QINGDAO, China --- China's latest Olympics nightmare is a vast algae bloom that covers one third of the sea where the world's best sailors are supposed to be competing in just over a month. Athletes call it the blob, the carpet, the fairway, the serious problem.
"We almost think of it as land," said Carrie Howe, a member of the U.S. team and her three-person squad's unofficial algae remover. During practice, she dips her hand into the goo three or four times an hour to remove it from the rudder.
When it collects shaggily on the boat's tow rope, she and her teammates refer to it as "the dog." They've named it Hickory.
Chinese officials are trying to make the stuff go away. Hundreds of soldiers cleaned it up by hand in a seaside park Wednesday.
About 10,000 ordinary citizens were doing the same along the shore, while more than 1,200 fishing and other boats hauled it in by net, the workers smiling and flashing the two-fingered victory sign to journalists.
"We all need to pitch in," said Gao Shaofan, who was stuffing the algae into plastic sacks with her co-workers. "This is the worst it's ever been that we know."
Chinese officials promised at a news conference Wednesday that the Olympics competition area, all 19.3 square miles (50 square kilometers) of it, will be clear of the algae before races begin Aug. 9.
"Actually, we don't have a backup," Qu Chun, the sailing competition manager, said to a small collection of groans from coaches.
Whatever the cause of the algae, the sailors -- who didn't become Olympians through negative thinking -- have tried to describe it in not-so-terrible terms.
"A very new, very large variable," Howe said.
"A green nightmare," said Andreas Kosura-topoulos of the Greek team, dropping the Olympian guard.
DRUG TESTING: In Geneva, Switzerland, the IOC said its drug-testing program at the Beijing Olympics will be the most rigorous anti-doping effort in sports history.
The International Olympic Committee plans to conduct 4,500 tests in Beijing, up from 3,600 in Athens four years ago and 90 percent more than in Sydney in 2000.
"The Beijing Games anti-doping effort will be the most comprehensive in sports history," said Prof. Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the IOC medical commission.
GAMES WILL OPEN WITH BANG
BEIJING --- Lavish fireworks, colorful dancing by ethnic groups and performances portraying 5,000 years of Chinese history are among the highlights of the Beijing Olympics' opening ceremony, state media reported Wednesday.
The extravagant 31/2-hour opening ceremony -- designed in secrecy by the country's most famous film director, Zhang Yimou -- could include performances such as traditional Chinese opera, kung fu, pandas and acrobats representing China's culture from ancient to modern times. The theme is "Civilization and Harmony," the China Daily reported.
Organizers have taken numerous measures to ensure a smooth opening ceremony Aug. 8, including heightened security measures.
-- Associated Press