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Boxer Gary Russell Jr. out of the Olympics

Maese et al.,

Subject:  I sure am glad there is not weight limit for writers

Since you're off writing about world affairs in earthquake ravaged Chengdu today, I'll update you as to what's going on here in Beijing. It seems that Gary Russell Jr., a boxer from Capitol Heights, Maryland, failed to make weight and had to withdraw from the Olympics after the USA coaching staff found him unconscious last night in his room, suffering from dehydration. Wow, if that isn't strange turn of events. You wait all your life to fight for an Olympic medal, and then you can't make weight and nearly kill yourself in the process? That is a like something from a F.X. Toole short story. (He wrote "Rope Burns" which was the inspiration for the movie Million Dollar Baby.) Russell was a real medal contender too, and said winning gold at the Olympics was more important to him than winning a world championship or being rich. What a shame.

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Damn, I sure am glad there is not weight limit for writers, or you'd see me struggling these last few days after some of the meals we've had. We had a blog commenter (I believe our first who I don't suspect is my wife or your girlfriend) and he/she pointed out that we seemed to be focusing on all the negative aspects of Beijing. Is he right? Are we turning into those whiny Americans who come to a foreign country and complain about everything because we're a pair of ignorant dupes? Beijing is incredibly organized. I have to give them that. The volunteers this week are like an army of charm, ready to help you with a door, hand you a napkin or nod and smile while you struggle to ask for directions.

I don't think we've crossed over and become bad Americans; at least not yet. (I'm willing to overlook some questionable jokes about the Triads. For now.) But I think I should point out how much we've enjoyed the food thus far. You know me, I can usually survive on a steady diet of turkey sandwiches and chicken quesadillas, but I must say the food we've had in Beijing has been excellent. We haven't been so bold as to eat animal penis like our Tribune colleague Bill Plaschke (Story coming soon to a blog near you!), but we have had some excellent noodles, yak, fish and lamb. Supposedly, the government asked restaurants not to serve dog during the Olympics, but I've heard stories about how you can still get it if you want and know where to look. I'm not interested, but I'm not going to judge either. It sort of goes back to the Pulp Fiction debate: Is it really OK to eat pigs and not dogs simply because dogs have more personality? Pigs, according to scientists, are actually smarter than dogs. But there are rarely howls of protests when someone eats a ham sandwich.

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I guess this is probably the wrong debate to be having with a vegetarian.

In other news, I popped in on the gymnastics press conference yesterday just to familiarize myself with Shawn Johnson, who a lot of people think could be the next Mary Lou Retton. That whole "Next Mary Lou" tag sure is slung around the neck of American gymnasts like a noose, isn't it? Johnson seems like the sweetest 16-year-old kid imaginable, better than anything the soulless marketing sharks on Madison Avenue could have culled together in their evil dreams. She's cute, she's from Iowa, she gets straight A's, her parents are supportive but don't push her or slam her head into telephones like some people are accused of doing and she even has a weepy back story: Her gym in West Des Moines was wrecked during the massive floods in Iowa back in June.

Does gymnast worship weird you out at all? I mean, I know they're freakishly strong and flexible, and most of them are cute in a little sister kind of way, but they're so tiny and have such high-pitched voices. The whole thing is a little too Vladimir Nabakov for me. It's confusing. They're little kids who have, in many cases, not even gone through puberty, but they're also essentially professional athletes. 

We bump into this debate with figure skating all the time. If you run a picture in The Sun of Kimmie Meissner falling, readers get outraged. They're out for blood, even if that was the most important news of the event. Years ago, during the Salt Lake City Olympics, a woman left me an angry voice mail message when I mentioned that Michelle Kwan frowned when she saw the scores from the judges. But at the same time, those are news events. It seems like the people who follow figure skating and gymnastics want it both ways. They want the sports to be taken seriously despite the fact that you wear make-up when you compete, but they also want to quash reality when it doesn't fit in with their Pixie Princess fantasies. A news event is a news event. If Brian Roberts strikes out with runners on second and third in a tie ball game, no one says: "How dare you criticize Brian Roberts! He's so cute! And he tries hard!"

I don't really understand it. Either it's a sport, or it's not a sport. If you can't handle anything but a happy ending, pop in The Little Mermaid DVD. (Spoiler alert!: Ariel and Eric get married and make mer-people babies who all grow up to break all Michael Phelps records.)

Anyway, what are your predictions for the games? It's time to get our Great Kreskin hat on. Will Phelps win eight gold medals? Will Hoff win six? Will the USA Basketball team start an international incident when LeBron James dunks over Yao Ming in front of his home fans? Or will Coach K start an international incident when he can't handle not getting all the calls like he usually does at Duke? What do you want to see at these games?

If nothing else, I'm ready for the Games to begin. As Carl Spackler told the gophers in Caddyshack, I guess we're playing for keeps now, huh? I guess the kidding around is pretty much over.

(Photos: AP)

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