Joan Powell's Olympic Blog - Aug. 10

Aug. 11, 2008, 12:09 a.m. (ET)

Aug. 10, 2008

Pre-Olympic Training at Cal

First of all I need to apologize for being delinquent in my journal entries. When Diane French, USA women’s technical coordinator, asked me on the flight over to Beijing – “Are you ready – got your track shoes on?” - She was not kidding me!! I sleep in my new Mizuno running shoes. Oh and during my waking hours, I am rarely able to get a run in.

I would be remiss if I did not share with the readers our exceptional training experience at the University of California. Head coach Rich Feller and assistant coach Matt McShane were tremendous hosts. The Bancroft Hotel owner, Daryl and his assistants, Kelly and Ken, could not do enough for the USA team. Daryl also owned the coffee shop next door, Café Strata, and the beautiful restaurant across the street. If we did not dine there, we were fed great food from Cal’s athletic catering.

The team had the luxury of walking to training everyday at Cal or Berkely High School. Weight training was done at Cal. The Cal weight room was under construction and all of their weights were moved to their outdoor pool area.

The USA Team Leaders were asked to go through team processing a day prior to their team’s arrival to familiarize themselves with the procedures and to help facilitate their team’s movements. I had to drive to San Jose State a day before the team was scheduled to process at the university. I was able to go through processing and was briefed on what would transpire the following day for the team. The USOC folks were not only organized but so friendly.

Team Processing

Team processing took the entire day. When we arrived at San Jose State, we went immediately to the engineering building for a briefing. Soccer standout Brandy Chastain shared the microphone and after the power point program posed for pictures with some of us – with her gold medal! The apparel station, according to the veterans, is always fun. We were able to get our shopping carts just as the doors opened after lunch and were first in line. After collecting all of their swag, each athlete and staff member was fitted by the Ralph Lauren tailor. If changes were needed, their Opening Ceremony outfit was handed over to people assembled for immediate alterations.

U.S. Olympic Women's Indoor Volleyball team goes through USOC Team Processing at San Jose State University. Photo copyrighted by USA VolleyballAs they left alterations, the team had to decide what to keep and what to send home from the plethora of Nike gear given to them, a roller bag, back pack and many sundry things. They moved to the Visa station where they received a $100 Visa card, fitted for their leather Olympic jacket and Olympic ring. We were helped by two great guys, who assisted in packing any unneeded gear which would be shipped home.

We were finished around 6 p.m. and escorted by the men’s team leader and St. Mary’s College women’s head coach to his institution for a send-off banquet. Although the team was exhausted from the day and the drive, we quickly recovered as we were greeted in the gym by their enthusiastic campers assembled in stands, chanting “USA, USA.” We walked to a building where a crowd awaited our arrival. They had already been engaged in a silent auction.

Back home to Cal for one more training. We capped off our stay with a well-organized inter squad scrimmage in front of around 4,000 well-wishers. The fans got a taste of the fourth place team in the world pursuing a medal. Our post match meal by Cal was topped off with a delicious cake; the icing was a picture of the USA team.

Beijing Bound

Matt McShane and I were to meet at the hotel at 5:15 a.m. to drive to the airport and meet the USOC folks with our luggage, but Diane and Sue had to lend a hand and drive an additional van to accommodate all of our bags – new and old!

It was like clockwork. The luggage was all tagged at United and assembled ready for check-in. Di and Sue went back to the hotel to pick up the team, as I awaited their arrival. I met the team at departures and took them downstairs where the luggage was separated by sport. We checked in with the typical tall-girl requests – most need the aisle, exit or bulk head; some opted to upgrade for around $360.

The 12-hour flight was uneventful. We were requested to wear our newly issued sky blue Nike warm up tops as we deplaned. Everyone felt the humidity right away. We were met by USOC representatives and taken to baggage claim. All of our bags made it, but getting “Jenny” Lang Ping out of the airport without the paparazzi was going to be a chore. We waited some time with our personal carts full when we received the word that we would in fact go outside at arrivals; drop off our carts with the people responsible for transporting our luggage to the Olympic Village and move immediately to our bus.

Jenny stopped, was interviewed briefly as her fans began to surround her. She is always so gracious with her people as she spent a little time appeasing their needs. Once on the bus, I noticed a little boy with a note pad hanging around the bus with his dad who donned a camera; they had lost their chance with Lang Ping. I got off the bus as we were waiting for all of our members and gestured for the boy to give me his notepad and explained that I would get an autograph for him. I did and as I presented it to the youngster, he was elated; his dad was so happy. Jenny is an icon.

April Heinrichs, former gold medal soccer coach, was on our bus as our USOC liaison and sat next to me as I was briefed on some of the upcoming events. I was pretty besieged with all the information and when I took a breath and looked up, I was overwhelmed by the city. In March the USOC flew all of the sports team leaders to Beijing for a four-day meeting. Everything was under construction and now the city was ready to host the largest athletic event in the world. China was ready to wow the world. The buildings were complete and the landscaping was beautiful.

The Olympic Village

We entered the Olympic Village where just our carry-on luggage was screened. Our credentials were validated as our luggage was taken by the USOC to our dorm. We are housed in the same tower as the USOC – a plus. The first floor is dedicated for medical purposes. The second floor is the coaches and athletes lounge and the USOC is on the third floor where the most accommodating people work tirelessly morning through night for the American athletes.

We are housed in apartment pods – all on the 7th floor. The men’s team is below us. The female coaching staff and I, along with a cyclist massage therapist have one apartment while the team is separated into two other apartments – two to a room. There is a common area with a table and refrigerator and two bathrooms in each apartment. Coaches Tom Hogan, Gen Kawakita and Coach James are at Beijing Normal University, while Coach Li shares an apartment with another male sport in the Village.

Originally we were to be housed and train at BNU, but while at Cal we received word that the Chinese Government would not allow us to stay at the university because security would be impossible. We train at BNU daily and had access to the dorms as day rooms for rest between training sessions and meals.

The food at BNU is incredible. The ambiance is fabulous as it is in an Asian motif. There is a salad bar, a pasta bar, prepared fresh in front of you, a main dish with all the necessary accompanying dishes and of course a daily dessert or two. There are waiters and waitresses that come to the table and serve the beverages. The catering service is out of New York.

I remember getting a tour of the BNU gym which was totally under construction in March; we had to wear hard hats to enter the facility. It is a gorgeous facility. We share it with the men’s team as well as the men’s basketball teams. The weight room is top drawer provided by 24-hour Fitness. The teams have a medical area downstairs for recovery and treatment. The BNU facility is host to our boxers, fencers, taekwondo, table tennis and outdoors to our track and field athletes.

We have to travel by bus from the Village; it is provided by the USOC. It is quite a hike to the bus area – actually the place we came to on our first day for accreditation. The bus leaves promptly every half hour and it takes about fifteen minutes to get to the very secure university. There are check points everywhere and manned by young men and women in uniform. Every few feet are more men standing at attention in the blistering heat.

We received yet another credential which allowed us to get in the dorm area as well as the eating hall. We are not allowed to walk anywhere. Everyday we are dropped off at just outside the gymnasium. Every fifteen minutes white vans shuttle the athletes and staffs back and forth to the dorm area and gym. On the hour the bus returns to take us back to the Olympic Village.

Sometimes we eat at BNU, sometimes we come back to the Olympic Village to their dining hall which is absolutely the biggest eatery I have ever seen. There are temporary sheds set up for everyone to hand over their bags. (There are so many people eating at this venue that bags would be a cumbersome thing.) There are two plastic arm bands with numbers on them and they are clipped together – we get one and the other is attached to our belongings.

Once inside there are numerous cafeteria style areas – international cuisine, Asian cuisine, salad, fruit and bread area. There are refrigerators filled with water, ice tea, power and soft drinks. There is a dessert area and a deep freeze with an assortment of ice cream bars. We have access to a McDonald’s inside the dining hall and it is always packed. Just next to it is McDonald’s answer to Starbucks, which has lines everyday, every hour.

The trash is manned by helpful young people. The Chinese are very conscious of the environment and provide receptacles everywhere for recycling.

Village life is unbelievable. The few days I was able to run, I enjoyed taking in all of the sites around the village. Countries bring enormous flags and hang them from their balconies. One morning we woke up and the U.S. dorms had great American flags hanging down from every U.S. balcony; a USOC doing. Australia brought round tables with green umbrellas and chairs. Bicycles are becoming more prevalent each day – not from the cycling teams. Our team has ordered some for transportation back and forth. They are small bikes with small wheels and can fold up if they wish to bring them home, or they will be able to donate them.

The delegations' training uniforms are so colorful. Russia has gone with a country-wide sponsor and the red and white shirts, shorts, sweats and shoes can be seen from a long distance. The Village workers are in the same blue and white or red and white shirt and they are plenty in the Village and are all so helpful – they so want to please their guests.

We were given two bags for laundry – one for dark clothes, one for whites. You take the bags to the laundry shed and turn them in – they scan the number code on each bag and give you a receipt – 12 hours later, you can pick it up.

The International area has all the shops – souvenirs, beauty and nail, post office with pre-stamped post cards, pin trading, Lenovo computers, flowers, sundries, etc. They also have a game room, an outdoor pool, a running area, a park with live entertainment and all of the countries flags.

Many of us attended the flag raising ceremony. Jenny, along with four-time Olympian Danielle Scott-Arruda and first timer, Nicole Davis attended a press conference earlier that day. (They really did an outstanding job representing the U.S. women’s Olympic team.) We got back just in time to join the U.S. delegation. It was a short ceremony where the Mayor greeted everyone and presented our Ambassador with a gift. The flag was raised and the national anthem played. It was really a touching ceremony.

We were able to train in both volleyball venues. They are both really beautiful. At Beijing Institute, I was approached by a young Australian reporter from the Olympic News; Emma was wondering if she and three of the Chinese media relations people would be able to talk with Jenny at the conclusion of practice. I mentioned it to Jenny as the team was cooling down.

After practice, the players went to their changing rooms. After everyone showered and dressed, Jenny told me to bring in the young female reporters. Jenny was arranging chairs in the corner around her chair. I went to the door and there were a large number of media and autograph seekers. I pointed at the four gals and indicated that they could come into the locker room area. Their eyes nearly popped out of their heads. Jenny spent a good fifteen minutes with them. They were elated. Jenny really treats her fans and the media very well.

As we boarded the bus, Emma was so appreciative of her time with Jenny. I told someone it was almost like having a private audience with the Pope!!

I was amazed at all of the additional responsibilities that the coaches, athletes and team leaders face prior to the Games itself. I am used to attending the Preliminary Meeting and Technical Meetings, along with the Press Conferences at the World Grand Prix, but the demands on the delegation is tiring to say the least.

I accompanied Jenny to a brand new Mizuno store, site for the signing of our sponsor’s new USAV/Mizuno contract. Doug Beal and Kerry Klostermann were present as well. The store was amazing. On one wall it had the history of Mizuno; under all the dates was a chip on a small hook. One could put the chip on a machine and a video popped up on the screen and explained the nuisances of that particular year in the world of Mizuno.

There were numerous pictures of our men and women in their Mizuno uniforms and of course the commercial side of the store where I got to shop while Jenny was interviewing! We were taken back to the Village in a rented car. Mizuno had to rent two cars because of the restrictions placed on driving days according the last number (odd/even days) of the license plate.

Sometimes I feel like I am flying by the seat of my pants – just barely keeping in front of the next thing to do! There are great demands and hoops to jump, but the members of the USOC team are so very helpful. The USA delegation was given a phone with preprogrammed phone numbers. (The athletes were given a different phone; they were given free 30 minutes and are able to receive more, but they will have to pay for the additional time.) The phone is my lifesaver. And of course, I dropped it trying to help Ogonna’s parents through security at our venue before our Japan match; they wanted to take Mrs. Nnamani’s headache medication along with Ogonna’s sister’s inhaler. I dropped the phone, so I was lost for awhile – I am able to use Sue Woodstra’s until I can get a replacement.

Opening Ceremonies

An experience of a lifetime!! I received an email months ago stating that only the athletes and team leader (or designee) were able to participate in Opening Ceremonies. That did not set well with me. Jenny had been to the Olympics as a player (gold medalist) and as a coach (silver medalist) and Sue Woodstra had attended the Olympics (silver medalist). Olympian Diane French was robbed of the opportunity to march or play as the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games. I thought it only right that she join the team during Opening Ceremonies and replace me. It was difficult to be fitted in the Ralph Lauren outfit knowing that I would never wear it and not be a part of the ceremony, but certainly Diane was most worthy. After all, she is the one that got me involved in traveling with the women’s team.

Then we received an email asking how many staff would be joining the team if they were to include everyone. I replied, but did not hear back for a few days and then it came – our request was granted, as were all the sports from the United States. YEAH!!

Our gals looked great as we gathered on our floor for some photo opportunities. The US delegation had to assemble at 5:15 outside our tower as we were to be bused to meet the President of the United States. We looked fabulous, but – as if 100% wool, lined pants was bad enough, we had the long-sleeved Oxford shirt and the blended wool blazer, (that I was told was worth $1,300), and don’t forget a hat and scarf!!

Before we even left for the busses, one of the athletes had sweat right through his shirt – everyone could see his tattoo on his back. We laughed – but not for long, because we all soon joined him. Once on the buses, we were taken to the Fencing venue and assembled on a riser in an oval shape by sport.

Joan Powell, right, tacks on a USA Volleyball to former President Bush's jacket. Photo copyrighted by USA VolleyballThere was a welcome and the introduction of President and Mrs. Bush. The President was brief in his welcome and then proceeded to greet each team. Every team would have a photo op with the President. While he started at one end, his father President Bush started on the other side. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to try to pose with him, but as he approached I got more brazen. I asked one of his security people if it was okay to give him a volleyball pin. (It’s a cute Panda bear with the USA volleyball and a bamboo shoot in the background.) The agent teasingly gave me a hard time, but Okayed the gesture. When the former President approached, I said, “Mr. President, I’d like to give you a volleyball pin.” He said to me, “Well, then pin me.” And I did. I turned to pose for a picture. I had given an athlete my camera and she just starting clicking – I got some great photos. I can’t believe I did it.

He made his way around the arena and then it was time for women’s volleyball to assemble for George W. We took the picture, and I took out another pin and as I handed him the pin I said, Mr. President I got to pin your dad.” He chucked and said, “Then you better pin me too!” And I did. I turned to pose for a picture.

President Bush with U.S. Olympic Team setter Robyn Ah Mow-Santos. Photo copyrighted by USA VolleyballBut the most memorable moment of all was when Diane French said to President Bush, one of our player’s husbands has completed two tours in Iraq, the President said, “Which one is she?” just as Robyn was stepping off the platform. Diane pointed in Robyn’s direction and said, Robyn.” The President called out her name. Robyn turned around in amazement and stepped back up on the raised platform. He posed for a picture and said, “I am proud of your husband and I am sure you are too.” Everyone from our team began to cry.

The team asked Mrs. Bush to pose with us and she was delighted. I gave her a pin, but told her not to put it on her beautiful suit, but she did. I also got a picture with her.

As teams were waiting, cameras were flashing like crazy – memories in the making. Naturally the men’s basketball team was inundated with requests. And then there was Misty and Kerry and Lindsey Davenport.

We were then taken to the gymnastics venue where all of the countries assembled before being called to march into the Bird’s Nest. It was really hot and being the 140th team, we were in the upper, upper deck of the arena and sweat just poured off of us. The big screen flashed the names and numbers of each country as their turn approached.

Finally they connected us with the live ceremony – what we saw was breathtaking. Then they would break in and put the name of the next country and the athletes would boo as they wanted to watch the Opening Ceremonies as they patiently waiting their turn to be called. Finally we were able to move. We walked a ways; we could see our flag in the distance – all along the volunteers lined the area cheering for the USA, especially for Kobe.

As we entered the stadium, it was overwhelming to see the magnitude of the event. It was exhilarating to take that lap around – everyone forgot the heat and humidity. We could see American flags interspersed through the stadium and chants of USA could be heard throughout. It certainly was a chilling and proud moment. Dr. Ho who traveled with us to the Grand Prix as our team physician said, “Opening Ceremonies was Cirque Du Soleil on steroids.” I am really anxious to buy the DVD so I can watch the entire event.

As the remaining nations entered the stadium, the temperature seemed to rise – of course with that many people. The red from the scarf began to bleed through all the females’ shirts. Most of the members of the US delegation had their coats and hats off.

The Olympic flag was raised, the athlete and official oaths were read and then the torch entered the stadium and the torch was lit. Jenny, our coach ran a leg of the torch run in San Francisco. What an amazing moment to see the torch being lit at the Olympics! Danielle Scott-Arruda, Tayyiba Haneef-Park, Ogonna Nnamani, Jennifer Joines, Diane French and I were all enthralled with the moment. Tears were rolling down my cheeks as I looked at Jennifer Joines; Diane captured it with her camera. With one hand in another at her neck, tears in her eyes, time was frozen for a moment as the innocence of a first-time Olympian experiencing something that many never realize, she was able to comprehend how fortunate she was to make an Olympic team, to represent her family and her country at the Olympic Games and that all the hard work and sacrifice was worth it.

As uplifting as this Opening Ceremony day was for all of us, the next day took on a totally opposite emotion for USA Volleyball.