WORLD CUP JOURNAL Updated Jan 25 U S team finally arrives home from long trip

By Katie Downing | Jan. 28, 2008, 11:42 a.m. (ET)

It's been a couple of days, but we're finally home after some busy days. Let me take you backwards. I'm writing this at home at about 4:30 a.m. I've been up since 2:30 a.m. because I fell asleep at 8:30 p.m., because I'd been traveling for about 24 hours, and I'd been up for about 28 hours. Our last full day in China, we had our final workout with China, headed to Tiennamen Square and the Forbidden City, and had one more banquet with the national team wrestlers and coaches.

Our last day was a battle to balance out the desire to get the most out of our trip to the other side of the world with the fact that our bodies were worn out, tired, and battered. Tao is one of the Chinese national team coaches, and he runs the strength and conditioning program for some of the girls at their Olympic Training Center. He was also our tour guide/interpreter/friend for the week. He's an easy guy to like, and took great care of us. We were all coughing during the last workout on the morning we left, so Tao got us all Chinese cough drops for the trip back.

He also took us to see the Forbidden City. That day was actually pretty clear. It's a rough deal though because in Beijing you either get pea soup smog, or storm-like winds that cut you in half with the wind chill. It took us a good four hours to see the whole city. I bounced back and forth between being enrapt by what I saw in the city, and teetering on the brink of my tolerance for cold. By the end, I wasn't sure if I'd ever be warm again. The Forbidden City was impressive, beautiful, and thick with history. We also met the last emperor's nephew, who is also a master calligrapher. He demonstrated his art, and even made individual scrolls for a few of us.

A trip across the world to take on the top teams in women's wrestling is an intense experience with a lot of emotional ups and downs, and a lot of quality time with your teammates and coaches. We learned a lot on this trip, and we've put ourselves in a position to really establish ourselves at the top of the world ranks. We also grew closer as a team. I suppose I'll leave you with a few more fun stories.

Leigh Jaynes has an eye for fashion, and always finds a cute outfit when the girls go shopping. She can also get wrapped up in a good story. While roaming some shops with my teammates, Leigh got so focused on the conversation that she walked straight into a plate glass door. She smacked her forehead like she was in a sitcom or comedy movie.

Anyone who's been around wrestlers for any amount of time knows how tactile we all are. We can't seem to walk or talk to each other without grabbing each other's arms, or head locking one another, or bear hugging each other. Apparently it rubs off too. Chris Shroer is our medical trainer for the Olympic year, and he traveled with us to World Cup. He's a tall drink of water who's pretty quiet except for the occasional one liner. When we flew back to Beijing from Taiyuan, Marcie Van Dusen started picking on (USA Coach) Terry Steiner. She started wrestling him mostly for the purpose of sticking an old bag tag on his back. We were all kinda standing around watching, and once Marcie and Terry's match ended, Chris came up out of nowhere behind Marcie and picked her up in a vice grip bear hug. Between giggles and half breaths, Marcie could only manage to squeeze out, "Wow, you're strong!" Good one.

Tao knew enough English to get us around, but got an interpreter to take us through the Forbidden City to explain what everything was. We saw a hall full of old jewels and artifacts left from Chinese dynasties. One of the most expensive things we saw was a heavily jeweled imperial crown. One of the gals asked the interpreter how much it was worth. He meant to tell us it was priceless, but what he said was, "It's worthless." We all had a good laugh at that one, and it's one of those good jokes that keeps on giving. Marcie got a cheap bottle of wax berry wine, and it took three of us to open it. Steph Lee held it down while Marcie pulled the cork, and when it finally popped out, wine splashed up and got her in the eye. The expression on her face was, as we say, 'worthless.'

Thanks for coming along with us on our trip, and supporting us to success.

Tuesday, Jan. 22

We are staying next to a sports school, and staying in a sports hotel. This morning we went to the regular wrestling practice with the girls here. There had to have been more than 40 of them. It was good to get on the mat with a lot of Chinese girls. We got to drill, go live on our feet, and in par terre with a few partners each. It's good to get in and just wrestle with the Chinese girls because they all do pretty much the same thing. I had a chance to really feel out the timing of their set-ups and shots. No matter which girl I wrestled, it felt the same. We'll have another chance to work out with them tomorrow morning as well.

After practice, we got into the bus that was our jail cell for the day. We spent about five hours in traffic by the end of the outing, and about half an hour outside the bus. My teammates were going a little cuckoo by the end of it all. We drove out to the Olympic venues to check out the wrestling arena. It is like any other arena, but it was awesome to walk around the place thinking about the next time I may have a chance to walk there. The man in charge of running things for that building showed us around. The warm-up area has dozens of small rooms to serve as changing rooms for each team and a raised platform that will hold five mats. The locker rooms are like any other, but they do have two brand-new saunas in there. We also drove past the Olympic Village or athlete housing, the aquatics center they call the water cube, and the track and field venue called the bird's nest. Right now the buildings are impressive, but the place in general looks like one huge construction zone.

Tonight, the Chinese coaches took us to dinner with the "A" squad girls from the school. We had a lot of food, and it was all good. We had duck wraps, the specialty of the area, and they were delicious. While we enjoyed dinner, we also tried our best to communicate with the Chinese wrestlers. We practiced the usual ritual of trading words and phrases, and moved on to trying to learn a little bit about each other's lives or preferences. Wrestlers, mixed with food, mixed with a language barrier, makes for a confusing but enjoyable time with a lot of laughs. One of the Chinese girls tried to explain that when you translate her name into English, it means 'hippo.' Somewhere in the middle of the discussion, the rest of the Chinese girls took a vote that Steph Lee's nickname should from now on also be 'hippo.' We all tried to teach each other our names, although I can't remember any of them now. I don't know how many of the Chinese girls remembered my name, but I'm sure they will always remember the American girls, and the Hippo.

Monday, Jan. 21

Everyone took a little longer to wake up this morning. Today was mostly travel back to Beijing. There's not much to say about wrestling for now. We're going to get in a practice with the local sports school team tomorrow. Hopefully, most of their National Team will be there too.

Many of the girls went shopping today for some clothing bargains and authentic Chinese wares. I went to visit the Beijing Normal University where many of the USOC staff will stay during the Olympics, and where many of the athletes will train away from the Olympic Village. It was exciting to see the brand new gym complex being built, and to look around what may be our practice sites next fall. For now, we mostly got to look in windows to see what eventually will be something else when we arrive for the Games. Still, it felt good to be walking around what could be a part of the big dream later this year.

Patrick Borkowski, the strength and conditioning coach at the Olympic Training Center, is here making plans for all of the gyms U.S. athletes will use at the University right before the Games. He also made his way out to Taiyuan to see the final round of the World Cup. He missed his flight from Beijing, and got delayed, stuck in a cold airport, and sent to the wrong hotel in Taiyuan. The people at our hotel gave us his key so he'd have it when he finally did arrive. That spelled danger for Patrick. You just can't give a bunch of wrestlers a lot of time on their hands, and the key to your unmonitored room. We brainstormed several devious options for defiling his room, and finally settled on the simple, yet effective "surprise" in the toilet. Patrick put us through a workout the next morning, but gave us no immediate reaction to the condition of his room. We kept trying to bait him into reacting to his bathroom gift, but we got nothing until the very end of our practice. He was going over his travel mishaps and said, ". . . and to top it all off, I thought this was a nice hotel, but there was a big dump in the toilet when I got into my room!" We replied, "No way! Who would do such a thing!" It was the payoff we were looking for, because Patrick's face just froze as he thought it over, and then dropped once he realized that shenanigans had taken place.

Half of our delegation went home today. Sara McMann and Jenny Wong were among them. We are all wrestlers, but we are all women too, so we share what's going on in our lives. Sara and Jenny both practice at Limestone College in South Carolina rather than the Training Center. A handful of Limestone wrestlers came to the Training Center, so we got to know them a bit. Trips are a chance for us girls to catch up with Sara and Jenny, and to hear about how the Limestone guys are doing too. It's also neat to have Jenny on our trip in China because both of her parents were born here. I liked having dinner with her because she could tell me what all of the food was, and she'd tell us how her mom prepared the same dishes. It was also funny to see Jenny say something in English, and still have people talk to her in Chinese, assuming she'd be fluent. She knows just enough Chinese to give us interesting bits of info.

Sunday, Jan. 20

This is one of the toughest entries to write because the disappointment is still fresh, and because it's going to be a challenge to do justice to all of the emotions of the day. We started the day like the Senior National champions do each year because we got to sit out during the early rounds of the day while the rest of the teams battled out for third through sixth. We started the day as usual with an early workout to keep loose. The day went by slowly as we waited to get back to the mats.

At warmups this evening, we stood in the same place we were before our match with Japan. The Chinese team is as tough a foe, and we felt just as pumped and ready to go. I'm not sure I can truly convey how it all balances out because the numbers don't add up. I am truly proud of 90 percent of my own performance, and that of my entire team.

I can go home with my chin up because we wrestled well and made a statement that will send everyone else home worried about the threat Team USA poses in the future. At the same time, the 10 percent that left us just short of our goal is completely disappointing. At this level, doing 10 things right gets you to the finals, and one wrong move puts you on the second podium. For tonight, we can take the good with the bad and deal with the pain of falling short as best we can. For the future, we learn from our mistakes, knowing that we've managed to put ourselves in a good position to end up on top come time for the 2008 Olympics when we're back here in this part of the World.

Tomorrow, we travel back to Beijing. We are fortunate enough to have the rare opportunity to compete as well as see a bit of the area and culture where we are. We'll visit some of the Olympic venues we'll need to be familiar with by next fall, as well as Tiennamen Square and the Forbidden City. We'll also train with the Chinese National team for a few days before we head back home.

Saturday, Jan. 19

Whew! What a day! We started off with Ukraine, and we weren't breaking any quick-feet records. It wasn't pretty, but we got the job done. It was nice how our day broke up because we had the bye first round, wrestled second, and then we got to come back to the hotel to recharge before the evening session. We knew right away that we had to step it up a notch for the evening session to really bring our "A" game.

The way it works is that China and Japan get separated into different pools so they meet in the finals. Once we beat Ukraine, we were supposed to go for third. It is also supposed to be a given that Saori Yoshida's match is an instant win for Japan. Fortunately, we knew that nothing is written in the books until we make it happen. (USA Coach) Terry Steiner told us that it didn't matter what everyone else thought, but only what each and every one of us thought we could do. Usually no one really pushes Japan to test their limits. We had to look deep inside ourselves to know that we could beat them. We were going to have to put forth our best performance to do so. And we did. We took our game to them, and pressured until we came out on top.

Marcie Van Dusen made history tonight. Yoshida had not lost in 119 consecutive Senior-level matches, but Marcie put an end to that run. Before we even got to the arena, Marcie told me that it felt like she'd wrestled her a million times already, and that's exactly how it looked tonight. She had a plan, she was thoroughly prepared, and she made it happen. One good match can shift the momentum of a dual, and I know I certainly fed off of the intensity and the pride I felt watching Marcie's match.

We finished strong. Stephany Lee's opponent started off the last match of the night with a failed foot sweep attempt. Steph responded with a sweet foot sweep of her own, showing her how it's supposed to be done. All of the endless hours we endure mental, emotional, and physical fatigue are worth it just for that feeling we got coming off of the mat after beating the number one country in the world.

Tonight is about relishing the moment, and then coming back down to a fresh slate again to get ready to do it all again tomorrow. That's how it is in wrestling and life. We know we accomplished something important today, but the job's not done yet. There's always the next thing to push toward. No matter if we won or lost individually, we all start in the same place tomorrow morning.

Friday, Jan. 18

Hello again, wrestling friends and family. The longest day of the trip is finally winding down now that we all have food and water back in our systems, and we're relaxing in the warmth of our hotel rooms.

Weigh-ins were in the same cold gym where we've been getting on the mats to work out. This was the first time that anything competed with water as first priority after weigh-ins. The longer we waited, the more warmth vied for our attention as much as water. We were in a big room with two full mats, but our whole team took up only about five square feet as we were all huddled together. I'll tell you, Stephany Lee makes everyone else look like slackers when it comes to providing the group with warmth. She's like a portable heater.

On the bus ride back to the hotel, I overheard Sara trying to plan out having enough layers to wear at the tournament site, and also having enough clean gear left over for the second day. This seemed like a pretty mundane discussion until I discovered why Sara had to plan out the use of her sweatshirts. Apparently, earlier today Sara wore one of her sweatshirts to check her weight in Steph's room. When she took her sweatshirt off to step on the scale, she paid no attention to where she flung it. After she knew her weight was fine, she finally noticed that one whole sleeve landed directly in the toilet. So now she has one totally clean sweatshirt, and one mostly clean sweatshirt. Classic.

This leads me to my next observation. I think the robes they have here in hotel rooms may be cursed or something. We've all been sporting the robes now and again, because you can't help but feel a little first-class and pampered in them.

It also seems as though once you put on a robe, you've just sealed a deal that you will lock yourself out of your room if you visit a teammate. Marcie and I got a visit from Steph Lee yesterday when she locked herself out, and today Sara hung out in our room for the very same reason. The hotel staff must be thinking, "What is it with the Americans and their robes out in the hall all alone?"

Now all of the less fun parts of the trip are over, and we're all excited to be feeling acclimated to the new time, rested, fed, and watered. Now the only things competing for our attention are our eagerness to get out there to show what we're made of against the top women's wrestling teams in the World. And our need to relax and enjoy each other's company now and save the energy for the mats.

Thursday, Jan. 17

I'd really like to get out of the cities here so that I may actually see what China looks like. We had a half-hour bus ride from our hotel to the venue this morning, but I couldn't see more than 50 feet outside of the windows because of the smog. When we got to the venue, they wouldn't let us in at first. Apparently, we were the first people to arrive at the building, and there was a problem with the air-conditioning. And by "air-conditioning," they really meant "heater." We could see our breath when we first started warming-up. It's a good thing that we are seasoned travelers on this team, because a practice in the cold can be a crisis to newcomers. By now we have learned to roll with the punches, and we know that this practice will end up being a good story in the future.

Luckily, my roommate, Marcie Van Dusen, and I have been blasting the heat in our room. You know that warm and cozy feeling you get in the morning when your bed and blanket feel so wonderful that you never want to get up? That's what our room is like. Speaking of my roomie, Marcie happens to be in love right now, a point she made sure to express about five times just on the trip over here. Also, let it be known, that within the first six hours of being in this hotel where we have Internet, Marcie called her boyfriend on Skype twice. Seriously, folks, she's googly! It's cute, and awesome, and also completely disgusting at the same time. Don't worry, though, Marcie's totally ready to kick some butt and be in love at the same time. I guess googly is for the hotel room, and it's nothing but business on the mat.

Next door to us is Stephany Lee. She is definitely a social being, and gets energy from having other people around her all of the time. So it's a little ironic that we've got two to a room, and seven girls, and Steph's the one by herself. We stuck the scale in her room, though, so everyone has to go and visit her at least a few times a day.

OK, this is where I was going to end the journal, but I've got to add what just happened. Marcie was putting blueberry jelly on a mini-bagel, and spilled some on the white comforter. She kept trying to clean it up, but somehow it kept spreading to other spots on the blanket. Turns out she had some on the back of her pants, and every time she sat down, it made a new blue smear. Nice. Looks like some kind of art. So she flipped the blanket over ... like it never happened!

Wednesday, Jan. 16

It's been quite a long trip over here, but we're mostly settled into the hotel we'll use until after competition. We flew over the top of the world for 13 hours to Beijing, China. Then we got on a bus to drive an hour to a hotel just for the night, caught a bus back to the airport the next morning, and finally arrived here in Taiyuan (like Tie-you-wan) this afternoon.

The first tasks on a wrestling trip are pretty simple. Where's my bed? Where can I find water that's safe to drink? And where's the gym? For a few of the girls, the next important question is where the Internet access can be found. Once these basic needs are met, it's back to business as usual.

Our hotel rooms here are nice, but there is no flopping or jumping on Chinese hotel beds, so far as I can tell. If you try to jump into bed here, you are likely to hurt yourself. China has a category above what we'd call 'firm' mattresses in the States. Firm is better than lumpy, though, so we should sleep pretty well while we're here.

We had our first team meeting in the dining area. The room is plastered to look like sand and sea-shells, and the floors have glass-covered sections that make it look like you're walking on water. The room was fun, the food was good, and they even played American music. We were enjoying the atmosphere until we noticed that we had listened to "I Believe I Can Fly" on repeat about 10 times in a row.

Tonight, we'll get some cardio and sauna time in here at the hotel. (USA Coach) Terry Steiner checked out the workout room. Apparently there are plenty of exercise machines and weights, but he had to turn off the air conditioning so that we don't freeze ourselves. I'm not sure what would make anyone think it would be a good idea to run air conditioning, because it's got to be no more than 20 degrees outside. But there's always something when you go overseas.

It will be good to do our own thing tonight, get a good sweat going, and shake off the travel. Tomorrow, we'll get on the mats at the venue. There's always a sense of relief to get settled in, showered, and rested. The relief is quickly followed by anticipation and eagerness to get to the real stuff, the reason for traveling so far.

Monday, Jan. 14

So the Women's World Team is taking off again. The same team that went to Azerbaijan for the Senior World Championships will be going to China for the World Cup, except this time we're taking Stephany Lee while Kristie Marano's knee finishes healing.

It's a pretty exciting time. Everyone had a chance to celebrate the holidays with friends and family. When we came back together for our Winter Camp, it was finally the Olympic year. The Winter Camp is here in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center, and there is definitely a buzz around here, because we all know this is the year it's all going to happen. The National Team, the Northern Michigan Olympic Education Center team, a handful of Swedish wrestlers, and dozens of Canadian women all trained together the last few weeks. Winter Camp is always good training because so many of us are happy to see each other again, and having new people in the room always raises the intensity in the room.

The World Cup is a unique competition. The countries that place in the top six at the World Championships all come together for a dual meet tournament. There will be two pools of three teams each. The U.S. team will dual both teams in our pool. The undefeated team from our pool will dual the other undefeated team for first place. The second place teams will dual for third, and the third place teams in each pool will dual for fifth.

I look forward to the World Cup because almost all of the competition for freestyle wrestling is in individual tournaments. It's really nice to get the chance to compete in dual meets again. I feed off of the suspense and the intensity that builds when two teams face off, and my teammates each wrestle one at a time. I feel proud to stand up there with my whole team, I enjoy getting to see each of my teammates compete, and it's a confidence-builder to know my whole team will be cheering for me. In individual tournaments, everyone goes their own way because while some are competing, others are warming up or relaxing between matches.

This trip is also significant because it's going to be in China. We are going to have a chance to scout out some of the Olympic facilities, and the places Team USA will live and train next August at the Olympics. We'll also get a taste of the Beijing weather and pollution.

Randy Wilbur works as an exercise physiologist at the Olympic Training Center. He is like a sport sciences computer. A coach or athlete can simply submit a question about anything related to our sport, and Randy will return with a thorough analysis and explanation, complete with graphs and charts. He met with us to tell us what we can expect on our trip. He hooked us up with some face-mask/air-filters to keep us healthy on our long plane ride as well as in the Beijing pollution. He provided us with a game plan for dealing with the considerable jet lag we will experience on the other side of the world, familiarized us with the city, educated us about the pollution and weather conditions, and even warned us against using the unreliable 'red taxis.' We're prepared for sure. Now we have one more chance to rectify any shortcomings from the World Championships, to see the site of the 2008 Olympics, and to compete as a team.