Joan Powell's Olympic Journal for Aug. 12

Aug. 13, 2008, 9:35 a.m. (ET)

Aug. 12, 2008

As you all can imagine, it has been difficult here in the Village for both the men's and the women’s teams as the recent horrific tragedy hit too close to home the day after the Opening Ceremonies.

“Wiz” Bachman was an Olympic teammate of eight of our players and of course, is married to the men’s head coach, Hugh McCutcheon. We received great news yesterday that Barbara Bachman, Wiz’s mom, was taken off the breathing tubes and was able to talk to her family.

Today we had even better news, as Doug Beal, USAV CEO, called to say that there had been even more progress as Barbara may be released in a couple days.

I chose not to journal until now as it has been a rough go for everyone. This situation is difficult for all involved, not to mention "Jenny" Lang Ping as she is back home in Beijing. To recap the event from our side, just a few hours before playing Japan, the women’s staff was informed by Doug Beal and Al Monaco of the incident near the Forbidden City. The players were roused from their rest time just hours before playing their first Olympic match against Japan. Doug Beal addressed the team saying that there was no easy way to say it and began giving an account of the information that he had regarding the Bachman family.

The players and staff were stunned, emotional and sat in disbelief. The USOC had closed off the athlete’s lounge for the women’s team, as the men were still at Beijing Normal University where they had just finished a practice session and were informed by Doug of the tragedy. The women were encouraged to call home to inform their families and reassure them of their safety. Doug feared that the media would be releasing the information soon. The USOC allowed all of us the use of their phones.

The team then had to gather themselves and attempt to go through their pre-match routine. It certainly was a most somber preparation for what was to be a highlight of these athletes’ lives.

I had tickets for Ogonna’s family, Lindsey Berg’s dad and Coach James Li. I went outside the arena to find them. James saw me and got his ticket just as I spotted Ogonna’s seven guests. I had met with the State Department a few days prior; they told me that they would be at all of our matches. After a phone call today, they were even more engaged with our team and met us at the bus, one escorted me to the front of the arena, while two other agents stayed in the hallway with the team. They were there for our protection and also to reassure the families that their daughters were safe. I had one of them address Ogonna’s party; according to Ogonna they appreciated the one-on-one with the agent.

I asked Sarah Noreiga, 2000 Olympian and now a USOC player representative, to take on some of my duties at the start of the match while I was outside. She prepared the captain’s banner and the team’s pins for the exchange at the net. When I got back inside the arena, I handed the jury all of the team members’ credentials along with a medical form. Just as the team lined up for protocol, two members of the jury confronted me on the incomplete credentials. I was panicked. Small numbers were given to us at the Technical Meeting – we were to place them on the back of each credential. With all that had gone on that day, I forgot. The way the men approached me I thought we would have to forfeit the match!!!

I think my facial expression told it all and they quickly eased up and told me that I must have them for the next match. Then the FIVB gentlemen from Morocco told me that if I had them with me, he would stick them on the credentials for me. I ran to my bag and retrieved them. As I returned to the jury table, I handed them to the Moroccan and I lost it. I got pretty emotional and he said, “Bad day?” I told him, “Extremely bad day.” I knew that the people in the facility had not heard about the incident, so I chose not to say anything.

Our team took on a whole different meaning, as they marched out with heavy hearts for their friend and her family. As the USA team stood proudly in front of the crowd during introductions, they held hands as a sign of unity and strength – they needed each other tonight. Then after the introductions, our team raised their hands up as a sign of hope and a gesture to Wiz, her family and Hugh and a sign to their own families that they were okay.

Prior to the first whistle, I thought to myself, this could go one way or the other – a strong presence and a dominating effort by all or an unfocused, emotional showing. I have seen this team last year at the World Grand Prix and again this summer at the same event. I have never seen such a fast start to a match as I did against Japan. The first attack was from Tayyiba – she crushed the ball and she and her teammates lit it up. From that hit, the electricity was felt by all; from there, each member contributed with precision and purpose. I could just feel the energy and enthusiasm as a spectator concerned about whether the circumstances of a few hours before would play havoc for these young women or if it would encourage them to fight through their pain.

Naturally, in the second set, we had a little lull. But the team bounced back and took the feisty Japanese team to four, winning the first, third and fourth sets. There were some fantastic defensive rallies by both teams. Japan’s fast offense and tenacious defense makes for a difficult contest.

After the match, the team waved to their fans and broke down. It appeared that they hung on as long as they could - to do what they came here to do and then their emotions just had to be released once again as their thoughts wandered back to the unfortunate, unnecessary random act of violence. I was so proud of their efforts, for hanging in their and hanging on to each other.

I was choked up and returned to the jury to retrieve our credentials. My Moroccan friend told me that he hoped I had a better day tomorrow. I thanked him and told him that he would soon learn why we were all so emotional.

Wiz, her family and Hugh are on our minds daily. Doug Beal did call yesterday and had me announce that Wiz called to say that she really appreciated the thoughts, prayers and emails from the team and that she was concerned about them. The team needed to hear those words, as they feel so separated from their friend. There is such a natural need to reach out to her at this time.

The team continued their routine of practice, video and meetings preparing for Cuba. After the World Grand Prix, just prior to coming to China, our team came home from Japan with the knowledge of who had made the roster for the Olympic Games. Four days off and then back to training. Cuba, on the other hand, stayed in Japan to train until their arrival in Beijing; they never went home!

Even with teammates, family and friends, including, Therese Crawford and Norisha Campbell in the crowd cheering their friends as they entered the arena, it wasn’t enough to help us against the Cubans who were enfuego. We struggled with serving and passing, as Cuba got better and better at those two skills. We lost in three; we had our chance in the second set, but just could not pull it out. Coach Lang Ping tried some different combinations, trying to find the right chemistry. All four outsides had a chance tonight; Kim Willoughby started opposite Logan Tom, Kim Glass was given the nod in the second and third set and Ogonna played the front row for Robyn on occasion with Lindsey Berg in for Ty. Stacy Sykora saw the back row for both Kims. Nothing seemed to work as Cuba just kept getting stronger.

Today, the team watched video, trained, ate and watched more video in preparation for Venezuela tomorrow afternoon. We practiced right after the men’s basketball team. Jenny had her picture taken with Kobe Bryant for her daughter Lydia. As the team was gathering in a pre-practice huddle one of the men’s players came over to Kim Glass with one of his shoes and asked her to sign it. As Kim signed Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic’s shoe, the women’s team started in on her! I have to keep my camera around my neck at all times! That certainly started practice on a high note.

In the Village, we have seen numerous small bicycles that the athletes are using to get around from the dorms to the dining hall to the laundry to the bus area. Stacy Sykora asked me to see if we could purchase them. I made some phone calls and sure enough Wes from the USOC has some sort of connection with one of the locals and we were able to order 12” and 16” wheels.

After practice Stacy Sykora, Nicole Davis and I waited for our new toys. The rest of the team caught the 4 p.m. bus back to the Village. We stayed on the BNU campus and waited for the bikes to be delivered. Sure enough they came in a van outside the venue and had to go through security. Wes showed them to us and we decided to go with the 16” for everyone. As the five o’clock hour drew nearer for our return to the Village (and the bus doesn’t wait), Wes got three bikes out of their boxes then through security for us. They were loaded underneath the bus and we were off.

We returned to the Village, entered security with our new bikes and we were happy as clams. We prepared the seats and handle bars to our liking and were off riding through the Village like we owned it. I sang the haunting melody from the famous scene from the Wizard of Oz and Stacy and Nicole laughed!!

My night is consumed by the schedule, emails, some phone calls home, journaling and preparing for the next day. Of course I am not complaining – are you kidding me, it’s the Olympics!!

Friends email and ask if I am able to see any other events – hardly. Every once in a while I am able to capture a few things as I pass by a TV. I sure hope I am able to see the men play. We play on odd days, they are on the even days, but we are usually in practice when they compete. I got the word today from Doug that the men had beat Italy – sweet!

We can only imagine how difficult it must be to be without their head coach. We see the men periodically as they are one floor below us. They seem to be hanging in there through this difficult time.

The USOC has been absolutely fantastic not just throughout this ordeal, but in general, they are here 24/7 – tirelessly helping all the teams and their athletes and staffs. I am so impressed with their supportive efforts to ensure that the USA teams receive the best – training, medical support, food, transportation, etc.

Tomorrow is Venezuela . . .