party has tapped into a nationalist wellspring fed by history textbooks and popular culture that portray early 20th-century China as a country derided by foreigners as the "sick man of Asia." The man regarded as the spiritual founder of China's Olympic movement, a pre-communist educator called Zhang Boling, is quoted as saying that "a great nation must first strengthen the race, a great race must first strengthen the body." Officials try to play down China's medal prospects at the games, but the goal is clearly to win more than America and erase any last trace of the sick-man label.
This nationalism is both an asset to the party (it helps to bolster its sense of legitimacy) and a complication in its efforts to convince the world that China's rise poses no threat to Western interests. One Chinese official says privately that he had worried about a "clash of civilizations" emerging between China and the West in the wake of the unrest in Tibet last March. Few would begrudge China some self-congratulation as it rakes in the medals. But with memories still fresh of the virulent outburst of anti-Western fervor, and with protests (sometimes unruly) by ethnic Chinese around the world at the West's "bias" against China, nationalism will be under anxious scrutiny at the games.
China's leaders would instead prefer outsiders to focus on how much the country has changed and how much it is at ease in the world. The official slogan of the games, "One world, one dream," reflects this (albeit with an unintended hint of Maoist ideological conformity). But here too it has problems. The protests staged in Western cities in April against the Olympic torch relay raised the nightmare in the minds of China's leaders of similar action at the games. To keep potential demonstrators out it has tightened visa restrictions, ignoring the complaints of foreigners whose business in China has been disrupted.
Without citing any evidence, Chinese officials say that these games have become more of a target for terrorists than any others in Olympic history. Western diplomats are not so sure. The presence of so many foreign dignitaries, including George Bush and Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, at the opening ceremony -- and others, among them Britain's Gordon Brown, at the finale -- presents an obvious security risk. But there are widespread suspicions that China is over-egging the threat in order to justify blanket security and prevent the Dalai Lama's supporters (and other dissidents) from taking to the streets. Tibetans who try to check into hotels can expect unusual security attention.
Dealing With Dissent
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & ell before the Tibetan unrest, signs had appeared that China was tightening the screws on dissent in order to keep the games protest-free. In 2001, a senior Beijing official pledged that hosting the games would "benefit the further development of our human-rights cause." Officials from the International Olympic Committee made similar predictions. But Amnesty International, a human-rights group, said in a report published this week that there had been a "continued deterioration" in China's human-rights record.
Amnesty's report lists numerous repressive measures adopted by China to ensure an orderly games: arresting dissidents, detaining people who try to present their local grievances to the central authorities in Beijing (a tradition that is officially sanctioned, but which often results in retaliation by local officials), and making more liberal use of a handy method of punishment known as "re-education through labor," which involves sending people to prison camps without trial.
Among those detained is Huang Qi, an online activist based in Chengdu, a city near the earthquake zone. Huang had been a prolific publisher of human-rights news on the Internet; recently he had been trying to help parents of children killed in the earthquake in shoddily built schools. He has been accused of acquiring state secrets, a charge that often heralds a jail term. Last year the police arrested an activist in Beijing, Hu Jia, who had told a European Union parliamentary hearing that China had not lived up to its Olympic promises on human rights. He was jailed for three and a half years for "inciting subversion."
The government worries about the sort of accusations made by Amnesty, even as it rejects them. On July 23, it declared that three public parks in Beijing could be used for protests during the games. (Normally no demonstrations, except very occasionally anti-Japanese or anti-Western ones, are tolerated.) But permits will still be necessary. It is safe to say that critics of Chinese policies on Tibet, Darfur, Xinjiang (where Muslim Uyghurs are chafing at Chinese rule) or the outlawed Buddhist sect, Falun Gong, will not be getting them. Moreover, the parks are far from any Olympic venue. One of them contains a replica of the White House in Washington, a setting that China may have fewer qualms about seeing as a backdrop for protests.
Many Chinese, however, are neither surprised nor particularly disappointed that the Olympics will not offer a greater chance to speak out. Some determined activists such as Huang Qi and Hu Jia may be resentful, but many Chinese intellectuals would argue that over the past seven years since China was awarded the games, their ability to speak out on sensitive topics has continued to grow. Although a few are jailed, many others whose words might have landed them behind bars in the 1980s or 1990s are still at large. Most ordinary urban Chinese would say that their lives have improved since the beginning of the decade, helped not so much by any change in party policy but by a booming economy.
Andrew Nathan of Columbia University in New York, who is co-editor of a forthcoming book on how Asians view democracy, says that of the eight countries and regions surveyed, public satisfaction with the regime was highest in authoritarian China. The other places studied were five new democracies (South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Mongolia), a non-democracy (Hong Kong), plus democratic Japan where satisfaction was lowest. The authors are not optimistic that China is on the brink of democratic change. It is, they say, "poised to join the list of developed countries with large middle classes and non-democratic regimes."
This might be a disappointment to optimists who had hoped that the huge international attention focused on China as the games approached would help to change its authoritarian politics for the better. When Beijing was chosen to host the games, many wondered whether the 2008 Olympics might play a political role similar to that of the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and Mexico City's 20 years earlier. In both those cases, the games emboldened pro-democracy activists (although they did not restrain the Mexican authorities from shooting many dozens of them). The Beijing games have not had anything like such a galvanizing effect -- except in Tibet.
Joining the Modern Age
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & E & lt;/span & conomic and social change over the past few years has a lot do with this. In 2001, China had recently all but completed a sweeping privatization of urban housing. The impact of this was enormous. It stimulated demand for consumer goods and better housing and gave swaths of urban China a big economic stake in the preservation of the party-dominated status quo since anti-party unrest might jeopardize valuable new assets.
It also, crucially, nurtured the development of a non-party-controlled civil society of landlord associations, independent lawyers and environmental groups who pushed for the protection of property from the party's arbitrariness or the value-destroying impact of pollution. These developments have been helped by the rapid penetration of information technology. China's official Internet-monitoring body announced last week that China had passed the United States to become home to the biggest population of Internet users.
The Internet's spread has created an opportunity for vigorous public debate that hardly existed a decade ago. The authorities try to block sensitive discussions, using keyword filters and an army of "net nannies" employed by portals and Internet service providers. But the impact of these efforts is limited, with savvy users quickly finding ways of circumventing government blocks. One clever technique has been to use online software to render Chinese-language script vertically instead of horizontally. This has baffled the keyword detectors, for now at least.
The torrent of information now accessible online (even if Amnesty's own report is blocked in China) and the ability to discuss it give many young urban Chinese a sense of freedom that their parents could only dream of at that age. It is these young Chinese who lashed out most vociferously against the West earlier this year. Among their bitterest complaints was that some Westerners viewed them as brainwashed, an accusation that they hotly denied.
If there has been some positive impact from the Olympics themselves on political change in China, it has been in roundabout ways. Chinese troops in Lhasa preferred to let Tibetan rioters rampage for two days rather than move in to stop them, fearing that large-scale bloodshed would lead to boycotts of the games. The scale of the rioting that ensued in the security vacuum had what were probably unintended consequences: sympathy protests across the Tibetan plateau, an outcry from the West and the outpouring of nationalist sentiment across China.
It may well have been an effort to curb this outpouring and create a more positive atmosphere for the games that shaped the government's response to the earthquake in May. A commentary on the government's Website called the disaster, which killed some 70,000 people, "a good opportunity" to improve China's image ahead of the Olympics. Foreign and Chinese journalists (both normally kept on short leashes by the authorities during natural disasters) were allowed to pour in.
This unprecedented access stimulated a lively debate in China, in the traditional media as well as online, about the need for a freer press and a better flow of information from the government. Some of this advice appears to have been taken up. Very unusually, the official media have been quick to report the recent riots that have broken out in different parts of the country. The central authorities, which are normally especially secretive about such things before a big event, have tolerated -- if not actively encouraged -- such publicity.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & f there is any hope in the near future for an acceleration of political change, the period after the games will be one to watch. Leaders and officials at every level will begin to relax after months if not years of preoccupation with this event. Olympic security restrictions will be removed. Dissidents will stick their heads up again. Debates spawned by China's recent crises are likely to become less fettered.
Big questions will be asked in the build-up to the 30th anniversary in December of the party meeting that launched the country's policy of "opening and reform." Some liberal intellectuals have been saying that China is more than ready for the next stage of reform, namely that of its politics. The 20th anniversary next year of the Tiananmen Square protests will keep this issue simmering.
Stresses in the leadership, covered up for the sake of Olympic unity, may also become more apparent in the months ahead. In October, there will be a meeting of the party's central committee, the first since February, at which there is likely to be a lot of soul-searching. A sharp focus will be on the economy. With inflation persisting, the stock market in the doldrums and the pace of economic growth beginning to slow, there will be bickering over this issue, too.
After the Olympic party (a dour one if security officials do not relax), many in China are likely to wonder whether it was really all worth it. Wang Yang, a member of the ruling Politburo and one of the more outspoken leaders (a rare breed), has called for tolerance of public grievances. Attempting to suppress people's views might create an "opinion quake lake," he said recently, referring to the perilously unstable lakes that were formed by landslides during the Sichuan earthquake. China's leaders would do well to take heed.
This article first appeared in The Economist (economist.com).
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & rad Walker is aiming high at the Summer Olympics. How high? About two stories high. Higher, in fact, than any human being has ever soared in the pole vault.
"I believe I can do that," Walker said confidently in a phone interview from Seattle last week, where he rested up for a few days before heading to Beijing.
Walker, the former University High School and University of Washington standout, wants to bring back a gold medal from China -- plus the world record. It was in 1993 that Sergei Bubka of Ukraine vaulted an amazing 20 feet, 2 1/2 inches. Walker set the American record of 19-9 3/4 on June 8 in Eugene, a mark that ranks fourth all-time and No. 1 in the world this year.
The pole vault is a finicky event for even the most accomplished of athletes, but Walker's resume is dazzling. He won the world outdoor title in 2007 despite virtually no practice all year due to a back injury, and he was the world indoor champ in 2006. He's a three-time U.S. Indoor champ and a two-time NCAA Indoor champ, and he won the U.S. Outdoor title in June in Indianapolis.
"Last year, things were really up in the air [due to my back]," says Walker, who lives in the Seattle suburb of Mountlake Terrace. "Basically, I had a five-week hiatus before the World Championships.
"This year is a lot different. Physically, I'm in a very good spot. Mentally, I'm in a great spot."
This will be Walker's first Olympics, but he points out that he will be competing against the same men he has faced for years in meets around the world. Walker earned the third and final U.S. pole vault berth at the Olympic Trials in Eugene on June 29, when he cleared 18-6 1/2 despite tricky winds.
"The Olympics are more pressure than normal, but not much," Walker says. "It's a huge honor, and I'm blessed to be on my first Olympic team, but I don't think the pressure is much different.
"Americans put a lot on the Olympics; the World Championships is [basically] the same track meet."
Walker will have plenty of support in Beijing, since his parents, sister, girlfriend and a few high school and college buddies are making the trip. He plans to make their trip worthwhile, and he's already giving some thought to the 2012 Summer Games in London.
"The male pole vaulter probably peaks in his early 30s," Walker says. "I'm 27 now. There's a four-year cycle that puts me at 31 come London. Probably the furthest I would go is 2016."
All this talk of Olympic, world and national championships is pretty heady stuff for a kid who fancied himself a football player growing up. He was a high jumper in seventh grade at Horizon Junior High in the Spokane Valley when he began pole vaulting.
"The coaches asked who wanted to try the pole vault," he recalls. "A few of us raised our hands, and the coaches picked me."
Nice pick, guys. Walker has developed into a powerful 6-foot-2, 185-pound athlete, one of a select few people in the world with a realistic chance of winning an Olympic gold medal -- and maybe something more.
"I am in range of the world record ... I've competed against all these guys before ... I'm in a good spot," Walker concludes.
-- HOWIE STALWICK
GIVE THE MAN HIS MEDAL
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & Y & lt;/span & ou're 30 seconds out of a bronze medal." Don Kardong was running along, 16 miles into the 1976 Olympic marathon in Montreal, and spectators along the course were trying to be helpful. The race was just heating up, and he still had 10 miles yet to go.
"I could see three guys running together ahead of me, and it was [Lasse] Viren [of Finland], and [Karel] Lismont of Belgium, and Jerome Drayton of Canada. It took me a long time to catch them, but then several miles later, somebody says, 'You're six seconds out of third.' Well, at about 22, 23 miles, there was a water aid station. And they all went in to get water. So I passed them -- I tried to go by them with a whoosh. I didn't look back, and I continued to move away from them."
But this was also two hours into a hard race. "I kept telling myself, 'You got it, man.' My whole goal was to hang onto third. But I felt awful. And I kept wondering, 'Where is that stadium?'
"Well, at about 25 miles, I heard footsteps. It was Lismont, and he was catching me. And I thought, 'I gotta stay with this guy. I may never get another chance...' We had a good footrace there for about a mile, mano a mano. And then there was a downhill, a cloverleaf into the stadium, and he surged...."
Kardong knew that somewhere up ahead of him on the course had to be Frank Shorter, the defending Olympic champion in the marathon, along with some other unknown-to-him runner. The identity of that runner -- and how he came to be leading the 1976 Olympic marathon -- is something to which Don Kardong, over the years, has been forced to give a lot of thought.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & K & lt;/span & ardong wasn't even supposed to have made it to Montreal. He was more of a 5K runner coming out of Stanford -- he almost made the team that year in the 5,000 meters as well -- and there's a great deal of difference between training for a 3-mile race and training for a 26-mile race. At the end of 1975, in fact, Kardong didn't even appear in the Track and Field News top-10 ranking of American marathoners. Yet five months later, he had qualified for Montreal.
In a manner that makes today's V02-measuring, heart-monitor-wearing athletes seem fussy, Kardong worked out on his own, without a coach, running by intuition. In early 1976, he was a sixth-grade teacher at Loma Vista Elementary School in Spokane, trying to fit two-a-day runs into his schedule. "I was doing 105, 110 miles a week," he says. "And when the snow melted off, I did speed work in the parks. At Franklin Park, I'd run three sides of the park, about three-quarters of a mile, then jog the fourth side. At Corbin, I'd sprint the straights and jog the turns, do about 10 of those. I did most of my speed work by instinct," he says.
His instincts were good. The Olympic Trials were in Eugene that May -- top three runners qualify for Montreal, period. After Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers, the pre-race favorites, says Kardong, "I was about the 10th most likely guy" to snag that third spot. So he followed his instinct.
"I was convinced that the lead pack would self-destruct if I stayed back," he says. "I could pick off the people that crashed and burned. And that's exactly what happened."
His plan was "to go out easy the first 10 miles." (Now, keep in mind that, in this case, "easy" means five-minute miles -- or, to put it in perspective, a pace that the very best local high school runners in this area today could keep up with... for about three miles. Then they'd crash and burn -- and watch Kardong go on down the road for another 23 miles.)
That day in Eugene, however, he got behind the leaders, perhaps by as much as two minutes. But then "everybody else fell off" except Kardong and a friend of his "who was running the same strategy." Kardong caught and passed him; hung on for third place; and realized that he had just qualified for the Olympic Games.
There were only two months to recover and prepare for Montreal -- "I couldn't screw it up, and I didn't have enough time to over-train," he says -- and the press overlooked him. After all, Shorter was the returning gold medalist in the event, and Bill Rodgers (who'd finished second at the Trials) was just beginning his run of four victories each at the New York and Boston marathons. Kardong, meanwhile, was told that he'd "love Montreal, love the French culture, and have a really nice Olympic trip."
On race day, "there were 70,000 people there and the TV audience is a billion, and the guys in the lead pack were just pumped," Kardong says. But he opted for the same relaxed strategy that he had used in the Trials: easy for 10 miles, then start to push. He tossed water bottles to kids along the course, relaxed into his rhythm.
Up ahead were the three runners he'd soon be dueling with for the bronze -- and up ahead of them, Shorter and an unheralded East German runner named Waldemar Cierpinski, who had been a good steeplechaser but was almost completely unknown as a marathoner outside of Eastern Europe.
"Frank is up ahead, but I don't know Cierpinski from a hole in the ground," Kardong says. Shorter would have known about him, though, even before they started running side by side at the front of an Olympic marathon.
Shorter, Kardong says, "tells this story about the race, that somewhere around 18 miles, he threw in a surge, and that Cierpinski stayed right with him, and then somehow he knew...."
Kardong's voice trails off. What's known -- and unknown -- about Waldemar Cierpinski to this day is the extent of his involvement in East Germany's massive sports doping program.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n the years since the Berlin Wall fell, hundreds of East German athletes have sued the German Olympic Committee and a major German pharmaceutical company. That's because, from the 1960s through the '80s, 10,000 of them were given little blue pills -- "vitamins," supposedly, but in fact anabolic steroids that helped build muscle mass and reduce recovery time. (In distance events at the world-class level, being able to repeat hard workouts with reduced rest time in between creates a substantial advantage in training.)
Kardong remembers the murmuring in the Olympic Village about the women on the East German swimming team, with their massive muscles, deep voices and facial hair. They also won 11 of the 13 gold medals in women's swimming at Montreal.
But also, years later, came the guilt and recriminations, the depression and raging hormones, the cancer and infertility, the birth defects and suicides.
The sad consequences of today's doping scandals in track and field, cycling and other sports have been apparent for quite some time.
But in 1976, Kardong -- like a lot of people back then -- was na & iuml;ve. "I didn't know that there was anything that you could take that could improve your performance," he says. "Oh, there were rumors of so-called 'blood doping,' but nothing proven."
Sadly, with Ben Johnson and Marion Jones and Floyd Landis and many others, we've witnessed the extent to which athletes will go in the quest for maximum performance. And Kardong's opinion has evolved too: "I think Cierpinski was part of the East German doping problem," he says. "But it wasn't just him. I think the International Olympic Committee should do something -- systematic, from the top down -- about cheating programs. The IOC says there were a lot of cheaters, and some got away. But there's no country that cheated like that. I don't know how you can have had such an egregious and long-term process of cheating and not do anything about it.
"And there's lots of paperwork," he says. "Germans are good record-keepers."
But Kardong is also forgiving. "Their athletes were caught up in a system. They had no options. The trainers told them" to take the pills. And, as he notes, some East German athletes have given back the medals they unfairly won.
But the IOC knows that it doesn't have doping in the Olympics "totally under control," Kardong says. "But this was huge." Even though they've made it clear that there will be no medal restitution, he holds out hope for periodic reevaluation: "If they ever really feel that they have the current situation managed," he says with a sigh, "then maybe they might very well listen to an argument about something that happened a long time ago."
Shorter, for his part, has taken action against the doping program that prevented his repeating as Olympic champion in '76, spending three years as head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. In the late '90s, German whistleblowers had handed him a coded file about steroid use that had belonged to the Stasi, the East German secret police. The file's code number implicated Cierpinski.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hen Karel Lismont surged toward the end of that 1976 marathon, Kardong recalls, "my legs just would not respond. On the final lap in the stadium, I think I was catching him a little, but...."
Shorter finished half a minute ahead, with Cierpinski -- winning his tainted victory -- another 50 seconds in front of Shorter.
Lismont of Belgium took the bronze in 2 hours, 11 minutes, and 12 seconds. The lanky fellow from Spokane, meanwhile, had run the 26.2 miles in a time that would have won every single previous Olympic marathon. But he missed a medal in Montreal by three seconds.
For a man who missed a medal by so little in what he thought had been a fair and honest competition -- only to find out that the East German doping operation had stolen it from him -- Kardong is far from bitter.
"I came so close to the podium," he says. "On that day, I was fourth in the world. I had the best race of my life -- in the Olympics." He got to enjoy the closing ceremonies; at a U.S./U.S.S.R. track meet a week later, he got to mingle with athletes from other nations a lot more than he ever had a chance to do in Montreal's Olympic Village. He had his Olympic experience.
And now it's eight Olympiads later. Kardong, 59, has completed "about 50" marathons now, most recently in Las Vegas just last year, when he ran a 3:48 despite being hobbled by two surgically repaired knees.
And the wait for what some would call justice still goes on. It's been 10 years since the IOC made it clear that there will be no official compensation or replacement medals for athletes who were defeated at the Olympics by athletes who used performance-enhancing drugs -- even if the athletes involved have admitted doping. Too many countries, too much time gone by, too much suspicion that athletes were coerced -- or even that many more athletes, even now, have gone undetected.
According to a ruling in 2006 by the German national track federation, German national records can be vacated only if the athlete involved requests it.
Waldemar Cierpinski repeated his out-of-nowhere feat again in 1980, and he has never admitted that he took steroids before either gold medal. There have been no public admissions. There is even evidence that he acted as an informer for the Stasi.
And then there's one other factor that, "with politics being what they are in Olympic governance," as Kardong remarks, "makes it doubly doubtful that he'll ever be disqualified":
Waldemar Cierpinski is now a member of the German Olympic Committee.
-- MICHAEL BOWEN
BACKSTROKING THROUGH HISTORY
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & nce upon a time, in a faraway land, the Olympics somehow survived without NBC, sports talk radio or athletes with huge entourages. Mary Lou Skok can tell you all about those times. At 93 years of age, Skok looks like she's 73, sounds like she's 43 and acts like she's 23. The Spokane native still drives a car, golfs twice a week, swims the other five days -- and retains crystal-clear memories of the 1936 Summer Olympics, when Jesse Owens and other black American athletes made German dictator Adolph Hitler look foolish with his claims about the alleged superiority of the Aryan race.
Skok, swimming under her maiden name of Perry (as she did for Seattle's Washington Athletic Club from 1934-36), placed fourth in the 400-meter freestyle at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Skok says American athletes knew little or nothing about Hitler's Aryan stance.
"I never heard anything like that," Skok said in a telephone interview from her summer home in Montesano, Wash., last week. "The Jewish people put a little propaganda before we left -- pamphlets -- but there were no organized protests I was aware of."
Skok says she grew aware of Hitler's agenda only after she and other American athletes were interviewed by the FBI after the Olympics. The depth of Hitler's madness would not be known for several years, but Skok remembers that Hitler had a powerful presence at the Summer Games.
"The walk, the stride, his lectures, his speeches -- he never smiled," Skok says. "People were just mesmerized by him."
Skok adds that the German people "were wonderful" in their dealings with all Americans during the Olympics and "pulled down anything anti-Jewish." Owens was cheered enthusiastically by largely German audiences while winning four track and field gold medals in Berlin.
Skok recalls sitting in the stands and marveling at Owens' performances ("We belted out the words to the national anthem"). Skok has bittersweet memories of her own performance, since she was weakened by a case of food poisoning earlier in the week.
"I don't want to use that as an excuse in any way, shape or form," she stresses.
Skok says she went to Berlin with $75, "and I came back with 15." Skok worked as a secretary in Seattle while swimming for the WAC, and her mother and aunt "rattled tin cups" in downtown Spokane during the Great Depression to help raise funds for Mary Lou.
"They picked up close to $20 ... Spokane was not kind to women," Skok laughs.
Skok remains grateful to the Spokane Elks and Athletic Roundtable for raising funds to try to help her, but U.S. Olympic officials insisted that the money go into a general fund. Mind you, these are the same folks who wined and dined in first class while the athletes were cordoned off in the bowels of the ship that carried the U.S. Olympic team across the Atlantic in eight days.
"You know those beautiful pools you see on ships?" Skok asks. "Ours was a rectangular, metal -- just a box. That was our pool. I'd say it was maybe 18, 20 feet [long].
"It was awful. We didn't do any real swimming at all with the ship and the swells. The water went back and forth [in the pool], but we didn't realize how rough it was. It was a very happy group. Very few problems."
One noteworthy "problem" was Eleanor Holm, Skok's roommate on the ship. Holm managed to get her hands on some alcohol -- Holm blames reporters, always a sketchy group -- and when she partied too much one night on the ship ("She was a delightful person ... she was rather loud"), she got kicked off the Olympic swim team.
"Eleanor just happened to be one of those people who could drink late at night and set a world record the next day," Skok explains.
Skok, who learned to swim at her family's summer home at Dreamwood Bay on Liberty Lake, retired from competitive swimming after the '36 Olympics. As soon as the U.S. Olympic team sailed back to New York City, Skok married her husband, Robert, at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The couple raised two daughters in their longtime home of Tempe, Ariz., outside Phoenix. Robert died in 1998, and one of their children died in 1990, but Skok remains a part-time resident of Tempe.
Skok says she set 13 U.S. individual or relay records, plus a world record in the unofficial, rarely held 300-yard freestyle. Less accomplished athletes receive far more publicity, training and income these days, but Skok says she's not the least bit jealous.
"We were much happier, I think, than the kids are today," Skok says. "Anything we had was frosting on the cake. Now kids seem to want so much, and sometimes they get it.
"It's a different world," she adds. "I wouldn't trade mine."
-- HOWIE STALWICK
INLAND NORTHWEST OLYMPIC ATHLETES TO WATCH
& lt;ul &
& lt;li & Christine Amertil (Bahamas, North Idaho College) Amertil won the 400-meter dash at her country's Olympic Trials. She placed seventh in the 400 at the 2004 Olympics. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & Matt Brown (USA, Coeur d'Alene High School) Brown, a third baseman in the Los Angeles Angels farm system, figures to be one of the key players on the team of minor leaguers (plus one college pitcher) who will represent the United States in what is scheduled to be the last Olympics with baseball. Brown was hitting .326 with 21 homers and 67 RBIs in 93 games with Salt Lake City in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & Anson Henry (Canada, Washington State University) Henry took third in the 100 at the Canadian Olympic Trials. He ran on Canada's 400-relay team in the 2004 Olympics. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & Bernard Lagat (USA, Washington State University) The Kenya native became a U.S. citizen last year and immediately became the first man ever to win the 1,500 and 5,000 at the same World Outdoor Championships. He won both events at the Olympic Trials in Eugene. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & Joaquim Olsen (Denmark, University of Idaho) The Danish shot putter won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics, and he finished second at the World Outdoor Championships last year. He will carry the Danish flag at the Opening Ceremonies. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & Diana Pickler (USA, Washington State University) Pickler, a native of Sachse, Texas, qualified for her first Olympics by taking third in the heptathlon at the Trials. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & Brad Walker (USA, University High School) The former Washington Husky broke the American record in the pole vault in June with a world-leading mark of 19 feet, 9 3/4 inches. Walker won the World Outdoor Championships last year and placed third at the U.S. Olympic Trials this year. & lt;/li &
& lt;li & Ian Waltz (USA, Post Falls High School, WSU) Waltz makes his second straight Olympics appearance after winning the discus at the Olympic Trials in Eugene last month. & lt;/li &
& lt;/ul &
-- HOWIE STALWICK
TOO MUCH TO WATCH?
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & fter paying more than $900 million for the rights to broadcast the Olympics in America, it's no wonder that NBC Universal is trying to wring so much coverage -- and, the thinking goes, advertising revenue -- from the Beijing Games. They're promising 3,600 hours of coverage -- that's 150 full days! More airtime than all other Olympic broadcasts since 1960 combined!
Then come the caveats. Not all of it is on television, see. They're taking liberty with what they consider "broadcasting." They're putting some 2,200 hours of broadband feeds on nbcolympics.com (mostly live offerings of sports like trampoline, which only 12 people in Ukraine really care about). That still leaves a staggering 1,400 hours of coverage on regular TV. It'll be spread among NBC-U's six networks (NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, USA and Oxygen) and include two new networks dedicated entirely to basketball and soccer.
Rad, right? Unprecedented choice. There's a damn good chance you'll turn blindly to an NBC-U channel and see a sport you forgot was even in the Olympics.
In fact, in some cases you'll be forced to flip blindly through the channels. The scheduling summary on nbcolympics.com is good for NBC, but listings on the lesser stations like USA are absolutely dreadful. No specifics, no key matchups. A vague sense of events is all you get. ("11:00p - 11:00a Multiple Sports." Thanks.) All you get in listings for the dedicated basketball channel are entries like "1st round games." Which games? Are we talking men's ball or women's? Bueller? Bueller?
So good luck finding out specific times -- like when, say, Angola and Greece meet on the basketball court for a first-round matchup. It's more Olympics, certainly, but in most cases not a new way to watch them.
Oh, and even if you figured out what time the Greece-vs.-Angola game is on, you probably won't be able to watch it. According to an eager but under-informed Comcast representative, NBC's Olympic soccer and basketball channels won't be available in our area. The best his counterparts at DirecTV and Dish Network could offer were confused shrugs.
So we in the Inland Northwest will get less than the 3,600 hours of coverage promised, and large swaths of the TV portions will be presented in throw-it-at-the-wall-see-what-happens fashion. Online coverage of trampoline, though, will be unprecedented -- and live. Sweet.
-- LUKE BAUMGARTEN