Selection of runner Lomong to carry U.S. flag particularly poignant

by Ed Odeven

BEIJING — After a tasty buffet meal at a nearby hotel restaurant followed by a few cups of delicious green tea — I had plenty of choices; there was a separate tea menu, featuring at least a dozen varieties — I’m content to return to job-related duties.

First, it was time to scan the headlines in China Daily and USA Today and surf the Web site of some major newspapers and take stock of some of the Olympics’ top developments from Wednesday.

Let me begin by saying I’m thrilled to hear middle-distance runner Lopez Lomong has been named the flag-bearer for the United States during Friday’s opening ceremony at Beijing National Stadium.

Lomong, who endured the horrors of war as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for many years before moving to New York as part of a nonprofit relocation project, earned the right to carry the flag in a vote of the U.S. Olympic teams’ various captains.

Listen to Lomong’s reaction, captured by The Associated Press, in a story now widely circulated on the Internet: “It’s more than a dream. I keep saying I’m not sure if this is true or not true. I’m making the team and now I’m the first guy coming to the stadium and the whole world will be watching me carry the flag. There are no words to describe it.”

I first met Lomong in the fall of 2005 when he was a freshman runner at Northern Arizona University. He was friendly, talkative and confident in his abilities as a runner. Months later, it had become clear that his potential had caught up with his confidence.

During my conversations with Lomong, it was obvious that he understood the chance he would have in the future to tell his story to a wider audience, to help people come to understand what has happened — and what continues to happen — in his homeland.

I didn’t need to press Lomong for details about how he was violently uprooted from his homeland (by gunpoint at a church). He told his life’s story in soft, measured tones and then thanked me beforehand for writing his story.

(And I suspect journalists from ESPN, The New York Times and HBO had similar thoughts after their interviews, believing that Lomong’s story was one of the most important pieces of journalism they would ever work on.)

A year later, after I had moved to Japan, Lomong was the biggest sports story for the Arizona Daily Sun, the newspaper that regularly reports on NAU.

The reason?

He was crowned the National College Athletic Association’s Division I champ in the men’s indoor 3,000-meter race and the outdoor champion in the 1,500.

Now, his time has come. Lomong’s first chance at global stardom will be in the men’s 1,500-meter final on Aug. 19.

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Mike Lopresti, a sports columnist for Gannett News Service and USA Today, used his Wednesday column to examine some of Confucius’ sayings and explain how they might be relevant to the Beijing Games.

Here are two of the better ones:

“When anger rises, think of the consequences.” (Lopresti cited these words of wisdom for Team USA basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski in reference to foul calls that may not be pleasing to his team.)

“Everything has its beauty, but not everybody sees it.” (The splendor of National Stadium was used to illustrate this point.)

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The Chinese Valentine’s Day is on Thursday this year, which happens to be the seventh day of the seventh lunar month in the Chinese calendar. Sweethearts will celebrate the day by giving each other flowers and chocolates.

A day later, Beijing is expected to issue 16,400 wedding certificates. The number eight, according to Chinese belief, “brings happiness and good fortune,” the China Daily reported. “The three eights in Aug. 8, 2008, therefore, make that day especially popular.”

Indeed, the story’s top-of-the-page headline puts that into perspective: “08-08-08, the magical wedding date.”

Friday’s weddings will conclude two hours before the evening’s bigger spectacle: the opening ceremony.

According to Wu Shimin, the supervisor of the Beijing municipal civil affairs bureau, the city’s marriage registration departments will close at 6 p.m., 12 hours after they open.

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Other stories in China Daily, the official publication of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, caught my eye.

It was interesting to read these observations from French coach Stephane Traineau about judoka Ryoko Tani, the reigning two-time gold medalist at 48 kg:

“She pushes and pushes and then, at the end, she stings.”

I also learned that Tani’s Olympic workouts will not be at the same place as her teammates in Beijing. Instead, she’s training at a “secret dojo,” the paper reported.

Why?

“It is because she is so key to the team’s morale,” one unnamed spokesman from the dojo was quoted as saying.

In another feature story, the design specifications of reigning Olympic 110-meter gold medal hurdler Liu Xiang’s shoes are detailed.

“Each shoe weighs only 214 grams, a little heavier than three eggs,” the paper reported.

Liu said, “It’s light, it fits me well and it’s very comfortable.”

Liu’s new shoe model is called the Zoom Aerofly LX. He wore the Zoom Superfly G5 model in Athens in 2004. It’s the notion here the late Curtis Mayfield would be a big Liu fan.

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Who says sports people lose their passion for sports as they get older?

Cao Zuozheng, a 104-year-old woman from Doncheng district in Beijing, was the lone individual from her home area to sign up for the Olympic torchbearer selection program in June 2006, China Daily noted. Her application was rejected, though, due to her advancing age.

Apparently, Cao doesn’t know the news yet — or refuses to admit it.

“I have never dared to inform her as it could hurt her a lot,” Xiao Xinhua, Cao’s youngest child told China Daily. “What I can do is not mention the matter any more and shift her attention to watching the (Summer) Games.”

And so Cao, who uses a wheelchair, is expected to attend the Olympics as a spectator for track and field events and gymnastics events. If you see a cheerful 104-year-old in a blue silk dress, smile.

Cao’s family, meanwhile, has another reason to smile, too.

“The games we watch might not be the most popular ones but we just want to bring her there to fulfill her dream of participating in the Games,” Xiao was quoted as saying.