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At The Stadium

LONDON -- OK, I know it's around 5 a.m. back in Buffalo. Everybody is probably snug in their beds by now, even the Chippewa crowd. I rose bright and early to get out to the Olympic Stadium for the first full day of track and field. It promises to be electric. The British came out and packed the place Friday, even though it was not a day of marquee competition. The place is filling up already. It's loud. The announcers are pumping people up like it's the Opening Ceremony.

I'm in the approximate I spot I was for the Opening. Can't believe it's been more than a week now. It's been quite a whirlwind. I have to say, I'm ready to move on from swimming and get the "athletics" portion of the Olympics.

Jenn Suhr's pole vault qualifying begins at 10:20. She and her coach/husband, Rick, talk about how wild and distracting the Olympics are, compared with other world events. They'll get their money's worth this morning. While Suhr tries to qualify, it will be a cacaphonous atmosphere in the stadium. Some of the biggest events of the meet will begin in the next few minutes.

England's Holly Bleasdale, a rising 20-year-old, should get the home folks rocking. Bleasdale recently talked trash about Yelena Isinbayeva, the two-time defending gold medalist from Russia. She doesn't like Isinbayeva's diva act and wasn't shy about saying so. It'll add to the intrigue if she responds to the big moment and contends for a medal.

At 10:05, the women's heptathlon -- the ladies' version of the decathlon -- gets under way. That's the event that made Jackie Joyner-Kersee a legend. The British have  the favorite, Jessica Ennis. She is solid in all but the long jump. The moment her name is announced, this place will erupt.

But first, we have a heat in the men's 100-meter competition. The final is always a highlight of the Games -- the peak moment for me. Bruno Rojas, the national record-holder in the 100 and 200 for Bolivia, is in this heat.

One of the great moments in Olympic history will take place as Suhr is taking part in pole vault qualifying. Oskar Pistorius, the double-amputee from South Africa, will try to qualify in the 400 meters. Pistorius will become the first man ever to compete in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The media room is packed, as you might imagine. I have to admit, I had forgotten Pistorius went today. I came for Jenn. A bit of fortuitous timing, I must say.

Women's eight repeats

London Olympics Rowing Women
(Associated Press photo)

By Jerry Sullivan, Buffalo News

ETON DORNEY -- Went out to Dorney Lake today and watched the U.S. women's eight, coached by Buffalo native Tom Terhaar, win its second straight Olympic rowing gold medal.

The U.S. women haven't lost a major world race in seven years. The Americans surged off the starting line in a crosswind and finished in 6:10.59, winning with ease over the Canadian boat. The Canadians had been seen as a serious test to the U.S. streak, having lost by only .03 in a Rowing World Cup race in Lucerne earlier in the summer.

Canada fell behind by half a boat length early and the U.S. repelled its attempted charge late in the event. The Canadians crossed in 6:12.06.The Netherlands won the bronze medal in 6:13.12.

I caught up with Terhaar about two hours after the race. The team tossed him in the lake after the victory. Terhaar, a graduate of St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in Buffalo, said he was nervous before the race.

"Oh, yeah. Absolutely," he said. "Just with these windy conditions and the way the races were going leading up to this, they were really close. I was pretty nervous. It's the Olympics. Anything can happen out here."

Terhaar rode a bicycle along the side of the lake while his team was pushing through the 2,000 meter course. "That helps a lot," he said.

He said he told his rowers to simply do what they train for in practice. Terhaar said it doesn't take a lot to motivate his athletes. He was asked to explain the amazing run of dominance by the American women's eight, which has flourished since he became the U.S. Olympic women's coach.

"A lot of competition all the time," he said. "We had a really good regatta. We had a brand-new pair almost get a medal, missed by three-tenths of a second. And we had a quad get a medal for the first time basically ever -- since 1984, when it was 1,000 meters. So that was a big step. So we had a lot of depth, a lot of competition. Going through that makes the really good people that much better."

London Olympics Rowing Women_002


London Olympics Rowing Women_001
(Associated Press photos)

Smashing Serena

LONDON -- I'm spending the afternoon at Wimbledon, taking in some Olympic tennis. It's my first trip to the mecca of tennis. How could I leave here not having visited the place? I also got a chance to cover Serena Williams for the first time, and to interview my favorite female athlete face-to-face.

Williams positively annihilated Vera Zvonareva of Russia, 6-1, 6-0, moving into the quarterfinals of singles. Serena has never won a medal in singles in the Olympics. She has two gold medals in doubles with her sister, Venus. So she's motivated to add a singles medal -- gold -- to her Olympic collection, which includes a lot of pins.

It's hard to imagine a more emphatic win. This wasn't some obscure player she smoked today. Zvonareva has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the world. She was runnerup at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open two years ago. No matter. Williams dispatched  her as if she had been some ball girl tossed onto Centre Court for an exhibition.

One game went like this, Serena serving. Ace, ace, ace, ace. That's right, Zvonareva never got the ball back in the game. The match lasted 50 minutes. It was even more resounding than the U.S. women's gymnasts' thrashing of the Russians the night before.

Here's a full transcript of the mixed zone interview with Williams after her victory:

Are you still riding the peak you hit in winning Wimbledon a month ago?

"I think I played better today, and even in my second round, than any match I played at Wimbledon. So, today I was just playing unbelievable. I felt good. I was relaxed. I was like, 'I'm here to have fun, I've nothingbto lose, and no pressure. No pressure on myself.'

Did you feel a performance lilke this coming?

"No! I was nervous going into the match. I didn't speak to anyone. I had a bad practice, and I was thinking, 'Gosh, I'm  a little stressed out.' I had no idea I would play like this. So I was really a little surprised."

How about that game you shut her out with four aces?

"Again, yay! I've been trying to do that at least once a tournament."

"I feel like I've played nine matches, and I feel like 'Oh, God, I'm only in the qaurters.' But that's OK. I think it's because I'm playing doubles and I played here not too long ago. I think they're all kind of running together. But it feels good. I'm feeling really excited to be here."

Asked about the upcoming doubles match against Italy:

"Well, they're the No. 2 seed, so it'll be a real tough match."

It's on grass, come on. 

She laughs. "You know, it's going to be a little difficult. So we'll see. We hopefully can win. Wehad a tough doubles yesterday. Gosh! We're playhing every day. They have that on their side, rest. So we really have to bring it up."

How about one of the Italians saying you're better than Venus?

"Oh, really. Cool. Maybe they'll hit all the balls to Venus and I'll just relax."

What do you think of the badminton teams being expelled for tanking.

"Tanking?"

Losing on purpose to improve position.

"Well, in tennis I think it's totally different. No one wants to lose points.  No one wants to tank. You know, you do that in pracitce. I do it all the time, you know (she cracks up). But never in competition."

Do you think it's in the Olympic spirit to expel teams?

"It's great. Olympics have really cracked down. A couple of people have been kicked out. Now this. The Olympic committee is taking everythingo serious, and I appreciate that, because it's an honor to be here at the Olympics, and every match. No matter who you played, you go out and do  the best that you can do."

Do you ever lose your awe of this place?

"I'm MORE in awe. This year, I don't know why. I'm just, Oh my God, this is the Olympics. What's going on. I want to trade pins. I want to go to the vilage.I want to see other athletes. I want to see other events -- which of course never happens -- but I'm excited that I have next week off, so I can actually stay. In Beijing, I  had to leave the next day to go to the US Open. So this will be cool."

"I definitely want to see some athletics (track and field).l I've never done that. By then, the gymnastics will be done. Whatever's left over."

On playing against her sister, Venus:

"It's tough, especially when Venus is playing the way she did yesterday. Hopefully, she'll continue her play. I was inspired by her. I watched her and I said, 'Serena, you need to play better, or she's getting the gold'. As opponents, we totally inspire each other."

Which means more in Olympics, singles or doubles medal?

"Doubles. To be completely honest, I'd love to have a gold in doubles. I'd love to have a gold in singles, but if I had to choose one, I would choose double.s"

Where do you keep them?

"I keep them with my pin collection. For each Olympics, I have a fantastic pin collection.

The theme of the Games is Inspire A Generation. What or who inspires you?

"The women's gymnastics last night was ridiculously incredible for the USA. Everyone was so amazing. I had chill bumps and water and tears in my eyes. I was so happy. Seeing Michael Phelps get that 19th medal. And I'm really good friends with Ryan Lochte.I'm texting him 'Congrats, congrats' every day.

"Alll that inspires me. It's like, we're here as a team. Even though they're here and I'm over here, we're all playing for the same country. It couldn't feel better."

Did you feel special pride for Gabby Douglas, seeing an African-American girl become the best gymnast on the team?

"How amazing was that? She was the best in the whole world. I still get chill bumps talking about it. How many people, how many Afridcan-American kids are going to look up to her? It's really so emotional for me. I love her. I watched her a little while ago and I was so impressed. Her whole body is so fit. I absolutely love her. I'm amazed."

Why can't younger players keep up with you after all these years?

"I don't know. I was thinking about that I work hard. There's one thing I can do. I might not be good at relationships, or whatever. But one thing I'm good at is tennis. That's my talent, and I can do it."

"I'm just happy to be halfway healthy now."

On playing against Venus:

"Oh, my gosh. I hate practicing with her. We were practicing here the other day on Court 4. She killed me! I walked off the court. I told Mary Jo, 'I can't practice with her.' She was hitting winners left and right. I was, 'Are you serious?' And I just left."

"It's a little difficult, but we've been doing it for so long. I literally don't look at her. I don't think about it. I think, 'OK, in 10 yerars am I really going to care?' We'll still be sisters, so let me just think about 10 years from now."

What has the Olympic experience added to your career?

"It's cool. My whole career I have a chance to play in the Olympics has been cool. I wish other people who came before me had that opportunity, but a lot of them didn't."

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