EYES ON LONDON: Fast track, Phelps, Blade Runner

Associated Press
From left, Russia's Olga Belkina, United States' Carmelita Jeter and Bahamas' Sheniqua Ferguson go to cross the finish line in a women's 100-meter heat during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
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LONDON (AP) — Around the 2012 Olympics and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of the games to you:

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BLAZING SPEEDS

Is it the track?

Seven female sprinters, led by world champion Carmelita Jeter's time of 10.83 seconds, ran the first round of the 100 in 11 seconds or better Friday.

That was two more than did it over the entire meet in Beijing four years ago, and this time, there are still the semifinals and the gold-medal race to go.

Of course, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake will also be looking to rev things up Saturday afternoon in the men's 100 heats.

Called Mondotrack, the surface has shock-absorbing material built into the bottom instead of the top, meaning the upper layer provides better traction. That, in turn, lets runners wear flatter spikes that don't dig into the track as much, allowing for quicker turnover.

"Is this track better than Beijing? Unfortunately, I don't have a concrete answer," said Amy Millslagle, vice president for Olympic operations at Dow, which provides materials for the track. "You simply can't answer that because there's such a human element involved, and you can't prove one track is faster than another."

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Eddie Pells — Twitter — www.twitter.com/epells

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PHELPS' LAST SWIM

After dazzling fans for more than a decade, Michael Phelps will swim his last race on Saturday, and there is a good chance that it will end the way most of his Olympic events have: with a gold medal.

Phelps will be swimming the butterfly leg of 4x100 medley relay, an event the U.S. men have never lost. The Americans are sending out an imposing quartet that includes three gold medalists — Phelps, freestyler Nathan Adrian and backstroker Matt Grevers — plus breaststroker Brendan Hansen, who won a bronze.

"I don't think Michael is going to let anything go wrong in that race," said Eric Shanteau, who swam on the U.S. relay in Friday's prelims.

Indeed, it's unfathomable to think the Phelps era could end with anything less than another gold-medal performance.

"I thought it would hit me a lot harder than what it is right now," Phelps said Friday. "I guess a lot of those emotions haven't really come through my brain over the last week."

"Once I'm done," he added, "I think there's going to be a lot more emotion that really comes out."

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Paul Newberry — Twitter — www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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BLADE RUNNER'S MOMENT

Double-amputee Oscar Pistorius of South Africa fought long and hard to be able to compete alongside the other sprinters at Olympic Stadium. Now he'll get his chance.

Pistorius takes to the track Saturday in the 400-meter preliminaries, facing a stacked field for a chance to advance to the semifinals. His legs were amputated below the knee before he was a year old because he was born without fibulas. He will become the first amputee to compete on the track at the Olympics.

Some argue that the blades he runs on give him an unfair advantage. But Pistorius says that all he wants is a chance to run with everyone else. His best chance to medal could come as a part of the 4x400 relay team.

—Jon Krawczynski — Twitter http://www.twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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POORLY TIMED AD

The ad by itself wouldn't have raised eyebrows: a monkey on gymnastics rings, a spot intended to introduce an upcoming NBC comedy called "Animal Practice."

But one of the times it was aired — right after a Bob Costas commentary on Gabby Douglas' gold medal inspiring other African-American girls to become gymnasts — pushed NBC to come forward and say the ad was poorly timed and not meant to offend.

The gymnastics-themed commercial was specifically timed to run late Thursday night following the women's gold medal competition. NBC said it was scheduled to run before the network knew about Costas' commentary.

"Much of America has fallen in love with Gabby Douglas," Costas said. "Also safe to say that there are some young African-American girls out there who tonight are saying to themselves, 'Hey, I'd like to try that, too.'"

Then NBC switched to the commercial with the small, widely grinning monkey on the rings. Blacks in the past have been disparagingly referred to as monkeys to the point where it is considered a common slur.

"Gabby Douglas' gold medal performance last night was an historic and inspiring achievement," NBC Universal spokeswoman Liz Fischer said. "The spot promoting 'Animal Practice,' which has run three times previously, is one in a series with an Olympic theme, which have been scheduled for maximum exposure. Certainly no offense was intended."

— David Bauder — Twitter http://twitter.com/dbauder

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NAME DROPPING

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is fond of talking about 19th century South American independence leader Simon Bolivar, and found a way to do just that after fencer Ruben Limardo won a gold medal.

Chavez declared Limardo a national hero, and said he would present the athlete with the country's highest honor. The hero's welcome will include giving Limardo a replica of a sword used by Bolivar.

"I'm going to give him, since he's a fencer, a replica of the sword of one of the greatest fencers of our history, who was named Simon Bolivar!" Chavez said in a speech Friday.

Chavez calls his political movement the Bolivarian Revolution.

— Eva Vergara in Caracas — Twitter — http//twitter.com/evergaraap

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SECURING HER HIJAB

After being flipped onto her back, the first Saudi woman to compete at the Olympics did something that was both in line with her Islamic faith and perhaps a sign of respect to the conservatives in her homeland who had qualms about her competing: she gently reached for her head to make sure her hijab was still in place.

It was, and Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani and Puerto Rico's Melissa Mojica bowed to each other and left to a loud ovation.

Shahrkhani only made it into the games after a compromise between Olympic organizers, the international judo federation and Saudi officials cleared the way for her to compete in a modified hijab.

The Saudi, wearing judo dress and what appeared to be a tight-fitting black cap, looked tentative and cautious on her feet, and Mojica quickly grabbed Shahrkhani and flipped her onto her back, ending the match.

Afterward, the teenager walked with her father past journalists and TV cameras.

"I am happy to be at the Olympics," she whispered in Arabic, her brother, Hassan, holding both her arms. "Unfortunately, we did not win a medal, but in the future we will and I will be a star for women's participation."

— Paul Haven and Barbara Surk — Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/paulhaven and http://twitter.com/BarbaraSurkAP

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NO PAIN, NO FAME

After finishing on the track, there's still quite a workout left before the athletes can leave.

Like four flights of stairs. They have to navigate those — and do interviews — to get to the exit.

For some, it can feel like more of a card workout than their actual race.

"We need an elevator," deed Trotter said after finishing her heat in the 400 on Friday. "This is tougher than the race."

Heptathlete Hyleas Fountain felt the same way, especially after competing in four events.

"It is a pain," she said. "Especially when you have your bag full of cleats."

— Pat Graham — www.twitter.com/pgraham34

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FAMOUS SWIMMING MOMS

The camera cutaways have become almost as commonplace as the two top swimmers' knack for hauling in medals.

First, there are always the riveting images of Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte plowing through the water. And then come the shots of their moms' reactions.

Debbie Phelps and Ike Lochte have been getting plenty of television time, cheering on Phelps and Lochte during their medal-winning performances at the London Olympics.

Debbie Phelps came into this Olympics with much media experience. After all, her 27-year-old son is competing in his fourth and last games before retiring. But it wasn't until returning from Beijing four years ago, when Phelps won a record eight gold medals, that she realized the impact all that TV time had in the United States.

— Beth Harris — Twitter http://twitter.com/bethharrisap

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DREAM TEAM CHALLENGE?

The United States men's basketball team has started another debate about whether it's simply too good to play in the Olympics after bulldozing Nigeria.

The Americans are coming off of a 156-73 thumping of Nigeria. The 83-point win led some to call for the Dream Team concept to be scrapped. But that was only one game, and the celebrating is over.

Next up for LeBron James and Co. is a date with Lithuania and its rowdy fan base.

Lithuania has a history of being a thorn in the U.S. team's side.

At the 2004 Games, Sarunas Jasikevicius led Lithuania to a stunning upset. Jasikevicius is still around and brings NBA veteran Linas Kleiza and soon-to-be Toronto Raptor Jonas Valanciunas with him to the challenge this time.

—Tom Withers — Twitter http://www.twitter.com/twithersAP

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LOVING LONDON

For U.S. shot-putter Reese Hoffa, three times is a charm. He came up short during the Athens and Beijing games in 2004 and 2008, but snagged a bronze medal Friday night in London's Olympic Stadium.

Plus, he's loving the whole London vibe.

First off, "they speak English," and clearly, for the 34-year-old from Louisville, Ky., that's a big plus.

And he thinks "the food is phenomenal."

Anything else?

"This is probably the most hospitable place we've been, I guess, other than Japan. They are pretty nice people there, too," he said.

"I have nothing but fond things to say about London."

Only a small complaint: "I wish the mall was a little closer."

Now that he's got that medal, perhaps he'll have more time to shop.

— John Leicester — http://twitter.com/johnleicester

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EDITOR'S NOTE — "Eyes on London" shows you the Olympics through the eyes of Associated Press journalists across the 2012 Olympic city and around the world. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item.

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