Olympic Update: From Diets To Diversity

With the start of the Olympics, star swimmer Michael Phelps has already won five gold medals, and an Indian-American secured a bronze medal in gymnastics. Marcus Vanderberg highlights the hot moments and diversity faux pas so far in the games.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. It's our Thursday International Briefing. Coming up, we're going to touch down in western China, Georgia, and we'll have a visit with a new immigrant from Iraq. But first, we're going to talk about the Olympics.

Yes, we're addicted too to the amazing athletics, the amazing personal stories. We can't take it all in, so we'll just talk about a few of the stories you might have overlooked, like which athlete has competitors accusing him of coming from the future, which team is surprisingly diverse, and which one may need to get some diversity training.

To do that, we're checking with Marcus Vanderberg. He writes the blog Playa Hater about sports on bet.com. Hi, Marcus.

Mr. MARCUS VANDERBERG (Blogger, Playa Hater): Hi. How are you?

MARTIN: Great. OK. So in your blog, you cover the Olympics. You've been covering the Olympics. Who is the star of the Games? Is there an it boy or it girl?

Mr. VANDERBERG: So far, the it boy is Michael Phelps by far. He is five for five in his five races. He's set five world records as a result. So, so far, Michael Phelps has been the story of the Olympics.

MARTIN: And what is it that people like about him? Is it the performance itself, or are there aspects to his sort of persona that people are warming to? Because you can win a lot of medals, and people still don't dig you.

Mr. VANDERBERG: Yeah, I think it's the performance. I mean, he just dominates his races. They're not even competitive at this point. And also, there was a great story that came out yesterday about his diet, what he eats. You see his body, and you see how ripped he is, and you assume he's eating, you know, rice cakes and drinking water, but he eats up to 12,000 calories a day.

MARTIN: What? Wait, wait, 12,000 calories?

Mr. VANDERBERG: Yeah, let me just run down what he has for breakfast.

MARTIN: Yeah, let's hear it.

Mr. VANDERBERG: Three fried egg sandwiches with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions, and mayonnaise, two cups of coffee, one five-egg omelet, one bowl of grits, three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar, and three chocolate chip pancakes.

MARTIN: I feel sick.

Mr. VANDERBERG: Yeah. I mean, I couldn't eat that in a week.

MARTIN: What else is - you know, the other thing that I was curious about, you know, you always see him listening to his iPod right before the race. It's like right up to the last minute. Any idea what he's listening to?

Mr. VANDERBERG: Well, he said the other day on "The Today Show" that he was listening to Lil Wayne before one of his swims. I'm sure Lil Wayne loved the shout-out. But, yeah, you know, if he's eating grits and listening to Lil Wayne, he's cool with me. So I have no problem rooting for Michael Phelps at this point.

MARTIN: OK. Let's talk about basketball. Last Olympics, U.S. basketball team didn't do so well. How's the team doing this time?

Mr. VANDERBERG: So far they're two and zero. They beat Angola by 21 and China by 31. They're playing Greece today, and actually, the thing about Greece, they lost to Greece in the 2006 World Championships. So this should be an interesting match up.

MARTIN: And you talked about something on your blog. You've mentioned that one of the basketball teams might need to get a little diversity training going?

Mr. VANDERBERG: Yeah, the Spanish national basketball team took this team photo, and in the photo, they adjusted their eyes in a way that they were slanted, I guess sort of a cheap shot at the host country of China.

MARTIN: Wait a minute, the whole team took this? This wasn't some bootleg thing where one guy was acting up?

Mr. VANDERBERG: No. It's just the whole team. Also, the women's team took a similar photo, as well.

MARTIN: What was that about?

Mr. VANDERBERG: I have no idea, and Spain's defense is, oh, we thought it was funny, but there's nothing funny about this photo.

MARTIN: So are they getting any flak for this?

Mr. VANDERBERG: They are getting some flak. Jason Kidd has come out and pretty much said it's a double standard by the NBA because, if team U.S.A. had done this photo, they would have come down severely against them. People are wondering, sort of - David Stern and their commissioner is going to come down on players like Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers, he's also on the Spanish national team, for taking part in this. So it'll been interesting to watch.

MARTIN: But speaking of diversity, you also wrote about a fact that one of the U.S. teams is surprisingly diverse in a particular sport, which one?

Mr. VANDERBERG: Swimming. Cullen Jones - this is one of my favorite stories of the Olympics. When he was five, he nearly drowned at a water park. And as a result, his parents made him learn how to swim. And you fast-forward 20 years later, and now, he's part of the 4x100-meter freestyle relay that won gold, along with Michael Phelps. And he only - he became the second African-American to win a gold medal in a swimming event.

MARTIN: And I think the other reason this is important is that African Americans and Latinos are disproportionate victims of drowning deaths. So do you think that this might inspire more kids to get in to the pool?

Mr. VANDERBERG: Yeah, I hope so. There was a 2007 study that said 60 percent of African American children can't swim. And as a result, Cullen Jones started the Make a Splash Program, which is a program to make sure black kids learn how to swim. So, hopefully, based on his program and his gold medals, it will sort of make swimming a cool thing to do.

MARTIN: All right. Marcus Vanderberg is a blogger for bet.com. His blog about sports is the Playa Hater. He was kind enough to join us from our New Yorke bureau. Thank you so much.

Mr. VANDERBERG: Thank you.

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