Athens mixed zones lost in translation

P. Kerim Friedman kerim.list at
Wed Aug 18 18:52:35 UTC 2004


Athens mixed zones lost in translation

By Alastair Himmer

ATHENS, Aug 17 (Reuters) - From men turning into women, premature
retirement or dead people coming back to life, much of the drama and
emotion of the Athens Olympics is being lost in translation.

With 10,500 athletes from 202 countries participating, accurately
interpreting what sweaty Serbian basketball players or Japanese judoka
blurt out amid the melee of the mixed zone was always going to be a
tough task.

But less than a week into the Olympics there have already been several
examples of wires being crossed, leaving media members and athletes
alike scratching their heads in confusion.

Male athletes being listed as female on the official information system
have caused the odd titter but Chinese officials were less than pleased
when National Basketball Association (NBA) leading light Yao Ming was
quoted as saying he wanted to retire.

Team director Li Yuanwei furiously denied that Yao had made any such
comment at the weekend, saying: "I spoke with Yao and he told me he
never said he would quit."

The Yao kerfuffle was repeated when journalists were told that Japanese
judoka Masato Uchishiba had fought his last bout after winning gold on

"I wanted this so badly I wouldn't have cared if it was my last fight
ever," the 26-year-old actually said, though his comments were
officially translated as: "It is probably my last Olympics, that is why
I am proud of my medal."


Confusion reigned again last week when an emotional South Korean
footballer told of his relief at being able to keep a promise to his
late mother.

"My mum died from cancer before I came to Athens and before she passed
away I told her I would score a goal for her," said a tearful Kim
Dong-jin after the 2-2 draw with hosts Greece.

However, many of the stories filed around the world told a different
story as, according to the official information system, Kim's mother
had made a Lazarus-like recovery.

"My mother is a cancer patient and I want to dedicate the goal to her,"
it quoted Kim as saying.

Olympic organisers have drafted in around 1,000 language specialists to
cope with the demands of quote-hungry journalists.

"We have really tried to hire the best people with long experience,"
Anna Kyrtsou, director of Olympic language services, told Reuters.

"But we are not obliged to provide professional interpreters or
translators, except for English, French and Greek, until the medal

Frustration boiled over for the coach of the Serbia and Montenegro
basketball team at the weekend when he stormed out of a news conference
in protest at the quality of interpreting.

"The translation is ridiculous," fumed Zelmir Obradovic. "It's my right
to speak in my native language at the Olympics."

One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, neatly summed up the
problems Olympic organisers were facing.

"We know nothing," he said. "About anything."

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