Monday, August 25, 2008

All Good Things Must Come To An End

While the rest of my family is sleeping and enjoying the comfort of their beds at 1am I am sat wide awake amongst all of my bags aware that it still feels like 9pm in Beijing and, based on my sleeping pattern in the last 10 days, I should expect to be twiddling my thumbs for another 6 or 7 hours before I can get a bit of R.E.M. - there is always a huge downside to overseas travel!

As for my Olympic experience, it is difficult to describe exactly what it has all been like, and though I have tried in my blogs to be as accurate as possible, it's still not quite the same! Needless to say, it is an experience that I will never forget and after the closing ceremony I felt totally ready to commit myself fully and completely toward success in London, for the joy of competition at such a level, but also because I want to be a part of the Olympic bubble again!

The Closing Ceremony was insane to be a part of. While the Opening was very organised, with numbers, orders and uniforms, the Closing ceremony is more a case of turn up, move around and then run into the stadium when someone says "go". We were packed into team buses and dropped off outside the National Stadium and pretty much left to our own devices from there. It was all rather surprising because for the majority of our time in the village and at the venues there were volunteers everywhere ushering you into different places, restricting access, checking passes etc etc and you pretty much couldn't pick your nose without someone paying attention and making a mental note of it for later, but it seems that either they just got sick of waiting on us hand and foot or they were instructed just to be there as general guides but let the athletes relax and enjoy themselves. We waited around for a fair amount of time before we were let loose on the stadium and so by the time we got in we had a lot of stored energy that just needed to be used - and so it was! Dancing, singing, jumping, moving - all popular activities and ones that we had a lot of fun doing! We were all very impressed with the choreography of everything once again, and it was soooo cool to be right in the middle of all the action.

After the closing ceremony a bit of P.O.D. set in - that's Post Olympic Depression. Most of the bigger countries left the following day so the village all of a sudden felt remarkably empty and bare. And of course we were having to get all of our things packed and ready to go so we didn't have last minute rushes at 8am Tuesday morning, or at least minimise the possibility of such rushes occurring at the eleventh hour. All of a sudden I felt kind of ready to come home, and was even, dare I say it, missing my family and life in NZ! The NZ support staff had organised a team function for that evening as a way for us all to relax and chill out before the final journey home, and what we thought would be quite a low-key affair turned into a giant party lasting 7 hours outside our apartment block! We had the formal things to begin with; the pictures of the medallists together, congratulations and thank-you's, and then we were left to enjoy ourselves as a team. Food and drinks were provided to anyone that wanted them and the guitars were brought out for a couple of hours of sing-alongs, including the playing of the team-song that was written especially for the Beijing Olympic campaign and Dave Dobbyn's "loyal" which pretty much became the team anthem after he played it at the Flag-bearer announcement. We had a few karaoke songs, some singing from the basketball girls and our canoe slalom girl Luuka Jones and swimming's very own Orinoco breaking it down with some beat-box. Then Hockey's Dave Kosoof took over as DJ for the night playing dance songs, old classics and new tunes to keep us all on our feet and the dancefloor, which was really just the courtyard area outside our apartments. There were loads of NZ songs that everyone sang along too and reminded us how amazing it is to be kiwi, and we even had athletes from other team's coming to join in and revel in our team's awesomeness! We were definitely proud to be from New Zealand.

As for the flight home, it was boring, cramped and tedious - as most 13 hour over-night flights are! But on the bright side, the food was really good and we got given a can of L&P, and a packet of pineapple lumps and minties, so thank-you Air New Zealand! We also were treated to a Haka by the baggage handlers on the tarmac as we came into our gate which was so cool!
Getting through baggage collection and security was a bit of a mission because all of our bags were pretty much the same and we had to wait for all the medalists to go through first to meet the media and then trying to get out of arrivals was practically an Olympic sport itself! But succeed we did, and everyone was glad to see family and friends there to greet them and welcome us home. It was a surreal experience to see so many people there to support our Olympic medalists and team as a whole.

And so the journey of the Beijing 2008 Olympics finishes. What was a simple idea 2 years ago has now blossomed into the most defining period of my life, and has given me an incredible insight into what it takes to be the best at international and Olympic level. I am more certain now than I have ever been that I want to make it to the medal podium in London, and if the experience there is going to be anything like Beijing, then four years of blood, sweat and tears is going to be a price worth paying for the honor.

I would like to also express my thanks to those of you who are still reading this. I know my reports may be a little bit long and verbose at times and I promise I'm working on it! But to those who have sent your words of support and love to me and my family over the last 6 weeks, it is very much appreciated and I wish that at some point I will be able to tell you all in person how much it meant to me to know that I was being looked out for and thought of.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Super Saturday

Saturday August 16th 2008 will stand as the single greatest sporting day in New Zealand history, and I will be able to tell my kids that I was a part of every single moment! A few of us had decided that with all the rowing finals on in one day, plus the men's cycling individual pursuit, women's shot-put and men's 100m sprint finals, it would be worth taking a bit of a road trip around Beijing to support our team-mates. And, my, what a trip it was!

First up was a 40minute bus ride out to the rowing venue. I am not sure where it was but i think it was somewhere out in Eastern Beijing. It was a spectacularly beautiful day with so much sunshine, no smog and a very nice summer temperature which made you feel like you were getting a tan even if you weren't. We were going to see four rowing finals, Mahe Drysdale, pair Nicky Coles and Juliet Haigh, pair Nathan Twaddle and George Bridgewater, and then the Ever-Swindell twins wrapping it all up. Needless to say, if you have heard any news over the last 48 hours, you will know already what those results were! One Gold, two Bronze. New Zealand had been put well and truly on the medal board in less than two hours! It was an incredible experience to watch and see the NZ flag raised and hear the anthem, and the twins' closer-than-comfort finish had us biting our fingernails for about 3 minutes while they worked out who had one and by how much. It was just as exciting as Phelps' 100m Fly Final where he also just won by 0.01 of a second. The girls know how to entertain the crowd Below are some picture highlights for you.

Mahe Drysdale with his Bronze

Men's pair of Twaddle and Bridgewater with their BronzeThe Twins before getting their medal

The men who were there from NZ performed a Haka to congratulate the twins as they did the traditional "lap of honour" in their boat and I happened to get what I consider to be a top-class video. Enjoy!

Next, we were off to the Veledrome which was all the way on the far west-side of Beijing, although that fact was unbeknown to us as we hopped into a taxi and said "follow that one in front!" It took us about an hour with 4 people in the 3 available back seats and we had no idea where we were going and managed to lose the other taxi's on the way. Certainly an interesting ride. By the way, if you ever get the chance to ride a taxi in Beijing make sure you don't have an easily aggravated heart condition; the standard of driving is rather poor to say the least! We finally found our way to the veledrome so that we could watch Hayden Roulston in the men's race-off for Gold and Silver in the Individual Pursuit. We got to the venue with plenty of time to spare before his 7.26pm race, but discovered that this happened to be one of the few venues where the electronic accreditation check was working properly and so we weren't able to get in by pretending to be athletes for the corresponding sport. For most venues, if we catch a village bus we don't have to go through security and so can just walk into the athlete seating, even if we are not athlete's for that sport. But because we took taxi's we had to go through security, and while at some venues the electronic checking system's have been flawed and we can pass for accredited athletes for that sport, this one was not and we were faced with a bit of a dilemma as none of us had tickets either. We ended up having to pretty much push our way in behind our Chef de Mission who can get into anything and even though when we swiped our passes they flashed up Orange (which means athlete, but not for this sport - do not let in) the sight of 20 athletes barging their way in was a little overwhelming for the security volunteers and we gained entry. We then literally sprinted our way up the stairs and along the corridors to make the race as the delay in getting in had brought us to 7.23pm and we made it just in time to see the race before his.

We came, We saw, He didn't quite conquer, but he made us and NZ so ridiculously proud! It was surreal getting to see the flag lifted again for the fourth time in 4 hours. And I caught a bit for the moment for you.

We had a few hours after Hayden's medal presentation to make our way back to the village and then onto the National Stadium to watch Valerie Villi in the women's shot-put final. We figured that we had done the other's already that it would be unfair no to go and support her too! So, a bus back to the village, a quick trip to the food hall to grab dinner (lots of pizza) and plenty of water and it was back onto yet another bus to take us to the stadium. By this point we were a little bit tired and ready to lie down but we we didn't let up in our vocal support for Val and watched tentatively as each of the women went to take their attempts. We certainly made our presence to Valerie known as we were sat in the block almost directly behind the shot-put area and her coach was down the front so everytime she looked toward her we would cheer and she would wave! She led the whole way with her 1st or 2nd attempt being her best, and there was really only one other possible contender who could've upset things but at the end of 6 attempts she couldn't touch our girl and Val had won. There was a haka for her in the stands as she came to see her coach and we cheered as loud as we could considering we had been shouting all day! I didn't get any pictures because my camera had died on me after the cycling but i'm sure there was plenty of TV coverage for everyone to watch.

It was an incredible day to be a part of. It was an honour to be there for one NZ medal let alone 5, and certainly an experience I will never forget, for historic importance for our country and also the enjoyable adventure that I undertook to be a part of it! I also later found out that NZ had won the rugby against the Springboks and got to watch the men's 100m sprint at the Bird's nest that night as well which was a bonus! Fastest man in the world ever, and he slowed down at the end! Incredible, but not as good as seeing our country-men and women do us proud!

Let's Go Kiwi! Good Job Kiwi!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Wedensday, August 13th circa. 8.15PM (CST)

So, aside from all the fun things that we get to experience at the Olympic Games there is also a serious aspect to the competition, and that is, funnily enough, competition! Our moment to shine came on Wednesday evening Beijing Time when we rocked up the pool and made waves from lane 8 in the heats of the 4x200m freetyle relay. As individuals we all did an awesome job with our veteran Helen Norfolk just missing out on breaking the special 2 minute mark from a dive to lead us off and then Lauren Boyle posting 1minute 58seconds for her 200. I took over from Lauren as the third swimmer and would like to tell you what it felt like, except I don't really remember! I don't recall thinking about much except for the occasional "ouch this hurts" or "breath, you have to breath". I do also remember touching the wall and thinking that if someone were to pass a motion saying the scoreboard should display the individual swimmer splits for relays, they would become very popular indeed. I just saw that we were 7th when i finished and i had brought the total team time to 5minutes 58.17 seconds which was looking pretty good for the New Zealand record (I later found out I had gone 1minute 59seconds for my 200 which is faster than I've ever been before). Tash finished off our relay with an amazing swim of 1minute 59seconds as well to bring our total time to 7minutes 57seconds, but was judged to have left the block 0.01seconds (yes, 1/100th of a second) before i touched the wall which meant we were disqualified (DSQ). That also meant that our final time was therefore not counted and so the old NZ record still stands at 8minutes 54seconds - we would have broken it by 7 seconds. Regardless, we all swam an amazing race and have so many great things to take away from our competitive olympic experience. It was even more special for us as it was Helen's last race; she is now retired from international swimming after an international career lasting 11 years. We are all so proud to have been a part of that relay with her and will miss her dearly from the team.

Thank-you to everyone that watched and supported myself and our team. We all feel a huge amount of pride to be able to represent our country at this level of sporting excellence and have been inspired further to set the record books straight by endeavouring to get our team back onto the world stage for the World Champs in Rome next year. We are determined to be better and faster next year and in four year's time for London, and are all looking forward to the journey ahead of us. Thanks again to all the friends and family and acquaintances that have sent messages to us and turned on the TV to see us in action.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Greatest Race of all time

If any of you have been watching the swimming over the last 3 days you may have seen some pretty special things. If you have understand swimming, you may have seen some astoundingly spectacular things!

I just watched the final of the men's 4x100m freestyle relay and am convinced that I just saw one of the greatest races of any sport of all time! My heart is still trying to recover! Basically, in the heats last night, USA set a new World Record with a half strength team. This morning they put in Michael Phelps (you will all know that name) and Jason Lezak (probably less familiar with some of you, but a legend nether-the-less), while the French team also replaced two of their swimmers to include one Alain Bernard (fastest man ever over 100m and second fastest over 50m - also a beast of a man!). Australia also upped their chances by putting in the famous Eamon Sullivan to lead off their pack. And so the race began, Sullivan for Australia out fast in lane three with Phelpsy USA next door in lane 4 followed closely by Canada and France respectively. Sullivan touched the wall first in a new Individual World Record for 100m, but that small seemingly insignificant moment was surpassed by the fact that the tussle now was between USA and France. Now, If I were a betting Woman, I would have put my money on France to win; they could have four men in the 100m free final if they were allowed to have so many entries, and I would have been happy with that bet watching the final swimmers enter the water, with France leading, USA almost a second behind and Australia now certain to retain third place. Alain Bernard (remember - fastest man ever until about 2 mins previous over this distance) looked incredible as he flew down the first 50 in 21.2 seconds (faster than the 50m world record but doesnt count as one because its form a relay start) and Jason Lezak USA, behind by 0.7 of a second at the turn was also a body length behind the Frenchman who stands at almost 7 ft tall. The results looked certain until about 30m to go, when Lezak began to dig in really deep and with 7.5m to go it was down to the wire and almost a photo finish as USA took the gold. Lezak's time over the final 100m was 46.06 seconds - 1.18 seconds faster than the individual world record and responsible for team USA breaking the relay World Record by 4 seconds. This gold medal for USA adds to Phelps' potential 8 Golds at these Olympics and was probably the hardest one for him. This is definately a race I will watch again and again and be amazed every single time!

In other news, It rained a lot yesterday and alot of the paths and temporary buildings experienced a bit of flooding. There doesn't seem to be much of a drainage system here, all the floors and stuff are flat as a pancake so that was interesting. The Boy's freestyle relay team broke the national record last night by 2 seconds and did some astounding swims. We are all ridiculously proud of them! Melissa and Liz both did PB's last night in the 100m backstroke, with Liz breaking the NZ record which had stood since 2006 Commonwealth Games and making it to the semi's this morning. I then did an electronic time-trial for the 100m free after the session finished against a girl from Brazil, and broke the National Record became the first NZ woman under that special 55 second mark. I went 54.85 and the time has been approved as official by the techinical officials on pooldeck. So, all in all, last night was a pretty good one! We now have Moss and Helen tonight int he 200fly and 200free respectively so it should be exciting to watch. I also realised that i havn't yet written about the opening ceremony so that will come int he next few days along with pictures once i get them off everyone else.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Olympic Village Day 1

Summary of first 24 hours in the Beijing Olympic Village....Astoundingly Amazing!!!! After arriving at the airport in Beijing from Japan at about 9pm, we were met by Alison Fitch, retired NZ swimmer and two-time Olympian and Gold Medalist Triathlete from 2004, Hamish Carter - pretty good way to get the "spectacular" and "unbelievable" senses of my brain working. Part of our team waiting for the final stragglers from the baggage collection with Hamish Carter's back showing in the foreground, right-hand side.

Then when we entered the village and walked toward our NZ apartment block we saw a sea of white shirts in front of us. As we got closer they did a haka for us, which, for those of you that do not know, is like the ones the All Blacks do except instead of saying "we will kill you, we will eat you" it's more of a "welcome to the village, hope you enjoy your stay" sort of thing! It was amazing though to have that performed for us! Once they finished our boys replied with one of their own which apparently could be heard on the other side of the village (which is a fair way away) and made me feel so proud to be kiwi! Someone, got a video so that will be uploaded at some point.

We were taken to our rooms which are sooooo awesome! We had paper bags on our beads with New Zealand lollies and chocolates in them to remind us of home. Things like pineapple lumps, jaffa's, naturals and jet planes! They know what makes athletes tick! Our team meeting room has the theme of bro'town (the TV show) which is awesome! And there's loads of poster's and pictures on the walls of New Zealand landmarks and stuff to really give us a sense of Aotearoa in Beijing. I will probably go and get pictures of all that stuff tomorrow to post up for everyone, and a quick video tour of the apartment (the Chinese people who get to live in them afterwards are very lucky indeed!).

This morning was an early start for the swimmers, breakfast at 6 and in the water at the Water-Cube at 7. I was feeling pretty tired until I saw the venue, then I woke up and was paying very close attention! Here's why:

It really is a stunning piece of architecture! I have yet to visit the other venues but will try to do so in the next few days, and I will be at the opening ceremony so will get lots of pictures of the bird's nest.

Now, to finish of this blog report, the final act of business on day one was receiving our opening ceremony uniform and greenstone. It was pretty special getting my box with that particular part of my uniform - I won't say what it is or describe it because that would ruin it for all you folks at home who will be looking out for it on tv! Although I will say that I will be proud to wear it into the stadium with all my other NZ team-mates and represent New Zealand, and I will try to stand on the very far right-hand side or at the back so that I have a better chance of getting seen by the camera!

Well, hopefully I have satisfied some of your curiosity! More pictures and video coming soon *Watch This Space*