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Olympics Preview: Reporting Results in Record Time; A Runner with ‘Cheetah Legs’

July 26, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Olympics-watchers have more options than ever for following the Games as they happen. Ray Suarez talks to sports writer Christine Brennan from London about security, how to watch and what to watch, including high-profile swimming, track and field and gymnastics match-ups, plus the story of a South African double-amputee runner.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ray Suarez picks up the story from there with a preview of key events and athletes and how things look in London tonight.

RAY SUAREZ: And for that, we’re joined from London by Christine Brennan. She’s covering her 15th Olympics for USA Today and ABC, among others.

And, Christine, now that we’re just in advance of the opening ceremonies, with so many athletes and so many events, are there certain competitions where the venues are already selling out, where there’s buzz in advance of these Games?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA Today: Oh, absolutely.

In fact, even just the streets of London today, Ray, with the torch going through — I have covered a lot of these and I have never seen that many people, and the locations, the backdrops, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Bridge, all of — Big Ben, it’s really extraordinary.

But your question about the venues. Swimming will get going on Saturday. And Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, everyone in the world knows about these two Americans, especially of course Phelps from four years ago in Beijing. And gymnastics. And of course the Brits are all about cycling and rowing.

I think we may call this the Twitter Olympics...You will be able to find out the split times of races, preliminary swimming...who falls off the balance beam and who doesn't. And that's going to come into your handheld device instantaneously. We have never seen an Olympics like this.Christine Brennan, USA Today

And so I really feel like this has — in the last day or two this has almost caught on fire. There’s something about this Olympics that I don’t remember this kind of buzz going into — so much of a buzz going into previous games.

RAY SUAREZ: American viewers are able to consume more of the games than ever before because of the way they’re being delivered. So why don’t you pull up a seat on the virtual couch next to them and help them figure out what to watch over the next couple of days.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Well, I think we may call this the Twitter Olympics or the live streaming Olympics when it’s all over.

The days of coming home and watching the network from 8:00 to 11:00, not missing a second of it, those days are long gone. And so, NBC, of course, is the rights-holder for United States, and they’re going to be doing a lot of live streaming.

All of us who are not rights-holders are going to be doing tweeting and on Facebook and blogging. And it’s going to be instantaneous. And I guess I would say to the fans you can probably gear your coverage, what you want. You will be able to find out the split times of races, preliminary swimming, the gymnastics, who falls off the balance beam and who doesn’t. And that’s going to come into your handheld device instantaneously. We have never seen an Olympics like this.

RAY SUAREZ: Along with Phelps versus Lochte that you have already mentioned, there are some dramatic matchups shaping up in the various events including in the 100-meter dash.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Well, that’s right.

Usain Bolt is back. I think people may remember him for the guy that was kind of running sideways the last 10, 15 meters in Beijing. Well, he’s back. He’s got his Jamaican countrymen who are going to give him a run for his money. The joke is that it’s the Jamaican national championships, the men’s 100 meters. But track and field, absolutely.

Gymnastics. The U.S. women against China. Of course, four years ago, China won a very controversial gold medal in that team competition. The United States women want to get that gold medal back. And we will see these pint-sized athletes competing as if they’re offensive linemen in the NFL in terms of how hard and strongly they will compete, especially for the Americans to win that gold medal.

RAY SUAREZ: South African athlete Oscar Pistorius has been fighting for a place in the Olympic track and field competition, and he finally got it, not the Paralympics, but the Olympics. Tell us more.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: That’s right. He runs on two carbon fiber legs, cheetah legs, as they’re known. He had both of his legs amputated below his knee when he was 11 months old.

And so here’s a man who some say he’s cheating because he has these synthetic legs. Of course, it sounds bizarre, doesn’t it, Ray, to say that a man who hasn’t had his legs since he was 11 months old is somehow cheating and somehow has an advantage.

To me, the Oscar Pistorius story is a story of inclusion. It’s a story of telling every disabled athlete or an athlete with some kind of an issue physically that they are welcome in the greatest event of the world. But the floodgates haven’t opened. It’s not as if people with rockets on their feet are now going to show up at the Olympic Games.

Pistorius is one of a kind, one in a generation. He will be fascinating to watch in the men’s 400 meters on the track and also in the South African relay, the 4-by-400 meters later in the games.

RAY SUAREZ: London can be at the best of times a tough place to travel through. And the Olympic organizers have worked very hard to get large numbers of people from place to place. Is it working?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: I’m going to give them about a C-plus right now, and of course the Games haven’t even started yet.

I have been in town almost a week. It is tough to get across town. This will be the most challenging Olympics in terms of going from place to place. Beijing had everything basically in walking distance, the big events anyway, swimming, track and field, gymnastics.

Here, to go from gymnastics to track and field, it could take an hour-and-a-half. And there are Olympic lanes. This is something that has happened in Atlanta, Barcelona, L.A. back in 1984. So there is a way to get the athletes from place to place. I don’t think we’re going to see too many traffic jams tying up athletes.

But fans, spectators and just people who happen to be in London, wow. I think this may be the most clogged Olympics that certainly I have seen going back to L.A. in ’84.

RAY SUAREZ: Is the security intrusive? There are 25,000 security people, including 7,000 soldiers.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: That’s right. And that’s certainly been reported.

And Seb Coe, who I have spoken with, the man in charge of the Olympics, feels very good. He told me today that they have done everything they can do and they feel that they are in good shape heading into the opening ceremonies.

This is the thing you don’t know about. And, of course, in 2005, London won the Olympic Games. The very next day, the London transit system was targeted by suicide bombers, and 50-some people were killed. That was the very next day.

Ray, there was never a connection made between the bombings and the announcement the day before that London won the games. But I think it’s in the back of everyone’s mind that this is a melting pot in all the best ways, a democracy, and a free country, as opposed to Beijing and China four years ago. So thank goodness for that.

But with that comes all of the possible dangers of a society that is open and where people can come and go freely. And I don’t think the security is overwhelming at all. In fact, in many parts of the city, you can go and you don’t see any extra security.

It’s around the Olympic Park, where I am now. That’s where it’s an armed camp. And I’m afraid that’s as it should be, knowing the history of the games.

RAY SUAREZ: Christine Brennan, good to talk to you. Thanks for joining us.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Ray, thank you very much.