August 11, 2004
2:48 PM (Greece time)
We made it!
After a 3-½ hour drive to JFK airport, an 8-hour flight to Rome and, finally, a 2-½ hour flight to Athens – George and I are sitting in the apartment in the Olympic Village.
When I first thought about writing a diary of our experience at the Games, I hoped I would be able to come up with material. Luckily, there seems to be plenty to experience.
We had the obligatory delay at the rental car agency – at both pick up and drop off. But the real scare came when I realized that I was walking around with my expired passport. After a ten-minute sweat while in line to check in at JFK, (My Olympic experience was over before it began. Of course I blew it with the passport. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.) I found my current passport. Trouble over. It was time to get fired-up for the Games again.
The flight to Rome went off without a hitch. I woke up in the middle of the night to an airing of “Miracle”. For those of us old enough to remember the 1980 USA Olympic Hockey team, that was the embodiment of the Olympic Spirit. I still remember being downright aghast that one of my sisters actually didn’t watch the game. Who missed that game? I was floored. That movie was all I needed to get the blood flowing and get ready for Athens.
When you grow up a swimmer – like many sports I’m sure – The Olympics are it. The apex. The show. The dream. As a young swimmer growing up in Clifton Park, it was also a dream that, I never thought was really possible. But that’s what it’s all about. It is possible.
Swimming has had its own share of miracles. I’ll never Bruce Hays forget holding off the great Michael Gross of Germany – the Albatross – to win Gold for the US in the 800 freestyle relay at the ‘88 Games in Seoul. That was the “Miracle” in my sport.
I still tell my swimmers stories of Dan Jansen overcoming everything – including his sister’s death while he was at the Games, to win his first Gold in speed skating. It wasn’t supposed to happen. And how Carl Lewis, when everyone was sure he was done, dug down deep on his final jump to come out of nowhere to win the Gold in his final Games appearance in Atlanta. That’s the Dream – and thanks to a world-class athlete moving to Saratoga two years ago, I’m living the Dream.
We made it to Athens after a 2-½ hour flight, which followed a 2-hour wait to take off. After arriving at the Olympic Village, George went right through. “No worries”, as he likes to say. It was time for me to worry again. That darned passport issue got me again. As George and the other Virgin Island swim coach headed for the housing, I was directed to another line. Then – another line. Then – another building. I sit here still waiting for my official accreditation, but get by fine with day-passes.
When we walk around the Village, we are walking with the world’s best. Part of the fun is figuring out if I can put names on the faces of the athletes around us. We cram on shuttle busses with elite athletes from all over the globe. At breakfast this morning, I was eating at the table next to Gary Hall (2000 50 meter freestyle Gold medallist). Amanda Beard was in front of me in line for breakfast. Other US swimmers were walking by as we ate. Names you’ll hear in the upcoming weeks if you’re paying attention - Diana Munz, Kaitlin Sandeno, Jason Lezak. NBA MVP Tim Duncan is originally from the Virgin Islands, so there is the possibility he’ll drop by the Caribbean block as well.
But the treat of the morning was running into Shaker High School’s own US Olympian – diver Cassandra Cardinal at the fruit stand. Cassandra was still diving at Shaker when I was still the Shenendehowa swimming coach. We chatted it up for a bit – and hers is one of the events I don’t want to miss. She will be in the synchronized diving event on August 18.
I have not seen anything to resemble the notions that Athens isn’t ready for the Games. Our Transportation has been great. Volunteers must be overworked – but they seem happy and are quite helpful. The food is pretty good. I’m tasting the world cuisine and figuring out what not to try again. The biggest bummer is that though McDonald’s is everywhere, they have no McGriddles. What’s the point?
I did receive a bit of bad news today. Before my trip, I was told I would be marching in the Opening Ceremonies. I was quite excited about the experience. As it turns out, I was misinformed. Only the Athletes and a handful of selected delegates will be in attendance at the Ceremonies. I’ll get over it.
Now it is time for a workout at the pool - the one with no roof. That’s where the Dream will really begin.
Saturday, August 14, 2004 3:00 PM
Where to begin? Since I last wrote home, it seems like an eternity has gone by. I have settled my accreditation issues so I have free reign of the village again. Last night was the opening ceremonies, and this morning was the beginning of the swim meet.
I met Kyle Schack, former Union College swimmer and my old assistant coach, in downtown Athens for lunch yesterday. I got him in to the Speedo – USA swimming reception. It was a reception at the Speedo Café for family, staff and friends of USA swimming. Since my club team wears the brand – and I’ve been palling around with other US coaches, I was able to hang out. I think it made his trip. I made sure he got in line for the free USA Swimming shirts and hats they were giving to us. Kyle was also looking to buy some sold-out tickets, and the wife of the US head women’s swimming coach had a couple she wasn’t using. So, it all worked out for Kyle. Now, we’re trying to find him a new coaching job.
Before we got to the Speedo reception and met Kyle, my roommate and his boss back in the States, Jack Baurle, checked out the Nike reception area. It has got to be about 3,500 square feet and it is in a heavily guarded gated community. It is an area for Nike coaches and athletes to relax. There was always a buffet out. There has to be 15 to 20 sofas in front of huge flat-screen television sets. There are internet hook-ups and pool tables. We shared a cab on the way out of there with Carol Lewis. Carol is a 2-time American Olympian who now works for NBC and Nike. She is also Carl Lewis’ younger sister. She tried to get us to believe that Carl was flying in to light the Olympic torch. We fell for it.
Lets get this out of the way: Since people-watching is the biggest sport here in the village, name-dropping will be an integral part of this diary. As as that may be, it’s an important part of my experience.
At the reception, I spent time speaking with many people famous in my sport. Kara Lynn Joyce – who used to live in Gansevoort – is a medal favorite here in Athens. As a matter of fact, by the time you read this she may have led-off the 4 x 100 free relay which is sure to medal – possibly set a new world record. I spent time speaking with her mother, Kathy and her two brothers. Sean and Kevin also swam in the area back in the day before the family moved.
Another local athlete here is Elyse McDonough of Bethlehem. Elyse is a Syracuse grad, and is here working with NBC. At the pool, I asked the swimming commentators if they knew her and where she was stationed. Sure enough, she has been assigned to the swimming. There are tens of thousands of people here just for the Games. So, what are the chances that walking in downtown Athens – twenty miles from the village - among the swarm of tourists and volunteers - I see Elyse just walking right by me on the street? Elyse has been here since July 27, and yesterday was her only day off. I am still amazed that I ran into her.
Kyle and I watched the opening ceremonies in a small outdoor theater in the Thissio section of Athens with a couple of Greek-Australians that were acting as our tour guides. The crowd was diverse. People from many countries were there watching. I was interested in the reaction each country got from the crowd I was in. I made sure that when The Virgin Islands were introduced my entire section roared. The VI had 30 new fans right then and there.
The biggest cheers from the crowd obviously came for Greece, but many countries received a positive reception. There were a small smattering of boos for the US, but there was mostly cheering. Surprisingly, the biggest boos were saved for Tony Blair – though Great Britain was cheered loudly.
We have been at the pool twice a day for the most part. We are to the point – this close to competition – that George simply warms up for 20-30 minutes. We make sure to work on his starts at least one session every day. He says he feels pretty good. Each day he has felt better and better. Today George had to go over without getting as much sleep as we would like since he got back from opening ceremonies so late.
George marched in the parade. I’m sure many Capital Region people saw him. He said it was a good time. Virgin Island native Tim Duncan came over and mixed with the delegation for a while. They chatted and took pictures. George is about 6 ½ feet tall, and looks puny next to The NBA MVP.
The meet started this morning. The coaches and athletes are given seating for every session. I watched the meet with my roommate Brian Schrader. Brian is an assistant coach at the University of Georgia and my co-coach out here for the VI. George’s only teammate here on the VI squad is Josh Leban who swims at Georgia. George stayed for a while, but needed to get back to the village to eat, rest and get a massage. He has to get ready for his first swim, which is the 100-meter backstroke tomorrow (Sunday) morning.
We watched Michael Phelps ease into the top position for tonight’s final in the 400 IM. I’m not sure he even broke a sweat – as the other American and medal favorite, Eric Vendt from Rhode Island, just squeaked into finals in seventh place. We watched the prelims of the women’s 4 x 100 free relay. The prelims were used to see who would be picked for the finals at night. There was a chance that three Georgia swimmers would be chosen. Watching with Brian made that more exciting since there was so much on the line.
It was a thrill watching from ten feet behind the blocks. There were a couple “agony of defeat” moments though. A 14-year-old Korean boy fell off the blocks and left the area thinking he was disqualified. Many of us coaches think that had he simply gotten back on the blocks, he would have been able to compete. We were watching the referee, and didn’t see any indication of a disqualification. It was heart breaking to watch.
The other heart-breaking moment came when 15-year-old American phenom, Katie Hoff of Baltimore, who came into the meet with the fastest time in the world this year in the 400 IM, simply seemed to give in to nerves and finish 10 seconds slower than her time from Olympic Trials. As she tried very hard to regain her composure, the cameras were in her face for what seemed an eternity. I wished someone would save her from it, but that’s the Olympics. The world is watching. I can’t wait to see Katie compete in the 200 IM later in the meet. She will be strongly supported by the entire swimming community over here. As I watched her struggle toward her finish, I could only imagine the thoughts going through the ninth-grader’s head. She may have felt the weight of a nation on her.
Back to the name-dropping. Brian and I played the “who is the most recognizable athlete in the village” game at lunch the other day. Dream-teamers were ineligible. We looked around the cafeteria and considered Jenny Finch (USA Softball), Gary Hall (USA Swimming), and were about to settle on Michael Phelps when Yao Ming walked in. We have a winner! Hands-down. I haven’t seen any famous athletes being pestered over here at all. People aren’t jumping all over Michael Phelps asking for pictures and autographs. I’ve seen none of it. But that all changed when Yao walked in the Cafeteria. The poor guy could barely make it to hot entree line. He was staying with the Chinese contingent about 100 yards from the cafeteria.
It is time to get to the office to send this off. The finals session will begin in a few hours, and we need to get George over to warm up. Next time you hear from me, George will have swum his first race. Wish him luck.
Monday, August 16, 2004
Olympic Village - Athens
George swam his first event yesterday. He competed in the 100-meter backstroke. He finished in 37th place with a 57.64. It wasn’t quite his fastest time, but it was a pretty good swim. He has been faster twice before; both at the Pan Am Games last summer. I wasn’t at that meet, so it was the fastest I had ever seen George swim the event. As a coach, I was very pleased with the swim. His backstroke just hasn’t been that fast this summer. Being that close to his fastest ever seems like a good sign for Tuesday’s 100-meter freestyle.
George is pretty happy with the effort as well. He is still confident and ready for his freestyle event. Though he tired a bit at the end, he fought it and finished pretty well. George’s freestyle has been good in competition this summer, and he has put together some nice swims in workouts as well.
George’s parents have been here since Tuesday morning. Yesterday was the fist chance they have gotten to see George. There is a spot near the warm down area where people can meet with the coaches and swimmers through a fence. George met his parents there after the prelim session was over. The other Virgin Island swimmer (Josh Laban) and I were able to visit with them as well for a few moments.
Mr. And Mrs. Gleason offered to take out a 5-hour cruise around some islands in a yacht that their friend, and George’s Godfather, rented for the afternoon. Yes, I said “rented for the afternoon”. It turned out to be a gracious offer, but one George decided to turn down. He decided that he was here to do something special. With his event just two days away, he was going to just rest in the village. It was not an easy call to make, but might offer some insight into what kind of person makes it as far as the Olympics.
We just got back from tonight’s finals session. The best news of the day was that Katie Hoff of the USA, whom I mentioned in the last installment, swam very well today and is seeded third going into finals. She is the 15 year old who let nerves get the best of her the other day, and faltered in the 400 IM in front of the world. Today she looked like that episode was behind her. She was marched out to the blocks with the crowd cheering, and she looked thrilled. I took a great picture of her looking back to Team USA with a huge smile on her face after she was introduced. I wished I knew every way that her teammates supported her the other day. One of the first athletes I noticed trying to comfort her was Amanda Beard – who is now a veteran eight years after being a 14 year old Olympic medal hopeful with the weight of a nation in Atlanta.
Tonight Michael Phelps won the bronze in the 200-meter freestyle. Don’t let anyone let you believe that it was anything but a victory for Michael. The seven gold medal thing may be over, but that was over hyped to begin with. Granted, it was Michael’s people that first mentioned the idea. Michael set an American Record in the event. He had the chance to bypass the event after the US Olympic Trials. His coach actually suggested he do so. It would have been a huge upset if he had won. But he wanted to race the best at their best. Finishing ahead of Michael in the event were the world record holders in the 100 and 200-meter freestyles. Michael did great! I have already seen a headline saying “Phelps Fails”. Absolutely ignorant. The young man is already the best swimmer in history. Oh no – he may only get four or five golds as a 19 year old.
My roommate, Brian – whom I introduced in my last installment – is the most well connected coach I know. I’ve got to give him his props. My experience has been exponentially aided by hanging out with him. He has worked at University of Texas, Florida and now Georgia – the equivalent of Duke, UNC and Michigan in basketball. He also spent four years working for Team USA in Colorado Springs – so he knows everyone. Because I have been hanging out with him, I am also hanging out with the biggest names in our sport.
We had lunch yesterday with Bob Bowman. He coaches a young man named Michael Phelps. Bob is a big horseracing guy, so we talked about Saratoga for a while. He’s a big fan. We were also sitting with Eddie Reese – the USA Head Men’s Coach and a former boss of Brian – and some swimmers. One of the swimmers was Eric Vendt, who just the night before came out of nowhere to win the silver medal in the 400 IM – giving the US their first gold-silver finish of the Games. The kid is a stud. When he is finished swimming, he wants to be an army ranger. Never for a moment forget that name-dropping is an integral part of this diary.
Eric is also the second biggest Red Sox fan in the Village – next to me. So the two of us were keeping each other up on what we have read about the Sox since we’ve been here. We talked Sox for a half hour – interrupted by the occasional Yankee fan doing what they do best – annoying people. I got a nice shot of Eric with his silver medal, which was smushed up in his shorts pocket. He had it with him because he had just finished a spot on Good Morning America – or one of those morning shows. He was excited because Katie Couric, who is married to or dating the majority owner of the Sox, promised to hook him up with tickets.
Today Brian and I hiked the Acropolis. Sadly, I am generally not into site seeing. As I tell people, the Greece thing is probably lost on me. I would be just as happy if these Games were in New Jersey. I was wrong. The Acropolis is absolutely amazing. The entire city is. How the heck did they build that thing? The views are out of this world, and the architecture. I was surprised to learn that most of it was in good shape until the Germans bombed it in WWII.
We went our separate ways with plans to meet the swimmers at the pool later in the afternoon. I had to find a camera shop, and Brian had some other plans around town. Two hours later, 20 blocks away from where we split up, we ran into each other trying to hail cabs. We went to one other camera store together where my friend Kyle, from the earlier diary installment, finds us. He was with our two tour guides from the night of opening ceremonies. Totally bizarre.
Our VI contingent is small, but there are some great characters. The best athlete of the group is a young lady named Laverne. She is a senior at the University of Oklahoma. I have been a huge Sooner fan since Billy Sims – 1978 Heisman Trophy winner. Never heard of him? Neither had she. I had to tell her that Bob Stoops was the football coach and Kelvin Sampson the basketball coach. Brian, a Texas grad, had to tell her that Okie – Texas is one of the meanest rivalries in college sports.
Laverne will run the 100-meter dash here later in the week. Laverne has an island accent that can be some fun. Yesterday, she asked George for a plastic bag. George said he didn’t have a plastic bag. Laverne shot back – “I said a fork.” We got a nice laugh from that one. We still can’t figure out where we missed it. “Plastic Bag”, three syllables. “Fork” – one. That’s a head scratcher.
I got the chance to speak to a couple of my swimmers back home today – Karly Brooks of Scotia, and Rob Manor of Niskayuna. Brian is recruiting Karly, so it’s been nice to have Brian here to ask all the questions I need answered of the recruiting process. Rob is a total swim-geek like myself, so we had a lot to talk about.
I am where I had always hoped to be, but I am a homeboy. I miss my team a lot over here. They had better start emailing me a bit more. I can’t wait to get started back up with the Sharks (Schenectady Swim Club) when I get back in September. It’s the team I swam with when I was growing up – and I don’t think I’m ever leaving. I’ve got to figure some things out because I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I have learned one thing out here. I don’t want this to be my last Olympics.
August 18, 2004
Athens Olympic Village
Days run late around here. It is past 11:00 PM, and we just got back to the room from dinner. Every night we watch the swimming finals session, bus it to the dining hall and then head back to the room. Outside of the competition sites, much of the action happens in the dining hall. It is the people-watching center at the Games. The athletes walking in and going to the food is akin to models walking on a catwalk.
Tonight I had dinner with my roomy and VI co-coach Brian. As I have said before, Brian is an assistant at University of Georgia. We were joined tonight by a Georgia swimmer. It was none other than former Gansevoort resident Kara Lynn Joyce. Kara started her swimming career as a youngster in Saratoga. I used to swim with her uncle, and my sister was her aunt’s college roommate. My life is filled with small-world stories.
Because of all of the connections, after Brian made the formal introductions, we had a lot to talk about. One of the more interesting things we talked about was how much more difficult it is to become a world-class swimmer when you come from New York. It is probably hard for most to understand, but the mindset in Upstate New York (Kara Lynn started high school in Rochester before moving to Michigan.) just isn’t as conducive to it as some parts of the country. Brian has said a few times on the trip what a great kid Kara Lynn is, and she was a lot of fun to talk with. I have a swimmer from the club (Karly Brooks) taking a recruiting trip to UG in a few weeks, and I told Kara Lynn to look out for her.
Kara came over to us because she wanted to talk to Brian about her race strategy. Tonight Kara Lynn won her semi-final heat of the 100-meter freestyle and has the finals on Thursday night. I’m not sure she was comfortable with her current race plan, and wanted to make sure she was racing as smart as she could. I love race strategy. It is one of my favorite parts of coaching. So it was fun to listen to their conversation and then talk to Brian afterward about it. When we watch the race together tomorrow, the swim-geek in me will be watching how it all unfolds.
The days run together for me out here. It is hard to remember what happened when. The swim meet here is just a blast for me. By far – the best part of this experience is being at the meet. It is like a football fan participating in the Superbowl, or a Yankee fan competing at the World Championship of Trash-talking. (Sorry, but the Saratogian gave me the forum.)
At the sessions the past two nights, the Americans have taken back the best relay in the sport – the 4 x 200 meter free. Last night Klete Keller held off Gold-medallist Ian Thorpe for the last 165 meters, to give the USA the Gold medal that Australia has been hogging for the last four years. Typically the Aussies have been smarter and prettier freestylers. But, last night, we beat them at their game. The USA had four beautiful freestyles on the relay. And Thorpe made a classic mistake by catching up to Keller in the first 30 meters. That tired him out sufficiently enough to let Keller – the 2004 version of Bruce Hayes (See the first diary installment) – hold him off for the Gold. I hope you saw it, because it gave me goose bumps. Michael Phelps led off the relay – raising his gold-medal count to 3. Ryan Lochte swam a great leg as well. Lochte, like Kara Lynn, was a young swimmer in Rochester. His father Steve is also his coach and took the family to Florida years ago.
Tonight – the American women broke a 17-year-old record in the 4 x 200. The record was older than Dana Vollmer who swam third on the relay. Natalie Coughlin took her second gold of the Games, leading off the relay. Kaitlin Sandeno, who is becoming one of the most clutch swimmers in US swimming history, and an American Olympic darling - anchored the relay. There were tears in the stands tonight after that race.
I don’t envy the American coaches their responsibilities of choosing relays. The depth of Team USA makes it so there are going to be some unhappy swimmers being left off the relays. Tonight Lindsay Benko, who is the American Record holder, could only watch the events from the stands. She was given a chance to qualify for the finals by swimming the relay in the prelims. She didn’t go fast enough to swim finals. The controversial selection for the last spot came down to hundredths of a second. The other day, Gary Hall was not happy about being left off the Men’s 4 x 100 relay, and let people know it. Those coaches have a tough job.
George Gleason swam his final race of the Games yesterday. He finished the 100-meter freestyle in 51.69 seconds. It was .05 slower than his best time – which is nothing. But George was disappointed. He came here with thoughts of doing something great in the event. His freestyle has been good all summer. And a 51.69 is some fast swimming. It’s fast enough to qualify for the Olympics, but not fast enough to put a smile on George’s face. I didn’t talk to him too much about how he was feeling about it – or too much about the race itself. I just let him talk about whatever he felt. I’m not sure what George will do now that his Olympic swims are over. Will he continue to swim until the Pan-Am Games in Rio in two years? Will he never race again? I don’t know. I can’t know because George doesn’t know. Shoot – George doesn’t know what he is doing when he leaves Athens in a couple weeks. He’s thinking about making a pit-stop tour of Europe on his way back to the States.
We went to dinner last night with the Gleasons and George’s Godfather and namesake. We went to a restaurant right across the street from the Acropolis. We sat outside, and were staring at the Acropolis as we fed our faces. Athens is a different kind of city. The Acropolis isn’t in the desert somewhere – it’s in the middle of the city. Wherever you are, you can look up, and there it is. It is an amazing city.
Greece really pulled these Olympics off. The Greek people are very proud of how they have come together to put on a great show. As George Cooney (George’s Godfather) said last night, when we compliment them on the job, you can see their chest expand with pride.
After dinner we did meet up with our good old friend Kyle Schack. Kyle was having dinner with the family of Peter VanderKay. Peter was on the 4 x 200 relay that won the Gold. The family had shirts made up for the occasion. Kyle, who began the evening by big-timing us, was wearing one. Kyle is having a great time, and is just falling right into the middle of this Olympics. All because I invited him to a Team USA reception when he got here.
We also found the Lochte family celebrating the family’s Gold medal moment. Mr. Lochte (Steve) had all the reason in the world to be celebrating. His boy won a Gold medal, and he had his two daughters here with him to experience it. The Lochte girls were so proud of Ryan. It was adorable.
Tomorrow, Josh Laban swims the 50-meter freestyle. Josh is the other Virgin Island swimmer here. He has been waiting all week to get his race on. Josh shaved today, and he is raring to go. After that race, the VI is all done competing. We get to stay until the closing ceremonies in a couple weeks. So I’ll be able then to check out the other stuff going on – assuming there is anything going on anywhere but here.
Sunday, August 22, 2004
Olympic Village – Athens, Greece: The swimming is over. I felt like a kid leaving summer camp – saying goodbye to his friends and sharing addresses and phone numbers. My experience at the meet for the last week-plus has been the most fun week of my life. The final session last night was a memorable and great way to end the meet. The USA won Gold in the men’s medley relay – smashing a world record on the way – to end the meet.
The relay was made up of Aaron Peirsol – who opened with a world record in the 100-meter backstroke. Brenden Hanson, who swam over a second slower than his best in the 100-meter breastroke, found that second under the pressure of the relay. Jason Lezak, who tried to cruise the prelims in the 100-meter free, only to underestimate the competition and fail to advance, anchored the relay in one of the fastest all-time swims. But the story of the relay was the butterfly leg.
Michael Phelps, who won gold in the 100-meter fly by 4 hundredths of a second over world record holder and fellow American Ian Crocker, (Ian had been having a tough meet), gave his spot up to Crocker for the finals. Michael also received a gold medal in the event since he swam the leg in the prelims. When Michael finished the 100 fly, he told the staff that Crocker should swim the relay.
Stars are often made in this country by agents, publicists and media. Image making is an art. We never really know what the stars are really like. We only feel how their people want us to feel. Let me tell you this: 19-year-old Michael Phelps is a great, stand-up kid. We have been sitting right next to Team USA at many of the sessions, including last night, and see everything. We see Phelps – the youngest male on the team – lead Team USA in cheers all evening with Diana Munz. It was the first session in which he didn’t have to compete. We got a great look at a superstar having a blast just being part of a team.
Crocker was having a tough week. He led off the 4 x 100 meter relay over a second slower than his best to put USA in an unforgivable hole. Ian is an emotional kid, and you could see his sorrow for days to come. Ian failed to get past prelims in the 100-meter free, and was touched out for Gold in the 100 fly after leading for the first 99 ½ meters. You could see his pain.
Star of the Games, Michael Phelps, could have ended his historic Olympic experience on the podium, receiving his medal with the world watching. But that didn’t happen. Michael, who told us that he just felt like $#%* after he finished the 100 fly a day earlier, gave Ian Crocker a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - An opportunity that he took advantage of by swimming faster than his world record. All previous negative relay experiences are now just history to be forgotten. As the relay marched by Team USA, Crocker sought out Phelps and gave him a hug over the foam boarder separating us from the pool deck.
Michael may very well have been feeling like $#%* as he told us, but he recovers from races faster than any swimmer ever. It’s a documented fact. His blood lactate level (the way athletes can measure recovery time) is extremely low after his races. There isn’t any doubt that 24 hours of rest would have been more than enough for him to recover. Shoot – this is the kid who broke two world records in a 45-minute span last summer. There was more to him giving us his spot to Crocker. Bet on it.
One of my favorite athletes on Team USA is distance swimmer – Larson Jensen. Larson is a workhorse. Some of my swimmers on the Sharks had the opportunity to meet him at US Nationals in February. We sat in the same area as his team, and the kids had many chances to speak to him. One of my kids was thrilled to have to fill him in on the previous night’s O.C. episode. Larson had the swim of the meet last night. Actually, that is debatable. That title may have to go to Klete Keller’s swim – holding off Thorpe to win gold in the 4 x 200 relay. Anyway – last night Jensen was swimming against the great Grant Hackett. Hackett’s world record is more than 20 seconds faster than Jenson’s American record. He is practically unbeatable. To make it even tougher, separating the two was David Davies – who beat Jenson at the aforementioned Nationals in February. To make a long story short – Hackett got out way ahead early in the race. Larson just kept plugging away. With 100 meters to go, Larson had closed to a fraction of a second. In the end, Hackett had enough to hold him off. But, in challenging Hackett as he had, Larson broke his American record by 10 seconds. Yes, you read that right. 10 seconds!!
What made the race more fun for me was that I watched the race with Bob Bowman – Phelps’ coach. Bowman is the biggest name in the coaching world right now. It was fun to watch Jenson’s race with him – talking about what was going on and what we thought was going to happen throughout the race. That’s what we coaches sometimes do. We like to take bets on who is going to win, place and show. My particular specialty is predicting finishing times in the middle of a race.
Getting to know Bob this week was particularly satisfying because I got the chance to speak to him about one of my athletes from Niskayuna. After I talked to him about what kid of trainer, swimmer and swim-geek Rob Manor is, Bob decided that as he takes the reigns at University of Michigan in the fall (my all-time favorite swim school), he will recruit Rob. Without being out here, It may not have been as easy to get that done. The University of Georgia will also recruit Rob now. How ‘bout that – Michael Phelps’ coach knows who Rob Manor is. Pretty cool.
I could write for another hour, but I am off to the Island of for a couple days. When I get back, I’ll write more about the other venues and the Olympic Village. In the meantime, Go USA.
Olympic Village, Athens:
My Olympic experience is fast becoming my Greek Island experience. Since swimming is over, I no longer have a routine here in the village. My friend Kyle and I took a day and a half trip to the Island of Spetses. It is about 65 miles southwest of Athens in the Saronic Gulf. There are dozens of Greek Islands with ferries traveling to most of them daily. As I am not good with large menus, it has taken me a couple of days to plan where to go next. I have decided on the Island of Santorini. It is the one place that I was told to visit over here before I left. It is an Island in the Aegean Sea. Apparently, when you arrive, you are staring at the caldera. The caldera is crescent wall of 1100 feet which is the remaining side to a huge still-active volcano.
I have put in for tickets to both the USA - Spain basketball game and the USA women soccer game for tomorrow (Thursday). If I get them, I will stick around here for a while longer. If not, I may head to Santorini this evening. I'm not great at decisions.
The only competitions I have been to - other than swimming - is beach volleyball and waterpolo. We have access to the aquatic center, so it is easy to get to the polo games. After the final swimming a few nights ago, we caught the last half of the USA - Russia game. The US lost by two goals, but it wasn't that close. Waterpolo is a game that, like basketball used to be, the Americans are basically college guys trying to take on professionals. That's right. I said “professional” water polo players. Apparently, there are places in this world where a boy groys up with dreams of one day making the big leagues in polo.
Since it was late, the only people waiting for the bus to the village were those who were still mulling around the pool after the final session. (One more warning - I will shamelessly name-drop at any opportunity. Be forewarned). We ended up sitting on the bus with US Olympic coaches Eddie Reese (head men's coach) and Dave Salo (an assistant coach - and coach of Aaron and Haley Peirsol, Lenny Krayzelburg among others). There were some Team USA staff there as well as a few of the younger swimmers who couldn't join their older teammates for some Athens nightlife. Eddie is keeping his own Olympic Diary at Texassports.com. It is a great read. Eddie doesn't hold back. He lets the reader in on what is happening here. Dave started the Olympic trivia game. He threw a couple of softballs out there. Who doesn't know what happened to Rick DeMont at the 1972 Olympics? After that, he started throwing out names that I couldn't place. I did stump the crowd myself with: Who was the only US swimmer to win a gold at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics? The only reason I know this was that Bill Yorzik was the only swimming booster we had at Springfield College - as well as the answer.
Before the final swimming session, Team VI (George, Josh Laban, Brian Schrader and myself) went down to the shore to catch beach volleyball. We didn't have tickets, but were going to scalp some when we got there. No need. They weren't paying close attention to our credentials around our neck, and let us right in. We caught a couple of men's matches. I don't remember who we saw in the first match, but the second match was the Swiss team against the Brazilian team. The Swiss team was two brothers who openly argued, like brothers sometimes do, right on the sand court. I was rooting for the Brazilians. The brothers were way too annoying - preening for the camera every chance they got. Of course, Brazil folded down the stretch and the Swiss won the match. Beach volleyball is something else. It is a bit of a circus. During time-outs and other dead periods, a dance team in bikinis came out to entertain the crowd. Workers also ran up and down the bleachers dousing the crowd with hoses. We sat next to the head of Netherlands volleyball team who said that what we saw was tame compared to what goes on on the Grand Prix circuit. It was a show.
The Olympic village is a bit deader now. Many head back home when their competition is over. 15-year old American swimmer Katie Hoff, for example, was leaving the morning after swimming ended. She told me she felt she needed to get back to her training after resting for and competing at the Olympics. Right there is one example of the difference between Olympians and the rest of us. Many of our swimmers feel the need for a break after every big meet. We have gotten much better at that over the years though, and I do have a few swimmers that are enjoying their first extended break in a couple of years because I am here.
Some athletes have taken the opportunity to travel around Greece as well. George is now in Mykonos with five or six other swimmers. One of the VI contingent spent a couple of days up north, near the Turkish border, to do some bird-watching. Most of you back home probably know more about what's gong on here at the actual competitions than those of us who are actually here. It is difficult to know the stories. There is just too much going on. Anything I catch on television has Greek announcers. There is nowhere to go to watch the American NBC feed. I know that there has been a bunch of positive drug tests (still waiting for the first swimming one), and I know that Paul Hamn was booed. That's about the extent of it.
I am able to follow that since I left the States, the Sox have picked up five games on the Yanks, and are playing some hot ball. I may have to stay over here for another month. I am not sure if this is my last installment or not. If I do attend the closing ceremonies on the 30th, then I will write after those. If anything of note happens over here, I will write as well. In any case, I would like to thank everyone for reading - and thank the Saratogian for giving me the forum. I have enjoyed the opportunity to somehow stay closer to those at home. If you have any questions, feedback - or just want to point out my errors, you can email me at email@example.com. I am trying to set up a photo page as well - using the same member name. The page at my swim club - Schenectadyswimclub.org - has all my diary installments and should get some pictures up soon as well.
Monday, August 30, 2004
Olympic Village – Athens:
Closing Ceremonies: The pageantry, the costumes, the fireworks. A grand goodbye and thank you to Athens and its people – to all of Greece and its people. The amazing fireworks displays. The amazing athletes. An amazing ceremony. I imagine.
I can only imagine because I thought they were on the 30th and planned my flight back to Athens from Santorini late on the 29th. I called the head of the Virgin Island delegation after watching the sun set from the town of Ia to tell him to expect me back the next day for closing ceremonies. I wondered what all the noise in the background was. Apparently, it was the commotion of the ceremonies. “Jerry, we are about to begin to march now. “ Of course I missed the ceremonies.
Luckily my assistant coach, Doug Marx, is a technology magician. He will put together a great CD of the television coverage for me. It’ll be like I was there. Maybe better.
I could have been in a lot of worse places though. Right now – do an internet image search of “Santorini”. Everywhere on the island is a postcard. I spent three days there and could’ve spent a thousand more before ever getting used to it all. Every time I saw the volcanic islands from a new angle, it was as overwhelming as the first time I saw. Every corner I turned was a new photo to shoot. And shoot away I did.
The Island of Santorini has two major towns; Fira and Ia. They are about 16 kilometers apart. I rented a motor scooter for the day. That was a big move for me. I am scared to death of most things speed-related. But the 15 Euro spent on the scooter was well spent. I sped out of Fira looking for nothing in particular. I saw most of the Island and settled on a great beach. The sand was black since it was volcanic stone.
Everyone in Santorini talks about how the best sunset in the world can be seen from the town of Ia. I couldn’t understand how anything could have been more amazing than the sunsets I saw from Fira – but I was going to check it out. I hopped on my scooter and made it through the maze that is Santorini. The streets of Death – as George calls them.
Did I mention that I am deathly afraid of heights as well? I had to navigate around one mountain to another. Finally, after thinking that I must be there, another mountain stared at me. I stopped the bike, pried my hands off the grips and wiped my brow. I was done. I couldn’t drive around any more cliffs. I was scared to death. As I turned and rode away – only slightly ashamed of myself – I saw the mountains and hills that I already went around and would have to navigate again to make it back to Fira before dark. I watched another beautiful sunset from there and slowly made it back to Fira.
The day before heading out to Santorini, I was able to make it to the women’s 3 meter diving semifinals in the morning and the women’s soccer gold medal game at night. The diving was interesting to watch. Even to a relatively untrained eye as mine, the differences from the top diver to the third and fourth were noticeable. I never even found out who won the gold. On that afternoon the Russian diver seemed to be in a different league than most. The American, Rachelle Kunkel, did make it to the finals as well.
So the trek to the soccer game was next. I hopped on the train from the aquatic complex to the soccer stadium. Tim – the Virgin Island sailor – had the tickets. We never said where we would meet up. I continually called and left messages to let him know I would meet him at the security gate where the busses from the Olympic Village dropped off. Ultimately, I waited there forever with some security volunteers.
I sat as busses came and went. I watched big shots drive up in their police-escorted Mercedes and get dropped off. I saw the head of FIFA, soccer’s governing body. At one point a big commotion was made. I said it was probably the king of Sweden since Sweden was playing in the bronze medal game. The volunteer came back to tell me I was pretty much right on. It was the queen of Sweden. Who knew Sweden had a queen?
I gave up on Tim and bought a cheap seat for 40 Euro. When I went into the stadium it was almost empty. I sat right in the athlete section. I don’t think I even needed a ticket. People never seem to really check your accreditation around your neck. I walked right to the best seat in the house to find Tim sitting there.
Did I mention the stadium was empty? I did some math during the game and figured that if everyone in the stadium sat together, not quite one third of the sections would be full. I coincidentally met up with a Greek-American I know who was on the Greek soccer team. (That is another crazy small-world story in itself, but I won’t bore you.) She said that soccer is very big, but the Greeks still don’t believe women can play team sports. The apparent swan song of Mia Hamm, Brandy Chastain and company – and noone there to say goodbye.
When I returned to the Village late last night, music was blaring from the dining hall. People were outside on the curbs and in front of the hall trading shirts and jackets for the same from other countries. George got a sweet Netherlands shirt that he wore today. He figured he could wear it because most of the Dutch had probably gone home. We made it to lunch at the dining hall only to note that one out of every four people we saw were athletes and coaches from The Netherlands. George was stared up and down. He even received some good-natured ribbing.
We made one last trip into Athens today. We finished up some gift getting and souvenir shopping. We both bought a pair of shades. (For those of you that know me – it was George who lost his shades and needed new ones. So there.) I've been told of how dirty the city is. I haven't seen it.
I have to rush to end this. I am getting kicked out of the computer lab for the last time. Goodbye Athens. Goodbye Olympic Village. Goodbye Olympics!
Pictures can be viewed at Schenectadyswimclub.org. I can be reached at VIOlympiccoach@yahoo.com