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NBC talk of drug use by China: cheap whine or the real thing?


Start with sour grapes, and you end up with whine. But NBC gave an airing to some ugly rumors during its prime-time show last night, and maybe we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss them.

There are whispers about the Chinese women swimmers who have performed so well at these Games. The talk is of performance-enhancing drugs.

The Chinese women seemingly came from nowhere at the Games, displacing traditional powers, mainly the United States. So, was this the talk of sore losers? After all, one of the complainers was U.S. Olympic Committee vice president George Steinbrenner, not known for his sportsmanship.

But, hold on, NBC pointed out, this drug talk has a familiar ring. It sounds a lot like accusations against the East German women swimmers. Some called those charges sour grapes. After the secrets of the drug-driven East German sports machine were revealed, though, the charges proved all too true.

Erase the tape

Maybe it would have violated the network's "plausibly live" philosophy of televising the Games. But Mike O'Brien's comments during the men's 200-meter individual medley final last night needed editing.

Ron Karnaugh, whose father suffered a fatal heart attack during the Games' opening ceremonies, was competing. O'Brien offered this assessment of Karnaugh's staying power: "Karnaugh tends to die in the last 25 meters."

And good announcers tend to think before they speak.

All I have to do is dream

A few thoughts while waiting for the U.S.-Brazil men's basketball game to turn into a romp:

* Why does analyst Mike Fratello continue going into monologues about strategy? Why doesn't he just say: "Zone, shmone. These guys couldn't stop the U.S. with a barbed-wire fence."

* Have all the people who complain about the traveling in the NBA noticed how few traveling calls have been made against the Americans in the Olympics? Remember, those aren't NBA referees out there.

* Every time the horn sounds at the basketball arena, I expect to hear the Olympics' unofficial theme song, "Bugler's Dream."

Looking ahead

NBC has expanded weekend coverage today (noon-6 p.m., 7-midnight, channels 2, 4) , with a wide range of events scheduled.

During the afternoon telecast, the U.S. women's basketball team should get some extended exposure, and tennis might get a longer look. Also scheduled are U.S.-Australia water polo and rowing finals.

Individuals to look for in the afternoon include boxers Eric Griffin and Oscar de la Hoya and runners Janis Klecker and Francie Larrieu Smith in the women's marathon.

Tonight, the network offers the last set of women's gymnastics, the individual event finals, featuring Americans Kim Zmeskal, Betty Okino and Shannon Miller, the silver medalist in the all-around.

In addition, the world's fastest men and women will be seen in the 100-meter finals. American contenders for the title are Leroy Burrell, Dennis Mitchell, Gwen Torrence, Gail Devers and Evelyn Ashford.

Tonight also will provide the first look at perhaps the top U.S. track performer, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who starts competition in the heptathlon.

Look for three Marylanders in the white-water canoeing -- Jon Lugbill of Bethesda and Cathy and David Hearn of Garrett Park.

Numbers game

Women's gymnastics came through for NBC Thursday night. The women's all-around finals helped give the network a 22.3 rating and 40 share on Day 5, its best numbers of the Games. Go ahead, Bela Karolyi, give the peacock a hug. On Day 5 from Seoul in 1988, the network drew 18.1/32.

The five-night average from Barcelona is 19.9/36, 17 and 20 percent better, respectively, than the 17.0/30 after five nights from Seoul.

NBC has sworn on Tom Brokaw's silk ties that it will deliver a 15.3 ratings average for the Games.

Ratings measure the percentage of all television households watching a program. Shares measure the percentage among homes where television is in use. So far, nothing measures the percentage among homes where televisions have been occupied by poltergeists looking for "Topper" reruns.

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