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Scoring the Olympics
Olympic and Chinese flags fly near the portrait of late communist leader Mao Zedong on Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, Aug. 6, 2008.  (AP Photo/Greg Baker)

Olympic and Chinese flags fly near the portrait of Mao Zedong on Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, Aug. 6, 2008. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)

What will we remember from the towering spectacle of the Beijing Olympic Games — about sport, about media coverage, about China?

From those massed drummers of the opening ceremony, to the eight medals on swimmer Michael Phelps, to the lightning speed of Jamaican Usain Bolt and Beijing’s eye-popping facilities, everything has seemed larger than life … except perhaps those tiny Chinese gymnasts.

China, NBC, and a whole lot of athletes wanted gold out of Beijing — and there’s a lot to go around. This hour, from sport to media to China’s bottom line, we’re scoring the Olympics.

Have you loved the Games, hated them, been riveted — or not? What image of sports, of China, will stick in your mind? And how about the way we’ve been shown, or not shown, the Games and the host nation by NBC and by China? How do you score these Olympics as a media event? What have you learned, or not learned, about China? You can join the conversation right here. Share your thoughts.


Joining us from London is Rob Gifford, NPR’s London bureau chief. He was NPR’s Beijing bureau chief for six years and is the author of “China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power.” He was last in China following the earthquakes in May.

From Washington, we’re joined by Paul Farhi. A staff writer for The Washington Post since 1988, he currently covers popular culture, the media, politics, and other subjects for the Post’s Style section and writes washingtonpost.com’s Olympics blog, “Playback: The Games on TV.”

And from Laurel, Maryland, we’re joined by David Steele, longtime sports columnist for The Baltimore Sun, Michael Phelps’ hometown paper.

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  • http://sweetspotdigital.com Bob Merrill

    Regarding lip-syncing – in an event like that, the logistics of having a performer sing live are tremendous and extremely risky. Anyone who thinks this is an unusual practice is sadly mistaken.

    Bob Merrill
    Sweet Spot Digital
    South Pomfret, VT

  • http://wbur Michele Wilson

    As spectacular as the opening was, I still think that the lighting of the Olympic flame in Barcelona by the archer with a flaming arrow cannot be topped. That was just too cool.

    Half the female Chinese gymnasts are underage; one of the platform divers in last night’s event is anorexic.

    You have to remember that American athletes are entrepreneurs – they alone choose their sport and pay for their training (well, their families too). The Chinese are selected by their government as preschoolers and trained for the purpose the government chooses. It’s a wonder Americans can compete as well as they do.

  • Nick

    To gain respect China needs to stop torturing its citizens. Right now there are thousands of people who have been imprisoned for no other reason than for their religous beliefs. For example there are hundreds of Tibetan Buddhists who are imprisoned and being tortured because they will not renounce their religous beliefs.

  • Sam

    As I listen to this program I am reminded of the adage, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

    The US has an embarrasingly large percentage of our poulation living in poverty.

    The US is engaged in eggregious human rights violations.

    The US is the largest pollutor.

    Is it easier to accuse others of this kind of behavior rather than look at our own failings?

  • Joanna Drzewieniecki

    I am going to avoid politics for a change. We live on the Canadian border which means that we can watch the Olympics on either US or Canadian television.

    Canada is much better at focusing on athletes from all over the world who give outstanding performances in their sport. Canada has always done better in bringing out the international aspects of the Olympics and not making it a competition between the U.S. and another major world power.

    So far, 80 countries have won Olympic medals — now isn’t that fantastic?! (I have to go to the BBC website to see the total number of countries – seems like everywhere else you would have to count them up.)

    For me, this is definitely the upside of globalization.

  • Harry

    I agree with what Joanna Drzewieniecki said above. There is no doubt some US reporters still have the “Cold War” mindset, and you could hear and feel it when the gymnastics events were broadcast. The Chinese don’t care if they are competing against the US or an island from the Pacific Ocean. Chinese reporters do a much better job in this regard.

    As far as the under-age Chinese gymnasts issue is concerned, as a Chinese, I feel it could be true, although I couldn’t tell their ages. But for people who keep saying the judges are helping Chinese gymnasts, please take a closer look at how US gymnasts and divers have been well treated by the judges at recent Olympic games.

    As a Chinese, I agree with what Michele Wilson said above – I have no doubt the US is the real #1 super power in sports. But in the meantime, I’d like to see some acknowledgment on Chinese’s rapid achievements in sports. Considering the downhill performances in recent Olympic games, Germany is now resorting back to what East Germany has done in the past, which is pretty much what Michele described above — a method adopted by most communist countries.

  • Chan

    It is very interesting to me that Tom repeatedly asked for the “negative” reports about China during Olympics. Why do you want that so badly? Are average Americans really interested in those issues? Based on my experience here, seems not. Don’t Olympics give Americans and Chinese a great opportunity to exchange their cultures and ideas?

    You seem very disappointed by the fact that there are very few, if any, protests so far. Well, there are a couple of days left, and you still have a good chance to see that.

    After all, Olympics is Olympics. This is supposed to be a sports event. What we want is simply to make this sports event successful, like every host countries and cities want. That’s all.

    Aren’t all negative reports before Olympics enough? I have paid close attention to the media in this country. It is clear to me that, during pre-Olympics, the vast majority of reports regarding Beijing Olympics were negative. Haven’t Americans been stuffed enough with Chinese human rights issues, pollution, Tibet, Darfur, internet censorship and so on so forth?

    By the way, in case that you haven’t noticed, NBC did indeed interview Wang Dan, a Tiananmen “hero.” Although he currently is disliked by many Chinese, including me, this interview will make you happy. Though, I know that still can not satisfy you anyway …

  • Frederic C.

    Re.: Beijing Olympic organizers in bid to gain face, lose face in pretty face flap.

    The trend towards honoring the superficial is very disappointing.

    And who cares? Sadly, too few of us. Why? Because education is underfunded and there is no universal healthcare. Without a solid base are we surprised that we have to keep repairing a house of cards?

  • Harry

    You will hardly hear or see any IN-DEPTH reports on what China has done to make such great progresses. What you normally hear is a very high level one line sentence praising China for what it has achieved, then the “but” word appears followed by enormous critics.

    Just a couple of days ago, or was it yesterday, there was this real in-depth report on Beijing air pollution. The reporter actually went to Tangshan, a city 100 miles away from Beijing to interview average people there, since some of their factories were closed due to the Olympics. Bravo!

    Here is the fact: the majority of Chinese people are happy and hopeful on what they are doing and to see where the country is heading.

  • Rob Y.

    Here is the so called mentality playing out in each and every Western media outlet: they are still living in the Cold War ideology, which is East vs West and Democratic vs centralized.

    On the other hand, they intentionally ignore the tremendous challenges facing the ailing Western social and economic structure.

    They refuse to acknowledge the Chinese Development Model/Beijing Consensus is enticing the majority of developing countries in the world.

    Even on the technical side of the story, the Western media not surprisingly never reports from both sides. Instead they favor the direction where their funding is coming from.

    Bearing this in mind, you will not wonder why you never hear a true/objective story on China/Russia/Sudan/North Korea/Iran/etc…

  • John

    Why does it take so long to load the archived audio on this site? It used to be almost instantaneous! OnPoint webmasters: find out what The Diane Rehm Show people are doing and do that instead!

  • http://www.onpointradio.org/about-on-point/wen-stephenson/ Wen Stephenson

    John: Thanks for the feedback. I feel your pain, believe me, and we’re working on it. What’s more, today there was a glitch with the audio upload on this page, so it appeared a couple of hours later than normal. Very sorry for the delay. Thanks for your patience.

  • John

    Great to hear, Wen! Thank you! Tom Ashbrook for President!

  • jeff

    China should never had been given the Olympics.
    They used it as a way to gloss over the issues and to show the Chinese people how wonderful they are.

    The protest area was a complete joke, apparently quite a few Chinese who went in to apply for a permit disappeared.

    They are brutal regime period.
    The people have traded money for freedom.

    China is also flooding the world with fakes. You name it they will copy it from garments to designer clothes and art. This is a huge industry and they undermine every industrial nation.

    We wear clothes produced in what we would consider slave conditions.

    Please go to the link to Bill Moyers Journal to get a rude awakening on this most oppressive of countries.


  • http://www.myspace.com/wtdrx Willie T

    In response to Bob Merrill’s comments regarding lip-syncing, it is true that many singers resort to lip-syncing their performances, and it is a common among practice, despite the fact that great gains have been made in public broadcasting over the last few decades that make it unnecessary in most instances. Some performers prefer to do this because they feel that can’t pull off a live performance that matches their recorded work, depending on the kind of production that went into their recordings.

    The Chinese spared no expense in hosting the Beijing olympics, and I’m sure that logistics and money were no object. The Chinese simply felt that the real 7 year old singer was just not pretty enough to represent their nation. (although, having seen her on TV, I think she was adorable, despite her crooked teeth). This is a really sad excuse for lip-syncing, and I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for that poor little girl to be told that she wasn’t pretty enough to represent her country, and therefore could not be onstage herself to sing the song live. How could anyone be so cruel to a young child? It’ll be a miracle if she isn’t scarred for life by such humiliating treatment.

    Willie T

  • OlympicFan

    I’d just like to comment on NBC’s disgraceful treatment of the Olympics coverage. My wife and I never watch commercial television but we had no choice when it came to watching this year’s Olympics. We were acutely reminded of why we don’t watch commercial TV. The way NBC pretended that pre-recorded events were “LIVE” and the way they interrupted the opening and closing ceremonies, cutting out entire segments, and even sporting events right in the middle of the event with 3-5 minutes of insulting commercials every five minutes, was, to me, just unacceptable. It was the epitome of corporate greed and monopolization of what should be considered a public resource, the airwaves. I watched online coverage from the BBC, CBC, and Australian TV, and I have to say it was far superior. No commercial interruptions and none of the bigoted comments I heard coming from the culturally illiterate NBC talking heads who were sitting in New York pretending to be at the games. Aside from the ignorant comments during the ceremonies, I remember one segment where some American redneck went to McDonald’s and got a delicious looking pork bun with his coffee and commented that it was “different” and another guy commented on how the pork bun would swell up from the rain that was beginning to fall. Can you say “Ugly American”? I will boycott the sponsors of this fiasco and am considering cancelling my Visa card that I’ve had for years. There is no excuse for such exploitation and greed, not to mention the insultuous comments.

  • F Yang

    Let’s get this straight – people keep getting it wrong.

    Lin Miaoke – the pretty girl appeared on the show was selected as the one to appear from early on. It was the last minute that they decided her voice was not good enough. It’s not the other way around.

    It’s a subtle but important difference. I wonder if the West Media kept making this mistakes perhaps on purpose.

  • F Yang

    People keep twisting facts to fit their views.

    The cost of American athletes’ training is shouldered by their families until they turn 16 (or 18) because they can. This is possible because the average American family’s income is 10 times the average Chinese family’s income. Tell me which poor American family is able to support their kids’ training ?

    The cost of Chinese athletes is shouldered by various levels of governments. It should be thought as a scholarship. It gives so many talented but poor kids a chance. The same goes with the national entrance exam for its universities. You can get in not based on how much you can pay, but how talented and how hard your kids work.

    How difficult is it to understand the concept that you have to work hard and earn something in this world ? I think Americans are too spoiled in general.

    When the average Chinese family’s income becomes more comparable to Americans, sending kids to athletic/art training will become more common too, as already happening in Urban China.

    As for the portrait of Chinese athletic selection process as a “grinder” and “robbing parents’ of their kids”, these are condescending and patronizing views to talk down China’s success.

    I grew up with many peers in athletic programs in elementary/junior/high schools. I can tell you that

    1. most parents were proud that their kids were selected to enter a special athletic program, as would any parents in the world

    2. kids in special programs continued their regular schooling with us, except they had to have different schedules and work harder

    3. some would plateau at some point, not enter into city/provincial/national team. But they nonetheless graduated as the average students, except they were a lot more self-disciplined. They were not “dumped” as some American viewers/media would like to portrait

    With this negativity to view anything successful from China, I’d come to my conclusion that either the average Americans are too spoiled and think all great achievements came naturally, without disciplines and sacrifices,
    or they are too petty by talking down/brushing off the competitors with a little smear.

    How sad!

  • F Yang

    I happened to think the Barcelona torch lighting by an archer was incredibly original too, if not more than the Chinese version.

    However, do you know that the archer didn’t light it successfully, but what was shown on TV was an edited version ? This is a fact I learned only recently. Apparently, not many media/people made a big fuss about it, why ? [I personally think they shouldn't either].

    It was the Wall Street Journal that put all the negativity into perspective: the reason, it says, is that this Olympics is the only second time since the WWII that the host nation is not a pro-west or at least neutral. The first time was Soviet Union and the Americans protested by not going.

    Friends or foes, this would explain it all!

  • F Yang

    Who is faking it ? China or the West Media ? You’d be the judge:


  • F Yang
  • another opinion

    F Yang,

    Thank you for all the factual reference.

    I also know that the western medias totally twisted the fact, not sure why they do that, intentional or lost in translation?

    Something is just not right, when you listen to all the people try to be righteous, but they are actually using righteousness as a tool to degrade the target, which is something or someone they always don’t like.

    I really learned a critical lesson from this Beijing Olympics, never believe the first thing you read from the news, do your home work, and wait about when things taper down. Truth only comes out when no one else is watching. Good lesson.

    I take reference from reading news, but I don’t have form my opinions on everything I read.

  • another opinion

    Sorry, forgot to put this thought on my last post.

    If anyone body is going to commend about China and Tibet conflict or relationship, please, please go read up more about them from all different sources. You will learn the picture is quite different from the ones that the general western medias or the Hollywood celebs have portrayed.

    Thank you.

  • another opinion

    Does anyone know that the polices tear gas and arrested hundreds of protesters when the Republic Convention was going on in St. Paul? How come no ones knows about this unless you were there being one of the protesters?

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