Another update from the Olympics in Beijing courtesy of our embedded reporter Hector Fernandez. Hector checked out the women's marathon and ran into a few triathletes a bit later.
Today we awoke to perfect conditions for the women's marathon - it was overcast with a slight drizzle at times but pretty much what you'd want 26.2 miles of pain and certainly better than the scorching heat in Athens. We took the subway down to the 38km mark and met some friendly Aussies (one guy had raced the Mooloolaba Triathlon). The marathon began at 7:30m from the east side of Tiananmen Square, looped northwest and then came back toward the Olympic Green to finish at the National Stadium (the "Bird's Nest"). It was funny to see the main road still open with buses and bicycles at 9am, but sure enough we started to see the helicopters and then the pace car came by. I have included a picture from the second pack that was chasing eventual winner Constantina Tomescu of Romania (with unofficial Chinese guy on his bike riding along yelling!). The Chinese people are great at cheering for every country (at the futbol/soccer game last night they even had an official cheering section), though they can really belt it out for the home red and gold.
We moved on and after watching the USA women's Volleyball team beat Poland, started to make the trek out to the Champing District. That is where the triathlon is held and it is about 50 minutes away from Beijing proper. While in many western countries triathlon sometimes is strictly associated with Ironman by the general public, here in China I have met more blank stares and puzzled looks when I show them the spectator guide and they stare at it wondering what that sport is (it took me a long time and 50rmb or about 8US$ to find a triathlon only pin). The triathlon venue is the most removed from the city, and despite that tickets are hard to find. I guess that means that the small stands holding only 10,000 should be full for both days. As you leave the city the greenery starts to show and the main highway takes you along the same course as part of the cycling course. We went to the hotel where Team USA is staying and were surprised to find Greg Bennett strolling in as we were about to leave. He will be broadcasting for the BBC for both men's and women's triathlon which should be great – hopefully other nations have someone just as knowledgeable lined up for their live coverage*. I mentioned to Greg how I had been so shocked with the pollution fears since we had not had any problems and he answered that the air this year is strikingly different than in the past. He remarked how there were some mountains off in the distance of the host city that he did not know where there since last year they were masked by the smog. As we waited for a taxi, I caught some very fit looking individuals come out of a taxi and it was none other that Bevan Docherty (with Kris Gemmell I believe). I didn't have a chance to speak to him as they left right away, but he is one man to watch as he took silver in Athens.
Speaking of which let's remind everyone what happened in Athens 2004:
Gold: Kate Allen (Austria).
Silver: Loretta Harrop (Australia)
Bronze: Susan Williams (USA)
Gold: Hamish Carter (New Zealand)
Silver: Bevan Docherty (New Zealand)
Bronze: Sven Riederer (Switzerland)
From that podium list, Docherty and Riederer are back, as well as Allen on the women's side. From the first ever Triathlon at the Sidney Olympics in 2000, the only podium finisher, Simon Whitfield (Gold), is contending again for a podium spot. It is evening in Beijing right now and if tomorrow is the same as today, we should see some fast racing at the Ming Tomb Reservoir. The women's time should be right at 2 hours, specially if these good conditions persist. Lastly, if history serves us well, those that many of us expect to be on the podium get nixed at the Olympics so who really knows what female dark horse will earn a medal tomorrow!
*for those complaining about the TV coverage in their own country – we have about 8 channels of CCTV (official Chinese tv) showing the Olympics 24/7 but it's mostly an endless highlight reel of their own athletes and it's hard to see an entire event in which China is not competing. Sometimes the grass is not always greener…