Thursday, August 14, 2008


I am a HUGE fan of the Olympics! There are few things as beautiful, to me, as the spirit of a fine athlete - the life of total dedication to a goal, the constant training and work for four years in hopes of breaking a world record by a couple hundredths of a second, the good sportsmanship.

I’m sure I disturbed the quiet peace of my RV park the night of the men’s 4x100 freestyle relay – without question the most exciting swimming relay race in the history of the sport! America’s four young men were fabulous! Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones and the ‘old man’ at 32, Jason Lezak, who out-touched the smart mouth French champions at the finish! And not only did our great swimmers break the world record by almost four seconds (which is simply unheard of!!), five of the teams broke the world record in that race! Unbelievable!!

This morning on the Today Show, Mark Spitz was interviewed – our magnificent swimmer, winner of 7 golds back in 1972. Still good looking, very gracious, no more mustache. And, oh my how things have changed in swimming since he set the standard. The weird new swimsuits (I still like the Speedo!! At least on a proper swimmer’s body), which Mark mentioned are only good when the swimmer exceeds 6 mph, a feat few can achieve – so it’s a personal choice, he says. Even the phenomenal Michael Phelps doesn’t use the suit in all his races.

The strokes themselves have changed too. Freestyle (the ‘crawl’) is pretty much the same as in Mark Spitz’s day, except the entry dolphin kick and the turn have been tweaked. Backstroke too is the same stroke I swam a hundred years ago, with the turns, again, improved. Butterfly, the beautiful stroke exemplifying a dolphin racing thru the water – the rules have tightened up the arm motions allowed, making it more flowing and special (I enjoyed the butterfly too!!). But the breaststroke – that is a totally different stroke than when I was in the pool. I swam the IM, the individual medley of all four strokes, when I was in high school, certainly not in this league of course, and if the breaststroke was performed then like it is today, I might actually have been a little better. It used to be ‘prettier’ – no splash – but no where near as powerful.

And isn’t Michael Phelps incredible? “They” are calling him the best swimmer in history, super human, the Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan of swimming, the greatest Olympic athlete ever. One of the best training centers in California has said their applicants have increased over 11% already since the start of this year’s Olympics, saying they want to swim like Phelps. Tall, lanky, 10,000 calories a day to fuel that body! All American kid – still boyish at 23.

Can you tell I’m enjoying watching almost every minute that is being broadcast??

And it's not just our swimmers are doing well - I love volleyball too, and gymnastics, and, and, well, you get the idea. Plus, it's not just our swimmers who are winning gold. American women swept the awards in fencing-sabre! A gorgeous gal, Kristin Armstrong won the individual gold in Cycling! An American, Walton Eller, won gold in Double Trap shooting! We've medaled in Men's Individual Cycling, Individual Equestrian Eventing (a silver for Gina Miles), Women's Team Fencing, Men's Team Artistic Gymnastics including a silver in Women's Team Artistic Gymnastics, Women's Middleweight Judo, Women's Trap Shooting and Women's Skeet Shooting (a silver for Kimberly Rhode), and Men's Greco-Roman Wrestling. All in all, 34 medals for the U.S. So far!!!

Plus, the Chinese really outdid themselves – the opening ceremony on 8-8-08 was fabulous – I don’t think anyone can ever match the show presented – thousands of drummers performing in perfect sync – thousands of little Chinese character boxes creating a mesmerizing dance, which viewers assumed was somehow computer generated, only to find there was a person in each of those boxes making those perfectly timed moves (with the designer of that show saying it was performed perfectly for the first time that night after years of practice and constant mistakes!!) – powerful presentations followed by delicate little human butterflies flitting thru the air, followed by more powerful dances – it was positively spectacular. I’d watch the entire show over and over, happily!

China has definitely created spectacular sports venues, the Water Cube with its 'fast water' being one, (I loved that the some of the equestrian events appear to be taking place on a golf course!), and NBC is doing a wonderful job in showing off the daily life China and its fascinating history. And the food – the ‘snack street’ is just as unappealing as all the pictures making the rounds on the internet – big black scorpions, fried of course – goat brains – duck feet – silk worms - I could go on, but it’s time for breakfast.

Enjoying this marvelous show reminded me that I grew up knowing the capital of China as Peking. Why did Peking change its name to Beijing? When did this happen? Whose decision was this? And if the city changed its name, why is Beijing still sometimes referred to as Peking? I mean, really, one of my favorite meals is not called Beijing Duck. What’s the deal?

The answer to all these puzzling questions is really quite simple. The Chinese capital did not change its name, but Chinese words came to be spelled in English differently. Huh? In Chinese, the name stayed exactly the same and most Chinese people are not even aware that some Westerners think that there has been a name change. The old spelling has been Peking, this is how the city appeared in most earlier discourse. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the government adopted the pinyin transliteration method and used this to write all of the proper names (including place names, people's names, etc) using the Latin alphabet. Theoretically, this was when Peking became known in the West as Beijing. In reality, however, the West has been using the old spelling long after it has been replaced in China. It is only sometime in the 1980s that China started to enforce its official name on all flights, sea routes and official documents. This is why the name Peking is still echoing in our minds and people continue to use it even today. Needless to say, it is easier to pronounce than Beijing, which is an important factor too.

Peking is the name of the city according to Chinese Posal Map Romanization, and the traditional customary name for Beijing in English (passports issued by the British Embassy are still printed as being issued by the British Embassy, Peking"). The term Peking originatede with French missionaries four hundred years ago and corresponds to an older pronunciation predating a subsequent sound change in Mandarin represented in pinyin as j, as in Beijing). Now you understand completely, right??

Beijing or Peking means "northern capital", in line with the commone East Asian tradition whereby capital cities are explicitly named as such. Other cities that are similarly named includ nanjing, China, meaning "southern capital"; Tokyo, Japan, and Đông Kinh (now Hanoi), Vietnam, both meaning "eastern capital"; as well as Kyoto, Japan, meaning simply "capital".

Time to go - the morning broadcast is about to start! More swimming and gymnastics and volleyball and other goodies, with track and field to start in a few days.

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