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IOC makes concessions

2008 Games swimming, gymnastics finals set for mornings

BEIJING (AP) - Swimming and most gymnastic finals will be held in the mornings at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the International Olympic Committee announced Thursday, in a partial concession to U.S. broadcaster NBC and its lucrative American television market.

The decision ends months of contentious, back-room negotiations between the IOC and TV broadcasters, whose purchase of television rights covers more than half the costs of staging the Olympics.

Aside from putting swimming finals and most gymnastics finals in the morning, the IOC decided that athletics finals will be held at night, while diving will be staged in the afternoon.

IOC President Jacques Rogge and members of the executive board reached agreement on the schedule in the last few days, IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said.

The schedule was being sent to international sports federations Thursday, she said, but was not immediately being publicly released.

The results represent a mixed bag for NBC, which has paid hundreds of millions of dollars for Olympic rights and had argued for morning finals for the swimming, gymnastics and athletics to capture higher ratings in the United States.

In reaching a decision, IOC members looked at precedents and tried to balance the interests of broadcasters, athletes and sports federations, Davies said.

At the 1988 Seoul Games, for example, swimming, gymnastics and athletics finals were held in the morning, she said. But in 2000 at Sydney, they were not, and the U.S. audience figures were below expectations.

Rowing in 2008 will be held in the afternoon in a concession to the British TV market, while diving finals will be held in the afternoons and evenings for the Australians.

“It’s neither a new process or a new issue. In every Games we have to look at the needs of different stakeholders,” said Davies. “All broadcasters request things that suit their needs.”

To ensure that athletes’ performance would not be affected by the scheduling, Davies said the schedule’s early release gives competitors sufficient time to adjust their training. Also, athletes are being given longer time to recover between their last heats and the finals, she said.

Australia’s high-profile swimmers led a campaign to retain evening finals and morning heats at Beijing, and the Australian Olympic Committee had opposed the switch to morning finals on the grounds it was problematic for athletes.

AOC president John Coates issued a statement Thursday saying despite their objections, the Australian swimmers would simply have to adapt.

“We stated our position in a meeting with President Rogge. We expressed a concern for the well being of the athletes having to swim heats late at night and then returning to the pool the following morning to swim finals,” Coates said.

“After evening heats swimmers need to warm down and possibly do a drug test before returning to the Village, this makes it a very late night.”

Coates said the fact that swimming’s governing body, FINA, did not oppose the proposed changes made it easier for the IOC to alter the schedule.

“Our swimmers are professional athletes and . . . we are confident they will now focus on getting the job done in Beijing.”

Updated: 2006-10-30 14:32

The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision to stage morning finals in the swimming events at the 2008 Beijing Games has drawn a mixed but mostly hostile response from around the world.

The swimming federations of China, Britain and Australia have criticised the move but the United States said it supported the change because the finals would be broadcast in their prime-time period.

“This is a great opportunity for our sport to be showcased to the nearly one billion people in the potential television audience of the Americas during the first nine days of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing,” USA Swimming’s executive director Chuck Wielgus said in a statement.

“The live prime-time exposure is something that can only benefit the sport of swimming, and enhance the public profile of our sport’s top athletes.”

China’s head swimming coach Zhang Yadong said the host nation would be unfairly disadvantaged by the decision which went against the spirit of fair play.

“It will be an unfair competition,” Zhang said in a statement. "I don’t see how the Olympic spirit can be seen in this decision, I doubt it is.

"Next year we’ll have to reschedule all the domestic tournaments to match the time of the Olympic finals.

"We’ll have to gradually move the wake-up time of our swimmers back to 6:30 am and start training at 8:30. As the decision won’t be changed, this is the only thing we can do.


“The European and American swimmers, in particular the Americans, will have a big advantage.”

British Swimming officials also slammed the move, with chief executive David Sparkes and national performance director Bill Sweetenham voicing their opposition.

“We’re really disappointed by the IOC’s decision,” Sparkes said. “It’s clearly one the IOC may come to regret in time.”

“Commonsense sometimes doesn’t prevail but whatever the conditions we have a group of athletes and coaches that can meet them head on,” added Sweetenham.

Australia’s head coach Alan Thompson said he was angry that the athletes’ interest had not been considered but had told his s swimmers there was nothing they could do about it expect prepare the best they could.

“The only thing that gets me cranky is that (the IOC) have made the decision for commercial reasons, not for the good of the sport,” he told reporters.

Thompson said the Australians had been expecting the announcement and had already been talking with sports scientists about the best ways to maximise performance in the morning.

“It’s about motivation too and your ability to adapt to change, and the best performers are going to always be able to do that,” he said.

“And certainly the motivation for an athlete swimming in the final at an Olympic games will certainly get the arousal levels up, whether it’s morning or afternoon.”