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Hair's going, but the spirit stays

August 10, 2008|Bill Dwyre, Greg Johnson, Edwin Moses

Highlights from The Times' "Ticket to Beijing" blog (at

It won't exactly be Samson and Delilah, but a haircut of possibly Olympic proportions will be performed in the next few days in the athletes village.

"I'll do it in one of the free barbershops," says Ben Askren, U.S. freestyle wrestler, who will compete Aug. 20 at 163 pounds.

Others here are discussed as candidates to be the face of the Games. Askren had a chance to be the hair of the Games.

But reality set in, in February at the World Cup, when Askren faced a Russian named Denis Tsargush.

"He grabbed my hair," Askren says. And yes, Tsargush beat him. "I have worked too hard to lose on something like that, so it has to go," Askren says.

If it sounds as if Askren is a free spirit, then it sounds right.

Before Friday night's opening ceremony, President Bush visited U.S. teams. The wrestlers were in the midst of shaking hands when Askren decided he wanted a shot with some teammates. He turned to a young woman and handed her his camera. As his teammates crumpled in laughter around him, she clicked away.

He had handed his camera to one of Bush's daughters, Barbara.

"I didn't know who she was," Askren says, "but she took a good picture."

-- Bill Dwyre

Driving off the rain

Fireworks weren't the only things rocketing into the air above and around the Bird's Nest during the Beijing Games' opening ceremony Friday night.

Ticket To Beijing quickly lost count of how manyfireworks were dispatched, but Beijing officials know exactly how many "rain dispersal rockets" were launched.

"We fired a total of 1,104 rain dispersal rockets from 21 sites in the city between 4:00 p.m. and 11:39 p.m. on Friday, which successfully intercepted a stretch of rain belt from moving towards the stadium," Guo Hu, head of the Beijing Municipal Meteorological Bureau, told the China Daily newspaper.

Guo moved his rain delay machinery into high gear at 9:35, according to the newspaper, when the short-term forecast predicted rain within the hour. "The artificial rain dispersal efforts basically drove the rain away as of 10:42 p.m., when the show had been going on for over two hours," the newspaper reported.

-- Greg Johnson

By the TV numbers

NBC's Friday night broadcast of the Beijing Games opening ceremony averaged 34.2 million viewers, up from the 2004 Athens Games' opening broadcast, which had an average audience of 25.4 million viewers.

(The 1996 Atlanta Games, which got a boost from friendlier time zones, averaged 39.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.)

NBC Universal reported that 69.9 million total viewers tuned in for at least part of the broadcast. The 2004 Athens Games' opening broadcast drew 56 million total viewers, and the Atlanta Games broadcast attracted 77 million total viewers. (Nielsen Media Research doesn't have corresponding numbers from the 1984 Los Angeles Games.)

The Beijing broadcast earned an 18.6 national rating, a 27% increase over the Athens Games' 14.6 opening night rating. Atlanta's first-night broadcast earned a 23.6 rating, and the 1984 Games had a 23.9 rating.

-- Greg Johnson

First impressions

I have two very strong impressions that I am reminded of as I sit in my home watching the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. My first impression is just the sheer beauty and magnificence of all the colors, representing the national garb and flags of the 204 countries and territories.

And that brings me to my second impression. Without a doubt, there is absolutely no other event on the planet that has so much meaning and can have such an enormous effect on so many people. They will be the future leaders of the world. Not just in sports but in education, banking, medicine, public service, broadcasting, politics, law, science, farming, research, you just name it.

As a three-time participant in the Olympic Games -- 1976, '84 and '88 -- I personally experienced what I can only hope to describe to you in this article. Believe me when I tell you this: My life would never be the same again.

-- Edwin Moses

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