Joan Powell's Olympic Journal for Aug. 22

Aug. 23, 2008, 1:45 a.m. (ET)

August 22, 2008

OH MY GOSH!! Still pinching ourselves – is it a dream that we are playing for the Gold? Yes, it is a dream come true for these women and their staff and the families and supporters that have dreamed right along with them.

Following the amazing 3-0 match against the bewildered Cubans, our women gathered center court and demonstrated their feelings with anyone in hugging distance. Their sweat was shared with all comers – and what a tremendous, moving experience for everyone allowed to enter the court. The stands were filled with red white and blue faces, jerseys, hats and paraphernalia along with plenty of American flags. Those in attendance will remember this moment forever and are reminded that the thrill felt tonight night just might be replicated two-fold tomorrow night! After more celebration, the team members meandered into the mix zone where the media anxiously awaited anyone and everyone for interviews.

Bergie represented the USA team in the press conference, along with head coach, Jenny. Nike is the sponsor of the USA contingency and at press conferences and medal ceremonies, all USA members have to wear the sky blue warm up jacket (navy for men) issued at team processing. I carry mine to every match for the team spokesperson and take Sue’s for Jenny. I saw Kenji, our Mizuno sponsor from Japan, as I was getting the jackets out of my back pack. I said, “Oops,” as I felt caught; he laughed – he knew the protocol.

I was once again proud of Lindsey Berg and her poise in front of the press corp. She complimented the Cuban team being one of the best in the world. She also complimented our team by saying that the USA team just keeps improving with each match. She said that the team will most likely celebrate for a bit – tongue in cheek and a look toward Jenny – “if our coach let’s us!!” She reminded everyone that we are not finished yet. Bergie was asked about the announcement of Jenny Lang Ping as the USA coach four years ago. Lindsey retorted that the USA team accepted her as part of the family and that race or country had no bearing on their feelings. She added that they were honored by having someone of her prestige coaching our women’s team. (And how about gender? It makes me grin a bit as I watch Jenny shake hands with her male counterparts at the end of each match.)

Jenny also commented on the fact that we were not done yet. To me, the most touching comment was when she explained that she was especially happy for the older players and that this moment needed to be shared with the many players that did not make the roster. I really thought that the comments about her happiness for her players and the inclusion of those who worked hard for years were signs of a thoughtful, unselfish coach. The press had asked Jenny to comment on her impression of her former success as a player and as a coach; they wanted her to rank this experience with the past. Jenny sincerely believes that this was not a time for her, that her glory days are in the past and that this was the time for all of her players, those at the Games and those who spent hours in the gym dreaming of the chance to represent their country at the Olympic Games. To many times coaches’ comments are self-serving as they forget to win and lose with their teams and have a tendency to speak more about themselves. Jenny reminded the reporter asking the “ranking question” that this was the players dream, not hers.

Back in the locker room there was continued celebration, then showering while two of our players were chosen by WADA for testing. Jordan (Robyn’s five-year-old son) and his buddy, “Miss Diane” were coloring just like back at the Colorado Springs Training Center. Even though Jordan was certainly proud of his mom and into the match – he is just five and it was now time for him to play.

Jenny’s former player, who has served as the Capital Gymnasium’s court manager, has been wonderful to Jenny and to our team. She gathered all the “friendlies’” notebooks, postcards, autograph books and pictures and brought them into the locker room for Jenny to sign. Jenny was on the phone, but proceeded signing numerous keepsakes. It was a good idea to get ‘er done then, as she would have been stormed as she attempted to leave the building.

One of our State Department people thought we should try to get one of the golf carts which are present at all the venues. She reported that she made contact and secured one for Jenny’s escape to the vans. We could not use the BOCOG (Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games) because we were going back to Beijing Normal University for dinner and recovery; weights were optional.

Patrick, our weight man from the OTC, called ahead and arranged that the New York caterer for BNU hold the afternoon meal. I organized our male staff along with Emery our trainer to surround Jenny as the door to the locker room opened. It was impossible to penetrate that wall and Jenny was able to go right to her golf cart. Surprisingly enough they had secured three large carts with four rows of seats for the entire team. The players boarded and took off and began to wave like Homecoming Queens as we drove 100 yards outside the fence to our waiting vans. Bob Gambardella, head of USOC transportation, provided the vehicles to BNU.

I was sitting next to Logan Tom and Jennifer Joines. JJ said of the upcoming Gold Medal match, “I am picturing myself telling my grandchildren about this.” We all laughed. As a first timer to this entire experience, she was so thrilled and so genuine.

I dropped off the lucky blue jerseys from the Cuba match and picked up the other lucky, clean blue uniforms from the Italian match. Ryan from the USOC has done a great job having our game uniforms ready for us.

The meal at BNU was terrific – steak, a salad tossed for you at the salad bar and so much more. I thanked the chef in charge for holding the meal – usually they clear lunch at 2 p.m. and get ready for the 5 p.m. dinner. Most of the gals ate and had recovery at BNU or waited to go back to the medical treatment area downstairs in our tower at the Olympic Village. Most went to the USA House to see family and friends. Of course the curfew was still in place, so they all checked out with me and then checked back in either by phone or in person. The USOC pre-programmed phones are the best – but when they ring, everyone goes for their pocket or back pack as the ring tone is the same on everyone’s cell.

I started making lists for the next two days. I had to make some phone calls about gym time because we will practice two more days. I went for a needed run; it was drizzling and pleasant outside. Got on my bike and grabbed some dinner. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE my bike? Went by the Sports Information to reserve a bus and cancel the FIVB practice since we will be using BNU. I came back to the dorm and did some more planning by sticking post-its to my mirror and the wall near my light switch. I’ve gotta get the details right on the last few BIG days.

Diane went to the China/Brazil match to film and take stats for the video sessions. While I was doing emails, I able to see the women’s soccer team score and eventually win the Gold – how cool. I was able to call home, my Mom and Dr. Lori from the World Grand Prix. She simply makes me laugh out loud. Since she knows the team and staff so well, we really enjoy bantering on the phone about the crazy, behind-the-scene stuff. I called Carla at the USAV office just to tease her by to saying that I was out of pins. She loved it. I slipped the “whereabouts” form with the next two days’ schedule under the USOC door so Eric would have it in the morning. I got to bed late, but who cares, right?

I love going to BNU because the food is so good and because in the dorm elevator to the dining area is a red carpet with the day of the week embroidered on the rug. It’s Friday and it’s ticket day!! Whoo, whoo!

Up this morning and off to get the bulletins from Sports Information with all the statistical information from the two matches last night. Looked at the schedule and USA is in blue – Praise the Lord! I called to make arrangements with Kelly, the USOC ticket gal. Same provisions – two for each athlete and then she will attempt to get as many tickets as she can to sell to the parents and friends, but they would not go on sale until 4pm. Kelly met me at the bus area and gave me the comp tickets only. Just before leaving for BNU, I was able to catch the men’s first set against Russia, updating Doug Beal in his taxi up until the second technical time out.

Danielle was having bike problems – her seat needed attention and the back tire was flat. I was dropped off at the dorm with the bike and the team went on to the gym. Wes told me to leave it in the lobby. Okay so there should be a rule – cannot have bike problems on ticket day – too much for the Team Leader in one day. Put a sticky on the bike seat with the maintenance problems and hustled over to the lobby TV; the men were up 2-0 – sweet. I watched the third set loss and just had to stay. I called Di at the gym - no dire need for me to get there, so I stayed glued to the match. OH MY!! I am sure you folks were going crazy at home – especially so late.

When I got to the gym, Di told me that the team was all stretched and ready to do ball handling when they were told that the men had to go five. They found a small room and the women’s team gathered around and watched (and cheered for) the men. After the win, the women were elated and motivated; they had a great practice. It has been two super days for American volleyball – gold medals in both men and women’s beach and now the men and women are going to the indoor gold round – unreal!!

At practice today, Kelly, who is in charge of the gym schedule and who by the way, should get a medal herself for her patience with men’s and women’s volleyball and basketball, sat down beside Diane and I. (The equipment guys need some kudos here too – they work extremely hard changing the courts from VB to BB back to VB everyday, not to mention the other sports they service. By the way, on game days, BB uses the gym for their shoot around. Kelly first called our game day practice a “serve around” and after we gave her a hard time, she changed it to a “bump around!”)

Kelly shared with us the poetic scene after USA lost to Japan last night in the softball finals. It seems that five of our players placed their cleats on home plate; I assume a sign of retirement. Then Mendoza came out with five buckets of balls and dumped them just as the Australian, Japanese and American teams came out to join her. They were spreading the softballs around and then everyone was privy to their sentiments of the disbandment of softball from future Olympics – the balls were formed into a huge 2016, then all the players began chanting – “Let’s play softball.” WOW! That must have been a pretty powerful sight. We have missed so much of the Games, barely catch live action and then stay up to watch the daily recaps. The USOC Daily News is a wonderful periodical – I have saved all of them and will try to read them at Christmastime!

With practice over, back to BNU’s main entrance to catch the 5 p.m bus. (They leave promptly on the hour – leave the Village to BNU on the half hour). I called Wes, the bike man, and Dani’s bike was repaired. I put it on the bus and asked for a volunteer to ride it back to the dorm as I had mine parked at the bus area and even though I am pretty good at multi-tasking – I don’t think I could ride both of them!! Sue Woodstra volunteered. Nice!!

Back at the dorm, I went to the USOC offices and met with Kelly and got the tickets. I spent time organizing them with a check list of names and amount due. Kerry Klostermann from USA Volleyball is killing me – this was not mentioned in the Team Leader manual!! Most of the team had gone to the USA House to see family and friends. I got my laundry and then went for a run – a little muggy tonight. I got some dinner to go because I had to attend the Closing Ceremonies meeting from 9-10pm. The watermelon was so good tonight - sometimes it’s the little things in life that gets you through the day! I stopped off at the Sports Information desk to make sure they had the correct time for our bus. I am just a little paranoid about making an error at this juncture.

I took my dinner to the meeting and the meeting was informative and short. Kelly Skinner from the USOC is fabulous – more energy and positive vibes than anyone I’ve seen. I really don’t think he sleeps.

Upon my return, I was amazed at the two players’ common areas. They are filled with jerseys, banners, flags and some phenomenal memorabilia spread out on tables for all of the team members to autograph. Robyn had little “friendly” zippered pencil carriers for Jordan’s classmates – all with the Olympic team’s signatures. There was beautiful, framed Chinese artwork with autographs on the mats along with framed Olympic pin arrangements. Even Jenny was scurrying around having players and staff signing her stash. She and I had gotten bags at the new Mizuno store opening and contract signing. Jenny had a silver pen and had them sign her shinny blue bag. As she entered Nicole and Stacy’s room, Nicole wanted to know why they had not gotten that particular bag. Jenny told them that only the Head Coach and the Head of Delegation received it – kiddingly she said, “You must have head in front of your name.” Nicole quickly replied, “So I am Head Libero.” Oh boy, we all cracked up, including Stacy Sykora.

As I absorbed the frenzy in the two apartments, I realized the finality of it all and the urgency to capture everything on paper and on things so to never forget what was accomplished here in Beijing. Everyone realized that this would be the last chance to save the moment; we all wanted a final piece of this incredible dream. The USOC theme for the 2008 Olympics is “Amazing Awaits.”

And so it does, for tomorrow is it – nothing saved - put it all on the court for the last time.