July 30-31, 2008
Sitting on the plane taxi-ing to the runway in Colorado Springs on Wednesday morning, it suddenly hit me. I am going to the Olympics, my first-ever. No, not as an athlete who has prepared for this moment for a decade or more, but in a support capacity for the United States Olympic Committee and USA Volleyball providing media relations assistance to a worldwide audience.
After long days preparing for departure to Beijing, the realization finally hit that I can’t stop the inevitable countdown toward 08-08-08, or the official start of the Olympic Games of Aug. 8, 2008. Yes, I feel I could have done more to prepare, but I think that would occur no matter how well-prepared I was.
But it makes me think about the amount of preparation and dedication an athlete puts into the process to be selected for the Olympics. Elite athlete status is only part of the equation. Years of sacrifice to the body, time away from family and/or friends, and a personality that drives one to succeed must all come together at the right time during the Olympic cycle to produce an Olympian. It truly is a special, and often times emotional occasion to find out the Olympic dream is a reality.
And in some cases, being your best at these characteristics does not quite equate to Olympic status. Only 12 athletes are selected to each Olympic indoor roster, and just two pairs of beach teams for each gender. For indoor, the odds are even tougher as the team is broken down by position.
My heart goes out to those athletes who just missed the final cut. I don’t look at them as failing to make the team as they have put their life into the same dream of being an Olympian. They are still a part of this Olympic team for what they have contributed. If not for the other seven athletes from the preliminary 19-player roster and even those who devoted more of their life to the team even after not making the initial list, the 12-player Olympic would not be at the same level of preparation.
Yes, you will remember the 12 players representing Team USA at the 2008 Olympic Games. I just ask that you don’t forget the great contributions made to the overall composition of this team from those not here in Beijing. Foluke Akinradewo, Cynthia Barboza, Cassie Busse, Heather Hughes, Angie McGinnis, Kristin Richards and Tracy Stalls were on the cusp of an athletic dream, and are all considered top candidates in pursuit of spots at the 2012 Olympic Games.
And without much fanfare, Therese Crawford, Norisha Campbell, Lindsey Hunter and Katie Olsovsky were significant parts of the development of the 2008 Olympic Team this summer, despite not being on the initial 19-player roster. They truly looked past the “what’s in it for me” aspect and saw the greater good in using their extraordinary talents in helping train against their Olympic teammates.
I am sure that Olympic spirit and team-concept have not been overlooked by their Beijing-bound teammates.
Processing at the Airport
After the two-and-half hour flight from Colorado Springs to San Francisco with five other USOC press officers, three-hour layover in the Golden Gate city and the ensuing 12-hour flight to Beijing that included several USA Olympians in men’s gymnastics, track and field, diving and fencing, along with Olympic representatives from Guatemala and El Salvador, we finally made it. Thankfully, the flights went pretty smooth without any delay.
However, the customs maze to get out of the airport was another story. At the first entry point, we temporarily surrendered our passports and Olympic credential badge, which also doubles as our VISA into the country. After a long day flying, that temporary status seemed like an eternity as tiredness set in.
The Chinese officials held a stack of passports and credentials, told us to wait in a particular spot and then disappeared into a side room for nearly 30 minutes. We heard that one of the major problems were the names not 100 percent matching up on the passport to the Olympic credential. For instance, my credential listed “Bill Kauffman” on the front side, but “William Kauffman” on the back side. Complicated matters, the passports listed my middle name. Nearly everyone was in the same boat as I was, and all one could do was wait for the Chinese officials to return with the passport and credential.
Once the coveted passport and credential were returned, the final stages of customs was fairly routine and quick. A quick subway ride took us to baggage claim, and the luggage was still being pushed down the shaft for the awaiting passengers. So, the hour through customs, in essence, became just a time filler.
As the passengers walked out of the airport’s secure area, the typical scene of awaiting family and relatives was present but with a major difference. Several Chinese news media were awaiting the Olympic athlete arrivals. Impromptu press conferences broke out with a handful of media representatives circling willing yet tired athletes to get their reactions to arriving in Beijing.
Which made me think. I can only imagine the type of response “Jenny” Lang Ping will receive when she and the U.S. Women’s Olympic Indoor Volleyball Team arrives this weekend. Without the Olympics as a stage, Lang Ping already draws huge media followings on her arrival when Team USA plays in China and other parts of Asia. She is a huge draw, and will now be returning to her hometown to lead the U.S. team into the Olympic Games.
Taste of China
For the next 27 days, Beijing Normal University will be my home. After a quick check-in process to receive credentials to clear security at the University checkpoints, I was able to go up to my room and drop off my luggage and computer equipment in the clean, but very small room. The room is a cross between what you may find in any hotel or dormitory: single bed with a shower, L-shaped desk with lots of work space, television receiving only three static-filled Chinese stations, dorm-size refrigerator and a teapot.
The size of the room is a drawback with very little space to do anything but lay down after a hard day. But in reality, the room will only be there as my haven for the few winks of sleep each night, a nice clean place to shower and a place to store my clothes for nearly a month. So really, cramped quarters for the Games really means little so long as I have a place to crash and shower each day.
Kevin Neuendorf of the USOC Media Relations staff provided the new arrivals with two crucial things Thursday evening. First, he gave a quick tour of the Beijing Normal University grounds, including a the training locations for several Olympic teams. The U.S. Men’s and Women’s Olympic Teams will train at Beijing Normal during its time in Beijing. Just a few paces away, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the rest of the U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball team will be training. Among the other teams training here that we saw the practice facilities were wrestling, judo, boxing and water polo.
Kevin was able to finish off the night with great food at a Chinese restaurant. It feels a little strange eating Chinese food when actually in China. But the cuisine was terrific, and only a couple blocks away from Beijing Normal University. It really capped a long day’s worth of travel.
However, Kevin’s final project of day did not work out so well for B.J. Evans and myself. To access wireless at Beijing Normal, he needed to put in the access code and password. He was successful on all but three computers – and two of the unsuccessful ones were B.J. and I.