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Napa-Sonoma Half Marathon, July 20, 2014
Noble Canyon 50km Trail, September 20, 2014

Saturday, September 16, 2000

Opening Ceremonies Recap!

Oh my goodness, I am here inside the Olympic Village!

Let the Games begin!!

Wow! If you didn't see the Opening Ceremonies yesterday, you really missed out. It was huge, spectacular, awesome, massive, outstanding, impressive, and a whole bunch more adjectives that my mental thesaurus is currently lacking.

On Thursday night, I flew down to Sydney and checked into the Olympic Village. It was a long, tedious process but all of the security checks and extra precautions made me feel very safe. My new roommate in the Village kept me up late telling me about all of the U.S. Track & Field team politics surrounding the selection of team captains and flag bearer, and a multitude of other coach vs. athlete issues.

The next morning Tim, Andrew, and I tracked down a great training course inside the fenced-off Village. Just a few hundred meters downhill from the U.S. Team housing, there is a 800 meter long bike path, flat and paved. By the time we got there on Friday morning, there were already several other racewalkers working out on the circuit. Russians, Greeks, Poles, and Latvians sped past us as we stretched on the grass adjacent to the path.

There were athletes from other sports that used a large grass field nearby to run, shadow box, skip, roll around, and generally be athletic. The whole area had a very festive, carnival atmosphere to it. Every athlete wore his or her country's colors: yellow, blue and red for Romania, white and blue for Finland; red and white for Austria. On one side of the path were the athletes adorned in bright colors, and on the other side each house was swathed in banners and flags boasting the national emblems and colors of France, New Zealand, or Spain.

I started playing a game as I walked along the path: Think of a country whose flag or athlete you haven't seen yet: Iceland, Mongolia, Ivory Coast (I tried to think of small, obscure nations that might have only a few athletes). Within a few minutes, I had seen an Iceland flag hanging from the third floor of one of the buildings. Then a coach walked by with a jacket with "Mongolia" lettered along the back. As I started my speed workout, two runners from the Ivory Coast jogged by. It was amazing.

After the workout, after lunch, after resting every so briefly, I got ready for the Opening Ceremonies. I ironed my shirt, dusted the lint off of my official USA Olympic blue blazer. I tied and re-tied my red, white and blue tie (I can't remember the last time I wore a tie... athletes don't often have to dress up, we just wear t-shirts and shorts wherever we go).

Buses took the entire U.S. delegation, including all of the famous types like the Dream Team and the tennis superstars, to the SuperDome where we settled in for a long wait. At 6:30, the Opening Ceremony began in Stadium Australia, half a mile away. All the athletes from all the countries sat watching the silent big-screen monitors from the SuperDome seating. Without the sound, it got dull. We had to guess at what was actually happening. Eventually, people got restless. The Australians started to sing a song about Matilda. The Dutch got up and shouted a bunch. Then the U.S. Team clapped and yelled "U...S....A...U....S....A..." No one else seemed to like that. We were booed. Then the New Zealand athletes all stood up, took off their blazers, and did an elaborate Mayori chant and dance. Everyone cheered. It was much more creative and inspired than "U...S...A...!"

Once the dances and music and theatrics in Stadium Australia were over, they began to usher the athletes out of the SuperDome and over to the track at the Stadium. Starting with the team from Greece, we all filed out of the SuperDome. The United States is right near the end of the alphabet, so we waited for Angola, Botswana, Chad, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Ghana, Haiti... you get the idea...

Then we marched. We marched through the tunnel under the stands and into the Stadium.

The stadium was huge. There were so many people. It was almost overwhelming, too much visual stimulation. The people seemed far away like they were watching from another room or something, almost surreal. Cameras, lights, and people screaming everywhere.

I remember when i walked in to the stadium for the World Junior Champs in Bulgaria. It was spine-tingling, tear-jerking, WOW! And I expected the same here in Sydney. In fact, the idea of walking into the Olympic Stadium as an Olympian has been one of those images that has motivated me over the years. It's one of those things that I have always said, "I want to do that some day. I am willing to work really hard to do that." I expected to be overcome by emotion, swept away on a tide of joy.

It didn't happen.

Maybe I was in shock, maybe I couldn't comprehend it all at that moment. But it just didn't hit me the way I thought it would. I didn't get all teary-eyed. I didn't get too many tingles (just a few). In a way, I felt like I had done it all before. As if I knew what to expect, here it was, and gosh, that was nice. Perhaps I had envisioned it in my mind so often that now that the moment was here, it was as though it had already happened and I was prepared for it all to unfold just so.

Once we were settled and the speeched were made and the Olympic flame entered the Stadium, I took the time to stop and think a bit more. That was when the significance of the moment hit me. As I saw the flame circle the Stadium, a small but bright beacon of the Olympic spirit, it began to sink in. I thought, "I am in the Olympic Games. This is my dream."

Cathy Freeman, Aboriginal-Australian and 400 meter World Champion, stood at the base of the Stadium steps and looked up into a torrent of water that roared down from the top of the Stadium. With the torch held high, she stepped up and up and up and into a pool of water that had gathered. She faced the crowd and then she surprised me. She took the flame, the symbol of the Olympics, and she placed it in the water at her feet. I'm still sorting out the symbolism, but instead of dousing the flame, the water appeared to erupt into an arc of fire that encircled Freeman. Slowly, the fire rose up around her and the Olympic cauldron was revealed and lifted into the night sky above her head as water poured down over her.

It was spectacular. At that moment, it all hit me. This is real. Not only am I an Olympian, but this is it, this is the Olympics. The whole world is watching this moment and holding its collective breath. And I am a part of that moment. Wow.

As you can imagine, I had a hard time falling asleep after all the excitement. It took us over an hour, though, to shuffle out en masse from the Stadium, through the security checks, and back into the Village. At 1am, I finally drifted off.

Today was quite dull in comparison. I just woke up in the Olympic Village (wow!), went and ate breakfast at the Olympic dining hall (wow!), and worked out with hundred of other Olympic athletes (wow!).

Andrew and I had decided awhile ago to avoid some of the craziness in the Olympic Village and come back to Brisbane to finish our final preparations. It is quieter here, less stressful, and we can rest without being kept up by other athletes running around at all hours.

So, I sign off from Brisbane after another very exciting Olympic adventure.

Cheers, mates!


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