August 22 - Untitled One of the things I've learned while I've been here is that you can plan all you want and, while things may or not work out right, sometimes, with a little luck, the plan can to turn into a memory. Last night was one of those night. More on that in a little bit.
Yesterday, I took in five, that's right, count 'em, five events. I left here and trekked across OAKA in the hot sun to the diving pool for some diving. You don't realize just how high the 10 meter board is until you see it in person. Unfortunately, though, I got there just in time for the last five dives and that was it, so I'll have to head back for a little more. What I saw looked great, though. At that point, there were no events going on in OAKA for another 90 minutes and the IBC was just way too far away to walk to in that heat. I wandered around Super Store a little, just to be in the AC (along with what might have been every other person in OAKA at that time), then went to the first event that opened its doors and was air conditioned. It turned out to be trampoline, making its Olympic debut. These guys get really high in the air, moreso than on a regular backyard trampoline. But after watching for a bit, I had to put this right behind ping pong on the list of Olympic events that, despite trying, I just can't take seriously. By the way, does anyone else find it interesting that the majority of Summer Olympic sports are also the main activities at summer camps? All they need to do is make tetherball an Olympic event and the lists will be identical. Does that make the Olympics a glorified Color War?
After leaving the bouncers, I hit a sport at the other end of the spectrum - track cycling. The velodrome, where this takes place, is a small little arena with a roof, but also open air, as there are no walls to the arena. The track is banked at the ends (42 degree bank, to be exact). The bikes and helmets are all aerodynamic. The crowd is very into it. It really is one of the better events here. Then, to make things even better, I got to see a world record set, then see that record broken in the next heat. They also shoot a starter's pistol to end the race, which, the first time I heard it, scared the hell out of me since I didn't know it was coming. That got the two women sitting in front of me to start laughing at me. I talked to them for a couple minutes and learned that they are two of our synchronized swimmers, Lauren McFall and Sara Lowe, and were there to watch a friend of their in the race. Even though I have no clue whether they have a shot at a medal, I will be rooting for them when they compete since they were pretty cool to chat with.
Since that was outdoors and it was insanely hot yesterday, I wasn't long for there and went back to the pool, this time for water polo (the pool is side by side with the diving pool). Once again, I wasn't long for this one. It might be fun to play, but it is very boring to watch, even with the Greek team playing and the place filled with fans. I was outta there right after the first quarter ended, but at least took in a little of it and can cross it off the list.
After a quick (free) bite for dinner back at the IBC, I hopped on a bus for Nikaia and weightlifting. And this is where the day was made. I had no idea what to expect, but was greeted by a full house, as there were two Greeks in the evening's session. One, Pyrros Dimas, is a sports legend in Greece and was contending for the gold. The other, whose name I'm not going to attempt spelling, is a newcomer and was met with nice cheers (until he moved into fourth place, when the fans finally seemed to accept him as legit). But Pyrros was the star. Every time he stepped to the stage to lift, the place went absolutely crazy. I talked to Spero about him this morning, and he is one of the biggest sports heroes in Greece today. This was his last Olympics, so everyone was pulling for him even more than normal. He was third after the first half, then moved into second at one point. If he made his final lift, he would have moved into first place (and eventually won), but he failed. After the lift, he took off his shoes and left them on the stage, which is tradition when you complete your last lift in your last competition. And after the last lifter failed, the place absolutely erupted, as Pyrros won the bronze (the Chinese lifter that lost at the end had to be crushed when the crowd went crazy - poor guy, since it really wasn't fair to him). And when the medal ceremony started and Pyrros accepted the medal, he was greeted with a standing ovation that lasted almost ten minutes. There was chanting, singing and tears in the crowd. It was without a doubt one of those moments I came here to experience and something I'll never forget. We've all been to events with moments like this, but for some reason, this one just resonated more than usual with me, although I'm not sure why. But it was moving and I find it hard to think of something to compare it to. Take any number retirement ceremony and multiply it. We are talking Stanley Cup or World Series victories here, maybe even more than that. I'm not exaggerating, either. Pyrros then brought his children on to the podium with him after the medal ceremony was complete - the place was still chanting and singing a good ten minutes after the medal ceremony was over. Like I said, this was what memories are made of.
That was enough to last me a couple days and that is a good thing, since it is a dead day here. Its just about 11AM and we are finished for the day. There are no events at OAKA (or anywhere else nearby) until this evening. And, since its Sunday, most stores are closed. Its also one of the hottest days, if not the hottest, since we've been here. Game time temperature for our 8:30 field hockey start was 86 degrees. So, I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing today, but it isn't going to be much. And, to top it all off, this evening is the women's marathon, so there are tons of street closures all around the city. I'm stalling around here until after lunch, but between 2 and whenever the temperature drops enough to go outside again, I might be exploring Greek TV (unfortunately, we don't have Pay Per View movies, either). I would like to go to Kolonaki, since that is where some stores are open, or Plaka, where there are others open, but it might be too damn hot to. We'll see.
I'm pretty sure tomorrow is my last day of hockey before switching over to hoops (I'll get my schedule tonight - I know my first day of games there is Wednesday, but we might be getting together Tuesday for some meetings) and we don't do any games tomorrow until the evening, so I'm grabbing a couple final events in the morning while I still can. Its track and field, then diving again. That will probably wrap up my venue visiting - I'll give you the final tally once its all done.
I hope your Sunday is as relaxing as mine. Enjoy.
August 23 - I've got that goose bumpy feeling again Not a whole lot to report today, so we'll do it bullet point style..................
--Took in some track and field this morning and, once again, got a little lucky. About ten minutes after I got there, the women's 20k race walk ended (most of it was around the streets of Athens, but it ended in the Stadium) and was won by a Greek woman. The place erupted as she cross the finish line and I seriously got the chills. Another moment for the memory bank.
--Track and Field is actually sensory overload. There are usually three or four events going on simultaneously. At the same time, I was watching women's hammer throw, men's decathlon long jumping and women's 200m heats. Lots going on, lots of people watching, just a real interesting scene. You never know where to be looking. My favorite part? Watching people misfire on the hammer throw and seeing it end up flopping around the protective netting.
--We've been here now for over two weeks (in most cases), yet people still ask if they are getting on the right bus, even though every bus is clearly marked in the front windshield. I have yet to see a single bus without a visible sign in the window. None of the routes have changed, although the schedules seem to be adjusted to the driver's whims and moods.
--Close call on bus accidents in the last 24 hours involving a bus I was on? Two. This might become a daily update. We'll see.
--I haven't really talked about the office I've been working out of (until tomorrow, when I move to hoops, that is). Its called the Pure World Feed room and everyone that is working events that are called "off-tube" is based here. Lots of computers and TV monitors, and a half dozen or so producers rooms and audio booths, where we actually do the game. What is interesting is the talent that occupy this area - not just Spero and Siri, but Bill Clement (ESPN hockey), Len Berman (Ch. 4 Sports in NY) and others come and go and spend just about all their work day here. Pat Croce, the former President of the Philadelphia 76ers just arrived in Athens and is also based here (he is the analyst for taekwondo - apparently he is a high degree black belt - and his sport actually doesn't start until Thursday). It immediately became a party when he walked in. It is a great room to work in when networking, that is for sure.
--Anyone see the 100m race last night? For once, it lived up to the hype. What a great race! Maurice Greene is actually staying in our hotel instead of the Athlete's Village (its supposed to be hush hush, of course, but seems to be a very poorly kept secret).
--I got a chance to see a little of the women's marathon last night from the roof of the hotel - the course passed just a few blocks away. I didn't realize it was going to pass so close. I would have wandered over if I did (although it was insanely hot out and the roof was one of the few cool places - thank you pool).
--I've been asked a few times if I'm Greek. People look at my credential and see Mirlis and think it might be a Greek name. Then I say hello and that notion immediately disappears.
--One of the cool things about being here is talking to people from all different countries. I've meet people from Greece (obviously), Denmark, Australia, Great Britain and New Jersey.
--Last night, I did something I can't believe I did (and had previously vowed not to do). There is an Applebee's around the corner from the hotel and I had dinner there last night. I was just craving something cheap that resembled real American food, since the commissary here is really hit or miss. And the food? It was Applebee's. The people here love it and debate the merits of Applebee's versus Friday's, which just opened here. Scary.
--I'm over 400 pictures at this point (I'm guessing around 300 or so will end up on ofoto, but I'm not deleting anything until I get home). My faves so far? All have me in them......In the old Stadium with the Acropolis over my shoulder; With an Indonesian belly dancer and a guy in a dragon mask; With a guy from Australia in a Spider Man body suit and Aussie wig. Some of the Acropolis pix are stunning, though. Can't wait for you all to see them.
--Who named OAKA anyway? Fozzy Bear?
--I've taken the time to understand the Greek alphabet. For the most part, its straightforward, but there are some interesting nuances. And some of it is confusing after 35 years of the Latin alphabet, especially the lowercase, where v is n, p is r and a few others. I try to read every sign in Greek as practice. Of course, I have no idea what it means.
--The event count, for those who have lost track, is at 14. To review, they are: swimming, gymnastics (mens and womens), archery, field hockey, baseball, badminton, table tennis (I'll count it, since they say it is an event), beach volleyball (really a party, though), diving, trampoline (again, I'll count it), track cycling, water polo, weightlifting, track and field. Basketball will obviously be added to this list.
--I'm going to grab a little more diving this afternoon, since I only saw a couple minutes the other day. We have a field hockey game tonight at 8:30. After that its hoops detail. Meeting with Paul Sunderland tomorrow, four games Wednesday (and Thursday and Friday and Saturday). Starting Wednesday, I'm not sure what kind of access (or time) I'm going to have to check my e-mail, but will do my best to keep these updates coming. I can't wait to write the e-mail after the US loses and doesn't win the gold.
Have a good start to your week.
August 24 - Yawn Almost nothing to report today.
Had a hoops meeting this morning - I'm working with Paul Sunderland (Lakers TV announcer) and Steve Jones (Portland TV analyst). The crazy schedule I expected, though, isn't going to be crazy. One game tomorrow (US-Greece women), not four. I'm not sure after that, but I know on Thursday we are doing at most three games. So, I will actually see the outside of the arena if I want during the day. I was looking forward to a ton of games, but I think this is actually the happy medium.
Tonight is my last field hockey game. We are doing one of the two women's semifinals. Then, I can forget everything I've learned about the game. No big loss there - I've had enough of it.
I visited Kolonaki this afternoon for lunch and people watching. This is definitely where the pretty people in the city congregate. Expensive shops abound. Its a nice place to spend an afternoon, but I don't need to go back.
I wish I had more to tell everyone today. Hopefully I will tomorrow. All I know is that we are less than a week away from coming home!!!!
August 25 - Fridge Gate Another quiet news day here. I really need to go out somewhere and create some stories.
Got my first taste of hoops action this afternoon, and it was a good way to ease into things. The US women's team shellacked the Greek women by 30. Stat of the game? The US had 22 offensive rebounds against 21 Greek TOTAL rebounds. And that is your ballgame. The US should cruise through to at least the Finals, where they will beat Australia in what should resemble a basketball game. Tomorrow, I've got two games. First up, the US men face Spain in the afternoon. Spain was unbeaten in pool play, but this is actually a good matchup for the US (after that, though, all bets are off). In the evening, we are doing the Puerto Rico/Italy game. Not exactly a tiring day - in around 1, done around 10. I was expecting a lot crazier. The schedule is done day to day, based on when the US teams get scheduled, so I have no idea what Friday or Saturday hold yet. Paul Sunderland has me using his own stat sheet and way of keeping the numbers for him, so this was the perfect game to get used to that.
The big topic of conversation amongst NBC folks here now is a scam being pulled by the President Hotel, where a ton of NBC people are staying, including me. We've been here about three weeks, and have been using the mini-refrigerators in the rooms. Now, we are being told that if we want the hotel to stock them, the cost is 25 euros (around $33). However, if we don't want them to, but want to use them on our own, as we all have been, we will be charged 10 euro (around $13). Of course, they tell this to us now, as opposed to when we all checked in. I've had soda and water in mine the whole time. I've also complained to them along the way that the fridge sucks because it doesn't get anything cold. Our logistics people on staff have told us they tried to fight it for all of us, but the hotel won't budge. Apparently, they installed them just for us (nice of them, no?), as well as changed other rules for us, and they think its only fair that everyone pay them for this. You should see the passionate letter they slid under our doors pleading their case following the revolt by everyone staying there (I am saving it and bringing it home because it is that good). Of course, they still suck and don't get things cold - I stopped by the front desk this morning with a soda that has been in there for a week that was still close to room temperature and told them that if they are charging me, then my stuff BETTER BE COLD!!!!!!! Apparently rumors are circulating that the hotel might be thinking about rescinding the charge, so we'll see what happens. But it all plays to something I had read about Athenians before I came here. They love to protest and try and squeeze money out of people when they think they can. There were wildcat strikes here just before we all got here - taxi drivers, hotel workers, police, hospitals, etc. All the workers felt that, with everyone coming to Athens, they should get more money for doing their regular jobs. I guess its a tradition here.
Not really much else to say today, so I'm going to go. The countdown is at 5 days. See you all soon!!!!
August 26 - Close shave That was certainly an interesting couple hours!!!!!!!
The US hoops team just offed Spain in a wild one that was a lot closer than the final score indicated. The atmosphere was very intense, too. A packed house, a very anti-US crowd - although I think it was anti-US basketball, not the US in general - and brutally bad officiating all contributed to that. I'm not one to criticize refs (I know too many and know just how tough their job is), but that was amazingly awful. Lots of easy calls were blown for both sides. And post game, the head coaches were arguing with each other violently as they walked off the floor. What a scene. And the US still is only in the quarterfinals. They better hope they get Greece next, not Argentina. I don't think they can beat the South Americans, but have already beaten Greece. Either way, Lithuania probably awaits in the Finals and they aren't winning that anyway.
One person I did bump into the other night for the first time was Bob Costas. Had a chance to talk to him for a couple minutes before he had to run.
I'm headed back to the arena in a couple hours for another game - we are doing the Italy/Puerto Rico matchup tonight, too. Not sure about times tomorrow, yet. Both US teams play in the semis, but I have no idea the times yet, or if we are doing any other games besides those two. The story is the same for Saturday, which is my last day of work. Sunday, I pack, do any last minute shopping, and then party Sunday night before flying home Monday.
See you in four days.
August 27 - What I miss.................. We have passed the three week mark here and the clock is now ticking on my return to the States (I sound like I've been exiled when I say things like that). As we get closer to my stay here ending, I've started realizing what I like and don't like about Athens and, consequentially, home. So, without further ado, here is a list of some of the things that it has dawned on me that I miss.................
--Reading signs and not having to figure out if its Greek or English. --New York City cab drivers. The drivers here make them look safe. --A shower curtain that closes all the way. The door to the one in my hotel isn't really a door, but a stationary glass partition that only covers half the shower. I've flooded my bathroom more than once. --While we're in the bathroom, I miss the feeling of being able to flush your toilet paper without feeling guilty about it. This is one of those cities where you aren't supposed to flush the TP, but I decided very early on that I was breaking that rule. I really didn't feel like dealing with the other option. --Sushi. Dinner Tuesday night, Keri. Call Jimmy at Raku and let him know we are coming. --Other foods, too. Real Chinese food, real pizza, New York City bagels. Its going to be a looooooooong time before I go eat Greek food again. --Sleeping in a comfortable bed, not one that feels like plywood and is two twin beds pushed together. --Schedules that actually mean something. This morning, I went to get the 11:45 bus. It pulled up at 11:30. I got on and asked if it was the 11:15 bus that was late or the 11:45 bus that was early. The driver and staff person didn't find it amusing. The passengers did. --Wondering when I start a conversation whether the person I'm talking to will understand me or not. --Of course, the list ends with Keri, the boys, my family and my friends. Its been a long three weeks having to make new friends and do lots of things on my own schedule. But it looks like I've survived.
Worked two games yesterday. For the second one, we filled in for the regular NBC crew instead of doing it for HD (sat at courtside instead of upstairs like usual). Today, we have two games scheduled - 2:30 US women vs. Russia, 8:00 US men vs. Argentina. Not sure about tomorrow yet, but its the last day of work. Sunday is pack, get last minute souvenirs in Plaka, then hit the wrap party. I took in the first half of the Argentina vs. Greece hoops game last night, which was right after the Italy/Puerto Rico game we did. The arena was absolutely nuts and amongst the loudest I've ever been in. Too bad Greece lost. They would have played the US tonight instead of Argentina and the arena would have been possibly the wildest I ever would have experienced. Of course, we have a pool going and I picked Argentina to not only win last night, but to also knock off the US today, so that worked out for me.
I'm counting the hours - we are closing in on 70 hours remaining now before my flight home. Have a great Friday.
August 28 - Speechless I thought of too many titles for this e-mail to mention. Let's just say that every time the night was great, something else came along to make it even better.
It came in stages. After watching the women's team squeak by Russia and move on to the gold medal game, it was time for the main event. US-Argentina men's hoops. And we all know how that turned out.
After I left the arena, things got even better. I went back to the IBC with a smile you couldn't slap off my face and met up for a few minutes with the field hockey crew, who had just called the men's gold medal game. We hadn't taken a crew picture (which wasn't going to be complete, since Nick Conway, the US women's team head coach who had filled in for Siri while she was on triathlon duty, and who also was next to me in the booth every other game passing on technical notes about the game to Spero and Siri, wasn't there). Siri and Spero were on their way to go do an on camera wrapup of the game. As we were all walking (myself, Spero, Siri, Tom and our PA Myra), I passed Joe Gesue, who is who I interviewed with to come here. He pulled me aside and asked what I was doing Sunday. I told him nothing, so he asked me if I wanted to spot for the Closing Ceremonies. It took me about a half second to jump at it. I'm not quite sure what entails (I'll find out today), but how can I say no. I'm working the Closing Ceremonies!!!!!! I'm guessing in the booth, but it could end up in the truck. I have no clue yet. Either way, I can't wait. I'm hoping its the booth with Costas and Katie, of course. I was originally off all day Sunday, but now have a plum assignment to look forward to to end the experience here.
Today, I'm free until the 4:15 women's gold medal game. I'm not sure which men's games we are doing and won't find out until I get there. After the game, I'm done with sports while I'm here. I can't really think of anything pressing I need to do tomorrow, so I'll hit Plaka and search for some last minute bargains - I'm sure some of the stores will be trying to sell off Olympic merchandise before getting stuck with it - before the Ceremonies tomorrow night. I will make sure to get in one last e-mail tomorrow, though, to wrap everything up. We leave for the airport at 7AM Monday, so tomorrow is the finale from here.
Have a great weekend.
August 29 - Get out the Phil Collins CD No, not to play "Sussudio". Today, let's play the song "One More Night".
That's it. I'm here at the IBC for the last time (and took the ceremonial picture of it on the way in). I can't believe it's over, but am extremely happy it is. I've been ready to head home for a while, so I'm already losing sleep with excitement to get back to the Apple already, even with the mayhem starting in the City tomorrow.
It has been an amazing three-plus weeks here, with tons of awesome memories to always look back on. I'd like to share some of them with you, in advance of the pictures:
--The beauty that is the Acropolis. It is a sight that is breathtaking and awe-inspiring from anywhere in the city, be it from at the bottom of the hill in Plaka or on a bus on the freeway headed to the venues. --The Greek people. They are different. Schedules mean nothing, they take afternoons off, they party all night. And they made us feel at home. There were NO problems with locals that I have heard of. --Greek drivers. The make New York cabbies look safe. They cut off pedestrians in crosswalks and cut off buses with no fear of the bigger vehicle. It is reckless - there were 27 vehicle deaths in Athens from August 1 to the 22nd. I'll remember them, but not miss them. --Pyrros Dimas. Possibly the moment of the Games and certainly the highlight for the Greek people. I've never experienced anything in an arena quite like this. --The IBC. More languages and cultures under one roof than most people experience in a lifetime. --Hoops. Enough said. --The weather. Today was the cloudiest day since we've been here. It might be 50% clouds, tops. Not even a hint of rain. Just heat. Lots of heat. --The fans. Wild Aussies. Pakistani field hockey nuts. Indonesian belly dancers. Japanese baseball fans. Anything Greek. That is what the Games are all about. --While I'm at it, the spirit of the Aussies. I can't wait to go there after meeting so many great people from Down Under. We are going to have an amazing honeymoon. --Plaka. Stores, tourists, tavernas, souvenirs, locals. And around the next corner, a church that is 300 years old. Or part of a building that is 2000 years old. Every time you go, you find something new. --Events. 15 of them. From the bizarre (trampoline) to the silly (table tennis) to the intense (weightlifting), it was an amazing array. --Price gouging. In other words, the President Hotel. The beer prices seemed to rise daily. The fridge cost you ten euro and didn't get anything cold. Messages didn't always get received. You had to go down in the elevator before being able to go up to the roof (there were no up and down buttons). The showers didn't have doors. But it was the most convenient hotel of any being used and had more to do around it than any other. I'll make that trade-off any day. --And lastly, new friends. Some are going to be around for a while, others I'll never see again. But all will be remembered.
After the Ceremonies tonight, its homeward bound in the AM, so cue up the second Phil Collins song, "Take Me Home". I can't wait.