Upcoming events –

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

Monday, August 18, 2008

Out and About

For the first time, I went over to Beijing Normal University (BNU) to use the practice track and see the facilities that are set up for Team USA. Reports have been going around that the Americans brought all their own food and aren’t eating in the Village because they’re afraid of being dosed with steroid-injected beef and chicken by the Chinese. Well, BNU is where all the “safe American food” is being served to Team USA athletes. It’s also where many of the US coaches who don’t have credentialed-access to the Olympic Village are staying and where their athletes are meeting them for training every day. I didn’t take the time to eat a meal at BNU, but I did get in a good track session with a few other US athletes.

Joanne Dow and I met Tracy Sundlun at the track and he gave us splits and encouragement. I’m so used to training on my own that when Tracy asked if I needed anything from him, I couldn’t think of anything at first. Then I said, “Just tell me that I look great.” His response: “Well, I’ve had to lie before, I can do it again.” Hah! Also on the track were the modern pentathletes and open-water swimmers. The swimmers were doing a short, cross-training workout while the pentathletes were running 200 meter intervals. The two women competing in the modern pentathlon have strikingly different stories. Shelia Taormina is competing in her fourth Olympics in her third different sport. Amazing. She first raced on the US swim team. Then she competed for Team USA in the triathlon. Now she is 39 years old and contesting the five events of the modern pentathlon: fencing, shooting, equestrian, running and swimming. Her teammate is Margaux Isaksen and only 16 years old! Wow.

The week of a big 50km race, I like to do a short speed workout of 5 x 1km. They are always faster than race pace but not super fast. Before the World Cup in Russia in May, I did this same workout on the track in Gothenburg, Sweden and today’s was very similar. It would be great if I could replicate my performance in Russia, though the conditions here are likely to be warmer and more humid. Today I started out at 4:28 for the first 1km. Joanne had done several 200s before she jumped in and walked the first 1km with me. With a two-minute break between each 1km, I walked 4:24, 4:22, 4:18 and 4:15 to close out the series. It wasn’t as easy and relaxed as I would have liked, but it also wasn’t that hard. It’s nice to finish any workout and know that, if you had to, you could do it again tomorrow.

I headed back to the Village for shower, lunch and a wee bit of lying down to recover. My family is staying with a family friend who works at one of the local Beijing universities. He had asked if I could come speak to one of the classes about my Olympic experiences and I jumped at the chance. Like this blog, speaking to groups is one way that I share my story and help people understand what it’s like to be an Olympian.

Han Bing had arranged for an athlete from the Chilean Olympic Team to come and speak to the class, too, so Pablo McCandless and I spent over an hour talking to the students about the Olympics, what it’s like to be an athlete, and then answered their questions. Pablo is a slalom kayaker who practically stumbled into the Olympics. He was born in the US to a Chilean mother and American father, so he has dual citizenship. After doing a few races in slalom kayaking and competing at some World Cup events, the Chilean Olympic Committee asked him to train for the Olympics. Maybe he was being humble, but he made it sound so easy. Perhaps we should all move to Chile!

The students at Han Bing’s university are all American college kids studying Chinese language and culture and they are nearly done with their summer semester. A couple of them asked some very specific questions about politics in the Games and pollution in Beijing and how it has affected athletes. They told me later that they are writing final term papers or doing projects on those topics and wanted some good, first-hand information. All of the students were really enthusiastic and had some great questions. Some of them were impressed by the fact that all the athletes treat each other as equals. For example, Pablo is the only Chilean slalom kayaker and he talked about receiving help from other countries who have more resources given to their athletes. If he needs a ride from one competition to another, there’s almost always an extra seat in another country’s van. As I tell people, we are all Olympians. Five rings are five rings, no matter who wears them. At the same time, the more famous athletes are not immune from the standard hero-worship just because they are surrounded by other Olympic athletes. Walking to the cafeteria today, I saw Ronaldinho, the Brazilian soccer superstar. He was flanked by his Brazilian teammates on all sides, but athletes were still crowding up to him asking for pictures and autographs. At Opening Ceremonies, many US athletes were ebullient after getting a photo with Kobe Bryant. I guess meeting someone famous is universally exciting.

After speaking to Han Bing’s students, I meant to go directly to the Hometown Hopefuls house to meet up with my family. Normally that means climbing into a taxi, pointing at my laminated information card that has the address written out in Chinese, and resting my head back on the seat until we arrive. Today, I thought it would be fun to go native. I jumped on a bus. Ooops. The first mistake I made was to ask for help from eager teenagers at the Beijing Information kiosk in front of the university. They debated for awhile about which route would be best, finally settled on one, wrote it down on a piece of paper, and walked me over the pedestrian bridge to the other side of the street and had me get on bus # 392 going north. When I showed my piece of paper to the driver he shook his head violently, shooed me off his bus and pointed the other direction, south. On my second attempt, I rode 30 minutes south until the driver told me to get off with a friendly passenger who would direct me to the next bus I needed. He was very helpful and I was on my way again, east, towards the Worker’s Stadium. All of this ‘communicating’ was done in sign language and really bad Chinese (me) or English (them). On bus #118, I met a nice local who spoke passable English. He was happy to help me get off at the stop I needed and I arrived with a greater appreciation for bilingualism, good public transportation maps, and well-cushioned shoes.

As always, it was wonderful to see the family and hear all of the stories of their day’s adventures. Miles has been a super-trooper. His little blond curls have won over all the Chinese. My dad insists that Miles has had his picture taken as many times as Michael Phelps. And I believe it. The waitresses at the Hometown Hopefuls have ooohed and aaahed over Miles every time we visit. It’s like having baby sitters follow you around: Miles gets picked up, carried around, walked all over place while we sit back and enjoy the delicious food and drink.

I returned to the Olympic Village in record time. The cab driver knew the quickest, most direct way that avoided police barricades and traffic slow spots. I was back in time to watch the USA sweep the men’s 400 mt hurdles.

1 comment:

Tammy said...

Philip, I love your blog. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us!

Your story about all the attention Miles got reminds me of when my family lived in Taiwan 20 years ago. My dad is very tall (6'4") and really blonde, with quite hairy arms. People on the street would walk up to him and touch his arms because they couldn't believe he was so hairy! It was pretty funny.