Upcoming events –

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Media Madness Begins

The phone is ringing off the hook. Journalists from all over the country are knocking down the door to hear my inspiring story of Olympic racewalk studliness. My agent has had to hire extra help answering all the emails. Or not.

I actually did have two interviews last week about big pre-Olympic news stories: politics and pollution. I would rather talk about walking and winning, but this is a good place to start. I feel a bit self-conscious talking about myself, so it's good to talk about 'real-world' issues.

The first interview with The Nation was about my involvement with Team Darfur. I think the reporter wanted me to say something inflammatory about how I was going to wear my 'Team Darfur' or 'Free Tibet' t-shirt into the Opening Ceremonies and shout anti-authoritarian slogans at the Chinese dignitaries. Not gonna happen. I'm not going to shy away from answering questions about politics if asked, but I'm not going to be confrontational, either.

Joey Cheeks, co-founder of Team Darfur and 2006 Winter Olympics gold medalist in speed skating, had some good advice: "Put your athletic achievement – and that of your teammates – above taking any risks while in Beijing." He cautioned Team Darfur members in Beijing to "avoid unnecessary trouble." Once I get to China, my main focus will be on best preparing for my race. Training, resting, and maximizing my time. Of course, there's a part of me that wants to see what would happen. (Don't worry, Mom. I'll be good!) With the eyes of the world on the Olympic athletes, are Chinese authorities really going to arrest someone for expressing his/her political views? And if they did, wouldn't that bring even more attention to the very message they are trying to suppress? As the Aussie sports fans would say, that's a sticky wicket for the Chinese. The reporter also asked about the IOC rule prohibiting athletes from talking about politics in the Olympic venues. The question reminded me of the Tank McNamara cartoon published a few months ago.

The other interview was with Howard Berkes from NPR. He's doing a story on pollution in Beijing and the effect that it could have on the performance of endurance athletes. USATF's media moguls were kind enough to share my name with him: the 50km racewalk is the longest event in track & field, after all. We had a nice chat, but again, I don't know that I was controversial enough to get much airtime. Had I said I was going to wear a respirator during my race, he might have been more intrigued. Do fears of pollution concern me? Yes, of course, but as far as I know, there isn't much that can be done to 'acclimatize' for pollution. I could move to LA for the next couple weeks, but that's only going to make me cough a lot and have some sluggish workouts. Adjusting to the time zone, heat, humidity, different food those I can prepare for. But smog? Every athlete is going to have to deal with it. It's not like one of us races in a bubble and doesn't notice it. If I had a pre-existing respiratory condition (asthma or allergies), I might be worried that I would be overly affected.

Howard and I ended up chatting about politics, too, and the other conditions that athletes face in a long competition: heat, humidity, road surface, etc. He seems like a nice guy. Berkes got his start in broadcasting in Eugene, OR and got his big national break covering the Mount St. Helens explosion in 1980. I remember seeing it from the hillside at Lewis & Clark College when I was just a kid. Awesome. And then it blew again, much smaller, on June 12, 1980 to celebrate my birthday.

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