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London Olympics' Record-Setting First Week


Michael Phelps' medal rush is among many fascinating moments at the London Olympics. Records have been shattered. Rules have been broken, and it's only the first week.

NPR's Mike Pesca has also been covering the games in London, and he's here with us now.

Mike, good morning.


MONTAGNE: So, for you, what were the most notable achievements in the first week of the games?

PESCA: Well, Michael Phelps breaking the all-time record, obviously. Ryan Lochte leading all swimmers, all athletes, in medals, doing pretty well. The Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen is certainly doing something amazing. The U.S. women doing very well in gymnastics, winning - Gabby Douglas winning individual gold, women winning the team gold.

You know, one not-talked-about thing that much has been the success of U.S. team sports. There are a few teams that came in ranked number one in the world: men's basketball, women's basketball, women's volleyball. None of those teams have lost. In fact, the water polo teams haven't lost. There's been one draw. Of the U.S. teams, only the women's hockey team - field hockey team - has lost, but they did beat Argentina, and it's still possible for them to qualify for the knockout round. So our teams have been doing very well.

MONTAGNE: And then there were some athletes who were memorable this past few days, but not in a good way.

PESCA: Yeah, I think you're speaking of badminton, of course.

MONTAGNE: I am, but I've just heard you say badminton.

PESCA: Do you say badminton? Yeah.


PESCA: I did, too, until I would talk to people about it, and they looked at me like I was saying li-bary or Febuary. Yeah, it's badminton. They like the N over here. But what they don't like is that they have eight players - four teams of two - who essentially threw matches. It was to get an advantage in later rounds. And it was strategy, but the spectacle of people serving shuttlecocks into the net was just something that these games organizers could not abide, and those people were bounced. I've done some reporting on this.

First of all, I talked to the Table Tennis Association. And it turns out that their tournament at the last Olympics was structured in the same way as the badminton tournament, which is to say they had round robins in the first round. And they realized that it opened themselves up to this sort of manipulation. They changed the structure of their tournament this time around.

Even in the sport of badminton, I interviewed the editor of the world's number-one badminton magazine - I have no reason to doubt that claim. And he said even in the sport, there were tournaments - not Olympic tournaments - that had the round robin structure, and they realized it was open to manipulation and they closed the loophole by - little technical - but they didn't tell the players what the draw would be until after play was done.

Anyway, the whole point is that I would say 90 percent of the condemnation has come down on the players or the coaches, and I think some scrutiny should be paid to the federation and the structure of the tournament itself.

MONTAGNE: OK. Well, back to the best now. What, Mike, is the single coolest event that you have seen?

PESCA: Well, that would have to be the Poland versus Bulgaria volleyball game. Obviously, when Poland plays Bulgaria, you throw those records out the window. I saw this event in the Earls Court Arena. And, you know, England has a large Polish population. I think they all showed up to watch this particular event. The Poles did not win. The Bulgarians held firm. But the place was raucous. Of course, no one outside Bulgaria or Poland or maybe the eight people who bet on the game - and you can bet on everything here - no one paid attention. But it was a great atmosphere.

MONTAGNE: OK. Bulgaria, Poland - something others might have missed. What about the prizes?

PESCA: You know, I'm going to talk about a pair of teams that actually haven't won it all, but Great Britain in basketball has been really good. The women's team, you know, almost beat Canada. And the men's team came within a point, or two points, of beating Spain, one point of tying Spain. That's amazing. Spain's the second-best team in the world. British basketball is something like 43rd in the world. They're playing over their heads. They have Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls. He certainly helps. But they're doing very well.

MONTAGNE: And looking ahead, we know Usain Bolt will be the center of attention in the coming days. What else should we be watching for?

PESCA: Right. So, athletics - what we call track and field - athletics start today, and so many exciting events there. Just today, they'll be giving the medal in the men's shot-put, and also the women's 10,000 meters - the biggest of men, the most lithe of women. You see the differences, the sort of spectrum of human physiology at play in track and field. It's one of the reasons why the world loves that sport.

MONTAGNE: Mike, thanks very much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Mike Pesca in London at the Summer Olympics. And we will be hearing from him lots in the coming days. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.