Sunday, August 5, 2012

Olympic junkies

"I wanted no part of politics. And I wasn't in Berlin to compete against any one athlete. The purpose of the Olympics, anyway, was to do your best. As I'd learned long ago from Charles Riley, the only victory that counts is the one over yourself." — Jesse Owens  

PAUL AND I have been getting a kick out of watching the Olympics, particularly the swimming races, having seen most of the Americans in person in Omaha at the trials — and the gymnastics competition, having seen all the US women and men at the 2011 National Championship in St. Paul. There are even a few of the track and field athletes we recognize from having cheered them on at the Drake Relays and the NCCA Championships.

In addition to our fandom, there was a circumstantial connection between swimming and gymnastics while we were at the trials in Omaha

Across the street from event parking was the official hotel with a handy skywalk into the arena. We were heading back to the van through the skywalk and hotel after the Friday night evening session when we noticed the women's Olympic gymnastics trials were on TV in the hotel lobby. Since our hotel was at least 15 minutes away, we settled on a couch in front of one of the TVs so as to miss as little of the gymnastics as possible.

Sunday night, our last night there, we repeated the process except we added dinner from the hotel restaurant which we ate in front of the big lobby TV before we started our drive home to Des MoinesAt one point a group of guys was standing near us, also watching the gymnastics trials, and one of them was particularly keen on following the action. We got to chatting with him, and it turned out to be Amanda Beard's brother.

He was so focused on the gymnastics because he had been McKayla Maroney's teacher in school back home in CaliforniaHe talked to us about his sister's swim, and we told him how disappointed we were for her that she didn't make the team. He said it was a bummer because it always comes down to one last race, and if you get sick or something else goes wrong, it's over. That was the case with Amanda. She was competing while suffering from flu.

Besides Amanda, we also saw Gary Hall Jr. Perhaps you remember him; he was a star at the last Olympics who definitely had a flare for the dramatic. Four years ago when we saw him compete at the trials, he wore a red, white and blue satin boxing robe to the starting blocks for every race he swam. It was pretty funny. 

His dad, Gary Hall, Sr. was also an Olympic medalist in swimming and a former world record-holder who trained for the Olympics after classes while he was going to medical school for crying out loud! He swam in the '68, '72 and '76 Olympics where he won a silver each in his first two Olympics and a bronze in '76. His son Gary Jr. went on to earn a total of ten Olympic medals in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 games — five gold, three silver and two bronze — despite being diagnosed in 1999 with Type 1 diabetes. Nope, no over-achievers in that family.

Matt Grevers was standing with family members about four feet from us as was Allison Schmidt. Then Ryan Lochte came along pushing his grandma in a wheel chair through the lobby to the elevators to take her back up to her room. Not basking in attention, just pushing Grandma in her wheelchair. You don't get any more all-American than that.

Just a couple of other footnotes about the trials: My favorite after-race interview at the trials was given by Camille Adams. She was being asked all these deep, emotional questions, and all happy and bubbly she said, "It's just swimming!" It still makes me laugh.

We were surprised and disappointed that beside Amanda Beard not making the team, Katie Hoff didn't either, but we were thrilled that Brendan Hansen and Anthony Ervin did. And it was super cool to see the great Aaron Peirsol — even if it was from across the arena as he awarded medals. In addition to watching the inimitable Dara Torres swim in her last competition, we got to see the legendary Janet Evans swim!! Even though she didn't make the Olympic team, how fabulous that she made the trials.

Twenty-two year-old Allison Schmidt, winner of  a bronze medal in the 2008
Olympics and one bronze, one silver and three gold medals in 2012 Olympics.

Andrew Gemmell, 21, made the 2012 Olympic team in the 1500m,
but didn't make it out of the prelims at the Olympics.

Too bad I accidentally deleted the actually good picture I took of 
Matt Grevers. He's the very, very tall guy in the black shirt.

It doesn't look like it in this picture,
but Gary Hall Jr. was being mobbed.

My camera misfired or I did. I happened to be standing next
 to the elevators when Ryan Lochte was waiting for it with his grandma. 
We'll just consider this an artsy photo-painting of him.

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