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sports central | Kevin Beane ( Thu 14th, August 2008 )

NBC's Olympic coverage, and shares inappropriate late-night thoughts about female weightlifters.

I begin the week's column with a linguistic tip: it's pronounced, "Bei-JING," not "Bei-ZHING." It's a hard "j'" sound. It's amazing what you can learn by browsing language blogs. The speech pundits call our tendency to invent these pronunciations "hyperforeignification," or the tendency to give place names in faraway lands what we consider to be suitably exotic pronunciation.

But as the world gets smaller and smaller, I'm not sure there will be much left in the way of exotic anymore, and the Games are a perfect example of that. I've seen a black Norwegian weightlifter, black guys born in Texas and Pennsylvania on the German and Russian basketball teams, and of course, Becky Hammon, who only recently decided to fly the flag of the Russian bear, where she plays club basketball.

So what to make of these defectors, many of whom don't even have a familial connection to their new countries? They are essentially national athletes for hire, playing for another country only because they are not good enough to play for their own, or at least not called upon to.

My first thought is, for me, there would have to be some sort of that familial connection. To the best of my knowledge, I am 100% Irish (for a long time, my mother's family believed we had German blood, but it turns out the guy that gave my family the "Marks" surname was Irish, not German), so I would be willing to play basketball for Ireland.

In fact, considering how many people in the U.S. are form British or Irish stock, and the IOC's evidently lax laws on allowing athletes from foreign countries, it's a wonder that the U.K. and Ireland aren't basketball powers. You would think they could get every American white guy not good enough to play for the U.S. I suppose those countries do not wish to go that route.

So, yes ... Ireland for me, but that's the only country besides the U.S. I would suit up for. I would not just sign up for citizenship to any country willing to put me in the Olympics.

All that said, here are some things that bother me more than the Becky Hammons and J.R. Holdens of the world signing up for other countries.

1. Waiting for the bus in the rain.
2. Hearing my wife say she wants to discuss our finances.
3. Trying and failing to fish a popcorn shell out of my teeth with my tongue.
4. Joe Buck, if Joe Buck bothered me 75% less than he does.

Yet I've seen more than one columnist use the word "traitor" to describe these folks, and of course that and worse in the frothing world of anonymous Internet comments.

It's not treason because they are playing a sport, not signing up for the army. I ask, and not for the first time in this space, why is it that the only time we remember sports aren't important is when an athlete suffers some horrifying injury?

I have another annoying minority opinion on the Olympics. It is, I think NBC, giant conglomerate that they are, are doing a great job with these Olympics. Or maybe the rest of the world of sports coverage is so terrible now that they are merely doing great on a curve.

But I have two reasons for giving them high marks: one is, they seemed to have cut way, way down on features. THANK GOD. Seems every Olympiad I can remember watching before this one had left me muttering at the TV becuuse, for every three minutes of action, they would give two minutes to a feature on how the athlete in the spotlight overcame the adversity of having a cousin with asthma. I am not seeing that anymore.

The second tip of the hat is for NBC's online coverage, where you can watch just about every event, no matter how small or early in the preliminaries they are, either live or at your leisure, recorded, for free. You thought you wouldn't be able to watch the Honduras/Cameroon soccer match? Well, you're dead wrong, mister.

I don't want to get into a debate about file-sharing or piracy, but one positive effect of being able to watch movies, listen to music, or watch live events online for free, with various degrees of legality, is that it forces the industry to compete with the underground, and the consumer is the winner. The RIAA will never stamp out file-sharing, so different record companies avail more and more of their catalog online for free or very cheap to compete.

NBC's 2,200 hours of online events for free is a byproduct of this. I chose a sport nearly at random — weightlifting — and watched and got into over three hours of it. And it was women's weightlifting. I'm completely serious. Give it a try. Each woman gets six attempts to lift (three of two lift types), and you get to know them, sort of, or at least it doesn't take long to decide who to root for or against, and who is cute or not. Again, I am serious. These weightlifters in the lower weight classes (139 pounds or less) don't have those freaky awful body-building physiques, they look completely normal, if their torsos are a bit stocky. I've seen two of them cry after not making a lift. They maintain their femininity. I find myself wondering what they would be like in bed...

... whoa, it's late, what am I talking about? Oh, yeah. Hard "j" sound.

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