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Entries in 2012 Olympic Games (19)

Wednesday
Aug082012

China Strives to Become the Superpower of Sport

Al Bello/Getty Images(LONDON) -- It's beginning to sound like a broken record at these Olympics. The Chinese anthem blasts out again and again and again as its athletes ascend the podium.

The biggest match of all at these Olympics isn't in the pool or on the parallel bars, it is on the podium where China and the U.S. are battling it out for top spot in the medal count.

The Cold War is long over, but anyone watching these games can see that the U.S. and China are in an Olympic gold war.

While the U.S. medal haul has been consistent in recent years, China has rocketed from nowhere to top of the heap. Just look at the numbers:

Gold Medals:

1988: U.S. -- 36; China -- 5
2000: U.S. -- 37; China -- 28
2008: U.S. -- 36; China -- 51

How do they do it? This week, ABC News correspondent Gloria Riviera in Beijing visited one of the thousands of sports schools where future Olympians are already being groomed. These kids are hand-picked from a population of more than a billion. They start at ages 5 and 6.

Headmaster Gao Jiamei told Riviera that the secret to China's success is young athletes who train hard and can endure hardship.

To China's many detractors these schools are called "Medal Factories." Children are subjected to a grueling regimen of practice that becomes the sole obsession of their lives. For many parents, the honor of having a potential Olympian is offset by the huge sacrifice. In reality, many have to give up their children for the good of the nation's pursuit of gold.

The father of weightlifting gold medalist Lin Qinfeng has said that he hasn't seen his son in six years and that he wouldn't have recognized him on TV this week if the commentator hadn't mentioned his name.

Synchronized-diving gold medalist Wu Minxia had no chance to savor her victory at these games. As soon she won the gold her family broke the news that her grandparents had died a year ago. She was kept in the dark so she'd stay focused on victory here in London.

But the secret to China's success isn't just early, relentless and sometimes heartless training. There's also a strategy.

They have taken a page from the old communists of East Germany who used to win buckets of medals.

"The East Germans understood Olympic math," said USA Today sports columnist and ABC News sports consultant Christine Brennan, "and the Chinese get that too. Which is simply to say, that you take the sports where the medals are most plentiful, and that's where you throw all your energy."

And so while the Chinese have done well in diving and gymnastics where their acrobatic tradition gives them a natural affinity, they have also done staggeringly well in sports that most countries overlook, the low-hanging fruit of the medal count.

So far China's won seven medals in shooting and seven in weightlifting. Seven of those 14 medals are gold.

It's all part of a very focused national obsession to show the world that China is the superpower of sport.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Aug042012

First Double-Amputee Sprinter Competes in Olympic Games

Julia Vynokurova/Getty Images(LONDON) -- South Africa's "Blade Runner," Oscar Pistorius, has made good on living up to his other nickname, "the fastest man on no legs."

The four-time Paralympic gold medal winner, 25, qualified for the 400-meter semifinals Saturday, making him the first double amputee sprinter to compete at the Olympics. He runs on prosthetic legs called Flex-Foot Cheetahs.

Pistorius came in second in his heat, surpassed by Luguelin Santos, 19, of the Dominican Republic. Pistorius ranked 16 in the standings out of the 47 runners who finished their heats Saturday. Twenty-four sprinters advanced to the semi-finals Sunday looking to reach the Monday finals for a chance at Olympic glory.

"Thank you to everyone who has supported me, that was UNBELIEVABLE! Was so amazing to feel the energy from the crowd! Semi-final tomorrow! :)" he tweeted to his followers after the heat.

He ran a seasonal best of 45.44. The 400-meter Olympic record is 43.4, set by American Michael Johnson in 1996 at the Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Pistorius' journey to the top can only be described as miraculous. After he underwent amputation surgery when he was 11 months old, he received his first pair of prosthetic legs at 17 months.

According to his website, Pistorius took up track running to bounce back from a rugby injury at the advice of his doctor when he was 16. The next year, he competed in his first Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004 and won a gold medal in the T44 200-meter race, breaking the existing world record in the event where single below-knee amputees and other athletes with equivalent impairments compete.

Of his semi-final qualification at the London 2012 Games, Pistorius took to Twitter to say it felt "surreal."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug022012

North Korea's Key to Olympic Medals: Prizes for Winners, Labor Camps for Losers

YURI CORTEZ/AFP/GettyImages(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korea's Olympic athletes are thrilling their countrymen with surprising success in winning medals and they are attributing their success to their Dear Leader Kim Jong Un.

But others, including former North Korean athletes who have defected, suggest the success of the country's small contingent of athletes at the games may be the result of a policy of training them from a very young age at specialized schools, backed up by rewards like cars and refrigerators for winners and the threat of labor camps for losers.

North Korea ranks 14th in the overall medal count, but fifth in terms of the number of gold medals with four. The country won two golds in men's weightlifting, one in women's weightlifting and one in women's judo. It also captured a bronze medal in women's weightlifting.

The communist nation has 56 athletes competing in 11 sports. Its hopes for additional medals in boxing, wrestling, diving, table tennis, judo and archery. The best Olympic result in the past was four gold medals and five bronzes in Barcelona 1992.

Joyful residents in North Korea gather to watch the games on huge outdoor screens and public places with television connection.

"After witnessing the gold medal at the Olympics, my heart is unutterably happy and my pride (in our nation) is growing," an unidentified woman said on state television news.

That pride is exactly what the country's new 28 year-old leader Kim Jong Un is looking for. He has taken control of the impoverished nation of 25 million after his father Kim Jong Il passed away last December. Decades of famine have left many North Koreans bitter and analysts say this Olympic Games' fever is a perfect opportunity to generate loyalty and devotion among his subjects.

Gold medalist Kim Un-Guk, who set an Olympic record in 62-kilogram weightlifting, dutifully attributed his triumph to their leader Kim Jong Un.

"I won first place because the shining Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un gave me power and courage," he told reporters in London.

An Kum-Ae, who won her gold in the women's judo 52-kilogram division, said, "I cannot be any happier than right now for I can give my gold medal to our great leader, Kim Jong Un."

Woo-Young Lee, a professor at University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, says, "Athletes in North Korean society are revered as elites and they are managed, trained and supported on a national level."

Hand-picked by the Communist Party's Sports Committee, the athletes are trained at very young ages and registered at specialized schools which provide "daily meals and spending money at times," said Gu-Kyeong Bang, a defector living in South Korea.

Bang was a student athlete in Taekwondo in the North. Training involved four hours of "ideological education" per week aimed at cultivating loyalty to the leader.

"They play with a different mind set," said another North Korean defector to the South, Kim Yo-Han. "An absolute loyalty towards the country and the leader is the core foundation of the North Korean athletes' sportsmanship."

Kim's father was a soccer coach and mother was a rhythmic gymnastics coach in the North.

Upon returning home, gold medal athletes like Kim Un-Guk and An Gum-Ae would be rewarded with handsome prize money, an apartment, a car, and additional perks like refrigerators and television sets.

But most of all, they will be rewarded with a huge jump in social status with the title of "hero" or "people's athlete."

But poor performances, especially losing to their archenemy nations like the United States or South Korea, have consequences. Rumors of athletes being sent directly to labor camps upon arriving home are not confirmed, but it is a common procedure to open "review meetings" after the sports events in which participants "assess" their own and each other's games, said Kim Yo-Han.

If during that process the person is determined "disloyal" to their Dear Leader, the athlete is likely to be expelled from the sports organization and at times sent to labor camps.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Aug012012

US, British Olympians Claim Victories in Shadow of Badminton Scandal

Al Bello/Getty Images(LONDON) -- It was a triumphant day in the pool for Team USA.

Missy Franklin, the high school senior who won a gold medal Monday, swam to a second gold in the 4x200-meter freestyle, and Rebecca Soni broke the world record for the 200-meter breaststroke with a time of 2 minutes, 20 seconds in the semifinals.

Adding to the United States' winning streak at London's Aquatics Centre, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte will face off in the final of the men's 200-meter individual medley, after Lochte finished first and Phelps second in Wednesday's semifinal.

U.S. swimmers Cammile Adams and Kathleen Hersey failed to medal in the women's 200-meter butterfly final. Hersey finished fourth and Adams fifth, while the Chinese Jiao Liuyang took gold.

On a day that began with a scandal over thrown badminton matches, Britain collected its first two gold medals of the 2012 Olympics with wins in rowing and cycling.

On Dorney Lake, rowers Heather Stanning and Helen Glover dominated the women's coxless pairs for the host's first gold medal. Stanning and Glover quickly opened a wide lead that never closed as New Zealand took silver and Australia took bronze. The pair were the first women rowers ever to win a gold medal for Britain.

The British were expecting cyclist Mark Cavendish to deliver the host country a medal on the first day, but a Kazakhstani cyclist beat him to an upset victory. British cyclist and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, though, did not disappoint in the men's time trial, cruising to victory for his country's second gold medal. He is now Britain's most decorated Olympian.

Earlier in the day, U.S. cyclist Kristin Armstrong won her second gold medal in the women's time trial.

The women's badminton scandal cast a shadow on the rest of the day's events. After Chinese players were noticed deliberately losing a preliminary match to earn a favorable seed in the competition's next round, six of their South Korean and Indonesian counterparts followed suit, leading to the disqualification of eight players. The badminton federation rejected the appeals of the South Korean players, and the Indonesian players quickly dropped their appeals.

In tennis, Novak Djokovic handily beat Australian Lleyton Hewitt, while Venus Williams fell to German Angelique Kerber.

U.S. beach volleyball stars Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor are set to take to the sand at 6 p.m. ET against Austria.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Aug012012

2012 Olympics: Host Britain Wins Its First Two Gold Medals

MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- On a day that began with a scandal over thrown badminton games, Britain collected its first two gold medals of the 2012 Olympics with wins in rowing and cycling.

On Dorney Lake, rowers Heather Stanning and Helen Glover dominated the women's coxless pairs for the host's first gold medal. Stanning and Glover quickly opened a wide lead that never closed as New Zealand took silver and Australia took bronze.

The pair were the first women rowers ever to win a gold medal for Britain.

The British were expecting cyclist Mark Cavendish to deliver the host country's first medal on the first day, but a Kazakhstani cyclist beat him in an upset victory.

British cyclist and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, though, did not disappoint in the men's time trial, cruising to victory for his country's second gold medal.

Earlier in the day, U.S. cyclist Kristin Armstrong won her second gold medal in the women's time trial.

The women's badminton scandal cast a shadow on the rest of the day's events. After Chinese players were noticed deliberately losing a preliminary match to earn a favorable seed in the competition's next round, six of their South Korean and Indonesian counterparts followed suit, leading to the disqualification of eight players. The badminton federation rejected the appeals of the South Korean players, and the Indonesian players quickly dropped their appeals.

In tennis, Novak Djokovic handily beat Australian Lleyton Hewitt, while Venus Williams slogged along against German Angelique Kerber.

Both Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte qualified for the semifinals in the men's 200-meter individual medley, setting up a dramatic race for later today.

U.S. swimmers Cammile Adams and Kathleen Hersey will compete this afternoon in the women's 200-meter butterfly final.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jul312012

2012 Olympics: US vs. China -- The New Cold War?

MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/GettyImages(LONDON) -- Is China the new Soviet Union at the Olympics? It sure looked that way Tuesday.

At the center of this new Cold War is Ye Shiwen, a 16-year-old Chinese swimmer who came from fourth place Tuesday to win gold in the 200 meter individual medley and snagged gold on Saturday in the 400 meter individual medley.

In her race Saturday, Ye shattered the world record by more than a second and knocked five seconds off her personal best in the final 50 meters of the race. She was even faster in that last lap than American medal winner Ryan Lochte in the men's race.

More than a few eyebrows were raised and commentators watching the race called it "unbelievable." But John Leonard, head of the American Swimming Coaches Association went a big step further saying her race, "was reminiscent of some old East German swimmer." Call that the Olympic equivalent of a nuclear warhead.

Anyone old enough to remember Soviet and East German competitors at the Olympics will remember the hulking bodies of their athletes in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and the doping scandals that constantly discredited them. Leonard was very clearly accusing Ye of taking some form of performance-enhancing drugs.

"History in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I put quotation marks around this, 'unbelievable,' history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved," Leonard told the Guardian newspaper in London.

Adding to the tension is China's domination of the gold medal count in the opening days of these XXX Olympic Games. The United States has been a distant second.

If Leonard's comments were a figurative nuclear bomb, the response from the Chinese was, well, ballistic.

"If there are suspicions, then please lay them out using facts and data," Xu Qi, head of the Chinese swimming team told the state news agency Xinhua. "Don't use your own suspicions to knock down others. This shows lack of respect for athletes and for Chinese swimming."

On Tuesday, the final world from Olympic officials cleared the Chinese swimmer's name.

"She's clean. That's the end of the story," said Colin Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association reporting on the results of official drug tests.

Chinese officials point to her expensive training to explain her explosive times and her physical growth. When she won the Asian Games at 14, she was just over 5' 2" -- she's grown four inches since.

Though she is still smaller than other swimmers at 5-foot-7 and 141 pounds, Ye is known for her large hands and feet.

"My results come from hard work and training," Ye told the China News Service Monday night. "The Chinese people have clean hands."

Of course, there is good reason to be wary of Chinese athletes who shatter world records. China was plagued by a series of drug-related scandals in the 1990s. Seven Chinese swimmers tested positive for banned substances at the Asian Games in 1994 and in 1998 four more Chinese swimmers failed drug tests before the World Championships in Australia. A swimmer and her coach were expelled after being caught with a cache of growth hormones at the airport in Sydney.

That's all history now, say the Chinese, who insist they have cleaned up the sport and invested heavily in rigorous drug testing. Yet just last month 16-year-old swimmer Li Zhesi was dropped from the Chinese Olympic team. To some that might suggest the Chinese really are cleaning up the sport, but to others it is evidence that they continue to cheat.

Leonard may have voiced what many are thinking, but he's finding it awfully lonely.

"We need to get real here," International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said. "These are the world's best athletes competing at the very highest level. We've seen all sorts of records broken already all over the place."

Adams said the top five athletes in each event, plus two others, are tested as part of "a very, very strong drug-testing program, and we are very confident if there are cheats we will catch them."

"We can't stop speculation. It is inevitably a sad result of the fact that there are people who dope and who cheat," Adams said. "It's very sad we can't applaud a great performance. Let's give the benefit of the doubt to the athletes."

American swimmer Michael Phelps' coach Bob Bowman said he saw no reason for the suspicion and speculation.

"I don't think that 4:28 is an impossible time in the 400 IM, I think it's a perfectly logical time for someone to go," said Bob Bowman, American swimmer Michael Phelps' coach. "I trust the testing service and I know that Michael was tested nonstop and we're very careful about what goes into his body, and I assume that other competitors are, too."

Former Olympic champ Ian Thorpe is among those who say her speed spurt is reasonable.

"You know when I was a 15-year-old I swum 3.46 to win the world championships the following year as a 16-year-old I broke the world record at 3.41 that's a five-second dropoff," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jul302012

Olympic Rules: One Bad Tweet and You're Out

SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- A tweet insulting athletes from another country has cost a second Olympian a spot at the games.

Michel Morganella, one of the players on Switzerland’s Olympic men’s soccer team, sent out such a tweet following his team’s 2-1 loss to South Korea on Sunday. Morganella’s tweet said that Koreans should “burn themselves” and described them as “retards.”

Despite Morganella’s quick apology posted on his Twitter page, a prompt response from the Swiss team chief resulted in Morganella’s Twitter account deleted from the social networking site and his dismissal from the team.

Morganella is the second Olympian to get the boot because of a racially charged tweet. Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was left in Athens after her so-called “joke” about Africans in Greece.

“With so many Africans in Greece, at least the mosquitoes of West Nile will eat homemade food!!!” she tweeted.

The triple jumper was no longer welcome to travel to London with her fellow Greek athletes.

“Social media is, in the end, about how people are using it,” says social media expert Sree Sreenivasan, chief digital officer and professor at Columbia University. “Social media doesn’t change the people who are using it and racism has been part of human nature and part of sports for centuries.”

He added, “Twitter is like athletes having their own press conference.”

The International Olympic Committee created “IOC Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines” which clearly states that upon noncompliance of the guidelines an athlete can be stripped of their Olympic Games accreditations.

“These athletes know they live in a world of sponsorships, public opinion and their fans,” said Sreenivasan.  “The world today is about branding, having a following, having people cheer you on and social media has a role in that, social media can build you up.”

Social media can also break you down. An inappropriate tweet can send you out of London, out of the Olympics and straight home faster than you can tweet your apology. Game over.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jul302012

Woman Crashes India's Parade During Olympic Opening Ceremony

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Madhura Honey typifies the world's fascination with gaining the proverbial 15 minutes of fame.  And she managed to do it on the world's biggest stage during last Friday's opening ceremony of the London Summer Olympic Games.

While no one probably noticed anything unusual about the Indian delegation marching in the stadium, people back in India were baffled by the presence of a young woman dressed in a red shirt and blue jeans who led the contingent, walking next to Beijing Games bronze medalist Sushil Kumar.

A friend of the parade crasher determined it was Honey, a postgraduate student from Bangalore, who somehow managed to elude security -- a fact that has outraged Indian Olympic Association vice president Tarlochan Singh.

Singh is still waiting to hear back from organizers about how this happened.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jul272012

2012 London Olympics: Opening Ceremony Is History Lesson

ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/GettyImages(LONDON) --  London's Olympic Stadium became a vast meadow in an opening ceremony that evoked the history of the United Kingdom to kick off the 2012 Olympics.

In the ceremony, choreographed by director Danny Boyle, London took the drama in the opposite direction from that taken by Beijing's Olympic organizers in 2008. In the shadow of Beijing's $40 million ceremony, the most expensive in history, Boyle decided not to try to use his $15 million budget to outdo the Chinese in a time of British fiscal restraint.

More than 80,000 people filled the stands at Olympic Stadium and watched the ceremony begin with 1,000 drummers marching through a field reminiscent of pastoral scenes of farm children and cottages. The famed British actor Kenneth Branagh read excerpts of Shakespeare in the center of the meadow below a towering artificial tree.

As the music picked up, the Industrial Revolution replaced the tree with half a dozen smokestacks that dramatically rose out of the grass, towering over toiling laborers and gilded men in suits and top hats smoking cigars.

After historic scenes such as the celebration of female suffrage, the scene paused as a subtle melody floated in the air. The drums then picked up, and soon men wearing costumes inspired by the album cover of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" joined in to represent the counterculture of the 1960s.

Men in uniform were there too, commemorating the United Kingdom's many military efforts in the 20th century.

Characters from British history pounded drums, chanting to haunting rhythms. Five circular waterfalls elevated high above the ground lit up to form the Olympic symbol. As the water stopped, the circles turned bright reddish orange.

The theatrics did not end there. As a prelude to Queen Elizabeth's introduction, actor Daniel Craig dropped from a helicopter with a parachute emblazoned with the British flag in the character of James Bond.

Members of the British armed services saluted the queen, who dressed in pink for the occasion, and the national anthem, "God Save the Queen," began. Hundreds of employees of the National Health Service rolled hospital beds with patients in them into the arena.

British literature and film were featured as J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, read aloud from Peter Pan and dozens of women dressed as Mary Poppins descended from the sky with umbrellas.

Actor Rowan Atkinson was in character as Mr. Bean as he played the synthesizer accompanying the London Symphony Orchestra's performance of "Chariots of Fire" by Vangelis.

 The music of Eric Clapton, the Who, the Clash, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles blared on the speakers as dancers clad in '60s- and '70s-themed outfits formed a human peace sign in the middle of the arena. The scene turned raucous as Freddie Mercury's voice was heard over the distorted guitars of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and mosh pits formed to accompany the music of the Sex Pistols.

The attire of the performers quickly turned neon as the soundtrack fast-forwarded into the 1980s, with songs including "Sweet Dreams," by the British duo Eurhythmics.

The performance quieted as Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the World Wide Web, appeared in the arena. There was thunderous applause as Berners-Lee did nothing but stand still and wave to the crowd. The words "This is for everyone" appeared in lights across the stadium.

The cheers were interrupted with a somber moment that came as video screens showed photos of "friends and family who could not be here tonight" sent by audience members. With the atmosphere calmed, singer Emili Sande took the spotlight with the hymn "Abide With Me."

Some of the loudest applause of the night was for soccer star David Beckham, seen delivering the Olympic torch by motorboat from Tower Bridge. Beckham's decision to cross the Atlantic to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy, a Major League Soccer team, had apparently been forgiven.

The ceremony culminated in the traditional procession of athletes from all participating countries.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul262012

2012 Olympics: Flag Flub Prompts North Koreans to Walk off Field

Stanley Chou/Getty Images(GLASGOW, Scotland) -- The opening ceremonies of the London Summer Olympics are still a day away and already there's a controversy.

As usual, the soccer competition started early as North Korea's women's team met the Colombian squad at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland, and as is custom, profiles of the players were shown beforehand on the big screen along with their country's flag.

Only in the case of North Korea, some signals were crossed and the South Korean flag was flashed.

Since the two countries remain bitter foes 60 years after the Korean War ended, the coach pulled his team off the field and refused to return for over an hour.

Meanwhile, the games' organizers in London issued a statement saying, "Clearly this is a mistake, we will apologize to the team and the national Olympic committee and steps will be taken to ensure this does not happen again."

The faux pas evidently inspired North Korea, which wound up beating Colombia, 2-0.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







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