Bill Kauffman Blog for Aug. 7 - Opening Ceremonies Eve

Aug. 08, 2008, 4:30 a.m. (ET)

Aug. 7, 2008

Opening Ceremonies Eve
Today definitely had the feel that the Games were about to start. A lot of conversations with “Let’s get the games started” or like-phrases stating the obvious anticipation to the first serve, jump ball, etc. And with soccer starting as a prelude to the Opening Ceremonies, everyone is anxious for the Games to officially start.

The U.S. Women’s team hosted top-ranked Brazil in a scrimmage held at the USA High Performance Training Center at Beijing Normal University. It was a good chance to see competition against someone else and get in match-mode for the players.

The scoreboard was not in favor of Team USA at the end of the training session with Brazil, but I would think it produced the intended results of playing under match-like conditions against an opponent other than red-white-and-blue. USA and Brazil have now played four exhibition scrimmages against each other this year, plus a match in the FIVB World Grand Prix. Both teams know each other pretty well, but I am sure both teams came away with things to work on.

I always enjoy watching the Brazil team play (not more than the USA, though). They always seem to make few mistakes and produce a good volleyball show on the court. And the errors rarely come in bunches so it does not lose valuable momentum.

Right after the training scrimmage was completed, the High Performance Training Center went from a closed practice setting to a “place-to-be” as the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team held media availability on the same court that the volleyball team scrimmaged. Both volleyball teams were on one side of the main gym as media and players from the men’s basketball team came in.

It was an interesting contrast how the two teams reacted when the NBA players representing Team USA came on the court. Brazil seemed in awe of seeing the men’s team, while the U.S. players were focused on the cool down and observed the situation from afar. Maybe it just caught the Brazil team off guard.

“Jenny” Lang Ping, our women’s volleyball coach, had arranged to have a picture of her daughter taken with Kobe Bryant. Instead, I told Jenny to hop in the picture as well and I would take the photo.

Afterwards, I heard the former President Bush stopped into the High Performance Training Center and visited some of the teams. I must have just missed him. That also probably explains what appeared to heightened security around the complex. I had the opportunity to meet George W. Bush’s father twice while he was on the campaign trail in Iowa. It would have been nice to shake his hand a third time, just to say I have met such an important part of our country’s history for that many times.

Tonight the women’s indoor team had its first and only training session on the competition court at Capital Indoor Stadium, site of four of the five pool-play matches Team USA will compete in. At the arena, I was able to talk with Paul Sunderland and Kevin Barnett, the NBC on-air announcers for the Olympic indoor volleyball matches, about their needs before and after the match.

The 90-minute training session ended at 8:30 p.m., but as the session neared its conclusion, more and more of the Olympic News Service (ONS) staff started filing into the arena. Once the team broke with “USA”, the players took a nice video picture against a Beijing 2008 wall as part of a video presentation USA Volleyball commissioned the FIVB to produce. The ONS staff got in the fun by taking some photos of their own.

After the team video shot, the ONS staff each picked a player – all 12 on the squad – and transcribed quotes to be distributed. All while this was going on, Sunderland and Barnett with NBC needed to do two quick interviews and the FIVB crew doing the video also needed two players for interviews. It was controlled chaos with so many interviews being done in such a short time.

The drive back to the Olympic Village was much shorter with the absence of rush hour traffic, even with about half the private cars off the road due to the rules the government has put in place for the Games. Going back from the Olympic Village to the Main Press Center, I sure wish I had taken a bus instead of the 15-minute walk as the humidity zapped out the little energy I had left. I do not mix well with humidity to begin with, but Beijing’s humidity is high even at 9:30 p.m. after the sun goes down.