By John Lohn
CRANBURY, New Jersey, May 21. LET's make this clear right off the start. When the International Olympic Committee decided to go with morning finals for the 2008 Games in Beijing, it certainly bowed down to the power of NBC Television. There's really no arguing that fact. From every angle, the almighty dollar was viewed as more important than the athletes who will enter the pool in a little more than a year.
But, here's the deal. There's no way the traditional format will be used in China, so it's time the fans and media stop bemoaning the morning-finals decision. What's the good? Heck, if you listened to some of the comments over the weekend, it's quite clear that the athletes have decided to accept what is inevitable. Yes, the likes of Leisel Jones and Michael Phelps indicated they were gaining comfort with different format. And, if the athletes have settled down, well, there's no reason for anyone else to keep on complaining.
During the past few days, three competitions adopted a wake-up-and-swim setup to simulate what will be encountered next year. Aside from the Eric Namesnik Grand Prix in the United States, the Chinese National Championships and Telstra Grand Prix (Australia) went with morning finals. Certainly, there were enough quality swims to suggest we'll still see a splendid Olympiad.
Sure, many athletes will require adjustment time and the process will be an evolving one, but take a look at this sampling of morning efforts. In China, 13-year-old Li Xuanxu went 4:38.54 in the 400 individual medley to instantly etch herself as an Olympic medal contender. In Australia, rising sprint star Cate Campbell went 25.16 in the 50 freestyle. And, in Ann Arbor, heavy training and an early wakeup didn't keep Michael Phelps and his Club Wolverine contingent from posting some solid outings.
The IOC choked under pressure and that's a shame. Never should financial circumstances come before the good of the athletes. But, what's done is done and any further crying needs to subside. At this point, that whining can only take away from the athletes' accomplishments and, as mentioned earlier, the athletes seem to be adapting just fine.
**It was only a matter of time before a Chinese athlete dropped the hammer and delivered an eye-opening performance ahead of the events in Beijing. Ultimately, it was Li Xuanxu who filled the role behind her aforementioned sub-4:40 effort in the 400 I.M. The swim would have handed Li the silver medal at the recent World Championships in Melbourne.
While the 13-year-old obviously enhanced her international profile and established herself as a medal contender in 2008, her effort sparked another question: What's next? As the next Olympic host and considering its pride factor, it's highly unlikely that China will accept anything less than sterling showings in Beijing. So, don't be surprised to see a few more out-of-the-woodwork performances from the Chinese in the runup to the Olympics.
**While he finished second to Erik Vendt in the 1500 freestyle at the Eric Namesnik Grand Prix, Michael Phelps closed out the metric mile with a split of 27.23 for his last lap. Admittedly inexperienced in how to negotiate the event, it would be highly entertaining to see the world's greatest swimmer contest the long-distance freestyle while rested. There's no doubting Phelps' ability to push the 15-minute barrier, hallowed ground in the discipline.