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FROM THE OLYMPICS: With memories of Phelps, teacher heads to the classroom

BEIJING (BP)–Jeremy Knowles, a member of the Bahamas swim team, will have plenty to tell his fourth-grade students at Hickory Grove Baptist Christian School in Charlotte, N.C., when he returns to the United States as their teacher.

Not only did he compete in the Olympics, he competed in three of the same events as swimming sensation Michael Phelps, who is vying for an all-time record eight gold medals in Beijing. Knowles’ comments on Phelps were reported by McClatchy Newspapers:

“Just look at the bodies of swimmers today,” Knowles, 26, said. “A 16th-place time in 2008 would have been on the medal podium in 2004. I have friends in track and field and they ask, ‘What’s up with all the world records?’ I think it’s because track is a lot more advanced in its evolution than swimming. But Phelps is pushing everyone else to new heights.”

Knowles finished sixth in his heat Aug. 11 in the men’s 200 meter butterfly preliminaries with a time of 2:01:08. Phelps won the finals and set a world record of 1:52.03 in the event. Knowles finished fourth in his heat Aug. 13 in the men’s 200 meter individual medley with a time of 2:01.35. Phelps won the event, setting a world record with a time of 1:54.23. And Knowles finished third in his heat in the 100 meter butterfly Aug. 14 with a time of 53.72. Click here to see an Aug. 12 Baptist Press article about Knowles.

Among other results thus far:

— Women’s basketball: Mali, with 6-2 forward Djenebou Sissoko, a member of Union University’s 2006 national championship and second-place 2007 team, fell to New Zealand 76-72 Aug. 9. Two days later, the Mali team lost to the Czech Republic 81-47. On Aug. 13, the Mali women lost to the United States 97-41, and on Aug. 15 they lost to China 69-48. They were scheduled to play Spain Aug. 17. The Mali team, in qualifying for the Olympics, won the 2007 African championship, becoming the West African country’s first-ever entry in Olympics basketball. The U.S. team, meanwhile, topped Spain 93-55 on Aug. 15, remaining undefeated. The women’s quarterfinals will begin Aug. 19.

— Baseball: The United States lost to defending Gold medalist Cuba, 5-4, in 10 innings on Aug. 15. Cuba is 3-0 at Beijing; the U.S. is 1-2, having earlier lost to Korea 8-7 on Aug. 13 and defeated the Netherlands 7-0 on Aug. 14. The U.S. will continue play Aug. 16 against Canada; Aug. 18, China; Aug. 19, Chinese Taipei; and Aug. 20, Japan. Left fielder Matt LaPorta -– featured in a Baptist Press report on Aug. 12 –- was held hitless against Cuba.

— Women’s discus: Stephanie Brown Trafton had the best distance in her qualifying heat Aug. 15, putting her in the finals on Monday, Aug. 18. Trafton threw 57.78 meters on her first attempt before scratching on her second throw. She then launched a 62.77-meter throw on her third and final try. Trafton was featured in a Baptist Press article Aug. 14.

— Women’s three-meter springboard diving: Nancilea Foster finished in 11th place in the preliminary round Aug. 15, good enough to qualify her for Saturday’s semifinals. Foster turned in a score of 300.15, which was 73.75 points behind the leader. USA teammate Christina Loukas finished eighth, with a score of 312.60. Foster also was featured in Baptist Press article Aug. 14.

— Women’s eight rowing: The Canadian team, with Jane Rumball who told Baptist Press she came to know Christ through rowing and now uses the sport as a way to worship God, qualified for the finals, which will be Aug. 17. Baptist Press featured Jane Rumball in a report on Aug. 8.

— Women’s 200 meter butterfly: China took the gold and silver while Great Britain won the bronze. Elaine Breeden, who said being a Christian affects her athletics more than any other factor, finished seventh. In the 100-meter race, she advanced to the semifinals but didn’t qualify for the finals. Breeden was featured in a Baptist Press feature Aug. 11.

At the end of competition Aug. 15, in the overall medal count the United States had 44 (14 gold), China had 40 (25 gold) and Australia had 20 (five gold) to lead the standings.

BRITISH SWIMMER VALUES CHURCH — Kirsty Balfour, a member of Great Britain’s swim team, told The Sun in London that her strong religious beliefs directed her path to the Olympics.

“I didn’t choose swimming. It chose me,” she said. “I realized God had given me a talent for it.”

Balfour, 24, encountered disappointment in Beijing, though, placing eighth in the women’s 100 meter breaststroke semifinals Aug. 11, two seconds behind the winner. She placed sixth in Heat 5 of the 200 meter breaststroke two days later.

According to her biography on the British Olympic Association website, Balfour’s “biggest passion away from swimming” is her church life, and to prepare for swim meets, she listens to gospel music and prays. In response to the question “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” Balfour said, “Married with kids and working for my church.”

Her profile at nbcolympics.com says she “likes to pray before competition swims and when she’s in the water.” It lists Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through Him who strengthens me,” as one of her favorite verses.

“When I am training or competing, feeling like I am just about to die, I know God is there in the water with me and He will see me through,” Balfour, a native of Edinburg, Scotland, said.

In an interview with Athletes in Action, Balfour said she thinks she was about 7 years old when she gave her life to Jesus, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that she thought more seriously about her convictions.

“I came to a point where I had to think through everything I believed again, and I have now made a firm commitment to follow Jesus Christ,” she told AIA. “In the past few years my relationship with Jesus has grown a lot stronger and I feel closer to God.”

Balfour, who also competed in Athens in 2004, conveyed a sense of maturity about winning some big competitions and losing some others.

“I believe things happen for a reason … I think God has a plan for each of us,” she said.

AGE QUESTIONS REMAIN ABOUT CHINESE GYMNASTS — Even before the Chinese women’s gymnastics team got to the Olympics, questions were swirling about their ages. When they beat the Americans for the gold medal, the questioning intensified.

Under Olympic rules, female gymnasts must turn 16 years old during the year of Olympic competition. Their passport serves as the lone verification, and each Chinese gymnast’s passport met the International Olympic Committee’s standards. The system, of course, assumes that passport officials in the gymnast’s own country will be honest.

Younger gymnasts often can outperform older ones. As the thinking goes, a younger, smaller, lighter gymnast has a physical advantage — and perhaps even has a psychological advantage of being “clueless” about the pressures involved on the world stage.

So, what would happen if it was discovered China falsified the ages on the gymnasts’ passports? Possibly nothing — that is, assuming that the allegations are true.

Plenty of media members in the arena — as well as television viewers at home — watching the team competition Aug. 12 (U.S. time) thought the Chinese gymnasts looked several years younger than 15 or 16. Longtime gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi summed up feelings when he said the Chinese looked like “they are 7 and maybe still in diapers.”

As it turns out, there is documentation showing that at least three of the gymnasts — He Kexin, Jiang Yuyuan and Yang Yilin — are 14. As Time.com reported, the China Daily newspaper earlier this year listed He’s age as 14, and a 2006 local sports registry listed her date of birth as Jan. 1, 1994, which would make her 14. A local-level competition roll listed Jiang’s date of birth as Oct. 1, 1993. As for Yang, from 2004-06, the biographical date on a government sports website listed her date of birth as Aug. 26, 1993, which would make her also 14, Time.com reported.

Chinese officials insist that the passports are correct and the information previously listed elsewhere simply was wrong.

But the Chinese have been known to cheat before in fixing ages. Yang Yun, a Chinese gymnast who won two bronze medals in 2000, acknowledged later that she was 14 at the time of the competition. The New York Times may have best summed up the controversy with the headline, “Athletes Only as Old as China Says They Are.”

Olympics observers say the International Olympic Committee is unlikely to get involved out of fear of embarrassing the host country.

Selena Roberts, a writer for CNNSI.com, said that when watching the team competition, it was impossible to “deny the visual evidence” that something unjust was taking place.

“Wearing blue eye shadow with their hair pulled back, He Kexin, Jiang Yuyuan and Yang Yilin looked like girls who had just rummaged through their mothers’ makeup,” Selena Roberts wrote for CNNSI.com. “This was a ladies’ final, though somehow it was hard to see how they qualified as women…. The U.S. squad is filled with women who are short to be sure, but with a curve to their bodies, muscle on their bones and driver’s licenses in their wallets.”
Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston, assistant editor Michael Foust and staff writer Erin Roach.

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