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Couch potato Olympics

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Olympic dreams died around sixth grade, when I realized I could neither swim nor run particularly fast. Thus, I have found myself watching the Beijing Games at home, a task made easier thanks to NBC, which paid more than $1 billion for the rights to show events on its cable networks and online.

I decide to take advantage of NBC's round-the-clock coverage and embark on an Olympic journey: 24 consecutive hours of viewing from swimming to sailing, boxing to badminton. Armed with a 23-inch television, a comfortable bean bag, plus snacks and caffeine - no performance-enhancing drugs - I set out to achieve my own version of Olympic glory.

My quest begins on a Tuesday evening with Bob Costas alongside legendary gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, there to comment on the night's women's team final.

"They have to hit the events. They have to hit the routines," an excited Karolyi says with a heavy accent. "They have to be solid. They have to be sturdy."

New Olympic motto: Swifter, higher, stronger ... sturdier.

But before we get to the gymnastics, we see women's synchronized platform diving. It's two divers going at the same time, trying to look identical. The Chinese team of Xin Wang and Chen Ruolin win by about 4 million points. The Americans don't medal. Boo.

NBC switches over to beach volleyball, where we see Todd Rogers and 6-foot-9 Phil Dalhausser taking on a pair of Argentines. We're told that President Bush met with these two earlier in the week and referred to them as "Toddly" and "The Big Guy." Sounds like a cartoon from the 1980s.

Toddly and The Big Guy win in two sets.

It's back to the studio, where Mary Carillo presents a report about pandas making babies. Carillo tells us about LuLu, a male panda who is considered a "super stud." I make several bad jokes. My wife does not laugh.

After the panda report, we finally get a shot of Michael Phelps, who is pursuing a record eight gold medals. We're told that Phelps will swim 3,300 meters - more than two miles - during the Beijing Games. I'm tired thinking about it.

Phelps goes on to win the 200 butterfly in world record time. He manages a mild smile.

We go back to Karolyi in the studio, who is highly animated because the American girls are doing well on the uneven bars. "Vunderful, vunderful!" he yells. "Vow! Vow!" Karolyi should get his own cable channel.

NBC has settled into pattern that basically consists of gymnastics-swimming-gymnastics. We're jumping back and forth so much I half expect to see Phelps do a triple back handspring. But instead we see him win his fifth gold medal in the pool, this time as a member of the 4x200 freestyle relay team.

Now it's pressure time for the American gymnasts. They are in a battle with the Chinese, who appear to have a combined age of about 30. (If they are all 16, I'm Chiang Kai-Shek.)

American gymnast Alicia Sacramone falls off the balance beam. Then she stumbles on her floor routine. NBC's Tim Daggett says it's "a disaster of epic proportions." Something tells me there are earthquake victims near Shanghai who would quibble. The Americans win silver and look sad.

It's now after midnight. Bob Costas signs off. My wife goes to bed. I get up. I stretch. I eat a few pretzels. I scan the listings to see what else is on. There's the United States vs. Australia in softball, but I lose interest after about an inning because the United States always wins. (They go on to win 3-0 without allowing a hit.)

I turn to NBC's Web site, which is showing a lot of events live. There are no commentators, only guest bloggers. There's action in the individual foil, which is apparently a fencing event. There's judo, which looks a little bit like the Ultimate Fighting Championship except it's less violent and the competitors are wearing bathrobes.

The cycling time trial offers some fascinating viewing as riders fly by parts of the Great Wall of China. Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara wins the gold and celebrates by falling off his bike and vomiting.

Time for another snack.

I'm fighting the urge to sleep. The equestrian dressage event, which appears to involve nothing more than dressing up nicely and riding a horse around for a few minutes, isn't helping. I figure if I can make it until 5 a.m. when the United States takes on Nigeria in soccer, I'll be okay.

I watch some rowing. Then some more beach volleyball. Then some boxing with Teddy Atlas at ringside. American Deontay Wilder wins his heavyweight bout. Next up is an Australian fighter named Brad Pitt. No lie.

Finally, the soccer gets underway on cable network USA, with the United States needing a victory or tie to advance to the medal round. Defender Michael Orozco gets a red card four minutes into the match. Not good. Nigeria scores in the 39th minute to go up 1-0.

At halftime, we get a feature about a famous pearl market and noodle restaurant in Beijing. I'm getting a bit hungry.

It occurs to me that when you're trying to stay awake, soccer isn't the best sport to watch. I switch to archery, which is actually less stimulating except that they're playing Timbaland at the venue.

The U.S. men lose in soccer as the sun rises. I make a quick run to Dunkin' Donuts to refuel, then tune in for some weightlifting online. A Korean and a Chinese guy are battling for gold. Both are lifting more than 450 pounds over their heads. The guest blogger is former U.S. champion Chris LeRoux, who says that "if NFL players got this strong proportional to their size, they would likely kill each other frequently on the field." Yikes.

It's morning here but prime time in Beijing, so there's a lot to watch. And I'm learning a lot. For instance, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are great at kayaking. Hungary is awesome at handball. Malaysians are good at badminton. Mali's women aren't good at basketball, especially when they play the Americans.

But by the time the afternoon rolls around, I'm getting bored. There are no more live events, and the lack of sleep has cut my attention span to about three seconds. Replay of women's water polo? No thanks. The United States vs. South Korea in baseball? Not interested. Finally, by mid-afternoon there are some new interviews and previews of the next night's events. WRC-4's Lindsay Czarniak, filling in as a host on the Oxygen network, introduces some tennis highlights. MSNBC's Melissa Stark introduces a story about Ronda Rousey, the first American woman to win a bronze medal in judo. (Rousey doesn't seem like a girl you want to mess with.)

MSNBC now has everybody working, with Brian Williams chatting with former NFL star Tiki Barber about the conflict between Russia and Georgia. They show a replay of a Hungarian weightlifter dislocating his elbow. Ouch. There's also a story about what Michael Phelps eats each day - 12,000 calories, including a whole pizza and a pound of pasta just for dinner. I feel kinda sick.

It's on to highlights of gymnastics from the night before. Anchor Contessa Brewer steals the phrase "disaster of epic proportions" when referring to the mistakes by the U.S. gymnasts. I officially have been awake far too long.

Bob Costas finally appears on screen. Or maybe it's Bela Karolyi. I can't tell anymore. I think he says something about Michael Phelps. I swear he tells me it's OK to go to bed.

I fall asleep with visions of Korean weightlifters and the Olympic theme music circling in my head.