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Morning calls for Beijing swimmers

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BEIJING, China -- The swimming finals and much of the gymnastics at the 2008 Beijing Olympics will be held in the morning, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) revealed on Thursday.

The schedule, agreed after months of tough negotiations, will mean that the prestigious events will be aired at peak-time in the United States by host broadcaster NBC who paid $3.55 billion for rights to the 2000-2008 Games.

Athletics finals will be staged in the evening, with diving and rowing in the afternoon.

The take from TV rights covers roughly half the cost of staging the Olympics and the IOC said that had agreed the schedule "after a thorough consultation process," said co-ordination commission chairman Hein Verbruggen on Thursday.

The proposed shift to morning for the swimming finals sparked a massive controversy when it was leaked in Australia earlier this year, with some swimmers accusing the IOC of putting the interests of NBC before the needs of the athletes.

"I would like to deny that we are doing the bidding of certain broadcasters," Verbruggen added.

Swimming is a big draw for American audiences and the U.S. team led by Michael Phelps, who won six gold medals in Athens in 2004, enjoy a great rivalry with the Australian team.

Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates said he had raised the matter with IOC president Jacques Rogge.

"We expressed a concern for the well-being of the athletes having to swim heats late at night and then returning to the pool the following morning to swim finals," he said in a statement.

"After evening heats swimmers need to warm down and possibly do a drug test before returning to the (athletes) Village, this makes it a very late night.

But Coates added that Australian swimmers were professional athletes and that he was confident they would "focus on getting the job done in Beijing."

Reached agreement

"The IOC president and members of the executive board reached agreement on the schedule in the last few days," said spokeswoman Giselle Davies.

"NBC wanted athletics finals to be held in the morning, but IOC members had to balance the interests of broadcasters, athletes and sports federations.

"At the 1988 Seoul Games, for example, swimming, gymnastics and athletics finals were held in the morning. But in 2000 at Sydney, they were not, and the U.S. audience was down," Davies added.

Rowing in 2008 will be held in the afternoon in a concession to the British TV market, while diving finals will be held in the afternoons and evenings for the Australians.

"It's neither a new process or a new issue. In every Games we have to look at the needs of different stakeholders," said Davies. "All broadcasters request things that suit their needs."


Top swimmers face early morning finals at the Beijing Games.

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