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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Phelps is now the top Olympian of all time. Here's what it takes ...

Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps in action. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

US swimmer Michael Phelps made history yesterday when he scooped a record-breaking 11th Olympic gold medal. He has now topped the podium five times in Beijing. After his latest victory, he revealed the secret behind his six-days-a-week, five-hours-a-day training regime: an extraordinary 12,000-calorie daily diet, six times the intake of a normal adult male. This is a typical day:


Phelps kick starts his day and his metabolism with three fried-egg sandwiches, but with a few customised additions: cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and, of course, mayonnaise.

Amuse-bouche out of the way, he throws back two cups of coffee and sits down to an omelette - containing five eggs - and a bowl of grits, a porridge of coarsely ground corn. He's not finished yet. Bring on the three slices of French toast, with powdered sugar on top to make sure there's no skimping on the calories. And to finish: three chocolate chip pancakes.


With breakfast wearing off and the hunger pangs biting, Phelps downs half a kilogram - ie a whole packet - of enriched pasta and two large ham and cheese sandwiches. On white bread with loads of mayo on top. To remove any chance that his body will run out of fuel, he washes this down with about 1,000 calories of energy drink.


Time to load up on carbs for the next day's training. Another half kilo of enriched pasta goes down the hatch with a chaser of an entire pizza and another 1,000 calories of energy drinks. And so to bed. As Phelps told US television channel NBC yesterday: "Eat, sleep and swim, that's all I can do."

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We Get It Already: 14 Olympic Stories We're Tired Of Hearing

We love the Olympics here at Campus Squeeze, we even dedicated a whole week of articles to the games! But it's barely been a week and there's a few things we're already sick of hearing.

14.) A UK Diver Is 14

Tom Daley from the United Kingdom is only 14 years old, and he's an Olympian. Hey, that's pretty cool, we admit. At age 14, most of us lived on a bean bag chair playing Playstation, downing Cheetos and rootbeer. With that in mind, he's not a gold medal diver. He and his teammate choked hardcore in their competition and placed 8th. But don't worry, he was the most heavily discussed athlete in the entire competition. We're not saying he shouldn't get any airtime, but maybe devote a few minutes to, oh let's see, someone better at diving?

13.) The Swim Cube Is Cool To Look At

The Beijing National Aquatics Center is its' formal name, and it's covered with all sorts of cool fiber optic bubble shapes on the outside to give it the illusion that it's actually made of water. We've seen it from every angle. Most of us haven't been to China, but if we had to, we could successfully navigate our way out of the swim cube during a fire. At this point, it seems like NBC will have split-screen coverage of the current event on the left of your screen and the stationary cube on the right.

12.) Kerri Walsh Lost Her Wedding Ring

The video is pretty funny. Kerri Walsh goes to block a spike, the ballhits her hand, and her wedding ring somehow flies off. Luckily they caught it on tape so they had a general idea of where it landed, it was found, and Kerri Walsh had her ring back. But it's not that funny. Every volleyball game since has mentioned the ring-loss event. The commentators always make sure to mention how it's "just one of those light moments you absolutely need in the Olympics to loosen up, and remember; Hey! life is funny somtimes."

11.) Beijing Is A Weird Place

Every morning, bright and early, Bob Costas is giving us up-to-date information about the games. And when there's nothing special about the actual games to discuss, he makes sure to tell us just how weird China is. Usually they give us some speech about how the landscape and architecture are beautiful, and then his voice turns grave; "but there are certainly underlying problems that need to be fixed."

Every day there's a special interest story with some reporter who goes to some Chinese hang-out, like a restaurant or gymnastics school, where they then demonstrate their obvious intolerance for Eastern culture with mouth-open, wide-eyed shock. There was even a story about how difficult it is to use chopsticks. Sorry, but weren't chopsticks a mind-boggling utensil in the 1960s when culture overlap started? The entire time we were expecting to hear the reporter break down and scream "Why the fuck don't you people just use forks for God's sake?!"

10.) Someone Got Murdered

The media sure have shown their love for morbidity with this story. Todd Bachman, father of former Olympic volleyball player Elizabeth Bachman was murdered by an unknown assailant while viewing a tourist attraction in Beijing. We aren't making fun of this, it's certainly a senseless tragedy, but can we maybe dial it down a notch with bringing it up after every other story? It almost seems like they can't wait to talk more about it. "What a beautiful opening ceremony it was, Bob, it surely fascinated and amazed everyone who was lucky enough to be a witness. Also, did you hear about that dude that got murdered? Crazy, huh?" Come on, NBC, let's move on.

9.) The Chinese Women's Gymnastics Team Might Be Lying About Their Athlete's Ages

You have to be 16 to compete in gymnastics. Most of these girls are clearly 11, meaning that they will be ineligible for the next Olympics. All we're saying is, stop being the announcer who says "So ya know, some people, not me, heh heh, some people think that the Chinese gymnasts are too young to compete." They clearly are lying, so just show some integrity and say it, already!

8.) Team USA Basketball Has Something To Prove

The men's Basketball tournament hasn't gotten too hot yet, the medal round isn't until August 24th, but we still get to hear quite a bit about how in 2004, the heavily favored team took bronze. There has yet to be an announcer who can mention the men's basketball team without saying "Who, as you may know, took bronze in Athens, which was pretty dissappointing." Of course we know, you mentioned it a few minutes ago, then right before commercial break, and then again just now.

7.) Dara Torres Is Old

Alright, so most Olympians are between the ages of 18 and 32. And there are outliers on both sides of that equation. Dara Torres is 41 years old, and she's had a kid. We admit, that's pretty awesome. Most of moms we know had a few kids, got the mom haircut, and immediately started buying jeans with elastic waist bands. But when it comes to Dara Torres, we're reminded that she's in great shape constantly. It was interesting at first, but after learning about her amazing work-out, how old she is, the fact that she is a mom, the amount of Olympics she's competed in, how old she is, how good her work out is, how good of shape she is in, her child, how old she is, and how she's in the Olympics at the age of 41, we got tired. Enough.

6.) Yao Ming Is The Face Of China

Being the only Chinese athlete Americans can distinguish means that he's getting plenty of air-time. It didn't even slow down during the Team USA's trouncing of Team China by 31 points. "zOMG! Yao Ming is on the bench, his team is still losing, he is still cheering, he truely is the face of China these Olympics!" STFU!!!

5.) Amanda Beard Is An Athlete Who Is Also Attractive

And she's been in Playboy. Trust us, most men are completely aware of that fact. And we were probably aware of it well before you were. With that in mind, don't ruin our naughty-time by guilting us into understanding that she's an athlete first, and a dirty thoughts object second.

4.) World Class Athletes Train Hard

Oh do they? While it's interesting to see how athletes train for sports we're not familiar with, maybe cool it with the constant training videos for the more popular sports. "Oh really? To train for the 200m freestyle Michael Phelps swims laps? In a pool? Man, you've opened some eyes."

Now, if wrestlers trained for their event by wrestling a chimpanzee or anaconda, show that shit all day.

Finally, America is already fat. It certainly doesn't help a gravy chugging slob's enthusiasm for fitness when he hears that the reason our athletes are in such unbelievable shape is due to their intense workout regimen, which begins at dawn, and ends at 3 p.m. Or as the obese sect of our country calls it: pre-dinner devouring-hours.

3.) The Opening Ceremonies Were Spectacular

There really is no doubt that everyone was amazed by the opening ceremonies. But commentators seem to have been amazed into a catatonic state of opening ceremonies bliss. Here's a sample conversation between some commentators for, oh let's see, women's fencing.

--"I'll be honest Dave, Mariel Zagunis is just a technically sound fencer."

--"Couldn't agree more, Sarah. You know, I got the chance to talk to her a bit after the opening ceremonies, which by the way, were unbelievable."

--"Weren't they? I had tears in my eyes, Dave. They were just so...::begins to drool::"

--"I know...I was...I...::grand mal seizure::"

2.) Russia Attacked Georgia

The games become almost unwatchable when this story comes on. We always get to hear our president's disgust at the situation: "Can you believe a world super-power has unjustly launched a military attack against a weaker country? That's horrible!" Uh George, remember when you...nevermind. Most Americans lost interest when they found out the Georgia that Russia attacked is Europe-style Georgia and not America-style Georgia.

1.) Michael Phelps Is A Good Swimmer

Guess what? Michael Phelps has the chance to win EIGHT gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics! No one knew about this though, because it has never been mentioned on-air. Oh wait, it has been mentioned. Constantly. Even if you're watching another event, it's almost like the announcer feel the need to mention his name regardless of the event they're announcing. They could be like "Here we are the cycling track where our cyclists have to complete a series of twists and turns, and the winner today gets the gold. Before I used to race, I always ate an apple. Speaking of "ate," did you know that Michael Phelps could potentially win eight gold medals at these Olympic games?"

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Osterman no-hitter defeats Australia in softball

BEIJING (AP) -- The U.S. Olympic softball team was not about to go down under.
Cat Osterman pitched a no-hitter, Crystl Bustos belted a two-run homer and the Americans extended their winning streak inside the rings to 16 straight with a 3-0 win over Australia on Wednesday.

Osterman outdueled Australia's Tanya Harding, who has handed the U.S. program two of its four losses in the games since 1996. Pitching in her second Olympics, Osterman was Cat with a K.

She struck out 13, walked just two and dominated the Aussies in a rematch of the gold-medal game from 2004 in Athens.

The Americans, seeking their fourth straight gold, posted their 14th shutout during the winning streak.

Natasha Watley hit an RBI single off Harding to snap a 0-0 tie in the fifth, and Bustos, the most feared hitter in softball, connected for her 10th career Olympic homer in the sixth.

One day after scoring an Olympic record 11 runs in a tournament-opening rout of Venezuela, the Americans were blanked for four innings before finally pushing a run across against Harding in the fifth.

Lovieanne Jung walked with one out, and one out later, the U.S. team's second baseman stole second. Up came Watley for an All-UCLA matchup against Harding, who pitched the Bruins to an NCAA title in 1996.

Watley battled to a full count before slapping a single to left-center, scoring Jung without a throw.

As Watley ran to her spot in the field for the top of the sixth, the stadium's loudspeakers played Beyonce's "Irreplaceable." Watley is a huge fan of the pop diva and occasionally imitated Beyonce during the U.S. team's long bus trips on its "Bound 4 Beijing" tour leading up to the games.

The Americans made it 3-0 in the sixth when Bustos, the ponytailed powerhouse, hit her second homer in China.

Jessica Mendoza walked leading off and Bustos, who normally pulls her homers deep over the fences in left, dropped one over the right-field wall, giving the U.S. and Osterman a cushion for the seventh.

Osterman then struck out the side in the final inning.

Harding's biography was inadvertently left out of the International Softball Federations's 2008 Olympic softball media guide. But the American team knows all about the 36-year-old right-hander known simply as "Tee" to her Aussie teammates.

She handed the U.S. its last loss in the Olympics, beating them in a 13-inning marathon on Sept. 21, 2000 in Sydney. Harding struck out 18 that day in going the distance and outdueling Lisa Fernandez, who fanned 25.

Harding also defeated the U.S. in 1996 at Atlanta, the Americans' lone loss en route to winning its first gold in softball's debut.

For a while, it looked like Harding would bedevil the U.S. again.

Osterman worked her way out of a situation as sticky as the heavy air in Fengtai Softball Field in the third.

She walked Danielle Stewart leading off and Belinda Wright sacrified. With a 3-2 count Simmone Morrow, Osterman was called for taking longer than 20 seconds between pitches by Canadian plate Nancy Morrison, who monitors a clock on the center-field wall. The infraction is an automatic ball and Morrow was awarded first base.

Osterman, though, struck out Kelly Wyborn and Stacey Porter, punctuating the last one with a scream and fist pump as she headed to the dugout.

Earlier, China improved to 2-0 with a 7-1 win over Venezuela.

In the evening session, Japan faces Taiwan and Canada plays the Netherlands.

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Is the Michael Phelps world-record gold rush down to skill or swimwear technology?

Only three and a bit days into the Olympic swimming programme and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that we are seeing a quantum leap in swimming performances. The problem is that it has little to do with the swimmers.

World records have been broken with staggering regularity and by no small margin, either. In the men’s 4x100 freestyle relay, records fell in the heats with only the “B” teams competing. Whereas a world record used to be a rare and remarkable thing, now it is a disappointment if one isn’t broken.

So far, there have been 11 world records broken at the Beijing Games and we're only just over a third of the way through the programme. In Athens, only six world records were broken in the entire programme. The records aren’t just being eclipsed, either. In the final of the men’s 4x100 freestyle relay, the pre-Olympics world record was beaten by four seconds and eclipsed by the first six teams in the final.

The reason for these seemingly brilliant performances has nothing to do with some remarkable training breakthrough or even performance-enhancing drugs. No, the improvement is all due to new technology swimsuits; the king of which is the Speedo LZR fast suit.

The science behind these suits is interesting. They were designed in conjunction with NASA and are reported to reduce drag by up to 5 per cent over the previous Fastskin suits and up to nearly 40 per cent improvement over a traditional lycra suit. Not only are the materials space-age, the actual cut of the suits is also designed to change the shape of the athlete's body, presumably squashing any sticky-out bits that cause extra drag. They even look fast.

Not that Speedo have it all their own way. Mizuno, TYR, Arena, and Asics have all released their versions of the new improved suits, but it is Speedo who have cornered the publicity.

There has been a bit of controversy surrounding the suits. Many, including Australia’s former Olympic champion Duncan Armstrong, believe that the suits contravene FINA’s swimwear regulations. The regulation states: “No swimmer shall be permitted to use or wear any device that may aid speed, buoyancy or endurance during a competition”. It’s hard to see how these suits aren’t in breach.

Others, like Munich Olympics superstar Mark Spitz, actually try to argue that the suits are slowing athletes down. According to Spitz, unless swimmers can reach 6 to 6.5mph the suits don’t work properly. While this may have been true for the first generation of Fastskin suits, the evidence suggests that he’s wrong for the LZR.

The suits are available to anyone who wants them, so it is not a case of individuals gaining an unfair advantage. The only real downside is the cheapening of world records. A world record should go to a truly remarkable athlete, swimmers like Spitz, Janet Evans, Ian Thorpe, Inge de Bruijn or Phelps.

The suits alone cannot turn a poor swimmer to an Olympic medalist, but they can seemingly help take an excellent swimmer into the exceptional bracket, and that is unfair to those who have gone before. The suits won’t change the results, but will make some swimmers seem better than they really were.

It is difficult to argue against progress, but there is something to be said for honest competition between individuals based on their skills and strengths alone, not as a result of superior technology.

Perhaps they could go back to competing nude as they did at the original games. It would make the swimming and track events more interesting but, on the other hand, the weightlifting would be positively terrifying. Maybe that’s not such a good idea after all.

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Using Olympics As Sanctions

by: Chris Bowers

One of the original purposes of the Olympic Games, I believe, was to allow for brief truces and / or cease fires between warring Greek city states. Additionally, that principle was also included during the organization of the modern Olympics, by finding a way for nations to come together--and compete--peacefully, rather than in war. Obviously, that is a tradition Russia has violated in Georgia. The reason I bring this up is that Russia is set to host the Olympics in a town not far from Georgia in 2014:
Beginning a well-planned war (including cyber-warfare) as the Olympics were opening violates the ancient tradition of a truce to conflict during the Games. And Russia's willingness to create a war zone 25 miles from the Black Sea city of Sochi, where it is to host the Winter Games in 2014, hardly demonstrates its commitment to Olympic ideals.

Now, given this interesting and ironic coincidence, one obvious sanction that it seems the international community could level at Russia would be to withdraw Sochi's award of the 2014 Winter Games. Really, this is probably the minimum that should be done, but it seems like it would be a harsh enough stick to potentially alter behavior. Countries really, really want to host these things, after all.

More in the extended entry.

Chris Bowers :: Using Olympics As Sanctions
However, in the context of the still ongoing discussion as to whether China should have been awarded the current Olympic Games or not, I also wonder if using the Olympics as a political football makes any sense. After all, every country, no matter its political and governmental situation, is invited to the Olympics. If no discrimination is made in the participants, why would political discrimination be made among the host? Is the Olympics supposed to be a League of Democracies, or something? Don't think so.

There is another worry, too. If nations are denied the Olympics because of actions taken by their governments, who determines which actions? Specifically, a case could be made that the U.K. and the U.S. shouldn't be allowed to host the Olympics because of what they did in Iraq. So, retroactively stripping Russia of the 2014 games could lead to campaigns to retroactively strip London of the 2012 games, or to deny Chicago the 2016 games. And then, the process could continue, in a reductio ad absurdum, to the point where no country could ever be deemed worthy of hosting any Olympic games, because of past actions by its government.

So, while stripping Russia of the 2014 Olympics seems like a pretty obvious and straightforward sanction that should probably be taken, maybe it is best to leave politics out of such decisions. Or, perhaps it is impossible to ever leave politics out of something that involves every nation on Earth, and where citizens of virtually every country are encouraged to cheer for their own. It is a difficult choice, and I bring it up as a suggestion as to what could actually be done in response to the Russian-Georgian conflict which, as BooMan points out, there are no clear ways for us to mitigate.

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Records Say Chinese Gymnasts May Be Under Age

China named its Olympic women’s gymnastics team on Friday, and the inclusion of at least two athletes has further raised questions, widespread in the sport, about whether the host nation for the Beijing Games is using under-age competitors.

Chinese officials responded immediately, providing The New York Times with copies of passports indicating that both athletes in question — He Kexin, a gold-medal favorite in the uneven parallel bars, and Jiang Yuyuan — are 16, the minimum age for Olympic eligibility since 1997.

Officials with the International Gymnastics Federation said that questions about He’s age had been raised by Chinese news media reports, USA Gymnastics and fans of the sport, but that Chinese authorities presented passport information to show that He is 16.

Online records listing Chinese gymnasts and their ages that were posted on official Web sites in China, along with ages given in the official Chinese news media, however, seem to contradict the passport information, indicating that He and Jiang may be as young as 14 — two years below the Olympic limit.

Mary Lou Retton, the Olympic all-around gymnastics champion at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, recently watched a competition video of He and other Chinese gymnasts on the uneven bars.

“The girls are so little, so young,” Retton said. Speaking of He, Retton rolled her eyes and laughed, saying, “They said she was 16, but I don’t know.”

An advantage for younger gymnasts is that they are lighter and, often, more fearless when they perform difficult maneuvers, said Nellie Kim, a five-time Olympic gold medalist for the former Soviet Union who is now the president of the women’s technical committee for the Swiss-based International Gymnastics Federation.

“It’s easier to do tricks,” Kim said. “And psychologically, I think they worry less.”

The women’s gymnastics competition at the Beijing Games, which begin Aug. 8, is expected to be a dramatic battle for the team gold medal between the United States and China. At the 2007 world championships, the Americans prevailed by 95-hundredths of a point.

On the uneven bars, He and Nastia Liukin of the United States are expected to challenge for the individual gold medal.

In Chinese newspaper profiles this year, He was listed as 14, too young for the Beijing Games.

The Times found two online records of official registration lists of Chinese gymnasts that list He’s birthday as Jan. 1, 1994, which would make her 14. A 2007 national registry of Chinese gymnasts — now blocked in China but viewable through Google cache — shows He’s age as “1994.1.1.”

Another registration list that is unblocked, dated Jan. 27, 2006, and regarding an “intercity” competition in Chengdu, China, also lists He’s birthday as Jan. 1, 1994. That date differs by two years from the birth date of Jan. 1, 1992, listed on He’s passport, which was issued Feb. 14, 2008.

There has been considerable talk about the ages of Chinese gymnasts on Web sites devoted to the sport. And there has been frequent editing of He’s Wikipedia entry, although it could not be determined by whom. One paragraph that discusses the controversy of her age kept disappearing and reappearing on He’s entry. As of Friday, a different version of the paragraph had been restored to the page.

The other gymnast, Jiang, is listed on her passport — issued March 2, 2006 — as having been born on Nov. 1, 1991, which would make her 16 and thus eligible to compete at the Beijing Games.

A different birth date, indicating Jiang is not yet 15, appears on a list of junior competitors from the Zhejiang Province sports administration. The list of athletes includes national identification card numbers into which birth dates are embedded. Jiang’s national card number as it appears on this list shows her birth date as Oct. 1, 1993, which indicates that she will turn 15 in the fall, and would thus be ineligible to compete in the Beijing Games.

Zhang Hongliang, an official with the Chinese gymnastics federation, said Friday that perhaps Chinese reporters and provincial sports authorities made mistakes in listing He’s and Jiang’s birth dates differently from the dates given on their passports.

“The two athletes have attended international sports competitions before, and I’m sure the information is correct,” Zhang said of the athletes’ passports.

The International Gymnastics Federation said it had contacted Chinese officials in May about the gymnasts’ ages after receiving inquiries from fans and reading newspaper accounts, including one in The China Daily, the country’s official English-language paper, stating that He was 14.

“We heard these rumors, and we immediately wrote to the Chinese gymnastics federation” about He, said André Gueisbuhler, the secretary general of the international federation. “They immediately sent a copy of the passport, showing the age, and everything is O.K. That’s all we can check.”

If someone provided proof that any gymnast was under age, or filed a formal complaint, Gueisbuhler said, he would be “quite happy to check and ask again.”

“As long as we have no official complaint, there is no reason to act, if we get a passport that obviously is in order,” he said.

Steve Penny, the president of USA Gymnastics, said he had asked Kim of the international federation about He’s age after receiving e-mail messages referring to newspaper accounts and comments made on blogs and in Internet chat rooms that said she was 14. But Penny said he was not really concerned.

“If they have valid passports, bring ’em on,” Penny said. “If they say they’re good, we’re going to beat them.

“You can’t worry about it. You do your job, and you expect other people are doing theirs and you expect it’s a fair field of play.”

Privately, some gymnastics officials said that even if other countries had real concerns about the Chinese, they might be reluctant to make accusations for fear of reprisals by judges at the Beijing Games.

If it is true that under-age gymnasts are competing, Kim said: “It’s a bad thing. It should not be acceptable.”

Yang Yun of China won individual and team bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and later said in an interview on state-run television that she had been 14 at the time of those Games. A Hunan Province sports administration report also said later that she had been 14 when she competed in Sydney.

Bela Karolyi, who coached Retton of the United States and Nadia Comaneci of Romania to their Olympic gold-medal triumphs, said the problem of under-age gymnasts had been around for years. Age is an easy thing to alter in an authoritarian country, he said, because the government has such strict control of official paperwork.

He recalled Kim Gwang Suk, a North Korean gymnast who showed up at the 1991 world championships with two missing front teeth. Karolyi, who said he thought Kim must have been younger than 11 at the time, and others contended that those front teeth had been baby teeth and that permanent teeth had not yet replaced them. Her coaches said she had lost them years before, during an accident on the uneven bars.

At those world championships, Kim was 4 feet 4 inches and about 62 pounds, and she claimed to be 16. At one point, the North Korean Gymnastics Federation listed her at 15 for three straight years; the federation was later barred from the 1993 world championships for falsifying ages.

“Oh, come on, she was just in diapers and everyone could see that, just like some of the Chinese girls are now,” Karolyi said. “If you look close, you can see they still have their baby teeth. Little tiny teeth!”

But it is not likely that anyone could prove that the Chinese gymnasts are under age, Karolyi said.

“It’s literally impossible,” he said. “The paperwork is changed just too good. In a country like that, they’re experts at it. Nothing new.”

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Greatest Olympian of All Time: Phelps Wins 10th Career Gold

Michael Phelps of the United States swims on his way to setting a world record to win the men's 200-meter butterfly during the swimming competitions in the National Aquatics Center at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

BEIJING — Michael Phelps has become the winningest Olympic athlete ever, earning his fourth gold medal of the Beijing Games with a world record in the 200-meter butterfly. The American touched in 1 minute, 52.03 seconds, breaking his old mark of 1:52.09 set at last year's world championships in Australia.

It was Phelps' 10th career gold medal, breaking a tie with Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis and two others for most golds. He is 4-for-4 so far, setting world records in each of his events.

Laszlo Cseh of Hungary took the silver in 1:52.70. Takeshi Matsuda of Japan got the bronze in 1:52.97.

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Why limit with age limits?

Members of China's gymnastics team.
Members of China's gymnastics team.

To be eligible for World or Olympic competition, gymnasts must turn 16 by the end of the 2008 calendar year.

Accusations of age falsification have swirled around the Chinese team and have intensified after news outlets found official documents stating alternate (and younger) birth dates for three athletes: He Kexin, Yang Yilin and Jiang Yuyuan. All three of them are old enough according to their passports. The Chinese have been mum on the subject, as expected.

In 1991, a tiny North Korean, Kim Gwang-Suk, won the gold medal on uneven bars. Later, officials discovered that her birth date had been changed three times, meaning that her age stayed the same for three years. As a result, gymnastics' governing body banned North Korea from competing at the 1993 Worlds. More recently, some Romanian gymnasts have said that their ages were falsified as well.

NBC's Bela Karolyi has been surprisingly vocal on the issue. On Sunday, Karolyi lamented what he called "China's arrogance" for using girls he wasn't even sure were teenagers. According to Karolyi, if there are any questions about age, just eliminate the restrictions being broken.

But what do you think? Are age restrictions now irrelevant with the percieved government tampering? Would it be best to be done with them? Or, are they in place to protect those that need protecting? Go ahead and share your take by adding a comment.

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Baseball wary of Cubs sale structure

Tribune Co.'s desire to minimize its taxes when it unloads the Chicago Cubs sets the stage for a possible showdown with Major League Baseball.

The Chicago-based media company is proposing a tax-avoidance strategy that likely would require a buyer to borrow heavily to pay for the team. That highly leveraged financial structure has produced concern among prospective buyers about their ability to operate the Cubs in a competitive manner, according to multiple sources.

In addition, Major League Baseball is nervous about any of its teams being saddled with too much debt.

"A financially troubled franchise in Chicago is a lot more detrimental to baseball than a bad franchise in Kansas City," said Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economist who focuses on sports. "The league knows that Tribune has enormous amounts of debt and it wants to do things to maximize returns. There's going to be some conflict here. I don't know how it plays out."

The league reviewed Tribune's proposed financial structure before allowing the company to distribute confidential financial information to bidders in June. But its tolerance for such a deal won't be known until Tribune presents the league with a purchase agreement. Three-fourths of MLB's 30 owners must approve a sale.

The league has shown a willingness in the past to approve complicated ownership transactions. But that is balanced by its interest in ensuring the financial stability of its franchises, especially one as prominent as the Cubs. To that end, the league has conservative guidelines about the amount of debt ballclubs can carry.

Tribune Co., which also owns this newspaper, has had a running dialogue with league officials and is sensitive to their concerns, said a source close to the transaction. But the company also knows that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy one of sports' iconic franchises and expects bidders to come up with creative solutions to satisfy both Tribune and the league.

Among those bidding for the team are Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Chicago businessman Tom Ricketts, Chicago real estate investor Hersch Klaff and New York private-equity investor Marc Utay.

Huge tax exposure

Prospective buyers have to figure out not only how much to bid but also how much of the price can be shielded from taxes. Tribune faces enormous tax exposure from an outright sale of the team because it bought the Cubs in 1981 for $20.5 million.

If the historic franchise fetches about $1 billion, as some believe, Tribune could owe up to $400 million in taxes, said Robert Willens, a leading New York tax analyst. That's a tax bill Sam Zell, Tribune's chairman and chief executive, would like to avoid in an effort to continue making debt payments from the $8.2 billion leveraged buyout of Tribune he led in December.

Instead, he wants to create what's known as a leveraged partnership between the buyer and Tribune to own the team. The partnership would borrow money to buy the team, and the proceeds from the loans would go to Tribune. The media company would retain a small stake in the partnership, less than 5 percent, giving it some exposure to the loans.

Under the terms of a leveraged partnership, only borrowed money can be distributed tax-free. Consequently, in some of these deals as much as 90 percent of the purchase price is financed with debt to maximize the cash payout, Willens said.

"When you set up a structure like that, it's costly," said a source close to one of the five remaining bidders who asked to remain anonymous. "The more debt you put on it, the more expensive it is. The more leverage, the more scrutiny you get from baseball."

For the Cubs transaction, a new owner also would have another hurdle: The buyer could not start paying down debt until Jan. 1, 2018. That's the 10th anniversary of Zell's Tribune acquisition, in which he converted the company to an S corporation from a C corporation. In the 10 years after a conversion, an S corporation must pay taxes on asset dispositions. After 10 years, the capital-gains requirement expires.

Technically, a leveraged partnership is not considered a sale, even though the seller receives cash upfront. If Zell can defer the sale of the Cubs for 10 years, Tribune will avoid having to pay capital-gains taxes on the deal.

Willens expects the IRS to scrutinize any such transaction because the Cubs are such a high-profile asset. But, he added, "I don't know if the IRS has a basis to challenge it."

Limits on debt

MLB, however, might have something to say. The league, according to a complex formula, limits total club debt to about 10 to 15 times cash flow, according to its labor contract with the players union. But the agreement appears to provide some flexibility to its debt-service rule when it comes to sales transactions. In such deals, the commissioner must assure other owners and the union that the sale "will not create a persistent inability to comply" with the league's debt rules.

Sources have pegged the Cubs' 2007 cash flow at $31 million, which implies a debt ceiling of $465 million, an amount that likely would not satisfy Zell. One way to generate a bigger payout would be to put additional debt on Wrigley Field and structure a similar tax-advantaged transaction for that asset.

The debt-service rules are designed to ensure a level of financial stability in franchises, said Robert Manfred, MLB's executive vice president for labor relations and human resources. He declined to comment on details of the Cubs sale.

The league had concerns in News Corp.'s 2004 sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers to Boston businessman Frank McCourt, according to published reports. Originally, McCourt proposed financing the entire $430 million price with debt, worrying league officials that he might not have enough cash to invest in new players. But after several meetings with baseball officials, News Corp. retained a small equity stake.

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Cuban, Cubs get rolling

The biggest draw at the Kerry Wood Strike Zone fund-raiser Wednesday night wasn't one of the star athletes -- it was Mark Cuban.

Fans swarmed outside 10Pin Bowling Lounge, 330 N. State, and when Cuban stepped outside they rushed him for autographs. "I can't really say anything," he told reporters when asked about his bid to buy the Chicago Cubs. "I just love Chicago."

It was the fifth annual fund-raiser hosted by Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood and his teammates, and it drew nearly 500 attendees who paid $10,000 per lane to be paired with celebrity players. Other guests paid $500 each just to watch the match-ups.

"Mark heard about the event and we traded e-mails," explained Kerry's wife Sarah Wood, who spent a year planning the party. "The great thing about it is that he's a Cubs fan like everybody else. I think he wants to get a taste of our Cub Nation over here."

Bowling teams had the chance to handpick their players for extra cash at a pre-game auction. The leading bidder, Graham Allen, paid $3,800 for Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa, who had hit a grand slam earlier that day in a game against the Astros.

"I'm riding high tonight," said DeRosa. "But I'm a little worried. The guys have been talking me up because I was on a bowling league in 7th grade."

DeRosa turned out to be a great pick; his team won the tournament. Another bidder pledged $3,600 for Cuban. "You wasted your money," Cuban joked, getting a cheer from partygoers (although he wound up bowling pretty well). Pitcher Ryan Dempster was a crowd favorite; he wore a tight polyester shirt and bellbottoms to look like Woody Harrelson's character in "Kingpin."

Totally lost in translation: right fielder Kosuke Fukudome, who had never seen a bowling game before.

Gov. Blagojevich came with his 12-year-old daughter Amy, a major fan who likes to call pitches when she watches games with her dad. "We've gone to eight or nine Cubs games this year," said the gov.

"Ten," she corrected him. "She's a legit fan," he laughed. "She'll call a squeeze play or a slider. She knows their entire pitching repertoire."

The party raised about $360,000, which is being matched in a state grant by the governor, to benefit the Organic Food Project. The money will go to supply healthy lunches to students at Louisa May Alcott Elementary School, 2625 N. Orchard, for a year.

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