London Log-In - July 31, 2012
UCLA athletes, coaches, alumni and staff share their experiences at the 2012 Olympics. UCLA Men's Volleyball head coach John Speraw writes about his day as a spectator at the USA Women's Water Polo game, and Men's Water Polo alumnus Chay Lapin details his Opening Ceremonies experience.
July 31, 2012
Yesterday after a light practice and completing work on the Germany game plan, I had my first opportunity to go see another event. Dan Klatt is my roommate back home and the assistant coach for Women's Water Polo. I am also friends with Adam Krikorian, the head coach. Adam and I shared an office suite when we both coached at UCLA. So I have been a fan of the sport for some time and closely followed the development of this year's team.
My ticket was for two games, Great Britain vs. Russia and USA vs. Hungary. I decided to take advantage of the free moment and head over early to see both. The venue is close to the village and part of Olympic Park, where they have built a series of major venues including the Olympic Stadium, the swimming venue, BMX and the basketball arena, among others. I walked out the back of the village through security and into the throngs of sports fans. Wow! What a scene! Thousands upon thousands of people walking to and from events, all in great spirits. There is a grass area with live music and a huge television screen showing other events from around London. Concession and souvenir stands, television broadcast centers and sponsor booths line the sides of the giant walk-ways. Volunteers sit up on large stands like lifeguards by the summer pool to make sure everyone is safe and are easy to spot in case someone needs help with directions. And through the sea of people are vendors carrying iced backpacks of water and beer. I've been to many sporting events but I've never seen anything like this. Amazing.
The Olympics provide a wonderful platform for many less-publicized sports to gain a following. People buy tickets to events they may not know, simply to participate in the Games. Volleyball and water polo are two examples. But if you've never seen water polo, there are many nuances to the game that escape all but the most avid fan. I was surrounded by many a novice in the crowd who were there to cheer on their countrymen.
Listening to the crowd was incredibly entertaining. All the confused moans after referee decisions, the arena going crazy after near missed shots, and the continuous running dialog around me:
"Why do they pass the ball so much?!"
"They are just passing the ball around! They don't have a clue!" (They don't have a clue?)
"This is crap!" (feel free to insert English accent here...)
"Why did they stop?!" Her husband tries to figure it out. "I think that clock went down to zero." (that would be the shot clock)
After more consternation her annoyed spouse attempts to calm her down to no avail. "I will not be shushed! My country needs me!!"
And my favorite of the afternoon, "Just f@#$&%$ shoot it!!!"
It was fantastically inappropriate enthusiasm. Or maybe it was appropriate enthusiasm at fantastically wrong times. Either way, I loved it. It was the highlight of my day. I admired their energy.
The Brits love their team but also know they are overmatched in certain sports. After losing by a goal, an announcer walks up into the stands to interview some of the crowd. One new water polo fan comments, "I know we lost, but we are so proud of our team and how hard they worked. I can't wait to cheer them on again." Heads nod all around me.
The U.S. went on to beat Hungary, 14-13. I didn't see the end because I had to leave for a team video session at 9 pm. As I departed, the Park was still packed, the sun was going down with puffy orange clouds overhead, and people were spread all over the grass watching the big screen. Wish I could have seen the conclusion, but I had supported Dan, Adam and our women and notched another great Olympic experience.
July 31, 2012
We finally made it back to the village to settle in for the remainder of the Olympics. We are super excited to be here, and there is a lot of energy. All the other U.S. athletes are slowly moving in. It has been very hectic, but it's a good thing that we beat the rush and moved in prior to going to Europe. It has been an unreal experience to see all the top athletes from other sports and countries.
The first few days back from Europe we have been in an eat-and-practice mode. Generally, we wake up in the morning, head to the dining hall and have a little breakfast. After breakfast we head to the coffee cart outside our apartments for an espresso and read the paper to catch up on current events before heading to our morning training. Since there is limited pool space and a lot of teams, they only allow us two one-hour practices each day. This goes by quickly since we are used to having two three-hour practices a day.
After our morning training, we get home around noon and head to team lunch. The dining hall here is crazy! It is about the size of a Costco and has different sections of food selections. Along with all the healthy food, there is a McDonalds - very, very tempting at times. We have been known to sneak in a McFlurry here and there. From lunch we head back to our rooms for some down time. We all have TVs in our apartments that stream all Olympic events. It has been fun sitting around watching and learning about other athletes and sports. Of course after settling in we head off to weights and our second practice, then finally dinner. It is a little repetitive, but at the same time it's fun and a dream come true. Once the games begin, things change a little.
Looking back at the opening ceremonies, this night was something that I cannot fully explain in words how awesome it was! We got suited up in a our slick Ralph Lauren suits (hats, fitted jacket, white pants, fresh white shoes) and headed down to the courtyard to hang with all the other U.S. athletes. Team USA gathered about an hour prior to walking over to the stadium to meet each other and take photos, etc. This was a blast because we met all the high profile athletes (i.e. all the men's basketball players, from Kobe to LeBron to my fellow UCLA Bruins, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, to the swimmers and track and field athletes, etc.). It was great because you realize that these superstars are actually very friendly and down to earth.
When we were done with all the photos it was our turn to start heading to the stadium. Since the U.S. is at the end of the alphabet, we were one of the last countries to walk in. This meant that we left our building around 10 p.m. to head over. The walk was about a mile and half. Along the way to the stadium there were a ton of people cheering us on. The walk took about an hour or more because of all the stopping and going (with the line of athletes from other countries ahead of us). It has been a tradition that the water polo team gathers at the back of the U.S. pack, and it just happens that the men's basketball team does the same. So the whole way we walked and talked with Kobe, and he was a very nice guy. Funny part was he gave me his iPhone to take a photo of him and I could have ran off with his phone (haha, just a funny thought) but he trusted me with that phone!
Finally, we got to the entrance of the tunnel and you could just see all the flashing lights and hear the crowd roaring. This is where the chills start to set in, and you realize where and what you have achieved. Walking into the stadium was crazy. You look to your right and you see all the people in the stands waving and cheering - it was insane. Then I looked to my left and LeBron James is laughing with me - a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Long story short, it was a very unreal night. It all ended around 1 a.m., and we finally got back to our rooms around 2 a.m. (fortunately we had the next day off before our first game Sunday).
As you probably already have read or watched, we beat Montenegro on Sunday and play Romania on Tuesday. I will give you more detailed updates about our games in my next post.
Peace out from London.
CLick for Bruin Video