We have now been on the ground for five days and have settled into our dorms, the course and our routine. The last two boats from the US arrived this afternoon, which completes our team. We will have 12 of the 14 boat classes racing here. Germany qualified a full contingent. Great Britain and Australia both have 13 qualified boats.
Once we landed, a short drive took us to our Rowing Village, which is located at Royal Holloway, a University of London campus. We were here for about 1 hour then off to London. The bus ride around the outskirts of London led us to USOC processing center. We received our credentials at the airport, but this processing was to get official team gear. Thanks to sponsors Nike, Ralph Lauren, P&G, Oakley, and others we received a bunch of Olympic Team gear that we are now proudly wearing around the Rowing Village and Venue. On the bus ride back, we went right through the heart of London, along the Thames, saw the Eye, Parliament, Big Ben, and the rest of downtown. We got stuck in traffic, a constant here, and it turned into the nap bus, since we had been traveling nearly non-stop for more than 24 hours and it was a warm 2 hour drive. The 30ish-mile drive has been two hours twice, and I thought the traffic in DC and the Bay Area is bad.
The Royal Holloway, University of London is a great place. All rowing countries are staying here except Great Britain, located about a half of a mile from the course. Nine thousand students during the day give way to the teams, security, volunteers, staff and military personnel. We are in single rooms with the Slovenians, Dutch, Aussies, Germans, Swiss and others in our compound. Two-level cafeteria is a three-minute walk away serves good cafeteria food, reflecting the variety of cultures staying here. There is a gym with 30 rowing ergs and another 15 kayak and canoe ergs as well as a bunch of free weights. The feature of campus is the Founder’s Building, which was built in the late 1800’s and is beautiful. It is a traditional brick building with porticos, peaks, bay windows, lots of nooks and crannies and two huge courtyards. Yesterday there was a wedding reception in one of the courtyards, and knowing the gates were open, I took the photo-op. Also a couple of pubs that are a short walk away with some good cask beers.
Recycling is clearly a focal point. The cafeteria is serving on compostable plates with practically everything we touch being recycled. At the course the silverware is made from potatoes, not sturdy, but enviro-friendly. Coca-Cola has vending machines everywhere. I heard 70 machines were at the course. Also encouraging recycling by advertising that a bottle used here will be turned into a new one within 6 weeks. Public transportation for everyone associated with the games. You need your room key to turn on the power in your room, which is common across Europe.
Lots of security here. Cameras, Bobbies, security forces in green, military troops and automatic weapon toting policemen are located at multiple points throughout campus and especially around the gates. Double fences all around campus and the venue, vehicle barriers, vehicle inspections, metal detectors and X-ray machines greet us. We travel from “clean zone” to “clean zone.” I took a ride with our Program Manager, Fred Honbein, to the Venue, in the USRowing van; it took us about 30 minutes longer than the busses due to additional security and shuttles. We were discussing getting some spray paint in to paint the oars with Concept2 and Darren Croker and they said the only possible way to do it now would be to ship it UPS where it would be scanned at the airport and then brought in by UPS. Impressive.
Bus ride to the course is around 30 minutes on the weekends and up to 80 on the weekdays. They have Olympic lanes on some of the roads, but the Motorways, get packed with traffic and we sit like every other car out there. What is interesting is that the course is 8 miles by bike, 12 miles via Windsor on backroads and 18 the way we go around Heathrow Airport. The reason we go the long way that was mentioned to us is that the backroads are too small with small roundabouts with no contingencies should there be congestion or should something happen. Thus far we have been taking an early bus to the course and staying through lunch to get the two practices in.
We have been on the course now for five days and there is a flurry of activity around the venue. The record rainfall in June slowed progress considerably and wood chips, temporary sidewalks and even temporary parking lots have been installed over very soft pastures and soil where spectators, workers, volunteers and athletes will be traversing and watching the rowing competition. It is an amazing and complex multi-layer infrastructure that goes into putting this on. The military personnel, security forces, workers and volunteers have their own separate infrastructure including their own dining, transportation, medical and resting areas that for the most part go unseen, unless you look for them.
The venue itself is very much a “bathtub” course. It parallels the Thames and was a gravel quarry at another time that has been expanded to an 8-lane regulation course. Prevailing and significant crosswind from the left hand (starboard) side as we come down the course wears on the athletes. With a good patch of weather this week, we are hoping that it is a minimal impact.
On both sides of the course are bike paths, that will become coaching pelotons and camera car lanes during the Games. On both sides of the course in the last 250 meters are grandstands; general public on the north side and family, friends, special guests on the south. 2 big screen TVs, 50 feet by 50 feet are on either side enabling spectators to watch. A 3-lane warm-up course lies behind the south grandstand. They also have built 300(+-) foot towers at either end of the course for cameras and have strung 4 cables between them forming a 1.5 mile “cablecam” that will follow the races. Similar to the cameras above the field at a football game, that someone said is the longest one ever built. Should make for some great viewing.
Very few countries have been here this week and it has been good to get out on the course and test things out. The Olympics is a smaller regatta than the World Championships, so fewer boats, coaches, etc., but with the infrastructure around us it is still pretty intense.
After the travel and four days of double-days, we took an afternoon off for mental refreshment and headed to Windsor. The athletes need the distraction and since we are 15 minutes away, we took advantage of taking the tour of the castle and having some fish and chips. The castle was extremely impressive. Gardens, huge rooms, courtyards, art, tapestries, weapons and the guards made for a great afternoon. From one of the terraces you could see the camera towers at the course. Sean Gorman, my brother and I made the ride here from the World Championships in 2006 and it was only 10 minutes by bike. The Queen was in, but we didn’t get to have tea with her, possibly next time.
The docent explained that with the Jubilee Year, 60th anniversary of her coronation, and the Olympics she is quite busy. The rooms we had been touring were used for events nearly nightly and she walked us through the process. It looked like a museum, and hard to believe it was a fully functioning banquet, reception, social area nightly when the tourists were away. She mentioned she had wanted to get tickets to the rowing but couldn’t and that her friend had made it as a volunteer. When we gave her one of our Olympic pins she literally jumped up and down and ran to show another one of the docents. Awesome to see the excitement we have shared with others for the Games.
Athletes are doing well. We have settled into a routine. Normal ups and downs of a trip. Boat is rigged, athletes are doing the work. It will be an exciting coming week as the rest of the nations arrive and we complete our training for racing. We continue to be thankful for our supporters and backers at Potomac as well as our friends and family.