Rebecca Giddens wins Olympic Silver Medal
Athens 2004 Canoe Kayak
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Reports by Rebecca Giddens on her Olympic quest
from Athens ~ 2004 Whitewater Slalom Olympic
Italian Coach Cathy Hearn talks about
the Athens Olympics, Whitewater Slalom and more
I am finally on the internet
again after days away. We returned to Italy on the 21st, so the biggest party
on earth continues without us. The bright side of this is that I am planted in
Verona, with the TV on all the time, watching RAI Uno which has coverage even
better than I remember from the French coverage of the 92 winter Olympics.
The day starts early.
Many athletes are good sleepers, but on race day, once you wake up, that is it.
You just hope to sleep late enough that you are not left twiddling your thumbs
at 4 am.
In the Olympic Village, once the competition started, the internet cafe was
open 24/7. And you could eat at any time of day or night. Szechuan noodles,
pork souvlaki, sushi, kimchee, egg McMuffin, salad, pizza, whatever.
For our Olympians of the slalom world, it was one more heavenly day in
Athens. Dawn reached with rosy fingers over the horizon, as if stretching to
test the day in concert with the runners who were out in the pre-dawn calm doing
their high-step and skipping drills down the hill outside my window.
In Athens during the Olympics, it is easy to make associations of Nature with
ancient deities with heroes and with athletes. During our year of training and
competition in Athens, the Greeks (and we by association), seem ready to find
gods and goddesses, events and performances of mythic scope in each day and
around every corner. The tradition and heritage are alive as possibility and
reality in each moment. Drama and humor, heroics and tragedies.
I begin the day, as yesterday, trekking up to the dining hall where I find
Jurgen Kohler and one of his C2s at breakfast. Yesterday, it was Becker-Henze.
Today it is Bahmann-Senft. We are all quiet in our greeting. The day has
barely begun. This beginning has great significance for me, illustrating a lot
of what I love about slalom. Jurgen has been a powerful example to me as a coach
of C-boats throughout this last 16 months. He and his athletes have cheerfully
collaborated with Erik and Andrea as early as winter 2003 in South Africa,
providing a sense of community that makes training much more fun and cultivates
the confidence of a solo C2 from a small team. I have been thrilled and
challenged to coach the 2 German teams and the Italians for short course and
technique sessions on the Athens channel. The action with 3 C2s playing and
re-circulating around the bottom hole is fantastic!
We are the only four riding the first bus to the course. Jurgen will walk the
course with his paddlers, first this team, and later, the other. I am on the
first bus because it is my chance to enjoy the calm of the morning with a half
hour or so in the boat. I am working to develop functional mobility lessons in
the boat. After the Olympics, I will work with young paddlers back in Italy,
looking toward Beijing. I watch the buses roll in, unloading volunteers and
judges, athletes and coaches, physiotherapists and video techs, as I glide
around the salty little lake and splash forward and backward through the complex
currents at the run out of the course.
On race day at the Olympics, there are some critical tasks to be done.
Capturing video, recording accurate splits, having spare paddles near the start,
being available for the athletes. In reality, though essential, these tasks are
not incredibly time-consuming. We support personnel have been training to do
these as the athletes have trained to perform on the course. Probably the most
valuable thing any coach can do on race day is to be present, calm and
As I cruise around the lake, I see the shiny head of Pierpaolo Ferrazzi as he
steps into his boat. Pierpa has a wealth of experience and two Olympic medals
in his repertoire. If anyone knows how to play this game, it is Pierpa. He
moves apparently effortlessly over the water, so efficient that it is easy for
me to see the movement of the boat creating the movement of his paddle-- or vice
Once the C2 arrives, I am ready for action. We walk the course, they speaking
in Italian about their plan for each gate and the spaces in between. They speak
of patience and decisiveness, of clear contact between paddle and water, of the
softness of certain water features, of a flat boat and of letting the hull stick
to the current. They speak of being on their knees in one move, on the back of
the seat in another, of where to look and when to initiate rotation with knees,
with pelvis, with ribs, with head or shoulders. They describe calm and action
and a free ride from a tiny current. They describe a push, maybe a fight, to
the finish. And then, "Bo"-- a catch-all Piemontese expression, a combination of
exclamation, assertion, question, doubt. I can think of no more appropriate
comment at the beginning of a day of Olympic competition.
They shine in the early morning sun, waiting for the fresh breeze that comes
just after the full sun. Andrea goes off to juggle, his way of striking the
balance between calm and perky and concentrated that brings out his bowman
best. Erik walks with me back to "the house", a huge hangar containing video
room, small windowless team rooms, changing rooms and showers, medical services,
doping control, boat storage, judges' areas, 3 cafeterias, and many pigeons.
Now things start happening more quickly, with dozens of team personnel,
including Federation officials, team managers, and program directors arriving
from each nation. The athletes and coaches become little islands of focus in a
big sea of variable energy. We suit up with sunscreen, walkie-talkies, video
cameras and tripods, backpacks, stopwatches, clipboards, water bottles, hats and
sunglasses. Good luck wishes and smiles abound, another sign characteristic of
this cool sport that we do.
Forerunners blast down the course, doing their best to lay down a good run
which they can later compare with that of the medalists. Kent Ford does his
live-from-the-blue-C1-at-the-start report, in which he paddles the course,
commenting on the course as he paddles it. He begins with his trademark "I am
the only paddler out here today planning to go slowly and make mistakes". His
performance is incredible--educational and entertaining for the spectators, and
an inspiration to many of the competitors. For some of the racers, Kent
provides needed levity as well as valuable clues to the most basic nature of
sections of the course.
Finally, we're off. The athletes are elastic, energized and controlled,
primed to seize the moment. The C2s have obviously benefited from yesterday's
"practice" on the course, now looking more precise, more in rhythm with the
water. The judges continue to successfully tackle their difficult job, making
accurate calls on some complex maneuvers.
Andrea and Erik lay down a clean, precise run with a decent time. The moves
appear clearly connected, there is nothing scary in the watching. A good
performance. They are happy, and show it. I am relieved and thrilled to see
them perform to their ability in this race which means so much. Boat after boat
comes down, some are clearly out, and there are a handful within 2 seconds of
each other. The final will be a real race. Some medal hopes are dashed--
Jiras-Mader (CZE) are out, past Olympic victor Joe Jacobi, and his partner Matt
Taylor (USA) finish beyond the cut-off, as do Bowman-Smith (GBR) who showed
great skill in yesterday's qualifier.
We support staff scramble to collect video cassettes and split times from four
disparate stations among a mass of fans, running them back to the video room for
Things start happening faster
now. The K1 class begins, with Pierpaolo second out of
the start. All is well, the moves strung together flawlessly, the moves seeming
almost effortless, and all of it FAST. Then, between gates 11 and 12, something
goes wrong. He falls off the critical pivot, and has to circle. His hopes for
the final, and for a medal evaporate in an instant. Later we learn that his
knee slipped out of the brace in that moment. He continued down the
course, laying down world-class splits gate after gate. Clearly in the
final except for that momentary mistake. He finished 19th. Not
exactly his dream result for what was rumored to be his final Olympics. The
crowd applauds loudly as he crosses the finish line, showing their admiration
and respect for a good effort and a fantastic career. Unfortunately, the
result is not exactly a dream come true for what was rumored to be Pierpaolo's
With Pierpa out of the
final, we change our game plan. I run to the video room where Ettore and the C2
are reviewing the video from the first run.
Erik and Andrea are upbeat, happy to have had a good first run, and aware of
places to improve. They have less than an hour to rehydrate, relax and focus
again for the next run.
Meanwhile, out on the course the crowd is getting more and more hyped, with
the help of the announcers and the performances of the men's kayaks. A small
sea of blue and orange-clad Netherlands fans stand and cheer, while nearby are a
bigger group of Americans waving the stars and stripes, celebrating Rebecca's
silver medal and hoping for more. Irish fans dressed as leprechauns are more
rowdy, dancing and probably singing, although we can't hear it over the other
noise. It is the "Tribe" of French that we hear, today they are non-stop
action, wearing home-made helmets with push-broom brushes mounted on top. They
look like misguided characters from Asterix and Obelisk. Many are active
athletes, and they are showing an impressive expansive of bare upper bodies.
The final begins. Erik and
Andrea make some improvements from the semi, and some mistakes. They reach the
take-out eddy, share congratulations with the German team of Bahmann-Senft, and
together, they wait. The other C2s come down the course, one after another, and
each time the ritual is repeated. Greetings, congratulations, sympathy, and
they wait. Boats are taken away by the officials to be weighed and measured,
reporters call to the athletes for interviews, impressions. The athletes wait,
together, always a community in this most social of the slalom classes.
Watching the giant display boards for results and the huge scale live video of
each run as it happens. They see their friends, their competitors, their
teammates, and the awesome moves as well as the mistakes. Last down the course,
by virtue of having won the semifinal, are the Hochschorner twins. Once again
they school the world in the proper use of the C2 and the miracle of good
teamwork. The Hochsis move to the top of the scoreboard as they cross the
finish line. More congratulations, all the way around, as the podium shapes up
to include Volf-Stepanek (CZE) and young World Champions Becker-Henze (GER).
Benetti and Masoero finish up in 6th place, which is to my knowledge their
best result ever in a major international event. As Erik said, he could smell
the medals. He used the verb "sentire", which can mean to smell and/or feel.
Quite a revelation from which to move towards Beijing.
Today was the qualifier for
K1 men and C2. After three days off the whitewater channel, it is a huge
challenge to race at the top level on such difficult water. The C2s especially
had moments of serious struggle on the course today, while showing other moments
of brilliance and some incredibly quick saves.
The coaches, support staff and families had their stress tolerance tested
mightily today by several C2s, including Jiras/Mader (CZE), who dug deep into
their Olympic and World medal winning past to avoid splitting their bodies in a
downstream gate. German C2s, Bahmann/Senft and Becker/Henze both made their
coaches run fast down the course with good sections, and squirm with agitation
as they hovered on the brink of disaster and the edge beyond control. Even I
reacted to the dangerous antics of Bahmann/Senft, showing up on their video to
provide entertainment for them with my body gyrations and head-in-hands reaction
to one of their mistakes. I only hope that there was no camera trained on me
during the second run of our Italian boat, as Erik and Andrea tested my
fortitude in the role of coach on the shore unable to do anything. The most
agonizing disaster came in the last gate of a reasonably good run for
Australians Lachlan Milne and Mark Bellefiore, as the huge plate of water in the
last section of the course delivered them to an alternative line, requiring
Lachie to make a contortionist move that would be spectacular even in Cirque de
Soleil. Sadly, it was not enough. (Although, if it had been, the Italian team
would now be morosely dancing at the disco with beautiful Cuban women....)
Surely, these runs were not the effortless dance between man and water that we
search for in slalom.
Kayaks fared a bit better, with some notably solid and beautifully controlled
performances, including those by Benjamin Boukpeti (TOG) and Lazar Popovski
(MKD), both of whom advance to the semis. Between the top boats, it became a
bit of a contest of who would dare to stop paddling earliest before the finish,
fueling speculation about the possibility of someone flipping and crossing the
finish line upside down, which would keep them out of the semi for sure.
On this eve of the final day of slalom competition, we had a bit of lightness
in the dining hall. The Italian team is big on eating together, which is great
for many reasons. Meals are a social event, good for building team unity and
for relaxation. It is also a great chance to sample different foods without
having a whole serving.
Tonight we were joined by Christian Bahmann (Muh), C2 paddler from Germany,
with whom Erik and Andrea have enjoyed training and racing this year. We began
in very civilized, friendly fashion, and then our guys, including Pierpaolo,
started ribbing our physiotherapist, Antonio, for his taste for Tabasco. He
made the mistake of leaving the table to get more food, and by the time he
returned, several people had dosed his coke with several shots of Tabasco. The
contents of the cup were virtually steaming. Sure enough, after a few minutes,
he took a big gulp of coke. The effect was dramatic.
Physiotherapists are generally very important for the morale of a team, they
are intelligent, perceptive, and play a big part in holding things together all
the way around training and competition. Antonio is truly excellent, and his
magic hands and listening skills are invaluable to this team. Usually, it's not
good to mess with the physio--- the athletes are really quite vulnerable in
their hands. Sure enough, as soon as he could control his flaming mouth enough
to speak, he described his revenge...... For Pierpa, Erik and Andrea before
tomorrow's race, he can not only do the normal physio work that helps them to
perform their best, but he could also put a few drops of Tabasco sauce on each
one's glutes, which would have them hopping around on the seat as they sit in
the start tomorrow.
The best part was that Andrea was gallant enough to ask Muh, in polite
English, "Would you like some, too?"
International sport provides incredible experiences, giving us the opportunity
to meet new and interesting people and, in the midst of the intensity of
competition and the work of training, to forge lasting friendships. One can
only imagine the trouble we might create if we were not tired out from training,
or focused on having our best performance on the river tomorrow.
Perfect day, crystal clear, gentle
breeze a most awesome slalom course...
The C1s started off the day with a unanimous demonstration of truly excellent
paddling performance-- As David Yarborough, Executive Director of USA Canoe
Kayak said, the C1s put on a show worth the price of the event ticket-- and that
was just in the first runs! As the class wrapped up their morning runs, Martikan
(SVK) blazed down the course to the sounds of the Rolling Stones "Can't get no
(satisfaction)", an interesting match of tune with athlete as he has given up
the Olympic Gold to Tony Estanguet (FRA) in the last two Games. Martikan broke
the finish beam a mere 12 hundredths faster than Tony's time, promising an
exciting final. Indeed, the crowd was audible out at the security gates near
the sea as boat after boat came down the course in the final showing incredible
balance, power and prowess on the off-side. Some, like Stu McIntosh (GBR)
pushed that balance beyond the edge and paid the price. When it came down to
the last two guys, it was Tony looking fine and ripping it up, moving into first
position. Then came Martikan in his trademark red boat, using all sorts of
improbably powerful extremes of mobility and boat/body awareness to finish...
ahead of Tony. The crowd roared. Tony immediately congratulated his rival,
visible on the giant screen. The crowd roared again.
Just a few minutes later, the results came up again on the scoreboard, with
Estanguet listed as the victor. Evidently, there are some questions about
penalties, and probably you all will see the television coverage which shows
several different perspectives of Martikan wrapping surgically close to the
inside pole of gate 7.
In the women's kayak class, there were some disappointing mistakes,
contrasting with some well-paddled, decisive full runs. The course is difficult
enough that staying on line is a real challenge for even the best paddlers, and
the water so powerful that you must work in concert with it. The women gave the
world a demonstration of the importance of respecting the river, and the line,
and one's competition. Yesterday's winner, young Jennifer Bongardt (GER), got
far enough off line that she watched the final from the sidelines, and veterans
Stepanka Hilgertova (CZE) and Mandy Planert (GER) made enough mistakes that they
had a real battle to stay in the game. Gabi Stacherova (SVK) put together a
dynamic run to the last hole, where she tried to duplicate Planert's
logic-defying upstream brace of yesterday... Gabi got window-shaded and passed
upside down through the next gate. Finally, it all sorted out to be a matter of
who could be the most consistent, and it turned out to be the two women who have
also demonstrated the most consistent mastery of the course in practice-- Elena
Kaliska (SVK) who won the World Cup here in April and has been knocking on the
door of the Olympic medal room in the past. Today, on her name-day, she was
welcomed into that room with no question. She absolutely performed, and showed
her strength of body and mind in the process. Rebecca Giddens (USA) showed us
the same thing she has here in practice, and on race courses around the world --
an unrelenting drive down the course, cheered on through every stroke by her
husband, Eric, and buoyed by her optimistic spirit which helps her to minimize
mistakes and get on with the game, no matter how hard the challenge may be. The
bronze medal went to Helen Reeves (GBR), another strong paddler who had the
physical reserves and spatial awareness to fight with intelligence for every
stroke. Veteran paddlers such as Hilgertova and Cristina Giai Pron (ITA) were
able to draw from their years of experience to stay calm and paddle with wisdom,
though both succumbed to errors which kept them out of the medals.
By now, we've analyzed the video from today, pored over the split times, and
wrapped up today's race. We have also analyzed video with the athletes who will
race K1 and C2 tomorrow, discussed line and strategy, and formulated a
logistical plan for capturing video and splits, walking the course, warming up
and down, working with the physiotherapist, watching video and analyzing splits,
and arriving at the start for both runs prepared to have the best possible
Just think, when you are watching the slalom at 1-4 am,
the athletes are actually racing. It is warm and sunny and daytime here in
Greece, and most of these people you see on the TV are having the time of their
lives. Glad you can join us for it!
The day has been fine,
with some breeze, partly cloudy, which all equals good conditions for The Show.
The course is fair, nothing too strange, and is challenging in terms of water
and gate placement.
There were few blowouts, including Nada Mali (K1W, SLO) with a 50, and C1s
Ennis (USA) and Peschier (FRA) who rolled and paid the price in penalties.
Others are out of the semis by virtue of just not having their best runs on the
day that really mattered.
Eaodoin Ni Challarain (K1W IRL) had a nerve-wracking roll just above the
finish line, and managed right herself in time to get into the semifinal. Mandy
Planert (K1W GER) defied the laws of physics by doing a successful upstream
brace while crossing the last hole to a tricky dive gate, and moved into the
semi with a good result. Ronnie Duerrenmat (C1 SUI) laid down two solid runs
and then went into the stands in his paddling gear to join the group of Swiss
fans who had been swinging cowbells and waving flags for him. Plenty of dynamic
whitewater action, with many boaters finding the course trickier than it looked
on paper. (Sound familiar?)
The footage from the AOB feed (what you'll see on TV around the world) is
spectacular. We hope you will enjoy it! We certainly did, as it was broadcast
on a handful of TVs around the video viewing room. Watching the water come out
of Peschier's nose in ultra-slow motion, seeing Eaodoin's tail stand, and
watching Mandy doing the improbable upstream brace in water far too fast +
shallow to be successful kept us checking the slow-mo replays throughout the
day. After the slalom was over, we watched archery, judo, sailing and fencing,
always intrigued by the live coverage of the action, and by the cool things we
could see in slow motion.
Highlights of the day included the spirit of the international crowd of
spectators, and especially the support for young Greek paddlers Maria Ferekidis
(K1W) and Kristos Tsakmakis (C1). The music changed to Greek tunes for each of
their runs, including the classic song to which we've been spontaneously
clapping and dancing in the dining hall.
Another highlight will undoubtedly be the massage that I am about to receive.
Today I and Ettore ran every woman down the course, taking splits as we ran. We
split the course in half, and with a 150" start interval, we had just enough
time to run an athlete, trot back to our start gate and do it again. I am
almost motivated to do some running training. ;-)
Finally, I had the highlight of being interviewed by a guy from Swedish TV,
who said that he had seen that I was working very hard and asked why I was
running every woman down the course. Tomorrow, we will do it again.
And after the Olympics are over, there are at least 4 new sports I want to
Today we had demo runs, and
both courses (Qualifier and Semi/Final) are reasonable. It is very, very windy,
blustery, and a little cooler than last week. The wind was not too much of a
problem, but it does add another variable. Hopefully, it will calm down for the
Today I saw Claudia Kerckhoff and had a good visit with her. She is here with
CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company). Also, other people have shown up now-- the
families of US paddlers Rebecca Giddens, Brett Heyl and Scott Parsons were spied
watching the demos today.
The view from the stands is spectacular, although Thomas Schmidt said earlier
in the year that he is worried that the whitewater will look small from there.
Kent Ford and Lamar Sims, along with their Greek and French-speaking
counterparts, are doing a good job of describing the action and difficulty of
the water. There is a big screen to show the close-up footage of water coming
out of paddlers' noses, so between the two perspectives, I think spectators will
Today during the demo runs,
many spectators applauded each paddler as they executed each section of the
course. There were some kids running around on the strip of grass between the
stands and the course, while others sat up in the bleachers. Some spectators
were kissing, others were taking pictures of the paddlers.
Today the rowing events were postponed until tomorrow. Probably that is a
good thing, as even our little lake at the slalom venue had standing waves and
very gusty conditions.
Tomorrow we will start early and hope for each C1 and each K1W to have their
best possible race.
Hope you all can watch on TV!
The atmosphere here in the
Olympic Village changed overnight after the Opening Ceremony. With the start of
competition, there is clearly a sharper focus here. There is still a friendly
atmosphere, but generally athletes are more
centered and concentrated on their own game.
The increased intensity is evident everywhere from the dining hall to the
residence halls to the competition venues. Medals are being won and records set
as I write. There is a tremendous aura of support for the athletes, not only
within their home team, but from the volunteers and from other athletes and
coaches. Everyone wants to see great performances and exciting contests, and at
the same time, most would like to see the medals come their way.
Watching women's softball on TV today at the Slalom venue, paddlers from
a hand full of nations cheered in unison as an Italian player slid safely into
home base as the Chinese tried to tag her. There was good-natured ribbing of the
Aussies as they met the Kiwis in hockey, and of the Italians (who recently
triumphed in a pre-Olympic Game against the US with a 78% shooting record) as
they met the Kiwis in basketball. As we left the venue, the Italian women were
winning in softball 2-0, and the Italian men in basketball, 58-39. In table
tennis doubles, Paey Fern Tan and Xueling Zhang of Singapore were duking it out
with Whitney Ping and Jasna Reed of the USA... it was looking like the women
from Singapore would triumph.
By now, these results and many more have probably popped up on your
internet news updates, and maybe you have even seen footage of the matches. In
1992, we thought it was cool to have an internal email system-- to be able to
messages to each other within the community of the Games. Imagine the old days
of the Olympic Games when US athletes traveled by ship to Europe for the Games
(and were required to "dress" for dinner), and news traveled back and forth by
telegram or letter. Or even farther back in history, when warriors suspended
their battles in honor of the Games, and perhaps traveled great distances on
foot to participate.
Tomorrow are the demonstration runs for Slalom. The weather forecast is
for wind and storms, and as I walked from my apartment to the internet cafe, the
wind was blustery and strong and I could feel grains of sand and tiny stones
pummeling the backs of my legs. The clouds are piled on the hills, and the air
has the hint of the odor of rain. Feels like a summer afternoon in Durango.
Word in the Village is that the rowing events tomorrow will be disrupted
by the weather. Test events previously held at the Schinias flatwater/rowing
venue saw boats floundering in windy, wavy conditions. The Australian Canoeing
website says that Aussie sprint boats will be equipped with footpumps for
paddling at Schinias. Gates at the slalom venue have been loaded with wood plugs
or sand. We're not sure which, although one of the French paddlers had a snit
last week and cleanly sliced off the last foot of one of the poles with his
paddle, theoretically giving us a chance to find out. ;-) I am proud to report
that I have not witnessed any snits from US paddlers during these weeks of
training in Athens.
Ice cream coolers in the cafeteria are virtually empty. Perhaps athlete
demand for ice cream is directly related to pre-competition excitement...
Folks in the cafeteria continue to respond each time the classic Greek
music sounds on the music system with clapping and dancing which spreads
throughout the giant facility...6:30 am, 1:30 pm, any time, each time.
Maybe some media will sneak in there and capture those sounds and
Paddle like a champion today.
Communication without a
common language is not so difficult. If I have a pin in my hand and hold it out
to you, and indicate back and forth between us with hand signals, probably you
are going to understand that I want to exchange the
pin with you. If you only understand half the message (that I am offering you a
pin), well, then, you get the pin. Some people won't be happy to just give,
rather than trade, a pin, but hey, there was some communication without
language! Pretty cool. Plus it is fun to give something and to see the
Many languages have some words in common, or the words originate from Latin or
Greek, or have some similar sounds. The words house, haus, huus, hut are all
used for a place to live. cycle, ciclo, cycad, bici, bike identify one thing. If
you say one or two of these words, probably 90% of the people here in the
village will understand. If they don't, you try again, saying the same words
while imitating their accent. Often the word is basically the same, but with
emphasis on a different syllable or with i sounding like ee or the e silent.
Look around you. There is a lot of non-verbal communication going on even
between people who do have a common language. Happiness and friendliness are
especially easy to convey without words. Just look the person in the eyes and
As for the TV view of the athletes staying together, it looks pretty
orderly because there are so many people that even if a couple hundred mix in
with the other teams, they don't change the general look very much. It's like
mixing paint-- it takes more than a few drops of color to change the look of the
whole can. If you watch the closing ceremony, you may actually see the mixing on
the TV, as people usually trade clothes at that point, and leave the ceremony
wearing a shirt or warm-up suit or hat from another nation. Trading is one of
the most enjoyable parts of international athletics.
By now, the footage and news from
the Opening Ceremony have reached your homes and lives. All of the hype about it
being an incredible experience is true. Even those who have been to many
Olympic Opening Ceremonies are
impressed as they file into the Stadium and take part in the huge ritual and
The impression begins as we board one of a seemingly endless string of buses to
travel on deserted (closed) highways, accompanied by police escort on the ground
and helicopters overhead, to the Olympic Stadium. Each member of each
delegation is dressed in their national team parade dress. Some are ancient
traditional costumes, others are stylish suits, still others are sporty or
The overall effect is what you see on TV. The fun details of the experience
start to accumulate in the "holding pen"-- the Olympic Indoor Hall (which today
is hosting the gymnastics events). The Hall is a huge indoor arena, into which
all of the athletes and coaches and functionaries from all nations are herded
together to wait for the moment of the Parade of Nations into the Olympic
During our stay in the Hall, we do the following:
--- eat snacks and wish for real food. All of you US paddlers and mountain
bikers will be happy to know that Power Bars were in our snack bags. As were 2
bananas (greenish), a muffin, a raisin roll and a bottle of water. Some guys
from Oman were worried that there might be pork in the "meal". No problem....
--- check each other out 1.) You can imagine how it would be if all of your
athlete friends got together all decked out in fancy clothes that someone else
had paid for. We compare notes on shoe comfort, clothing fit, and strike a
balance between making fun of each other and being really impressed by how fine
--- check each other out 2.) Also those people we've never seen before. There
are a lot of interesting, beautiful, strong, tall, small, handsome, intriguing
looking people here. And few people are shy about really looking, making eye
contact and starting conversations. And then taking photos together.
--- take a lot of pictures. Of our friends, of other teams, of people in
fantastic costumes, of famous people, of other people mobbing the famous people.
A lot of photos. I took 247 last night. Some of my Italian friends took more.
--- visit the bathroom. We know that we will march into the Stadium and that
we will stay there for the whole ceremony. And we don't want to miss anything.
--- watch the beginning of the Opening Ceremony on the BIG screen. Everything
that happens before we walk in is visible to us as we sit in the holding pen.
--- trade pins. Almost everyone here has a collection of pins, starting with
some from their home nation. The hot pins last night were USA-USOC gold ones,
Palestine, China (especially if you could get one from Yao Ming, and Ettore
Ivaldi did!), and any that came from people in cool costumes, or from people who
you just met, as long as there were Olympic rings on the pin. It's a sort of
feeding frenzy of enthusiasm and acquisition of souvenirs.
You think you have the spirit of it all, and that nothing can be more exciting,
and then comes the moment when your nation is announced and you walk into the
Stadium. The noise engulfs you, everyone around you is smiling uncontrollably
and has big eyes. There are cameras going off all around and above you, and
three security blimps float above it all. As you walk around the track,
television and personal cameras follow. There are groups of fans from each
nation in the stands, and the stands extend into the sky. Each of those people
wants to feel a connection to the Games, to the athletes-- and exchanging waves
and blown kisses and cheers creates that connection. In addition, there are
other nations already on the infield -- groups that include your best friend
from your first international race, or the guy you just changed pins with in the
holding pen, and you want to connect with them, too. Finally, you make the
circuit and are herded into the area in which you will (theoretically) stand
with your nation throughout the ceremony. There are hundreds of volunteers
forming friendly human chains, each person dressed in a gray jumpsuit and armed
with a waist belt containing 6 bottles of water (I don't remember this being
part of the infield experience in past Olympics, and it is a gold-medal idea!)
The volunteers are trying to keep each nation together, and they don't want us
to mix the colors. But of course, the guys dressed in blue
from wherever want to go into the red-dressed group from China to see Yao Ming,
and the Italians want to go into the US group to see the Dream Team, and all the
teams look interesting and maybe you can change a few more pins, and before
long, everyone has mixed up with everyone else. We also pay attention to the
ceremony, and take a lot of pictures and try to suck in everything at once. Even
if some people were sitting or lying down sometimes....And then comes the
torch and many people try to run to the outer perimeter of "us" to the track to
see the torch. And when the Olympic Oath is given, and the torch arrives, there
are a lot of shiny eyes, and some tears.
Afterwards, there is a really happy and dreamy atmosphere, and at the same time
there are thousands of hungry athletes who are also up past their bedtimes.
Again the roads are deserted (closed) as we are bused back to the village, and
we tumble out onto the streets and sidewalks and migrate to the dining halls.
At the main dining hall at 1:30 this morning, people were dressed in their best
(though looking a little rumpled and tired, like after an all-night party),
eating everything from pizza to ice cream to cereal to Szechuan noodles to pork
souvlaki to kimchee. There is always music in the dining hall, and when the
classic Greek dance started up, one after another of us started clapping. Then
one after another started dancing, in a big line snake through the dining hall.
Volunteers, athletes from many nations, and all participating with hands or
feet or both.
As I left the dining hall at 1:57, the buses were still arriving...
This morning when I opened my email, I found the following from my good friend
Scott Muller, member of the Panamanian Olympic Team and man with big vision of
possibility in our world...
"The Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace,
Adolf Ogi, will represent the United Nations at the opening ceremony of the
Olympic Games in Athens on Friday.
Also in Athens, the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships is
co-sponsoring a special roundtable discussion this Saturday on the contribution
that sport can make to addressing global problems. It aims to encourage
Governments to use sport as a policy tool for development and peace.
The Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, Shashi
Tharoor, will moderate the discussion, and speakers will include Ogi and
UNICEF's executive director Carol Bellamy. The audience is expected to include
Government representatives, sports development experts, athletes, and members of
the Olympic Family."
There are many choices and options and possibilities in our world. The journey
of the Olympic Torch in this year, traveling around the world in order to arrive
back here to light the flame last night, is one tangible symbol of how big and
small our world is. The camaraderie and kindness that is evident here in each
waking moment of our time here at the Olympics demonstrates that it is possible
for people of all participating nations to choose a type of interaction that is
not hostile, but rather compassionate and accepting. It is fine to see the
ancient ritual of Olympic Peace enacted here in this time, and it would be an
intelligent and humane choice for us to take this way beyond these Games into
the larger fabric of our lives.
Have fun watching the Games!
Village is pretty much of a zoo now, filled with all of the different sports and
nations and bodies and minds and spirits that you can imagine. The excitement is
building (a cliché that you will certainly hear again and again during these 2
weeks...), and we are ready for the Show.
Highlights of August 11 & 12:
-- watching Kent Ford dancing to traditional Greek music in the event
announcer's booth as the Italians, Australians, Slovenians and the lone
Macedonian trained on the Olympic channel
-- enjoying the vista across the lake towards the Saronic Gulf, all a world of
blues enlivened by the bright colors of the flags, and the movement of the
paddlers doing their warmups and cooldowns.
-- seeing Jon Lugbill as he makes his quadrennial appearance in the slalom world
(as NBC color commentator for Canoe/Kayak), along with other old-time paddling
friends such as Peter Eckhardt (now working as a physiotherapist for the
-- watching pairs of paddlers carve long arcs on the lake, talking with each
other as they recovered from their session on the channel. Past Olympic
medalists Tony Estanguet and Pierpaolo Ferrazzi paddled together; while Simon
Hocevar, master of the C1 in both slalom and wildwater, cruised along with 2002
World Medalist Cristina Giai Pron.
-- being both spectator and participant in the prime Olympic sport of
people-watching, best done in the cafeteria any time of day or night.
-- paddling on the lake and small channel at the slalom venue, savoring the feel
of the salt water under, around, and in my boat, and the particular power of the
salt/whitewater features on the boat.
-- going on a combination back-stage Olympic Village tour and scavenger hunt
over the course of two days in search of my new visa card. DHL is the only
courier authorized to deliver directly within the Village. As a result, the
exact location of my letter, delivered by UPS on August 9, was a bit of a
mystery. During the search, I visited areas designated for Chefs de Mission (big
bosses of each nation's delegation), the repository of keys to all locked things
and places in the village, the office for coordination of delegation arrivals in
Greece (with huge schedules posted on the wall including nation names, numbers
of people and housing assignment), the security headquarters, the formal hall
for official meetings of delegation and Olympic officials, at least a dozen
other offices and countless cubicles in 6 different buildings. Everyone was
friendly and did their best to help out. Finally, I was led into the "Logistics"
area, a huge basement warehouse with piles and shelves and cages full of
furniture, bags, sporting gear, boxes, forklifts, and all manner of
miscellaneous stuff. The chief of logistics led me to the UPS cage, where we
looked for my letter. Nothing. Then he opened "the book"-- a thick loose leaf
notebook with a page for each item received and delivered from the Logistics
office to the appropriate delegation. There it was, he had delivered it himself,
on August 9. Ettore Ivaldi (my boss and co-coach) tracked it down in the office
of the Italian delegation, and finally the great hunt was over.
Now I can happily spend...
-- Egg McMuffin for breakfast. (I know, I know, a "highlight" of the Olympic
Games??? Well, sometimes, I do miss the USA. Picked up on the run alongside some
sprinters from the Seychelles and Mauritius, tasted delicious after an
early morning workout on the little whitewater...
-- the arrival of 5 fencers in our Italian "girls'" apartment. The overwhelming
girliness of the atmosphere with an abundance of beauty products, hair styling
tools and drying/airing clothes combined with a strange selection of weapons and
sporting goods (foils, swords, paddles, bows and arrows). The odor of the beauty
products overpowers the smell of gnarly clothes and the gentle breezes help out.
-- watching BP paddling Joe and Matt's C2 solo this morning in preparation for
an expected TV interview. I hope that you all are watching Ann Curry and the
Today show. And I hope that you are adjusting your body clocks so that you
will be awake to watch all of the slalom coverage and to see the USA guys win
-- the four-ring circus of the Artistic Gymnastics podium training yesterday...
Podium training is like the non-stop of gymnastics. The athletes are divided
into groups of 6 and have 20 minutes per piece of apparatus to practice in the
competition hall. We (the Italian slalom team), went to see the session which
included the teams from China and Australia, plus individuals from Netherlands,
Slovakia, Czech Republic, South Africa, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Greece, Korea and
Switzerland. Look for incredible tumbling series on the floor exercise,
especially from the Chinese, plus some very cool and complex tricks on the vault
and the uneven bars. Many of the girls/women are doing the trick that we watched
the Swedish athlete practicing last week (launch from one bar to the other,
unprotected and blind with an extended-arm
catch). Word is that you have to be at least 16 years old to compete in the
Olympics in gymnastics. Many of us are baffled at the micro size and lack of
development in many of these 16+ gymnasts...
Only about an hour now until we
dress up and head out for the Opening Ceremony. I'll be one of the "Italian"
women waving a green scarf... (as opposed to a white or red scarf).
In the cafeteria this evening,
Iranian athletes were in line next to athletes from Tonga and Benin. Americans
ate shoulder to shoulder with Pakistanis, women from India chose from a long
buffet of salad, and passed a trio of gymnasts from Korea on their way to the
yogurt cooler. The smiles and greetings are in many languages and no languages,
and the shared delight at finding good food at the end of a long day, amongst
literally a whole world of top sportspeople needs no translation and knows no
political or religious boundaries.
This evening I, and an Italian, and a Romanian, and a German each made
stamps with our faces on them. These stamps will be licked and pressed onto
letters and cards that travel across the world to our respective friends and
Probably we should have traded some amongst ourselves, so that our friends and
families could see not only the smiling faces of the loved ones they know, but
also the smiling faces of other beloveds from other lands and families.
Yesterday I heard a reporter giving a live TV report from the village. She said
that there are about 5000 residents now in the village. That is a little less
than half of its capacity. Each day we see "new" countries--- new to our
village, that is. East Timor, Palestine, Benin, Togo, Egypt, Nigeria. Runners
with enormous thighs, high jumpers with long legs and not much mass. Swimmers
who walk as if they are in water, and gymnasts who put on their makeup and do
their hair even before a 6 am breakfast. Big guys who throw weights (shot-put,
discus, hammer) or other people (judo). Those guys could probably let one of the
tiny gymnasts stand in their hand, with their arm outstretched. Imagine every
body type you have ever seen, extremes of height, a variety of weights, and a
myriad of psychological outlooks. That is our village.
I've just enjoyed a good dinner in
the massive dining hall, finished off with live song and dance by the
Argentineans (probably close to the whole team) in celebration first of a
birthday, then of the arrival of one of their soccer stars (who is famous also
for playing with a strong Euro pro team), and then, well, just more singing and
jumping around, and circle dancing, all spontaneous, the young athletes, the
coaches, the old administration guys, everyone.
Today I've also had my first sightings of uniforms from Tonga, Gabon, Rwanda,
Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Aruba, Cameroon...
The nations' residential blocks are becoming more personalized now, with flags
and banners. First word on Italy was that there would be no advertisement of
nationality for security reasons, but there they were this afternoon, hanging
Italian flags from every lamppost in our block, pounding nails into the sides of
the houses to hang more, unfurling a huge Italian Olympic Committee (CONI)
banner... It looks beautiful in the late-day sun.
At dinner I also got a report from Richard Fox and Ettore Ivaldi about the
spectacle of Richard and Robin Bell going for a run in the Athletics (Track &
Field) practice area here within the Village. You can probably imagine a bit of
a contrast in running styles between the sleek speedy power and grace of the
best sprinters, hurdlers and long-jumpers from Cuba, Nigeria and the US, and
gangly canoeist Robin Bell. One of the Nigerian female sprinters asked/told them
to run on the grass on the inside of the track oval. Brings forth an image of
tourists on a stretch of slalom river, doesn't it?
Greetings from the Olympic Village,
with 6 days to go until the Opening Ceremony...
For those of you who don't already know, I am here as Coach for the Italian
Canoe/Kayak Slalom Team. I have been working as Technical Director for the
Italian Federation since June 2003. I have been sending daily reports of things
that are happening here in the last phase of Olympic preparation.
In the Olympic world of slalom, some teams arrived about the 1st of August,
when the slalom course first opened for the Olympic block of training. Some of
those athletes have now gone home or to one of the Greek islands for a few days
rest. The remainder of the teams have all arrived now, including the Slovaks and
Australians who were honing their Athens-specific skills on the channel today.
Most of us spent time here first in February, then again in late April and into
May for the World Cup race and training, and again in June for 4 weeks. The
course was closed in July, and we were all off racing World Cup races in
Augsburg Germany, Prague Czech Republic, Merano Italy and Bourg St. Maurice,
In addition to the slalomists, there are many other athletes and support staff
now in the village. Each day, the Village Staff host welcoming ceremonies for
newly arrived delegations. This is one of many traditional rituals which call
to mind the past traditions of the Olympic Games. The national anthem of the
newly arrived nation is played, gifts are exchanged between the leadership of
the Olympic Village and the Chef de Mission of the national team being
welcomed. It is a bit like the meetings of Tarzan with the village elders, the
European settlers (or soldiers) with the Native Americans, kayakers with
inhabitants of remote villages on first-descent expeditions... but in a setting
which can be seen by the whole world, in 2004.
One of the ironies of this Games, post-9/11, is that while there is huge
security consciousness, there is even more of a melting-pot phenomenon now than
there was in the past. There are many coaches working for nations other than
their own, and many athletes who were born in one land and now compete for
another. When the security guards follow a bus containing US team members, they
may be guarding one "US" coach holding a Slovenian or French passport, and no
American citizens at all. To most of us here, this concept is ludicrous, and the
political and religious delineations are very insignificant relative to the
plethora of things we have in common.
All around the village, and especially at the entry gates, are huge banners
proclaiming "Welcome Home". On first arrival, they may seem just like another
hospitality gimmick-- just another of the myriad of multicolored banners and
meters of bunting that transform a city into an Olympic world. But after
settling in and interacting with the mass of humanity here, seeing the Acropolis
and other ancient sites each time we go by bus, those words have a more complete
meaning. There is one advertisement seen on many billboards around town. It
says "once in a lifetime, twice an experience". It is impossible to escape the
fact that the Olympic Games originated here. They are a huge life-goal for most
of the people here and for more outside. Taking part in the Games here in
Athens commands one's respect, and gives one a great sense of humility.
At the same time, we are all immersed in the immediacy of training, working to
bring forth one's finest performance on the Big Day, to master those missing or
weak skills in the little time left. Many athletes are demonstrating expertise
more consistently in this phase, making moves on the river that they have
struggled with in past camps. Each one hopes and imagines that they will do the
same in the race, laying down their best runs possible when it really matters.
One of the best shirts I've seen thus far says on the back "Swim like a
You, too, whatever your "swimming" may be...
We are planning now
which events and official training to try to see before we start our own Slalom
competition... Gymnastics podium training on 11 and 12 August, maybe fencing,
judo, volleyball or basketball on the 14th or 15th...Of course we are all
looking forward to the Opening ceremony... 13 August. Friday. To the Greeks,
this day is not bad luck, while a 13th falling on a Tuesday is!
Today was an interesting training day. I worked with Cri (Christina) and
Pierpa (Pierpaolo) for technique in the morning, again with the sponda, the
dropping into a hole to cross the river that Cri had success with the other
day. Again, she made progress with it, and working with Pierpa is really
interesting because we can easily communicate about technique, though we speak a
complex mixture of Italian and English. The C2 worked with Ettore, also on
technique, but on a different part of the course.
Today between workouts, I watched video with Cri, then with Pierpa, then with
Erik. The session with Erik was especially interesting as we continued a
conversation we've had in the past about the "topography" of the river (the
relative elevation of each piece of water), and how to make transitions
effectively and to gain advantage from one elevation to another. Today in the
video analysis, we talked about the topography in combination with the softness
of the features. So it is a multi-dimensional consideration of the quality of
the water. The salt water is so frothy, and some features really pack a punch,
while others are more gentle, but not always as you would expect from freshwater
experience. And sometimes, the wave features, which are pretty solid water,
just won't really support the boat, or push it the way we would expect. Now we
are thinking not only of the topo map of the water, but of the various sheets of
water and their exact angle of inclination, AND their softness vs. substance.
The other big feature of today is the laying of sod. Huge rolls of sod arrived
in the village in an 18-wheeler from the Netherlands. They started laying it
yesterday before the big rain, and when we got home this afternoon, they had
laid about 2 football fields worth in what had been a desolate strip of arid
reddish dirt running down the upper center of the village.
For more details on what is happening here, you can check out
We are a growing community
here in the Olympic Village. As I sit here in the internet cafe, I am
surrounded by athletes, coaches, physiotherapists and other support staff. They
are wearing shirts and hats and other team gear marked with the names of their
nations: Nigeria, Greece, South Africa, Argentina, USA, Ukraine, Kazakhstan,
Ireland, Australia, Cuba, Malaysia, Canada, San Marino, India, New Zealand,
Germany, Latvia, Brazil, Sweden, Thailand, Mexico... and those are just the ones
I can see easily from my seat.
When I arrived, I took the only empty seat, next to that of a woman who is a
physiotherapist for the team of South Africa. She was printing out a paper
titled "Rotational instability of the thoracic spine", something which happens
to be very interesting and applicable for me in this time in my work with
paddling athletes. Thanks to this chance meeting, and the inherent friendliness
of this community, I now have a copy of the paper as well. It has some great
description of the articulation between ribs and sternum, and ribs and spine,
including the biomechanical details of movement at each level.
Earlier today I spoke with my husband, Heinz, who is in Colorado. Actually we
spoke several times throughout the afternoon as we worked together to cancel my
Visa account. Someone with a passion for buying from telemarketing companies
has been shopping with my card number. We also got to visit, our hearing and
dedication tested by several scratchy connections before we hit on a good one.
He gives me another perspective on coaching challenges, and news of developments
in our house, yard, and Durango in general. Luckily, his boss, Janet Wiley, is
very understanding (and also nice to talk to) when I phone during office hours.
Today it rained. Hammering, waterfall type rain in huge drops which
accumulated and converged into muddy rivers with bona fide troll-scale
whitewater. As the enormous heavy drops continued to fall, splashing into the
puddles and rivulets, the water on the ground seemed to be reaching up to meet
the falling rain. There was plenty of booming thunder, and intimidating
lightning as well. It was very spectacular. The Greeks say that the last time
it rained in this season was 5 years ago. It also rained some yesterday...
I am mesmerized by rain since moving to Durango. I appreciate the myriad
varieties of rain. Today I walked home from the dining hall in the midst of the
storm. I enjoyed feeling the different textures and temperatures of earth/mud,
blacktop, concrete, red brick and marble under my feet as I walked barefoot.
The currents of the little rivulets tickled my skin, and I could feel a range of
slippery to gritty in the water depending upon the amount of sediment it
carried. The streets were deserted as nearly everyone huddled under shelter.
The officials here are working now to help everyone comply with International
Olympic Rules regarding trademarks and advertising. All logos must be quite
small, and only one is allowed per item. The rules apply to all equipment and
clothing, regardless of whether they are used/worn by competitors or not. At the
slalom venue, we are peeling stickers off boats and using permanent marker to
black out logos on sprayskirts. I am waiting to see whether my Tahitian babe
sticker can stay on my boat...
There is also training going on... In our session today, we had some
frustrated athletes, as well as some who were able to savor an efficient
connection with the water. Today Andrea, the Italian C2 bowman broke his paddle
on the first stroke of a course, a clean snap between blade and shaft. Luckily,
Erik, the sternman was able to paddle them back to shore. Yesterday I saw
Peschier, C1 from France, break his paddle just below the throat, and just above
one of the two big drops on the course. He was able to paddle with the tiny
stub of blade, looking like a cartoon character spinning its wheels in the
process of trying to run away from something, scrambling to shore in tricky
water just above the drop. The French coaches have extra paddles available along
the course during each practice.
Tomorrow is another chance to find the ultimate run.
It is another day in Athens, live
from the Olympic Village...
Training today was good for Cri and the C2. I went to the course early to design
the course with Jelenc. (On my way out, I ran into Bill Endicott and Silvan
Poberaj who were off to see Mount Olympus with Joe and Matt. The US had a rest
day today.) We did full lengths in the morning, cooperating with Macedonia and
Slovenia. It is impressive to see these athletes putting together more good
runs as we approach the big event. The collaboration with the other nations was
very nice, giving the athletes some competition outside of their own little
family, and letting the coaches compare notes. At midday, we watched video, ate
lunch at the course, and I got to go paddling while the athletes rested.
It is warm and sunny (of course, all days here in this season are that).
Actually, it is incredibly hot during the crystal clear days. We are pretty
used to it now, and as long as we hydrate and get into the shade sometimes, it
is fine. A bigger problem is the air-conditioning in the video rooms, dining
halls, and residence halls. Yesterday I spent about two and a half hours
getting extra blankets.
More nations are arriving in the village, all different sorts of body
types, movement styles and psychologies. This afternoon, after another 50 minute
bus ride where we had to direct the driver in order to arrive at the Village
(actually, we had to direct him to get out of the area of the slalom, and onto
the real road!), we went to see gymnastics practice. We thought we were
allowed, but we really weren't, but it worked when I talked with the guy who is
one of the techs for the equipment, because part of his job is to give coaches
info about all of the apparatus. So I had a tour in depth of all of the mats,
and springboards and each piece of apparatus while my athletes were able to
freely watch the athletes at work. It was really fantastic. We also saw a guy
tumbling, doing layout back flips and the diagonal run of tricks in the floor
exercise, and then also a girl from Cape Verde doing her rhythmic routine with
the ball. Incredible! I think it was also good for the athletes (Erik and Cri)
to see another world of this Olympic Game.
As in Barcelona and Atlanta, I am pleased by the friendliness of almost
everyone. It is an incredible population at the Olympics-- people are curious,
cheerful and connect very definitely with each other. They are almost
universally interested in interaction, real eye contact and conversation with
total presence. And they are not trying to sell you anything. :~)
On my last night in Italy, I watched women's volleyball on TV in Verona
with Ettore's family. We saw the match between Italy and Cuba. Yesterday and
today at dinner, I saw most of the women playing in that match. It is
particularly interesting to have seen the "game face" version of those athletes
and now to see the casual version. Not to mention the fantastic physiques--
tall, lean and strong. Our slalom boys feel really shrimpy next to these women.
Hope you are all fine and savoring fine memories of your own Olympics...
I have seen the American slalomists here in the village quite often (at most
meals) and we've also visited at the course. I went for a bike ride this
afternoon while waiting for the volunteers to track down some extra blankets,
and had a tour of the residential part of the village. The Americans are
located in an undecorated block in an area that backs up the the fence dividing
the park of practice gyms and arenas from the residence halls. Many nations
have flags, signs and decorations on their balconies, windows and doors. Cuba
has a huge color banner of Fidel playing chess on one 3-storey external wall,
and a 2-storey black and white banner of Che playing chess on the wall above the
main entry to their house. The Kiwis have a full-on interactive museum/cultural
display with Maori art, 3-4 storey long banners of colorful Maori/tropical
motifs. They even have fresh sod planted in their front yard. (Most areas in
the village are newly planted and basically barren, except for small trees and
some plants native to arid regions).
There is a lot of security and the external perimeter fence to the village is
wired with motion sensors in its entirety. It still seems that someone with a
real intention could do something bad, but it is so out of our control that it
is not worth worrying about. The buses get lost often enough that I don't think
one could totally plan by any schedule to intercept a load of athletes. ;~)
There is a rocket launcher encampment overlooking the slalom venue, and they
have clear cut even the wild grass on the whole hill, plus there are a lot of
little observation towers around the venue (it being the old Athens airport).
It is truly incredible that all of these sportspeople can live together and be
friendly and curious about each other and still there are cultures and states
that are continuing generations-long traditions of massacring each other. It
just seems a bit like a utopia here...
The last "June" training block on
the Athens Olympic course wrapped up on July 2nd. The course configuration has
been consistent after being finalized on June 14, and the athletes are
demonstrating increasingly sophisticated understanding of the water.
Most of the athletes who will participate in the Olympic slalom events have
now spent time training on the course beyond the opportunity presented at the
time of the Athens World Cup in April. Some have paddled in all of the
training blocks, while others have trained only for a week or 10 days. Most
nations do not use the entire training block, preferring to arrive for a week or
10 days at a time, and to balance that work with training at home or elsewhere
with an eye to the August event.
My impression is that most athletes (and coaches/support staff) finished up
this recent block of training less exhausted than at the end of the first "June"
block. Reasons for this may include the following ...
* Athletes are learning the water with each experience on the course. They
are becoming more efficient at using the water, therefore using less unnecessary
* Athletes and coaches are becoming more sophisticated in their understanding
of exactly how the Athens course is fatiguing. This allows everyone to strike
an effective balance between different types of workouts and essential rest.
* Athletes who have spent a lot of time on the course may be a little more
advanced at the above, but the playing field is leveled by the natural
phenomenon of imitation. The new arrivals learn to do things on the course by
copying people who have already done the moves. Patterns of efficient and fast
paddling, as well as rest, are passed on as paddlers observe one another.
Another key in the game of balancing effective training with needed recovery
is found in the methods used by athletes to rest and recuperate. Including good
nutrition, hydration, quality sleep, showers, swimming, physiotherapy, massage,
mobility, mental relaxation, and diversions such as day- or half-day trips to
the sea, islands, ruins or shopping venues, this part of preparation for
world-class performance is probably the most under-rated. And in the frenzy and
intensity of this pre-Olympic period, it becomes more and more important.
These things are
showing up in Athens training (and elsewhere this year in the slalom world) ...
Body blade: available in the US, one of the things this is good for is
awakening your proprioceptive skills, especially related to the shoulder joint.
Holding the vaguely propeller-shaped, approximately 1 meter-long "blade" in your
hand, with outstretched arm, you create an oscillating movement in the blade
which transfers into stimulus for the muscles which respond and react when you
paddle in variable whitewater.
Mobility and proprioception work: for recovery and the training and
development of the nervous system, different types of mobility and
proprioception training are being used, from the hands-on work of
physiotherapists and coaches, to verbally directed movement, and work with
balls, bars, paddles, and the body blade, to list a few.
New paddle designs from CRC, a French company. The C1/C2 paddle in particular
feels great in the water and gives a sense of especially good water contact in
most, if not all strokes and situations. Unfortunately, the design of blade and
curved shaft seem to combine to put the point of greatest stress at the exact
position of the joint between blade and shaft.
Cooling vests: Looking like unfashionable space wear, these vests are being
sported by various athletes, especially from countries which are famous for
cold, gray and rainy weather, or long winters. The basic concept is that of
circulation of cold water through a network of tubes close to the skin of the
torso. Some models are powered by a combination battery pack and refrigeration
unit, weighing 3-5 pounds or kilos, depending upon who you ask, or how accurate
your sense of weight. Most of the vests are shared by a group of athletes,
begging the question of hygiene, and making one wonder how much the
refrigeration nature of the vest controls the gnarl factor of festering communal
Things we are waiting for ...
* the emergence of a resin system that will work infallibly in a salt-water
environment, and yet compatibly with our boats' original construction.
* real espresso/cappuccino, available anywhere at any time, although the
Greek favorite "cafe frappe" is cool, sweet to your taste, with milk or not, and
pretty good for it being Nescafe frothed with tap water...
* the Greeks to step forth with pride, showing their natural
hospitality without apology for things that might go wrong... they are doing a
fine job, and need not defend it to the rest of the world. After all, no one
else is taking on the enormous job of putting on an Olympics this year... Maybe
now that they have won the Euro champs in soccer, they will experience that
boost of confidence that will let them be their fine, natural selves.