Joan Powell's Olympic Journal - Aug. 24

Aug. 25, 2008, 2:56 a.m. (ET)

Aug. 24, 2008

Silver Medal for the USA women’s volleyball team – who would have thought? “Amazing Awaits” rang very true for this team.

Ranked fourth going into the Olympic Games and up against teams in a great pool, the women had their work cut out for them. Cuba and China came from our side of the bracket with undefeated Brazil standing alone. The women persevered even with the odds and the tragedy that hit the volleyball family the day of the first match.

Everyone could feel the excitement of this event – like non-other they have ever experienced. The first set was all Brazil, we seemed a bit flat as Brazil hitting and blocking was world class. But the second set was our turn. Chants from the Chinese members in the crowd like, “Lang Ping Jia You” – pronounced Ji-Yo meant let’s go Lang Ping. (Later at the press conference, Lang Ping’s daughter told me that strict interpretation is more like “add more fuel.” The crowd also remembering the days of their hero chanted, “I-Earn, Ham-mer,” Jenny’s nickname from her playing days. The Brazilians were a plenty and very enthusiastic, but not enough to help their countrywomen in the second set.

We really struggled in the third set, so I would rather flush that one down. It would have been a terrific final had we been able to push the Brazilians to five. It was 21-21 in the fourth and we made four errors. BUT, the women were happy to bring home the silver.

I have often watched the Medal Ceremonies on television – but oh my, it is tremendous in person. The pomp and circumstance is regal. The women ran through the mix zone while Brazil had their day in the sun and the organizers brought out the red carpet and the stands. Beautiful Chinese women dressed in vibrant blue satin dresses came out very stoic with medal trays of bronze, silver and gold. Our team showered and put on their Nike medal stand sweats from the USOC. Then the doors opened and China, the bronze medal winners, entered the court first. Our gals looked marvelous as they walked out hand in hand – they stepped onto their silver platform with pride and a real sense of teamness and certainly accomplishment – the second best team in the world. All the hours of practice, the sacrifices, the months and years away from family and friends seemed all so worth it as they were presented their medals and then their bouquets of flowers.

The families that had attended the Games were filled with such delight. The staff had to feel that all their hours in the gym and the sacrifices made with the absence of their families were all worth this moment. You wanted to freeze the moment, rewind and play it again and again. There were lots of pictures and Stacy asked me to video tape the ceremony; she plans to edit her video snippets it and give a copy to everyone.

Probably the most heartfelt moment was when Robyn went looking for her 5-year-old son, Jordan. He ran into her arms and the photographers were right there – they were surrounded. After a bit, I said, “Robyn, put the medal on Jordan.” Oh there were some Kodak moments! Then I said, Jordan, give your mom a big kiss.” He did and the clicks of the cameras were continuous as Jordan laid a proud kiss on his mommy.

We were called to the press conference. Lindsey Berg substituted for Robyn as she was a little busy with her son. Jenny was the most relaxed I had ever seen her. The self-inflicted pressure was off and she could celebrate with her team.

Lindsey spoke of the “bitter/sweet” feeling. She graciously reminded everyone that they were defeated by the number-one team in the world. A reporter asked about the Bachman incident and the impact that it had on the team. Bergie handled the delicate question with ease reporting that everyone had written “Wiz” somewhere on their hand or arm as a reminder that they are with her during this time.

Jenny complimented the team from Brazil and then turned immediately to her team and her staff. She also congratulated the Chinese team for winning the Bronze. She immediately spoke about her team – how proud she was, how much she would like to thank her staff and then thanked the Organizers and the volunteers. She commented that everyone made her and her team very comfortable.

When asked about her future, she told them with laughter that she would like to take a break right now and be with her daughter. She left the media guessing as to whether she would continue to coach.

Back in the locker room, everyone gathered their belongings and headed for the bus. It was quite late, but the team was pretty pumped and many went to see family and friends.

The following morning, Ty, Stacy, Nicole, Emery and I met in front of our tower at 6:45 – the only morning we could have slept in!!! Not us, we had a date with the Great Wall. Patrick, the gals’ weight and conditioning guy from the Springs, arranged a van from BNU and took us to a terrific place for sightseeing. It took us under two hours to get to the spot where we could climb and take a toboggan back down.

We had to go through a market area where we were pursued by many vendors to buy their Great Wall hats or their “I climbed the Great Wall” t-shirts. Our van driver escorted us to the ticket window for ski lift and toboggan ride. Ty and I shared the lift and after we were whisked away, Nicole and Stacy followed. Emery was by himself and his moans and groans could be heard in Mongolia. He was a bit nervous as we climbed and climbed and we were suspended way above ground.

We approached our destination and had to be hurried off the lift and pulled away from the chair. We all began to walk, take pictures and comment on the 10 years it took to build the wall and the number of fathers and sons it took to construct this awesome, breathtaking phenomenon. The stairs to the top of our ridge were numerous, so many that we all had to pause along the way. Then we reached the toboggan area. A quick lessen on go and stop with the joy stick from a gal who spoke English and we were all on our own. Oh my, it was so much fun. Everyone loved it – almost wanted to climb those stairs again, just to enjoy the down part! We then had to walk through the vendors on our way to the van. Ty had spotted something and had called her dad as he visited the same tourist area while his stay at the Olympics. She was bartering with some guy and then gave up and continued to walk and talk to her dad. We were being pestered heavily by the merchants, everyone except Ty. Then I realized that they were not approaching her because she was on the phone, so I took my phone out and pretended to talk. Got through that street without anyone asking me, “Lady, Lady, you want to buy this hat!!”

Everyone slept on the way back to Beijing. I got back to the dorm in time for a shower. It was really hot today and for some reason, I just couldn’t hail a cab. Finally, I was on my way to the men’s Gold Medal match. I missed the first set, but that was okay as they lost that one. The men proceeded to win the second, the third and made all of us nervous that we would have to sit through a point for point fifth, but the men pulled out the victory and won the Gold Medal!!

It was so great to watch the members of the men’s team, who by the way are some great guys and of course, their staff, who is so much fun to be around. Their celebration with each other, their coaches and families was genuine and really rewarding to be a part of. Their medal ceremony was just like our, except they earned the Gold.

Afterwards, Sue, Tom, Di and I got a cab and went to the USA House where USA Volleyball had an exceptional reception for both teams and their family and friends. I had invited our four State Department friends and they joined us. I also extended an invitation to two guys with a production company that has a contract with FIVB to produce a 52-minute documentary on volleyball. The US had agreed to allow these men to follow our teams throughout the Games. I got it okayed with Bill Kauffman, our media man, but was questioned by the USOC once one of them arrived with his camera. After I explained the situation to the USOC he allowed James to film, but that he has to stay on our floor of the Jasmine restaurant. Okay, so the person giving the permission was a student of mine back when!!!

Robyn came with her husband and Jordan. After they ate, she called me to a lobby area. She gave me the most beautiful framed 2008 made with Olympic pins. The team had signed the matting. I started to cry and hugged her tight. What a great gift from a great person. The team winning the silver was really enough for me, but this will be a treasured keepsake.

The staff and I had intentions of attending the Closing Ceremonies, but the taxi driver was unable to get us close enough to the Village as they were closing off streets. Tom asked if he could get us to BNU and he did. We just missed the 6 PM bus, so went to the great dining hall – all closed up and things were being moved out. So we went to the athlete/coaches lounge; we got on computers and got a little caught up on our emails.

Back to the Olympic Village, the participants were just being loaded onto the buses for the Closing Ceremonies. We decided not to rush around and get into our gear, but rather pack and watch the Ceremony on television. And so we did.

All of our players went out – of course. I had made a poster last night with reminders of check-out and departure information. A staff member from the USOC meets with me at 10:30 am tomorrow for the inspection – here’s hoping. This will be the last of my team leader duties – that and getting everyone to the airport by bus. It was suggested that we leave 4-5 hours before our flight as it is the heaviest day for departures.

Danielle and Bergie leave at noon; they will meet the men’s team downstairs with all the luggage at 7:30. The rest of our delegation will leave around 11.

So as I depart Beijing, I have a few last thoughts. . .

I made arrangements to leave my bike with the USOC staff for Denise Van De Walle who will be coming to the Paralympic Games as the assistant coach for our sitting team. She is currently the head coach at Bowling Green State. I hope she loves my bike as much as I did!

I need to thank my family for their support during this great ride. Dick, Ashley and Beijing I’m coming home! And Mom, it’s your turn now – pray me in!

Thanks to this team, their coaches and especially to Diane French. I appreciate Doug Beal and USA Volleyball for having faith in me to carry-out this huge responsibility.

I need to say to my dear friend Judy Sondermann, whom I coached and then who faithfully helped me for 30 years with my high school volleyball program, that she was soooooo right. Pay backs are deadly. Believe me the team leader role was a “gopher” role, but so worth it. I got to observe what it takes to reach the pinnacle – these athletes and coaches dedicate their lives to be the best. I was honored to help them in a supportive role and hopefully smooth the way so that they could reach their goals and experience the dream of a lifetime.

And oh what a dream it was . . .