Aug. 14, 2008
These are the days that try gymnasts' souls. My heart dropped when I saw Alicia Sacramone come right off the balance beam just seconds after attempting her usual springboard mount in the Women's Team Finals. It's an extremely difficult start with a blind landing, I might add...but I had never seen her miss it before. Ever.
Then...very atypical for our gal who has five medals from world championships since the last Olympics - she fell again -- this time on floor exercise, squeezing the last drop of air out of the arena.
Sacramone has been the hard-luck kid of the USA Women's Team on this trip. She's already proven herself to be the 4th best on balance beam in the world this week. But that was during qualifications. And two of her teammates finished 2nd & 3rd in qualifications, bumping Sacramone out of contention for the balance beam medal finals.
Keep in mind that most female gymnasts her age have already said goodbye to their elite careers. If they continue in the sport, then it's with one of the dwindling few universities that takes on the insurance liability of competing in gymnastics. The competitive routines are greatly watered down for most college gymnasts compared to their earlier elite years as mandated by the NCAA. It's in the rules to promote safety.
Central China Television (CCTV) has replayed Sacramone falls ad-nausium whenever highlights are shown on television. No, highlights in Asia are not necessarily positive... and the producers of highlights that show on the big screens inside the arenas have no problem showing the "agony of defeat" as highlights of the day. In all fairness, they are also showing the challenging moments of Chinese athletes who have gone down to defeat in medal finals in other sports.
Bottom line: This is an away game. The crowd (and one of my Sports Presentation team members who laughed out loud upon seeing Sacramone sprawled out on the Floor Exercise) is heavily weighted toward root, root rooting for the home team. The sound their chants produce inside this amazing arena is unique - wavy - disruptive perhaps. Distracting for sure. They are not doing this to be the "6th man" a la basketball. I'm amazed at how often the chants will stop abruptly in respect of our announced introduction of a foreign athlete. It does, however, require more than absolute single-minded focus of every athlete competing for every visiting country.
These are the first Olympic Games for Sacramone. The title of team captain was not given to her randomly. I'm guessing that over the last 24 hours she has turned that tearful exit from the arena to a controlled anger, a positive force for good, and that we will see the results of that transformation in the upcoming apparatus finals. I'll be cheering for her, albeit silently, from my seat near the uneven bars when she participates in the medals final for Vault (#3 in qualifying).
Tomorrow, Thursday, my mimed cheers will be for Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson in the Women's Individual All-Around Final for the medals. The biggest competition these two have may be each other. How great it would be to have both of them accepting medals after four exercises.
Things that make sense in Beijing:
Would you like 1%? 2%? Lactose Free? Whole? Skim? At breakfast, there is a container of warm milk near the hot coffee and black tea. Just don't ask which of the above selections it may be. It may not even be cow.
I'll take that to go please When you enter a PizzaHut from the pouring rain, they hand you a clear plastic bag - the perfect size to use as a sleeve for your wet umbrella, allowing you to take it to your seat (instead of taking your chances of it walking away parked near the door while you dine) without dripping all over the floor.
Things that make little sense in Beijing:
Laundry steam You must itemize your dirty belongings on a pre-printed form that shows pricing when submitting them in the blue plastic bag, which makes sense. What made little sense to me on this form is that an undershirt is not an "Undershirt" (7 Yuan). It is a "Normal Shirt" (15 Yuan). Picking up my first load of laundry at the front desk, I protested the higher charge for my six undershirts, which had been hung on hangars. After the front desk clerk summoned at least four laundry room employees and the hotel manager to the lobby, I found all of the clothes (yeah, including the skivs) now out in the open and stacked orderly up and down the front desk in categories to get an accurate count of every last sock. This speaks more to the Eastern need for preciseness vs. the Western discomfort with having someone air your laundry (clean or dirty) in public for you.
In the end, the explanation I was given was that a true undershirt has no sleeves.
By now this whole experience had successfully taken the wind from my sails. By the time I paid the difference, the clothes had magically been transformed to their original neatly-folded and packaged state or back on hangars. One of the attendants scooped up the hangars and bags and escorted me up to my room, where he insisted on personally hanging the shirts and pants in the closet.
Don't fight the laundry system in China. It makes little sense.
Ciao for now,