Rick Telander and Rick Morrissey share their thoughts

August 2012 Archives


We're winding it down at the Olympics, so let's get it right:

1. Matt Grevers mother's first name is spelled Anja, not Anje as I spelled it in my column about the big guy from Lake Forest and his gold medal and Olympic record in the 100-meter backstroke. For what it's worth, Matt might be about the nicest elite athlete you're ever going to meet. He led off Michael Phelps' last race ever--the 400 medley relay--and took the lead.

2. Jessica Ennis, the British heptathlon champion, is 26, not 19, as I wrote. Where I got 19 from, I have no clue. I might have been thinking of Michael Phelps eight years ago, but I think not. Ennis, nicknamed ``Tadpole'' by her teammates, because she's all of 5-5 and almost skinny, is an astounding athlete. World class in the hurdles, she manages to throw the shot and run the 800 meters, and all the other stuff, like a champ. Another terrific role model.

3. The water Friday in the men's 10-K swimming marathon at the Hyde Park lagoon called the Serpentine was 70 degrees at one end and 70.5 degrees at the other. That was the race I wrote about because American Alex Meyer was in it (he finished 10th), and he has been active in trying to get better rules made regarding water quality and temperature in these distance events that are swum outdoors all over the world. Two years ago his good friend and world-class teammate Fran Crippen drowned while swimming with Meyer in an event in 84 degree salt water.
I forgot to include the temperature at Hyde Park in my story. Seventy degrees is cool, but the swimmers wore partial wetsuits and were fine. However, there's nothing much they can do to keep their thermostats in order in water as hot as 84 degrees.

4. Stacy Loukas and her two brothers, the children of George and Patty Loukas,and the siblings of Christina Loukas, the U.S. 3-meter springboard diver, do not manage and work at the Cubby Bear in Chicago. They run both it and the Wrigley rooftops owned by father George. Patty herself gave me that update.
By the way, Christina is a former U.S. national diving champion. Her eighth-place finish was disappointing to her, but she is a two-time Olympian, and she was magnificent to watch.

5. Loukas's diving coat is Kenny Armstrong from the University of Texas, not Kenny Anderson. My bad. A typing brain lock.

6. The water quality at the Serpentine did not make the Chicago River look like a park pool, as I wrote. I may have overstated my repulsion. It made the Chicago River look like a Wisconsin lake.

That's it, until I have more.

LONDON - A few thoughts and observations as the Olympics near their end:

-- I still can't get over the fact that men's 1,500-meter winner Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria ran his last 100 in 12.6 seconds. That's insane.

-- It sure looked as if the taekwondo referee I saw on TV the other day was wearing a protective cup. If he wasn't ...

-- I love how some Russian journalists wear the same warm-up pants and coats as the athletes do. Can you imagine if U.S. journalists donned the same outfit as Michael Phelps? The way some of these guys have hit the free buffet line over the years, it would be stars and stripes forever.

-- Can someone explain why divers get under a shower head immediately after each dive? Isn't that sort of redundant?

-- If you had 10 BMX races with the same competitors, you could easily have 10 different winners, given the amount of jostling, falls and general chaos. You can't say the same thing about most other competitions at the Olympics.

-- OK, I finally have it down: The cars drive on the left side here. It would follow that pedestrians would walk on the left, too. But, no. People are all over the sidewalk. The stairs are a study in confusion. Make up your mind, Brits!

-- If professional boxing bouts were three three-minute rounds, like the Olympics men's fights are, instead of 10 or 12 three-minute rounds, it might have more of a following. With much less time to make an impression on judges, boxers throw lots more punches and are much more ferocious.

-- Synchronized swimming is not a sport. Carry on.

-- And, finally, this letter to the editor in The Independent newspaper about Boris Johnson, the spotlight-seeking London mayor: "Prime Minister David Cameron describes Johnson as a 'titan.' I have not received the classical education enjoyed by these two gentlemen but, as I understand it, the Titans of Greek myth were creatures much given to incest, inbreeding, intoxication, the eating of children and a cosmic fratricidal conflict which ended in their ultimate defeat. I see what Cameron's getting at.''

LONDON - A miracle happened the other day.

An athlete who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug admitted he was guilty. As I said, a miracle.

Alex Schwazer, an Italian race walker (yes, a race walker), said he had bought EPO, a blood booster, during a trip to Turkey in September, then hid the drug from his girlfriend, figure skater Carolina Kostner, by putting it in a box of vitamins.

He won gold in the 50-kilometer walk in Beijing four years ago and had been favored to win again here. But he said he was tired of living a lie and actually wanted to get caught during a July 30th drug test.

"I'm not made to take drugs or to deceive people, and I couldn't take it anymore,'' a tearful Schwazer told reporters in Italy on Wednesday. "I couldn't wait for the whole thing to end.

"When on the 30th the doorbell rang, I knew it was the anti-doping people. I knew it was all over. It would have been enough to tell my mother not to open the door or to tell them I wasn't home, but I couldn't take it anymore.''

We Americans are used to weak defenses: Somebody spiked my Gatorade. Somebody tampered with my urine sample. The lab mistook my sample for someone else's. I didn't know the brownies had marijuana in them.

But here we have someone who is honest and contrite. Can you imagine the good will it would have engendered had Mark McGwire taken the same approach? He and all the others would have found a much more forgiving public. But something tells me Schwazer's is a one-time miracle.

8-10-12 LONDON--
Usain Bolt came into the room like the ``living legend'' he would soon anoint himself, in a jovial style, smiling and joking with his pals, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir. Silver medalist Blake sat to his right and bronze medalist Weir to his left as they took their places at the podium table.
The questions for gold medalist Bolt came with each passing of the microphone by Olympic officials to the next eager journalist from God knows which corner of the globe. Everybody wants to know about The World's Fastest Man. Nobody wants to know much about the second fastest man. That is, unless the three fastest men on earth--at least in the 200 meters--all come from the same island nation of 2.8 million people.
What I wanted to know was: Are you guys doped up? Simple question, to which the answer should be simple, too. So I decided to ask it just like that. I waved at the Olympics lady, one of them, and she whispered that I'd get my chance. But when I had the mic and was ready to ask my question, somebody with another microphone butted in. I waited, got my turn, and said quickly, ``Can you assure us that you and the Jamaican drug team--''
It was a slip of the tongue, a classic Spoonerism, and the place exploded in wild uproarious guffaws. ``Hyaw! Har Har Har!'' Now there are many in these packed rooms, remember, who are ``journalists'' only in the nominal sense. They wear the same tracks suits as their country's athletes. They cheer and clap in the press box. They root like fans. The guys in front of me were madly taking photos of one another, grinning like hyenas, with Bolt in the background. These ``journalists'' want entertainment.
So, anyway, I said, ``Excuse me, a slip of the tongue...the TRACK team, the sprinters, are drug free?''
The laughter calmed. Bolt looked at me and said he hadn't heard the whole question.
I said slowly and carefully, ``Do you feel certain the Jamaican sprinters are drug free?'' Got it properly that time, I did.
``Without a doubt,'' Bolt replied. `` Without a doubt. Without a doubt. We train hard. Especially my teammates. We stick together and we see each other work every day. Yohan doesn''t throw up. He doesn't like it--he won't do it. But we work out. We throw up every day. We have injuries, we take ice packs. We lay on the track-- I've seen the work we've put in to do the best.''
It was a good, straightforward answer, if you don't mind vomiting references. I had only asked in the first place because the odds are against the small-country triumvirate of speedsters being teammates under one flag, one coach. Plus, we know the history of doping and Olympic sprinting.
``When people doubt us, it's really hard for us,'' Bolt finished, almost forlornly. ``Because we try our best to show the world that we run clean.''
It was good to hear him on record. Hope he's right. Hope I learn to speak right.
* * *

LONDON--When something like the Olympics comes to your town, you can almost hear the b.s. whistling in the air. All the politicians and business wheeler-dealers start gushing about how good the undertaking will be for the community, the "infrastructure" ( favorite word), the reputation of the city, and (even more favorite word) the "economy."
Little people, little dreams take cover. The grandiose and the bloviated are on stage. And, oh yes, the liars, connivers and profiteers.
In London the obfuscating began seven years ago when the IOC awarded the city the 2012 Games. Future promises mean nothing when you're knocking down buildings, destroying neighborhoods--no--in the name of progress to come. Maybe that should be in caps, so worshipped is it. PROGRESS.
Everything will be richer, faster, higher.
Little people? Who? Lost in the dust storm.
"What rubbish!" Olympic neighborhood apartment owner Warren Lubin told the Evening Standard of the intrusions and lies made to or upon all the people, including himself, who were or will be dispossessed: "Go back four years, remember Beijing and how LOCOG said they would never destroy people's houses the way they did in China to make way for the Olympics. Well, it has happened here, just in a different way--stealth."
But stealth works, you know. When big concepts are afloat, and the politicians and connected are at the trough, just about anything does.

olystand copy.jpg
LONDON -- I have a suggestion that I just know will be incredibly popular among people who compete in what I refer to as niche sports.

Not all Olympic medals are created equal. For example, winning a gold medal in men's soccer should be worth more than, say, a gold medal in the men's 50-kilometer walk. That's because billions of people around the world play soccer. Although it's true that billions of people walk, sometimes fast, in their daily lives, not many people are competitive race walkers. I'm guessing it's easier to get to the Olympics as a beach volleyball player than it is as a marathoner.

Thus, each medal should not be worth the same. The International Olympic Committee should decide the value of each medal in the medal standings based on participation in the sport worldwide. Values would change from Olympics to Olympics.

If you think I'm being an ignorant American, I'm willing to guess that basketball might not be as popular internationally as some other Olympic sports. Many people around the world might know who LeBron James is, but it doesn't necessarily mean basketball is more popular as a participation sport than swimming is.

What got me thinking about this was Great Britain's medal haul. The Brits are third in the gold medal count with 22 and tied with Russia for third overall with 48 medals. Nine of those medals came from track cycling - seven gold, one silver and one bronze. Because of the cost of the bicycles and the lack of velodromes around the world, track cycling is not among the most popular sports around the world.

Cost is also a huge issue with equestrian events, another sport in which the Brits have succeeded at these Olympics. Should Great Britain's gold medal in the team dressage count the same as Usain's gold medal in the 100-meter dash? No. The equestrian gold medal should be the size of a half-dollar.

I'm not trying to diminish the preparation and effort that go into competing in any of these sports. But if the pool of pole vaulters is significantly smaller than the pool of table tennis players around the world, shouldn't the table-tennis gold be worth more?

Only if you think table tennis is a sport.

LONDON -- I'm at gymnastics again, and Wenlock is here.

He's one of two Olympic mascots. He has one large eye, an evolutionary development that doesn't suggest "evil'' so much as scream it. I'm not sure what the idea of Wenlock is supposed to "say'' other than, "hide the children!''

A bit of advice: If you're ever confronted by this thing or one of its devil spawns, try to stand to its side. No peripheral vision. Knock him in the nether region and run like hell. Unless he's a she. Then you're dead.

Team Morrissey

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LONDON -- Apparently, it's the last name.

If you've noticed, I've been railing against the Brits' unabashed homerism throughout the Olympics. More than once, I've written that if Great Britain had its way, each event would be filled with only British athletes. That would cut down on the country having to pretend the rest of the world exists.

Into the fray comes Morrissey, the English rock singer.

"I am unable to watch the Olympics due to the blustering jingoism that drenches the event,'' he told a fan website. "Has England ever been so foul with patriotism? The 'dazzling royals' have hijacked the Olympics for their own empirical needs.

"As I recently drove through Greece, I noticed repeated graffiti seemingly everywhere on every available wall. In large, blue letters it said, 'WAKE UP, WAKE UP.'

"It could almost have been written with the British public in mind, because although the spirit of 1939 Germany now pervades throughout media-brand Britain, the 2013 grotesque inevitability of Lord and Lady Beckham is, believe me, a fate worse than life. WAKE UP.''

Morrissey's music has been described as morose. Sometimes my writing is described that way. Sadly (key word), I think we're both right on this topic.

LONDON--I watched the Spain vs. Brazil game here at the Basketball Arena, because it preceded the U.S.-Argentina game, which I would be writing about. Sitting tin the stands taking in the game, I started rooted quietly for Brazil as it made a comeback against the higher-rated Spanish team. Under-dog rooting is always fun.
Back Brazil came, too, making some terrific fast break plays and playing tough defense on Spain, which had led at one point baby as much as 11. Brazil outscored Spain, with its Gasol brothers and other NBA regulars, 31 to 16 in the fourth quarter, on some terrific fast break plays, sticky defense, and good rebounding, winning 88-82. Blimey! Well done, lads!
Then the buzz started soon after among the sports guys--what if Spain threw the game? Well, not exactly threw it, but didn't want to win? Didn't give its all at the end? Hmm, Spain sure did look ugly at the end, missing shots, etc.
But lose on purpose?
Why would the players do that? To get into another bracket for the lose-and-you're-out games that follow the group round-robin play. Spain now plays France, not a bad team, but certainly not the United States, which is in the other bracket. Spain can win two games and make it to the gold medal game Sunday, likely against the U.S. If it had beaten Brazil, it would have had to play the U.S. in the semi-final matchup. Now the winner of Brazil-Argentina gets that dubious honor.
These Olympics have already had the badminton lay-downs by China, South Korea, and indonesia. And there was some manipulating in women;s soccer, though not as severe or obvious. But this? This would be a mess.
Can there please be some way to stop this nonsense? Even the possibility of it? Can it simply be made so that losing always is something you try to avoid, the way it should be?

Wenlock revealed

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Here's the cute little bugger! Don't tell anybody, but I'm giving it to Rick Morrissey, whose birthday was a week ago. Shhhh.



LONDON-- Please don't think we columnists in Chicago are opinionated and at times verbose in our criticism of things we don't like. Nope. I love the British papers. They go after it. There are some wonderfully expressive and creative writers here in the isle where the English language evolved. Also, in Canadian, which is a form of the same stuff.
To wit: Wenlock and Mandeville, the official mascots of these 2012 Olympic Games. I am on record as having called one of the creatures: ``a blob-shaped thing with an Orwellian Big Brother eyeball for a face, a rhinoceros crown, and testicles in each palm.'' Now that was for the statue in the Village that is, indeed, holding two metallic orbs in its paws.
Here is Harrison Mooney, of the Vancouver Sun, waxing poetic in his take on the mascots: ``These phallic bugbears fitted out in foppish puffery are by far the worst mascots of any Olympics, and I say this while trying to suppress my memories of Atlanta's amorphous blob Whatzit (later remained Izzy), which ushered in the trend of using no creative effort whatsoever on mascot design....It's an embarrassment to a country that gave us Paddington, Ruppert, and Winnie. The best, cuddliest character the masters of children's literature can give the children these days is a walking, talking shard of metal....And thus, the Cyclopean nightmares were born, on a scribbled piece of paper at a stop light and approved by the legally blind Locog organizers...
``Wenlock and Mandeville were the awful designs of a once-creative nation, brought to life amid a stamping frenzy during which Locog green-lit every other heinous design, pattern and color scheme that's been a blight on London this week.''
And that's for a toy.

After watching Jamaica's Usain Bolt zip to the 100 meter gold last night in an Olympic record time, I had an evening to ponder this cheerful, self-centered blur. At 6-5, muscular, with long arms and legs, this guy should be running fly patterns in the NFL.
No matter that he might not be able to catch beach balls with stick-um gloves, just think of the separation from DBs he could get. But even that is not the main reason why he should have that fabulous name ``BOLT'' on the back of his NFL jersey (and wouldn't the San Diego Chargers like that?)
No, it's because Bolt has a wide receiver's mentality. A wide receiver's personality. He loves the limelight. He makes funny gestures, poses, preens, parades. He celebrates everything he does. His little running-finger movements before the 100-meters was hilarious and something even a child could understand. (Again, a prerequisite of the grand wide receiver: simplistic, symbolic language akin to the international silhouettes on bathroom doors and road signs.)
Jim Hines was an Olympic 100meter champ and world record holder, and he failed miserably as an NFL wideout. But he was shy, smaller, and had the hands of Captain Hook. Bolt is already better than that. He catches every accolade that comes his way.

Ellis Coleman falls

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LONDON -- Ellis Coleman, the pride of Oak Park-River Forest High School, lost his 60-kilogram Greco-Roman match on Monday afternoon and saw his Olympic dream die.

Bulgaria's Ivo Angelov beat Coleman 1-0, 7-1. Coleman had an outside chance to compete for a bronze medal, but when Angelov lost in the second round, the 20-year-old was done.

Coleman struggled early and never seemed to recover.

"I wrestled sluggish the first period,'' he said. "I didn't get going until the second. At that time, it was just too late. Everything just happened so fast.''

Coleman had a cheering section of about 40 people, including his mother, Yolanda Barral, and his high-school coach, Mike Powell. A June fundraiser in Oak Park helped raise $14,000 for Barral and two of her other children to come to London.

They didn't get what they had come for.

"It wasn't pretty,'' Powell said. "I think the weight cut got to him. Maybe he was nervous. Maybe he got the yips. I don't know.''

Coleman is best known for his "Flying Squirrel'' move. He tried to do it Monday, but Angelov appeared intent on not being an ESPN SportsCenter highlight.

LONDON -- I have officially reached the end of my rope.

On Saturday, I watched the BBC's Olympics coverage and am now convinced that the Brits would be more than happy if every event were limited to British athletes. The network and its announcers want to cheer on Great Britain. That's it. The rest of the field is navel lint. These people would applaud for a parade of lethal toxins if the vials featured the Union Jack.

The bottom was reached when rowing commentator John Inverdale fought back tears on the air while consoling Great Britain's Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter after the pair failed to win gold in the lightweight men's double sculls.

"Emotions ... emotions ... goodness me,'' he said, pausing to take deep breaths. "Especially when you know these people and you know them pretty well, it's quite hard being here as well.''

Listen, snap out of it, old chap. Start acting like a professional. You are not on the team. You are not in the same boat as the rowers. You are not supposed to be sharing tissues with the competitors. You are supposed to be describing the race, analyzing what happened and telling a story.

Lest you think I'm picking on TV, the newspapers haven't been much better. I opened up The Independent on Sunday morning and read story after story about Great Britain's athletes, the glory they brought to the country and the disappointment the nation shared with them. Pages were filled with photos of British athletes competing, crying, celebrating, hugging and quite possibly humming "God Save the Queen.'' The rest of the world was somewhere out there in a distant, foggy blur.

I understand national pride. I understand a country wanting to put its best foot forward. I'm from the U.S. -- I understand the desire to win everything. But the Brits have managed to shrink the Olympics to field day at a British school. Someone needs to tell them there's a whole big world out there. Something tells me they know and don't care.

Think about that Olympics medal haul for a second

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Yes, the United States is in first place with 24 Olympic gold medals (49 overall), one more gold than runner-up China (and 50 overall). And bully for us.

But the advantages we have over other countries are huge and multiple. Start with population, wealth, interest in sports, variety of terrain, climate, and cukture, and in some cases, plain old beautiful American freedom.

But when you readjust medal standings based on population, for instance, the U.S. is not in the top 10.

Lunch, Day 9

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LONDON -- Lamb and rosemary pie at Olympic Stadium. Not bad on a drizzly day.


Oscar mania

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LONDON -- It was a wild scene at Olympic Stadium on Saturday morning, when South African Oscar Pistorius ran a heat in the 400 meters.

A sold-out stadium roared as Pistorius, who runs with fiber-carbon prostheses, qualified for Saturday's semifinals. The mixed zone, where reporters stand behind a metal barrier to interview athletes after a competition, was overflowing. Media members who couldn't get close to Pistorius were forced to tape his piped-in comments from a loudspeaker.

Who says being a journalist isn't glamorous?


LONDON - I went to cycling Friday and found out about the Keirin.

That's OK, I didn't know what it was, either.

I'll deal with this more in depth in Saturday's column in the Sun-Times, but here are the basics: A pacer on a motorized bicycle starts out at about 18 m.p.h. for a few laps, then increases his speed gradually until the racers are going about 30 m.p.h. for an extended period. After that, he veers off and lets the riders make a mad sprint over the last 700 meters to the finish line.

It's insane.

My clumsy photography skills don't do this justice, but check out the dude who was pacing the pack in a heat Friday. He looked like he was about 70 and headed for the grocery store:



London--It's stunning, but taxis here are built for passengers, for their comfort. This is quite different from Chicago cabs, which are built for God knows who. For the drivers, perhaps, who can adjust their seats while a lone passenger sits behind the bullet-proof glass, knees in face, screaming directions to a disinterested, ear-bud-wearing slob yacking slowly to some pal on his cellphone about the chicks they're gonna pick up tonight.


But here--well, look at these photos: spacious seat for two or three, so much leg room Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could stretch out, big windows, two large jump seats in case there's five of you, controls YOU control, and floors (generally) that don't look like Leatherface left drippings from his last remnant there.


In Chicago, I have nearly cut off my own face trying to get in a cab with those miserable pointed doors. Here, the doors are as wide and square as you could like. Think about it Chicago taxi goers--revolt worked in 1776.

Lunch, Day 7

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LONDON -- Today's fare was just fair:


LONDON - I rented a bike Thursday morning and saw some really cool things, including my life flashing before my eyes.

I brought a map with me, and it was almost useless. Oh, the map itself was lovely, and I'm sure it was a model of accuracy. But after I took the first few turns, it might as well have been written in Chinese.

That's because if you're an American navigating the streets of London, you're using all of your concentration skills on avoiding getting run over by a double-decker bus. If you think I'm exaggerating, know that an Olympic bus struck and killed a cyclist here Wednesday night.

With that in mind, I took off on what I and most of the world consider to be the wrong side of the road. But not the British, whose lane sensibilities were established centuries ago, when most men carried swords with their right hands and wanted to be ready when a stranger approached. Same with jousting knights holding lances.

It's still not too late to change, mates.

I spent the morning trying to remember which way to turn and trying to keep up with traffic. The problem is that you're so aware of doing things right that you end up on busy streets you would do well to avoid. Before long, I was on what felt like the equivalent of the Mag Mile trying to steer clear of cars, trucks and buses, and hoping they knew what they were doing.

I'm proud to say I got beeped at just once, though it was by a double-decker, which felt like double points off.

There's an interesting book called, "Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour'' by cultural anthropologist Kate Fox. One of those unspoken rules is that people are loath to yell at each other for various public offenses, the way Americans might. If somebody cut in line at the movies in Chicago, others would call him out loudly. Not here, apparently. They would grumble, Fox says.

I committed a major faux pas when I took a right turn about five feet in front of a pedestrian who was crossing the street. Loud enough for me to hear, she said: "A-hem.'' Knowing the Brits' normal reserve, it felt as if she had stabbed me with a knife.

I saw brief glimpses of the British Museum, Big Ben, Westminster Hall, the National Portrait Gallery and what looked like the theater district. The papers are filled with stories about people staying away from London because of the Olympics, but I'm here to tell you a lot of them are here and driving dangerously close to cyclists.

People from all over the world are here to see the Games. Maybe it's the locals who are staying away.

I rode near Buckingham Palace and the Royal Mews (the stables of the royal family), and found myself on The Mall, where some of the Olympic cycling events have been held. I'm guessing those riders had an idea of where they were going. I didn't. I did see some excellent street names: Birdcage Walk, Oxford Circus and Horseferry Road, among others.

But every time I stopped to consult my map, I found myself farther and farther from my hotel. I finally left the bike at a rental docking station near Victoria Station and took the Underground home.

If I might make a suggestion to the bike-rental company: Having helmets available would be a really, really good idea. Or, short of that, signs that say: "Caution, idiot American biker.''

My bike:


You are here

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LONDON -- The Brits do quaint the way Texas does big.

You walk anywhere here, and you'll see something charming, or least something that should be named "Ye Olde (Whatever).'' Buildings, gardens, buses, taxis, cops' uniforms ... everything is quaint. Cars driving on the left side of the road -- not so quaint.

But they do have much more interesting street signs in London than we do in Chicago. Here's one on the way to the Excel Arena, home of the Olympic table-tennis venue:


Lunch, Day 6

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LONDON -- Fish and chips at the Olympic table tennis venue. What else and where else?



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