I have additional Olympics posts that I was racing to get onto the blog before next Friday, when I leave for Mongolia -- but after the bombing in Islamabad, posting Olympics nonsense feels shallow and worthless. I read the news reports, and then I started looking at pictures and had to stop: I'd spent too much time there. I have yet to see any lists of people killed, and I'm dreading looking through them: it's just too likely I'll know someone. One couple whom I know still in Islamabad confirmed they're ok, but still: too likely.
There really aren't any words for this.
Posted by Dakota on 11:34 PM link |
After badminton, I dropped by a friend's place. Her parents were in town, and she'd promised the dazzling combination of Thai food and dessert if I could keep myself out past sunset to meet her mom and dad. I was in her living room making small talk while shoveling curry down my gullet when a mutual friend of ours, a journalist who seems to know everyone in the universe, mentioned in passing that she'd run into Nadia Comeneci earlier in the day. After ascertaining that she wasn't pulling my leg, I freaked out a bit: "Nadia Comeneci, of perfect ten fame?" I asked. Indeed: of perfect ten fame. And then she dropped the bomb:
"Oh hey, I'm meeting up with John Roethlisberger tonight. Do you wanna go?"
This offer made me hyperventilate for half an hour or so while loose ends were wrapped up and we made our way to the door. John Roethlisberger. Three time Olympian, world champion competitor like 86 times, Roethlisberger. Current coach, former hero, Roethlisberger.
An hour later we still hadn't left and I was visibly agitated: what if we missed him? Someone gave me a pen in case it occurred to me to have him write his name on something, and I mourned my lack of camera. Finally, after midnight and well past my bedtime we made our way to the cab stand and proceeded to the crappy bar area around houhai lake.
We went to the bar where they were supposed to be; no sign. Panic. Calls were made, a club was named and we proceeded that way. And then, directly in front of a speaker blaring wretched techno, I met him: Roethlisberger. Shook his hand, introduced myself, stuttered. The intimidation factor was high, and I was quite disappointed to find that I, at 6'1, didn't tower over his 5'7 like I was hoping to: so much for the height advantage. We all went outside to get away from the thumping bass.
It wasn't just Roethlisberger. It was former Stanford gymnast and current gymnastics journalist (who knew that was an occupation? Certainly not me. Apparantly "Inside Gymnastics" hires them) Dan Gill. And it was Team USA Alternate David Durante. And it was all of their girlfriends too, but that was unimportant. What was important was insider gossip from the world of Gymnastics. I loved every second of it.
"The Hamm twins," I asked. "Still in Beijing?" The answer, spoken with disgust and shaking heads, was that the first Hamm, Paul, hadn't come in the first place, and the second Hamm, Morgan, had taken great pains and gone to great lengths to get out of Beijing in advance of the team competition. They made it clear: you'd have to be a true asshole to abandon your team before the biggest event of their lives, particularly when you were already in country.
"Second Alternate Sasha Artemev: he's explosively powerful and it looks incredible to watch. Is he as much of a pommel horse genius as he appears to my untrained eye?" The short answer: genius to a greater degree than you'll ever understand.
And then came the more pressing question, which I posed to Roethlisberger: "Let's be hypothetical and say I were rocketing towards 30, and had no gymnastics background
whatsoever. Let's also say that I'm neither strong nor flexible. (Dan Gill, charming and poised: "now I KNOW we're not talking about YOU, man!"). What's it going to take for me to be able to build up to Thomas flares?"
Quoth Roethlisberger: "One, just call them flares." "Ok, what's it going to take for me to flare?" I asked. "No," he said, "you need a verb -- to do flares." This wasn't going well. "Roethlisberger, you're killing me. To do flares. Is there any hope?"
The answer: "it's possible. It's going to take a long time and it's going to be extremely painful, but if that's ok, you can do it." Perfect. "To start with, you'll need to wake up tomorrow morning and start your day with about 500 pushups." (I: "That's only 492 more than I currently do!"). "Then, if possible, you're going to need to stretch yourself out on the rack for a while." (I assume that's some sort of gymnastics equipment). "Once you're strong enough an flexible enough, things will pretty much fall into place." (I'm not sure that I believe that, but it doesn't matter: I've started doing pushups in my cubicle, in between paragraphs I write, to build up to 500 eventually).
And that was pretty much it. Durante said he didn't think there was a big chance that he, the third alternate (after Raj Bhavsar and Alexander Artemev) would be pulled for the team. He asked about 24 hour restaurants, and I applauded that even gymnasts get the late night munchies. It was approaching two in the morning.
We went our separate ways. I didn't get a number nor give any of them mine, but I kept hoping they'd call back and want to hang out: we've all got our dreams, I guess.
Posted by Dakota on 9:38 AM link |
Next event, chronologically: badminton.
Here's the brief synopsis: I have decided to become an Olympic badminton player.
I recognize that there are a lot of obstacles to this task. For example, I do not own a badminton racquet. I still chuckle at the word shuttlecock. I have, technically speaking, never played badminton, and most people don't break into Olympic sports they've never played when they're rocketing towards 30 years of age.
To quote Obama: we know the road ahead will be long and full of obstacles. But no matter how many things stand in our way, nothing can get in the way of a million voices screaming for [Dakota to become an Olympic badminton player].
Badminton, like handball, was unexpectedly awesome. It's a blitzkrieg sport, lightningly faced paced and truly awesome for spectators. And it's all about reflexes, split second reactions to the incoming birdie and whether or not you can get your racket under it in time. Asians dominate the sport, but I've got decent reflexes, honed by a childhood well spent playing nintendo and not exercising, and I think I'm next in line for the badminton crown. All three of the Americans who made the Olympics in badminton were Asian-American. I think it's time we caucasians were represented.
The take home message: the next time you're in a place with international tournament level badminton on display, get yourself a ticket immediately. It's captivating enough that I'm planning to attempt to join in. Also: there's enough beauty on the badminton court that I think I could enjoy myself on the circuit, which is a nice bonus. Shuttlecock, ho!
Posted by Dakota on 8:34 AM link |
The vast majority of countries participating in the games had a hospitality house for their athletes and visiting VIPs. The majority restricted entrance to citizens of the home nation; some, like the USA house, restricted access to athletes and their immediate family members, whom the athletes had to escort. (The USA house gift shop was accessible to the Embassy community, and the stuff on sale was very cool, but tragically expensive -- I, powerless in the face of athletic apparel, never allowed myself to go).
The Dutch hospitality house -- the Holland House -- was sponsored by Heineken, and was open to everyone. And it was awesome beyond any speaking of it.
One, they had Heineken on sale, which despite being not free is still approximately 45 times better than Budweiser.
Two, they had croquettes. Croquettes are basically the gravy part of biscuits and gravy, rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried. I don't fully understand the logistics of how one deep fries gravy, but the Dutch have figured it out on our behalf. The result is the most delicious nuclear-hot lava-like gravy on the planet, and it's the single greatest thing you'll ever eat -- particularly if you've already thrown back a few Heinekins.
If croquettes weren't enough to win Holland House the honorary title of most wonderfully cholesterol-soaked hospitality house, they also served fries with mayo. This pushed my happiness meter to somewhere near 'bliss.'
Three, the place was packed out with Dutch people. It's no secret that I love the Dutch (I always have!) and the Holland House featured hundreds of patriotic Dutch people decked out in Orange, the color of the Dutch royal family, the House of Orange. The Dutch have a lot going for them: hyperfluency in English (nearly 80 percent of Dutch people speak English. 80!), the tenth highest GDP per capita in the world, and one of the highest rates of overall satisfaction with life -- put simply, the Dutch are happier than most people on the planet
Also, the shortest amongst them stand 6'3. I, a paltry 6'1, have never felt so consistently short.
A few short months ago, I was tasked with writing a briefing paper on the Netherlands, and as such was able to start conversations with such exciting factoids as "did you know that the Netherlands produces 33 percent of the EU's tomatoes, and 25 percent of its green peppers?" And of course, since well over ten percent of the Netherlands was reclaimed from the sea by Dutch engineers, I made sure to liberally throw around the line "God created the Earth -- but the DUTCH created the Netherlands."
The atmosphere a club bud was stuffy exclusivity. At the Holland House, it was open and friendly, albeit in a distinctly pro-Netherlands kind of way. Even the athletes, with their impressive physiques and intimidating ID badges, seemed accessible. So I started talking to them.
"Hey man, what's your sport?" It's remarkable how far that line will get you when you're surrounded by Olympic athletes. These people have done nothing but eat, sleep and breath their events for years. It's not just that they want to talk about their sport, although that is clearly the case. It's that they don't actually have much else to talk about. Their sport: it's all they've done.
"Hey man, what's your sport?" "I'm a rower." Oh, that explains your physique.
"Hey man, what's your sport?" "Air pistol." Oh, that explains YOUR physique as well. More fries with mayo?
"Hey man, what's your sport?" "Kayaking." Really! How'd it go? "Not so great, but my teammate won silver, so we're celebrating." Really! Is your teammate around? I've never met a silver medal winner. "She'll be here soon."
And then, ten minutes later, he tapped me on the shoulder, addressed me as mate and introduced me to his teammate. I shook her hand, congratulated her, and said -- rumor runs you won a silver medal today. She smiled, thanked me, and held up the medal -- she had been wearing it around her neck the whole time, and I hadn't even noticed.
I, slightly buzzed and very excited on her behalf, immediately got gushy. "Holy s---! That's an olympic medal! That's a f---ing silver medal! You're the second best kayaker in the whole WORLD! Can I touch it?" She let me, and I remarked on how heavy it was. "Does it hurt your neck?" I asked. "I can handle the weight," she grinned.
I didn't think it could get much better than that, but then I was hanging out outside near the fry stand, when sudenly the crowd started buzzing about someone who was in line to get a croquette. I craned my neck. "Is that... Holy cow, is that -- " A dutch person next to me confirmed it:
"Yeah, it's him. Willem-Alexander, the Crown Prince of the Netherlands."
I moved in to attempt to shake his hand, but his security people were very effective at keeping me and dozens of Dutch people at bay. Nonetheless, I will forever think of the Olympics as that time when the Crown Prince and I were hanging out at the Holland House, eating croquettes. You know: like you do.
Posted by Dakota on 9:46 AM link |
Judo: my god what an awful spectator sport. Honestly.
Judo -- the "gentle way" -- is incomprehensible. Seriously. I slogged my way through 18 pages of wikipedia, only to arrive and not have a clue what was going on. There are apparently 4 different types of moves, ranging from instant victory to one-point minor thumps. There's no telling what those moves actually are, particularly once a match is underway.
If you pin someone for 25 seconds, you theoretically win. But it seemed like the majority of the time someone would pin, the ref would come break it up well before 25 seconds. Matches last for five minutes, and 3 minutes would go by with no score and then suddenly one of the fighters would be up 141 to nil, inexplicably.
Our seats sucked (high above the two judo mats on which bouts ran simultaneously). We sat next to a woman from the Netherlands who expressed surprise that we had bothered to come to an event we didn't understand. There was a gold medal match (won by Georgia who, semi-excitingly, had previously taken down Russia), which passed just as inexplicably as the previous matches.
A second gold medal, for one of the women's weight classes, was won by Japan. There's a shocker: Japan's good at judo.
Posted by Dakota on 3:51 AM link |
After more or less years of wanting one, I finally broke down and made the purchase I've been drooling after:
A digital SLR camera. Some people would say that I'm an idiot for waiting until AFTER the Olympics to purchase this. They're probably right. That said, I had no idea how affordable SLR cameras are until a friend of mine purchased one, opening the floodgates for me. And here we are.
In addition to the camera, I finally bought an SD card reader, allowing me to take pictures off of my other camera (which also technically belongs to the same friend), which thus allows me to upload the following picture from Chinese New Year, when I shaved my head in the bathroom of a cheap hotel room in central Guam. Razor burn and all:
And now, back to our regularly scheduled Olympics hullaballoo.
Posted by Dakota on 3:07 AM link |