In a couple of hours is the Opening Ceremony. This is the day that we have all been targeting some for months since qualification, some for years and many for the majority of their lives. The torch itself arrived in London a few days ago via a Marine rappelling from a helicopter at Tower Bridge. It has since traveled the boroughs of London after its trip from Olympia, Greece and around the country. We put up a map of the locations on GeoCommons at http://geocommons.com/maps/186376 that shows how much ground they have covered.
Many discussions are focused on who should light the torch. Of course, we are biased that Steve Redgrave, who earned a gold medal in rowing in every Olympics from 1984 in LA until 2000 in Sydney, is a favorite and our rowing biased choice. To give everyone an idea of that timeframe, my brother dug up photos from when my Olympic dream was born in 1984, running with the Olympic torch through Sierra County in Northern California.
Tonight’s run culminates in the Opening Ceremony. Very few rowers from any country are attending, with racing starting tomorrow and since our base is in a satellite village about 90 minutes away from the event. They also are trying to keep the ceremony short this year due to public, volunteer and security reliance on public transit, so only athletes have been invited to march. We will take a team photo, and then join the rest of the countries at our Village for a viewing to share the experience.
Our athletes have been doing well. Racing doesn’t begin until Monday, and we continue to put on the finishing touches. Yesterday the opened the warm-up lanes for the first time and ran some practice starts. A bit of chaos ensued, but everyone got in some starts. With few lanes open on the course, there is sort of a rush hour that occurs on the water with crews doing everything from drills, sprints, starts, turning crews, and stopping to listen to their coaches creating some congestion. Margot and Trow have done a great job navigating through it with some fun. A couple of days ago Mahe Drysdale, the current five time World Champion in the single from New Zealand, turned right with them during a steady state lap. As speeds from the Men’s Single and Women’s Double are similar, battle paddle ensued with our boat keeping their bow ahead. The girls enjoyed the experience and made sure that I noticed that they stayed ahead.
Bus rides have been entertaining. The general pattern is that everyone goes to/from cafeteria directly to the bus to the venue. No assigned seats or teams on the bus ride home so it makes for some great opportunities to meet fellow competitors and make or renew friendships. One ride had the section of the bus that I was sitting in, made up of Greeks, Cubans, Argentines and Americans. We know each other from races and the Village and the Argentines and Cubans get along well. Athletes from Argentina were passing around a cup of Yerba Mate Tea with a special cup and straw/spoon with a thick bunch of tea leaves ground within the cup. Yerba Mate is a social drink that opens conversations and we had an enjoyable and very social ride home passing around the tea. Not advisable as far as the drug-testing is concerned, but for a coach it was ok to share in the cultural experience. Separately, we are happy to report that drug-testing is going on random selections across the athletes including Trow.
As we have settled in and all of the countries have arrived here, growing pains are noticeable. Only one milk dispenser for 600 people caused a stir at yesterday’s breakfast. Bus rides on the way to the course have become assigned seating on the way there and folks have been taken off of buses for not signing up properly. Arrows were put down on the coaching bike path as coaches from many countries converge and sometimes don’t remember in England that riding on the left is the rule. Sidenote: While filming and timing from the bike, sometimes, I drift out of my lane. Yesterday, a coach swerved quickly around me onto the grass as the double did some pieces. Not sure why, but somehow I must have made him nervous. There definitely a mindset of very strictly following the rules without deviance. All this goes along with an event of this magnitude and everything gets worked out.
Our staff here has been extremely helpful in working through anything that we need. For the most part we have not had to ask for anything and things have run smoothly, which is a great sign that USRowing and the USOC at many levels took care of everything before the event. We are very thankful for the ease of everything so we can focus on the rowing. Special shout out to our medical staff who keeps the athletes ready, working long hours to do so. Marc Nowak and Dr. Hosea have really helped me personally, when my back has been behaving badly.
Earlier this week, I had a great experience in meeting up with a group of teenagers and chaperones from Grace Church in Alexandria, where my wife and I go to church. They had a trip planned to England as their “Journey to Adulthood,” class/experience was wrapping up after two years. When they found out we were going to be in London at the same time we set-up a meeting. I walked from the course to meet them in Windsor after practice. We went out on a boat from Windsor, celebrated a service, and then went to a pub/restaurant where we were able to share experiences and tell some stories. After we had our meal they dropped me off at the Royal Holloway University where we walked around the grand Founder’s Building (Hogwart’s) on campus. Then I was able to share something unique, by walking down to a security gate, where athletes/coaches enter, where the volunteers and security took pictures with the kids, about as close as you can get to the experience. The really enjoyed the photos with the security (and their automatic weapons), seeing some of the athletes walk by and the campus. It was very rewarding for me to share some of my experiences with these enthusiastic kids and thank you to Julie Simonton, Jonathan, Lee and Kelly as chaperones for making this happen.
The athletes had the morning off a couple of days ago, and I took advantage by heading to the Olympic Village in London. The bus trip took went by all of the monuments and then to the Village. What a place! Everything is on a different scale. I headed immediately to the Dining Hall with a Samoan kayaker who was on the bus. HUGE. Tables, athletes and food stations with all types of different cuisine, from British traditional, to Halal, to European, to McDonalds cover what looks like at least two football fields. Fun to see some of the athletes that one recognizes such as Phelps, the beach volleyball team as well as teams from other countries all there together.
The Village is a community of apartment buildings with plenty of green space. Seemingly every room, balcony and window has a national flag hanging off of it and all of the athletes are going to and from training in their countries gear. The Olympic Park is about a 15 minute walk. There are busses for the athletes to the venues, but only with the right credential, as I found out when I tried to go to the Olympic Stadium without a track and field (Athletics) credential. Very strict here. The walk goes buy an enormous mall and then back through security. The walking spaces are huge and the Orbit, Natatorium, Olympic Stadium also are enormous. Everyone was busy putting the finishing touches on. I took some pictures and then hopped on the Tube and a train back out for the afternoon practice.
So, everyone is really ready to get started. Spares races were the final test over lunch today and it looks like the skycam, timing, etc. are all ready. We still have three days until we race, so a couple of short rows to sharpen on Saturday and Sunday, but the work is done.
They were showing some Olympic highlights on the big screens today with Chariots of Fire, or some other motivational music playing. I’d by lying if I said I didn’t pedal just a little faster with some adrenaline and excitement for the coming week. It is has been a long road to get to this point. This is it. Let the games begin.