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Medals, Stories and Riots, Oh My!

Sorry for the delay in posting- the riots made for no hotel Internet.

The Olympic stadium is a 30-minute cab ride from the hotel and the rioting (more on that elsewhere on these pages). But at the stadium and in other parts of Athens no one would have any idea what was happening in the city center.

My sister Mary Beth competed in the second event of the day, the 800-meter walk.  She’d developed a heel spur before arriving and is hurting, walking onto the field with a noticeable limp.  She finished last in her heat, about a minute and a half after the winner, but ultimately only a few seconds off her personal best time.  When she passed us the first time we applauded, encouraging her to go faster. She turned to us, frustrated and pointing to her Russian competitor, and yelled back, “I’m trying to pass her but she won’t let me!” (The woman was a few yards ahead of her.) Momentarily losing sight of the spirit of the Games, MB was not happy. We laughed and she was over it quickly.

Shortly after MB’s race we watched a women’s 1500 meter run and saw a beautiful young woman from Cuba run a 5:09 1500 (about a 5:20 mile). She looked like she had plenty energy to spare.  She looked sleek and confident, as nimble as a gazelle, and was a joy to observe.

We’re beginning to hear the roller-coaster-effect stories that go hand in hand with the competitions. In the early afternoon we met athlete Jake Kauffman, from Oakland, CA (more on him, his mom and local coach Kris coming soon in video posts).  Yesterday Jake ran the opening leg of the 200-meter relay; today he runs in the 100-meter dash.  After two false starts the race finally began. But by that time Jake was off his game and slow out of the blocks; he finished a disappointing third. Later at the hotel, between tear gas canisters letting off toxins and fires in the street, Jake’s mom and coach Kris replayed it in their heads over and over. Kris explained that Jake was thrown by the different placement of the starting blocks.  During their seven-month practice period Kris had created a flipbook of images that Jake used to prepare for events.  Like so many of these athletes, Jake uses routine and repetition to be successful—not only on the track but in life.

We finally caught up with USA head Athletics coach Steve Muerett. That’s Steve of the wonderful missives about the teams’ journey to Greece I’ve been cutting and pasting from his emails. A video of Steve is coming as well, but I want to share here his story of an athlete who competed on Tuesday.

From Steve:

I forgot to write about the most moving athlete I’ve seen here.  It was during the 100 meter walk event, there had been several heats already completed and several race walkers has been DQd for running.  One race I watched had four male race walkers in it. From the gun, one of them took of in a run, I thought, okay, there is one  DQ.  Then the other guys started speeding up and a second walker broke into a trot.  DQ.  Lastly the fastest of the walkers almost made it to the finishing line and he also broke status.  Another DQ.

Then I heard clapping…clap…clap….clap…. I had forgotten that there was one more athlete in this heat, and he had now worked his way maybe 10 meters from the start line.  He was having great difficulty keeping his balance and working so hard to keep moving forward.  I think he probably had CP and was pretty handicapped.  I wouldn’t say disabled, because he was showing everyone in the stands he was able. The clapping grew louder and got in time and the walker kept fighting his way midway down the track.  By this time, everyone was on their feet and I know for myself, tears started.  I clapped as well and willed him to make it to the finish line.  It took several minutes, but the spectators cheered so loudly when he finally crossed the line.  I just turned (eyes hidden behind my sunglasses) and told another coach “that’s what it’s all about… that’s why we are here.”



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