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Joan Powell's Olympic Journal for Aug. 18

Aug. 19, 2008, 12:36 a.m. (ET)

Aug. 18, 2008

After breakfast, the USA team prepared for Poland with a video meeting. On the bus just after 10, everyone seemed focused on the task at hand – beat Poland and finish our preliminary round in second place, with only one loss to undefeated Cuba.

Assistant coach Sue Woodstra noticed that we again did not have a police escort to the match. I called our contact with the state department to help with getting Jenny off the bus without “the friendlies” surrounding her for photos and autographs. We had an uneventful entry into the Capital Gymnasium thanks to our field agents.

Although we had seen Poland in the World Grand Prix, we had not seen most of the starters. Of course we are very familiar with their style – similar to ours – big hitters, big blockers. Even with that information, we seemed to struggle with the Poles and with ourselves. Jenny did a phenomenal job of substituting using the entire roster during the five-set match.

Our blocking saved us. All the front row players contributed to the blocking column. At one point OG stuffed her former Italian club teammate. Ogonna was so stoked to provide that point for her USA team. She brought some great energy to the court with her hitting and celebration.

We just seem to revel in the pressure! The men’s team told me later that they had finished practice and were in the BNU dining hall where the USA contingency was glued to the TV cheering us on to victory. They said the dining hall went crazy when the USA women finally won 15-13 in the fifth.

At the press conference, Lindsey Berg spoke about teamwork as it truly was an entire team effort with the coaching staff playing a major role in uncovering the magic combination. It was a nail biter for all of us!

Bob Gambardella, in charge of USOC transportation and instrumental in securing Hugh McCutcheon to the hospital the day of the Bachman incident, got us two vans after the match so we could go to BNU for weight training.

Following a shower, the women were free to spend the evening with their family and friends. All checked in before curfew! Of course, I received some of the calls from the players as I was getting a manicure/pedicure. I had seen Lindsey Berg yesterday after she finished with her appointment and she said it was a must. So having to wait until the 10 p.m. Serbia/Russia match was over for the “draw of the lots,” I decided to take care of myself.

I got in right away, walked through the hair salon (which by the way is free), to a private curtained area. I was talked into (didn’t take much) a 45-minute foot massage prior to the pedicure. Okay, I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz prior to her visit with the Wizard. There was a woman at my feet and one woman with each hand. Are you kidding me? Bob, my sports massage therapist at home, will have to do better when I get home! Okay, so for the first time reader, believe me, I earned this one. It was marvelous.

When I was paying, I saw two guys from our men’s team who will remain nameless because they were having pedicures! They were unaware that they could have had a massage as well – they will be back, as I will!

I walked to the other side of the Village with a spring in my step and attempted to hail a taxi just outside the south gate. I needed to go back to the Capital Gymnasium and attend the “drawing of the lots” to determine who our opponent would be for the quarterfinal round.

It took a good 20 minutes to finally chase a cabbie down. The driver was dropping someone off at the Village, stopped and then continued to move closer to the gate, stopping periodically giving me false hope each time. A foreigner approached the cab from the other direction as I ran alongside the car indicating in the assertive American way, “No, no, my cab.” I waited until the woman paid and got out of the vehicle to show the driver my laminated map that is attached to my lanyard. He studied it and began to drive off rather hesitantly. Not knowing if I had to draw for our team or just be present, I was nervous that he would take me to the wrong venue and that I might be late for the draw.

So I pulled out the trump card and called Jenny; I asked her to speak Chinese to the taxi driver and direct him to the correct venue. I handed him the phone and they began to converse, I could tell that he understood and that we were headed in the right direction. As he gave me my phone back I told him, “Lang Ping – Ping Lang.” Well he about wrecked the car. He was so excited like a little kid who had just spoken to his hero. He kept asking me, “Lang Ping? Lang Ping?” I kept answering in the affirmative. Then I called Jenny back and told her that she had just made this man’s day and to talk to him one more time to confirm who she was. She graciously did and the man was so happy. He hung up and just beamed, and then he called someone and spoke really fast Chinese. You gotta do what you gotta do.

I made it in plenty of time and was able to sit with Diane and Gen who were scouting the Russian/Serbian match. After the three-set match and the press conference, FIVB’s Cristobal Marte from the Dominican Republic started the draw procedure. This process is new to the Olympics as the FIVB frowned on the fact that some teams could possibly throw their last match in pool to get a better draw from the other pool.

We were informed through a brief power point where the women’s teams stood at present. Then Cristobal in his typical form explained the procedure eloquently. He then showed the “open to the public” audience that there were two crystal bowls with two Mikasa mini balls in each and the names of the teams printed on separate slips of paper. Cristobal picked up the mini balls and opened each of them to show that there was nothing inside. I thought I was at a magic show! I expected the “nothing up my sleeve” line next. He and his cohort folded the teams’ names and placed one inside each of the balls and screwed them tight. They mixed both bowls and Cristobal held up the USA A2 placard to indicate that the name picked would play us. Cristobal had a volunteer from the crowd come forward and choose one of the balls. It was opened and at the stroke of midnight, Cristobal revealed – “Italia.” So it is USA/Italy at 10 p.m. with Russia against China at 8 p.m.

Diane, Gen and I reacted positively and I called Jenny as she was waiting back at the dorm to begin studying our opponent. We shared the shuttle home with the Cuba and Chinese contingencies. It was a pretty noisy ride home with the three languages, with Diane opening her computer to get a jump on her late night preparation of Italy.

After breakfast, the women caught a bus to BNU for video. The men were on the same bus as they practiced before us. I passed around a card for Kim Glass as it is her birthday today. I called ahead to the dining hall and they were prepared to help celebrate her big day with a candle on a dessert. Everyone sat down to eat and Adam, one of the catering staff members, presented Kim with their pineapple upside down cake with candles as the hall sang to Kim.

Before practice the Beijing Normal University held a short presentation in a rooom off the side of the main gym to recognize Jenny. After the elaborate but quick ceremony, the university conferred the title of honorary professor to Jenny, who studied at the University.

After practice, some dinner and off to watch the men’s match against Japan at 10pm.

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