Jason Read comments on the Eights preparation

Jason is writing on the WSJ China Blog

Saturday was a big day at the Olympics.

The weather was gorgeous. The pollution meter was almost in the single digits! Blue skies all around. We watched Michael Phelps’ unbelievable butterfly gold medal. This wasn’t the only razor-thin victory on the ninth day of the Games. The women’s double scull from New Zealand, comprised of the lovely Evers-Swindell twin sisters, shared the same margin of victory as Phelps’ win: .01. There are very few sports that dabble in the microscopic domain of thousandths of seconds. Some winter Olympic sports do.

Following a great practice in the pair this morning, I spent the better part of the day cheering and pedaling my fanny off while following the races down. Some races weren’t quite as tight as the women’s double, but all were exciting to watch as the world’s best rowers chased the dream of winning a medal. U.S. single sculler Michelle Guerrette won silver today in one of the most exciting rowing races I’ve ever witnessed. This is the first medal for the rowing team this year. My voice is still hoarse from yelling.

Many friends back home have emailed to inquire about “all those bikes!” following the races on the bank of the lake. This rabble is known as the peloton. Rowing’s peloton is vocal, menacing, effluvial, dangerous, and numbers over a hundred depending on the race. It is readily visible on TV and consists of coaches, athletes, trainers, and credentialed supporters jockeying for optimal viewing spots along the 2000-meter race course. If pedestrian or security guards aren’t paying attention, they will get run over. Most of the bikes are single-gear, cost about $10, have terrible brakes, and are highly unreliable. A Russian coach got taken out during the men’s double scull event. He ate the pavement and nearly swiped a dozen other mad peddlers, creating an ugly accident. A former US coach, Chris Nillson, wiped out yesterday. Imagine everyone going more or less the same speed on a narrow path and looking in the same direction towards the water. All within a hundred-foot-long, twelve-foot-wide swath of blacktop.

Communication on the bike path won’t always avert a disaster; even when someone allegedly speaks the same language it’s often hard to discern what they’re saying. I mentioned to teammate Micah Boyd that I didn’t understand “one word” of what the South Africans were saying in the peloton the other day. The Aussies and Kiwis are a bit easier to understand. Irish can be tough. The Dutch speak wonderful English. One word a friend on the British team strongly discouraged me from using is fanny, which apparently takes on a rather inappropriate connotation in most Commonwealth countries.

I was very excited to look at the score of our women’s soccer team last night against Canada. Good friend and fellow N.J. native, Heather O’Reilly, is leading the team to what hopefully will be a fourth gold medal.

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