We have arrived! Travel day was relatively uneventful, other then the first flight being delayed just long enough to have the team doing a Home Alone style sprint through Houston so as not to miss our connection flight to Mexico City. All bags made the connection as well, so positives all around. Vladimir A. was the only person who had trouble clearing customs, apparently some guy on the watch list shares the same name so Vladi had to go through the extensive search (I believe he got to keep his clothes on) but his bags were dug through and he was questioned to some extent. In the end, we were all ok´d to enter the great nation of Mexico in order to play some handball.
The ride to the Olympic Complex was per normal, intense. The three-mile ride was an eye opener to the new guys and a reminder to the veterans of just how awesome it is to live in America. The obvious poverty and hardships many of the people face daily down here makes us all appreciate what we have a little more. Our three mini-bus drivers did an excellent job of cutting people off, merging without hitting anybody and generally making good time in the never ending traffic of downtown Mexico City. Despite the symphony of horns, expletives, and screeching brakes we made it to the complex just in time to catch the end of lunch before the café closed.
We are staying at the Olympic Training Center that was built for the 1968 Olympics, it has been updated and renovated and honestly, we have stayed in much less friendlier confines. The mattresses are new and firm, the water is running and hot, the rooms, towels and sheets are clean and the outlets work. Wifi is available on the campus, but only in a certain building which is run by a man who apparently gets to play Wifi God, as he turns it off and on as he pleases. The food in the café is passable and plentiful and the hours of operation are convenient and long.
Our incredibly friendly and useful athletic trainers and video coordinator have been extremely helpful, making water runs to the local Wal-Mart, keeping our bodies in top form and generally making sure we have everything we need. They did, however, make the rookie mistake of testing the plumbing system here in Mexico, which unbeknownst to them, doesn´t handle paper well. They have since had the privilege of relocating to a new room and learned a valuable lesson about the plumbing in countries that lie South of the USA.
Yesterday (Tuesday) was opening ceremonies and match day 1. Opening ceremonies were attended by some very important officials, including the President of the PanAmerican Federation, the head of the National Olympic Committee of Mexico and a few other heads of important committees and federations who all made very nice, quick speeches. More importantly, it was relatively short, as the gym was hot and everybody was ready to play handball.
We had Match Day 1 off, which gave us the benefit of being able to watch all of the teams we will face this week before playing them. In the first match Greenland faced off against Cuba in what proved to be a physical battle the likes that I have not seen in my five years of Pan Am experience. Even intense battles between Argentina and Brazil never reached the level we witnessed last night. The Brazilian refs let both teams establish a physical defense and the teams took advantage. Bodies were flying and big hits were plentiful. The handball itself was also relatively skilled, considering the war that was being played between the six and nine meter lines. In the first ten minutes alone, Greenlands most experienced player, the anchor on their defense, broke his nose (and continued to play) and their best offensive player dislocated his pinky and continued to play until Cuba took a timeout. The game took me back to my time in Germany where the game is typically a lot more physical and loosely officiated than in the Pan America´s. Greenland jumped to an early lead and never looked back, coasting to a four goal victory as they took their foot off the gas the last 10 minutes after leading the entire game by six or seven goals.
The second game featured the home country Mexico against Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico didn´t look ready to play and Mexico, being the youngest team here (oldest player is 25, average age is 21) looked nervous to be playing in front of the home crowd in what for many was their first international game. After a slow start, Mexico began finishing goals and getting out on the fast break and completely jumped all over PR. They lead 16-8 at halftime and wound up winning by 12 or something close to that margin.
Team USA begins its tournament this afternoon at 4CT against Cuba, who will surely be rearing to go after the physical beating they took last night against Greenland. No team, especially one with so much pride wants to start a tournament with two losses. Cuba is big and powerful and should be a good match up. The new guys will get a chance to see what the competition is like at this level and the old guys will get the chance to go out and hit somebody and prove they can still play. The games are being livestreamed on Ustream, here. You can also find the link on my facebook page or Divine Jacksons for the link.
I do have my camera and have been taking pictures but neglected to pack a cord that will allow me to transfer the photos onto a computer. If you would like to get a taste of what we are going through, check out my Instagram at JKFithian44 or follow any of the guys on Twitter or Instagram. Their accounts can be found on the USATH website under National Teams. Thanks for the continued support from home, it means a lot to us as a team to know people back home are keeping up with us. Stay classy America.a