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Back In Beijing - 2008 Olympics Blog Report #3

Aug. 5, 2008

It's 5 a.m. Wednesday here in Beijing. My fourth day in country is about to begin, and already I am seeing the time flying by. Why do the good and busy times always do that in life?

Getting hungry? The strange concoctions continue here at mealtime. Sometimes the description is just as strange, such as "Shredded Vegetable Pulp." That was in the breakfast buffet the other day, having replaced my beloved "Scrambled Eggs With White Rice" that I've come to depend on each morning. I couldn't tell you WHAT poor vegetable had been shredded to a pulp, but I can tell you it had been through hell and did not look appealing. It looked apulping.

I'm hopeful to satisfy my Western breakfast jones (ah, yes... a real omlette with ham! Hashbrowns! Opaque orange juice!) at the Crowne Plaza hotel on Friday morning. It's just such an adventure to go anywhere by cab here.

I've learned to sit back and enjoy the friendly banter in Frenglese when our French announcer Michel tries to negotiate directions in English with Chinese cabbies. Some of the cabbies know little written Chinese, and the cards that you give them to read in Chinese characters are still a mystery to them. Pulling out the map and showing them points A & B is sometimes our only solution... as if slaloming the car between thousands of bikes, pedestrians and other kamikaze taxis with both eyes on the road isn't challenging enough for them...

At 63, this very animated and grandfatherly French coach of 5 world champion trampoline gymnasts is a tireless communicator with much zest and vitality. He can both keep our team endlessly entertained and at the same time truely exhaust collegiate co-workers 1/3 his age with his seemingly endless enthusiasm. The mayor of a town with 200 people and 3,000 cows near Toulouse who grows his own grapes and makes his own wine -- I've got to hand it to the man. He knows how to get to where he is going in Beijing -- and in life in general. The gymnastics delegation in FRA made an exception and did not force him to leave his post at age 60 as their bylaws require. I think he just either refused to leave... or stop talking.

Today I'll need to go to Construction Bank of China for more Yuan -- which is pronounced "U.N." here, which always makes me think of the United Nations... which is what the Olympics is all about, uniting nations.

Wondering if there was some international incident in Beijing last night. You see, the block where my hotel is was cordoned off by police when I arrived here from the arena at about 8:30 pm last night. And when I got to my floor, there is now a "hall monitor" standing guard in the elevator lobby. And lastly, when I got to my room, my television strangely does not work. Hmmm... coincidence? I will have to check the news online.

My thoughts on terrorism here -- or anywhere: We all know now since 9/11 that it can happen anytime, anywhere. But, in my glass-half-full mind, they can't get everyone!

Prior to 9/11, we Americans led charmed lives. I can still remember back in 1979, on a H.S. band trip to BEL, coming up the jetway in Brussels and stepping into the recently-bombed terminal, startled to see a sub-machine gun leveled at our 17-and-18-year-old bellies by a military officer in black assigned to stand at attention and guard that area with his weapon strapped to his shoulder and parallel to the ground. Yes, in the US, we've had it pretty good for a long, long time, and are still way better than most.

Spotted yesterday on a black sign, only a half-block outside of the Olympic Complex area: "Focusing by Scalding by Sharon." A beauty parlor. With a black and white rotating barber's pole outside. Hmmm... no shampoo for me, please. And nothing permanent, thank you.

Our announce team has come under a little scrutiny lately as we all have been told quite bluntly that the small mistakes made during our 6 hour rehearsal in front of 20,000 empty seats on Sunday are not acceptable. The Chinese... a little choppy. The French... a little too charismatic. The English... flawless, of course. Let's just say good enough to not have my travel visa altered - or anything else altered - for now.

The seemingly universal talent of Chinese people for making things beautiful through art is present in the Olympic designs that adorn National Indoor Stadium. Wait to you see it all lit up on NBC -- absolutely spectacular with incredible depth from virtually any angle as seen from the 46 cameras on the Field of Play capturing video for three production companies: NBC, HDK (the largely Japanese-staffed producers of the international broadcast feed) and CCTV, or Chinese Central Television, which has fought for and won a very rare "third wheel" presence at the Olympics, and has only been granted a few stationary and two handheld positions.

Throughout the "behind the scenes" areas such as the many hallways underneath the stands in the arena, there are posters that each group of volunteers (ticket distribution, information help, etc.) have hung proudly. Once blank, these beautifully decorated sheets of paper are a source of pride for each team with an assignment in the building, and there must be about a hundred of them. Pre-printed at the top of each poster: "Volunteers Smile -- Beijing Image."

Today (Wed) brings a long day of Mens "Podium Training." The apparatus in the area is constructed on top of raised platforms (now THERE'S a redundant word pairing that just won't go away), and this is the first time that athletes will have access to the actual equipment upon which they will depend mightily for the scores that will soon either catapult them into the finals, or issue them an early ticket back to the village to watch the rest on TV. These platforms are just long and wide enough at each apparatus to leave walkways below that are just long and wide enough for everything from stationary judges to hand-held cameramen in full sprint to peacefully coexist.

For the athletes, the perspective changes up there. A long way down becomes an even longer way down. Remember how close our Olympic Champion Paul Hamm came to sprawling off of the Vault platform in 2004 -- stopped only by the judges? No fear of heights here... and no distraction while the 20,000 international chanting, clanging, bellowing, whistling spectators all focus on what you've trained you body to do way up there. Talk about determination.

Enough rambling for now. Enjoy the buildup back home, and I'll write more whenever I can.

Zaijian for now,

-- Dan