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Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Race Course and Travel to Crete

August 4--Race course and travel to Crete with virtual tour of race course

It's been another very busy day here in Greece. After a short walk in the morning and a simple breakfast at the Olympic Village's cafeteria, I went on a long adventure to visit the Olympic Stadium and the racewalking circuit nearby. Curt, John and the Olympic distance coach, Bob Larsen who used to coach at UCLA and now works with USA Running joined me on the lengthy bus ride, metro ride, and walk to the stadium. The taxi ride on the way back took less than 20 minutes, but we were sweating with the locals on the subway for nearly an hour and half getting there. The bus driver from the village to the metro station got lost twice and once backed up from a freeway off-ramp to continue driving down the freeway to the right exit. The drivers here are fearless and drive erratically, even on the sidewalks if someone has blocked the street.

Security at the stadium was alternately extremely tight and disturbingly loose. We all had Games credentials that get us in most places, but we don't have the special 'STA' that gets us into the stadium. So we were initially stopped and politely turned away at the first entrance we tried. Then we waltzed into the second and made it all the way down the ramp and through the tunnel into the stadium itself before we were told, again very politely, that we couldn't go any further. We had gotten far enough into the stadium to get a great view of the interior, the arching metal and glass roof and the spectacular torch that looks like a huge fulcrum hinge that once lit will swing up to an upright position. The track surface is currently covered with a thick black felt while they set up for the Opening Ceremonies in nine days.

Our goal in going to the stadium was to see the course, so after being ushered out of the tunnel leaving the track, we followed the course as it wound up out of the Olympic complex and onto a local residential street less than a mile away. The ramp was very gently sloped, a blessing after some of the steep ascents and descents we have faced in other stadium starts and finishes. We had been told to worry about the hills of Athens but the course has been greatly improved. There are a few spots with some gentle slopes, but the absurdly steep hills faced by walkers in the 1997 World Champs have been eliminated. There are even a few mature trees to cast some shade over the course and help alleviate that intensity of the Mediterranean sun.

After traveling all day yesterday, it would have been nice to just return to the Village and relax. Instead we quickly repacked our bags and bussed ourselves to the Athens airport for our evening flight to Crete. Now I am sitting upstairs of the hotel lobby here at the Pilot Beach Resort tapped into an ethernet line on my laptop. I haven't had time to download any of the photos I took today, but now that we are settled in one place for a week or two, I'll have more time.

Now it's off to rest up for tomorrow's adventures. Perhaps a dip in the ocean is in order first, to gaze up at the stars and sink my toes into the soft Cretian sand.

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