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Slowtwitch.com live from Beijing - day 3

Written by: Hector Fernandez
Date: Mon Aug 18 2008

Our embedded Olympic reporter Hector Fernandez got to see an incredible women's triathlon and various track and field events before returning tired to the hotel. Here is his day 3 report from Beijing.

"Well to be honest it was like a pre-race day for me as I hardly slept – the women's triathlon would be battled and I was too anxious to sleep much. I will have a full report on the race but it is almost midnight here and we are once again making the trip to the Ming Tomb Reservoir at 6:30am tomorrow. A few observations for now:

Before the race I was talking to Emma Snowsill's dad and he was reminding me how in big races all sorts of things can go wrong and so many things need to go right to get on the podium, let alone an Olympic podium. The small crash that occurred made us gasp for a moment as we did not know who was involved (everything is transmitted in Chinese first, then English, and sometimes French). But boy did Emma have a perfect day and Vanessa was managed to fend everyone off as well with a great Silver for a triathlete that easily can still race in 2012, 16, and possibly 2020. The Reservoir is a sight to behold and we can only hope that one day age group triathlon in China is big enough to have hundreds of competitors race in that venue. While we did not have the benefit of a TV view of the action, to me the first pack sure seemed to be content to sit in and await the run, which meant that we were going to see Vanessa Fernandes and Emma Snowsill run it out. I think that tomorrow will be a much different story and we should see some attacks. I did not see one single male triathlete and that is probably a good thing since by the time the run started it had warmed up quite a bit and there is no shade. The pollution was a non-event, with Nate (Sarah Haskins' husband) mentioning to me how last year the venue was muggy and the smog covered the surrounding mountains – not so today as we awoke to a beautiful day for racing. By the way, a gold medal is so much larger in real life. Emma's medal, with the surrounding white jade that the Chinese people esteem so highly, was quite a sight to behold from five feet away as the too polite volunteers had to give in to the mass of foreigners that rushed to the barrier to cheer on the victors. Lastly, the crowds held a large contingent of Aussies, French, Germans, Canadians, and USA flag bearers, but the smaller countries were also well represented and the Chinese people of course cheer for every athlete that runs by.
After an hour and half bus/taxi expedition back to the city with some nice Polish folks, we managed to land tickets for a night of Track and Field at the Bird's Nest National Stadium. As we made our way from the subway station to the National Stadium we walked by Michael Phelps (I guess you can be barefoot it you get 8 medals) being interviewed at the NBC studio – the crowd was at least 10 deep and maybe half a block in length! We watched some semi-finals and got to enjoy the Finals in the Men's 3000 Steeplechase, 400 Meter Hurdles, and Long Jump, while for the Women we saw Finals in the Discuss, 800 meters, and Pole Vault.
Two things stand out from tonight: one is to hear the national anthem for your home country played as a gold is won in the 91,000 person Bird's Nest – the Aussies heard it when Snowie won the Triathlon, but hearing the USA anthem in a stadium that large was unbelievable – and something that I could see was shared as other fans from other countries also stood to proudly sing their home country on to the podium. Secondly, watching Elena Isinbaeva from Russia set a world record at 5.05 meters on the Pole Vault was something I was not ready for. On the grandest stage in sport, you would think that it should just be expected to see world records posted – well that is all good and nice when you are separated by a television screen - but this was the first one I had witnessed first hand. It was the last event of the night, the whole stadium was standing and clapping in unison for the last lady of the night, with a gold already assured, to go beyond her boundaries and set a new distance. She failed twice, and then in a third, last, try she cleared and was already yelling for joy on the way down – a great way to end an evening.

The men's Triathlon race tomorrow will be one for the ages and while I was not in Sidney or Athens, the triathletes themselves will tell you that the sport has changed and room for a weak sport or a misstep is gone. Will we see a favorite of the likes of Gomez, Whitfield, or Docherty follow in Snowsill and Fernandes' footsteps from today? Or what new name will hear their national anthem played under a blazing Chinese sun? Ladies and gents, in 9 hours the battle begins, but it is now past midnight and time for this tri geek to get another restless night of sleep in.

  

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