Potomac, Friends and Family:
I apologize for the length of this, but it is the final installment and written fairly stream of consciousness. Hopefully, it’s a good read. Again, thanks for the notes of support along the way.
What a whirlwind the past 9 days or 10 days, depending on how you want to count timezones & International datelines, has been. With the Closing Ceremonies on Sunday night, the past four weeks of travel and the past four years or eight years or a lifetime of preparation and dreams come to a close for the athletes, coaches, volunteers, administrators and fans. For me it was the experience of a lifetime.
It is easier to say that now looking back, than it was a week ago. In preparing for our race, we were going to stick to the same race plan of negative splitting (in other words, going faster or as fast during the second half of the race as the first). However, we ran a real risk of being left at the line. During several of the finals I watched, US boats were actually dropped from the field early and even with furious finishes, couldn’t make up the distance. I probably put a little too much emphasis on staying in contact with the leaders in the first half of the race, but we needed to if we wanted any chance at a medal. We were excellent for 1200 meters, and right where we needed to be, but it may have taken too much effort. At around 1250, when it was time to have our normal fast finish, negative split and pick off the competition, we did not do it. To the delight of the local fans, China, who had been one second off of a world record in the heats, were able to beat Great Britain in a sprint with Germany, the defending Olympic Champion, on their stern and Ukraine fourth, by closing on the leaders the way I thought we would. Fifth isn’t bad, it is where we are. It may have taken some help from the more experienced crews ahead of us having a bad race to get there, but one always hopes or expects to make the podium. It is certainly a race that I will continue to obsess about and over-analyze for a long time.
From the time that race ended until departure from Beijing on Wednesday, everything is a blur. We watched the women’s eight win and men’s eight get bronze. After derigging our boat, I took over video and picture responsibilities for the women’s eight. It was great to work with Tom Terhaar the women’s head coach this summer and it is a tremendous accomplishment for him as well as the athletes who won the eight for the first time since 1984 and beat their nemesis Romania. For the men’s eight they were closing fast on Britain, who beat them in the heat and Canada the defending World Champion, and came up 0.23 seconds off of silver to the Brits and Canada’s gold. Great for Mike Teti as he leaves the US head coaching job after 4 World championships in the eight and multiple wins in other boats and three Olympic medals to coach the Golden Bears of Cal. Overall, Great Britain had 6 rowing medals, Canada 4 Australia, New Zealand and the US each capturing 3. The US had one of each color with Michelle Guerette in the women’s single, coached by Charlie Butt, joining Joan van Blom in 1976 as the highest placing women’s single we have had. To do it she beat now four time Olympic medalist Karsten and barely lost to Rumiana Neykova of Bulgaria who is a three time Olympic medalist.
Other results include fellow PBC coach Cam Kiosoglous’ boats in middle of the B final after some impressive racing in the reps and semis. The lightweights were fractions of a second from making the finals, but that tiny margin makes all the difference. Ken after a thrilling rep to make the semis had a couple of tough races to finish 11th, which is about where we have finished in the single in the past. Sam and Jamie ended up 5th in their quad as well after 3 of the guys came down with fevers of 102+ during the last 4 days of the regatta. With the women’s double finishing 5th, we still have work to do in sculling, but there is promise for the future. In the eights this year, the US medaled in every international event at the Junior Worlds, Under 23 Worlds, Senior Worlds and the Olympics with 5 of those 7 medals being gold!
After the loading the cargo container to return the boats and equipment back to the US, until way after dark, the coaches hung out at the hotel telling stories and unwinding. Around 1 in the morning some of the athletes came back from Beijing and filming the Today show, other NBC interviews and the Club Bud(weiser) party. You may have seen them on TV or the commercials. Anna Cummins shared her medal with us, which is beautiful and we all admired. How hard it is to win a gold medal in rowing? The US won the women’s 8 this year, men’s eight in 2004, Women’s 8 and Men’s double in 1984 and then no other gold medals since 1964. That is 4 boats in nearly 44 years.
Leaving Shunyi, the rowing venue and the hotel which had been our home for 3 weeks was a bit sad. Seemingly the entire staff of the hotel came down for pictures and to send our bus off. Sharing “ni hao” and “xie xie”, hello and thank you daily with a smile brought us all closer. I’ll miss the hostess at our dining hall who tried teaching us Chinese every time we would enter or exit, the man who guarded the bridge to the course at night who through hand signals demonstrated his big personality on my runs in the morning and our personal boat bay attendant who made sure we had everything we needed. I learned a lot of Chinese culture from her. She told us of her final high school tests where she received medium scores, which enabled her to select a mid-level university and continue her education. She chose Beijing Sports University because it took her away from her home even though she had never done any sports herself. She also was very appreciative and wistful of my two sons being siblings as she explained nearly everyone is still an only child.. For the tens of thousands of volunteers it took to put on the Games, it must be a sad day to see it end. Clearly, they put a lot of effort and pride into taking care of each of their jobs and putting on a great Games. Trading and giving away pins, hats and shirts, can only be tokens compared to the memories they have given us.
Our next stop was the Village and checking into the rooms. There are dozens of six story towers that have suites that will be converted to upper middle class condos. Great accommodations though during the 2 days I spent there I was out and about most of the time. First stop had to be the dining hall. I’ve heard about this experience since 1984 and on top of really wanting American food, I wanted to see if it was as magnificent as imagined. It was. 24 hours of about 200 meters of endless buffet style cuisine, ranging from Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Asian to pizza, sandwich bars, dessert bars, salad bars, endless Coke product fridges and Ice Cream freezers, all leading to our stop at McDonald’s. After three weeks of fresh and fairly healthy food at the hotel the majority of the rowers, I went first round with the Men’s 8 and then with the lightweights for the second heading directly to McDonald’s where you walk up tell them what you want, they give it to you without asking for money and then repeat the process until you have had enough Mickey D’s to satisfy the cravings brought on by the Fast Food absence to fill your gut until you feel pleasantly satiated. McDonald’s tracked each food purchase and I would be curious to see how much the athletes ate from there.
That night a few of us headed to the USA house with some of the USOC administration and then we bought scalped tickets into the Women’s soccer semifinals. While the USOC offered some tickets nightly, they were limited and not to all events, so scalping worked and then moving to the credentialed seats, which often were empty was a good ploy. Great cuisine at the USA house, themed nightly by region in the US, and a great game that the US started slow in and won 4-2 to enter the gold medal game. After a half sitting with the boisterous Chinese fans, we moved down to the coaches box with our credentials and sat four seats down from the asst. soccer coaches who didn’t have field access. After the win two of the women brought their toddlers, wearing Mom’s number, onto the field who ran around to the delight of the remaining attendees reminding me of my own kids and the desire to be back home with the family. However, 1.5 days remained and had to make the most of them.
The last day and a half was a blur. More USA house, to the bar on top of the building, a visit to the Heineken House, where the Dutch really know how to throw a party, Club Bud, the NBC party, which was exquisite and attendance to Water Polo Semis, an evening of Track and Field with 5th row seats directly behind the finish line photographers and a visit to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City made for cutting it close at the airport for departure, but I felt as if I got everything in I absolutely wanted to do. The only exception I realized on the plane was I did not eat a single non”certified” meal in public or at a local restaurant. The Tiananmen trip was interesting. Our bus left the Village and it took nearly an hour using the Olympic lanes to get there. Traffic and the fact that Beijing is extremely large with not one downtown, but a seemingly endless chain of high rise office buildings and apartments stretch across the city. Tiananmen and the Forbidden City are both awesome with a good tour and history. Chairman Mao still has a portrait hung on the entrance as well as his face on the 100 yuan notes, is held in the highest esteem of the people and I probably should have bought his “Little Red Book” that has his quotations from speeches conveniently translated and available and the tourist souvenir stands.
Riding on the subway back from Tiananmen, I was the only caucasian, only person over six feet tall and only person wearing Olympic gear from any country. I stood out and the 4ish year old boy on his mom’s lap sitting next to me couldn’t help but staring, so I would smile, wink and wave to his wide eyed delight. After several stops I gave him a rowing pin which he quickly and excitedly showed to anyone paying attention. Children’s happiness is something that is universal and it was great to be able to share that. The ride on the not too crowded clean subway took about the same time as the bus even with two train switches. I would highly recommend this method of transport even though taxi’s are inexpensive and you can and should see the city above ground.
The people and the country leave a strong impression. The power is in the people. Everyone has a job or are volunteers when the Olympics are in town. They do it as part of their station in life. School children, the cheering volunteers filling the grandstands, the military all line up and march almost naturally.
People appear to be used to being closely grouped, working closely together, standing closely together, deciding together, etc. It takes a strong leadership to harness all of this manpower and the decision making hierarchy that we witnessed, but from everything we saw it works. However, there are still 750 million folks living in poverty, the political transgressions related to Tibet, human rights issues and just about every trade and patent violation that you can think of to consider when thinking about China. Not once did we see a negative story on an arrest, murders, fires, or any negative news on the television or in the paper, so whatever they are doing to keep the people happy and in line, it must be working or it is just not allowed to be seen. I heard some of the comments in the press that the host nation did master the art of deception and that everything is not as rosy as it seems. I believe the comments, saw some of the deception in putting on the perfect event, but any nation would strive to put their best foot forward and China should be applauded for their effort.
Other random interesting thoughtsâ€¦.. In 3.5 weeks there, I saw one pregnant person amongst all of the people we saw. It struck me one day that aunts, uncles and cousins are rarities. Someone told us, and I did not verify, that the families all want boys, because they take care of their parents as they get older and the girls once married move in and take care of their husband’s family which results in the abandonment of girl babies, so a couple could try for a boy. Sad. A quarter mile of visibility during our first two weeks here changed dramatically to blue skies. Through the closing of factories, even/odd driving days cutting half of the cars off of the road and silver iodide generated rain storms turned the thick air into beautiful countryside surrounded by mountains for the majority of the last week. If you cheer and ham it up in front of groups school children while on the bike path they will cheer you on each time you pass. Tremendous pride and friendliness on everyone’s behalf whether they be party officials met at the venue and seen on TV or the smiling street sweepers and landscapers with their bamboo brooms, rakes and weedeaters. Shanty towns are still mixed in close quarters with high rises throughout the enormous city still growing with construction stretching in all directions. Jaquar, Mercedes and BMW dealerships are located in several locations I saw around the city.
I heard it in the press and by the commentators on NBC when I got back, but for China this was a coming out party. They have the manpower and have demonstrated they can put together the biggest event in the World successfully and exceptionally. With the development of some individual creativity such as what was demonstrated at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies as well as the continued growth they will be an economic and political force that will only be more successful, powerful and influential on the global scene in the decades to come.
Closing thoughts. 5,000 coordinated performers, 300 acrobats and contortionist dancing on a six story tower twisting into many creative and symbolic figures of the Olympics vs. a double decker bus with David Beckham. London has a long way to go to top this.
It has been great to be home and enjoy my own family. Thank goodness for Skype and $0.02/minute phone calls to keep me in touch. Also appreciative to all of my extended family for the support and taking care of my family and me during the Games and during the lead up to the Games. Katie, my wife gets another huge shout out, for her patience and support. Thanks to FortiusOne and our GeoCommons crew to being enthusiastic and understanding while all of this was happening. Also to Potomac Boat Club for its support and help in developing the athletes to compete at this level.
Best to all, and may you all be fortunate enough to live your dreams.