Blog 4: reflections on Day 4, Friday Aug 5th
Yesterday was an amazing day. There is nothing more to say about it besides amazing and awesome and chilling. The world has come together, in the face of political chaos and negativity, to have created one of the most positive, influential, inspiring, and miraculous days of the year. The day consisted for me of a little bit of treatment of various athletes and then mostly writing. The women's team had the day off of podium training and the men's competition starts today. Traditionally, artistic gymnastics is at the beginning of the Olympics. So, the U.S. usually does not let our men's and women's team go to opening ceremonies due to the fatigue that they will face, the arduous transportation, and the need for rest, preparation, and focus. Both the men's and the women's teams had fun yesterday being social. The men's team even donned their opening ceremonies uniforms at the athletes village taking fun pictures and showing the lighter side of the Olympics.
The pride shown of athletes for their countries is a breath of fresh air given the political state of the world. Flags, banners, signs on the athlete village buildings. So neat to see.
I truly do have albums worth of pictures of me and the infamous Bela Karolyi. I have known him for over 20 years, from when he was a coach, to when he started running his summer camps, where I coached for four summers. Living on the ranch, using Martha and Bela's house to choreograph dance for the week, hanging out with their daughter, and of course... the camels. The ranch is an experience of a lifetime and the connection that I have with Bela is one like no other. See, in his age and potential memory challenges, has never once forgotten who I am. Either he opens his arms, takes one step back, smiles and says "My Geeeenaaaah", or "Beautiful, beautiful little Gina." It always makes my heart warm and brings a tear to my eye. Yesterday was truly no exception, when I received the hug of a lifetime. I said, "Bela, I'm going to miss seeing you constantly. I hope you will still attend events as a spectator instead of the husband of the most important person in women's gymnastics after Martha retires!" He grinned and then responded, "I will always be here, you know, a little travel, a little fun... and always gymnastics. You are amazing Gina with you still loving this sport for, yeah, forever. Your smile and heart always [are] good for me."
Coaches can make or break you in the life of sport, Imagine what this sport would have been like now without the husband-and-wife duo coming to the United States. And Miss Nadia - as in international sensation. You see, they were the springboard for the international rain and dominance US program. At the end, if you have done any sport for any length of time, you understand that you have to love it. As an adult, to continue being involved in the sport as much as I am, you have to "still" love it. Of course at the time, if you want to be on the podium, you have to have strict and regimented training. After all, no one goes to the Olympics on pure hugs and happiness. The athletes were there at Karolyi's to do their job which was to strive to be their best. And the coach's job has always been to make the most out of the athletes at hand. However, being passionate about sports, not only for the competition side, but also for what the sport itself does for each person, is the goal. The hope is that the sport will stay in your heart or never. When I was coaching J.O. USAG, as well college and Michigan State, my main goal was to make sure that in 20 years, any child or young woman that I came across left the sport with a positive self-esteem and still had the love and respect for the skill and beauty of the sport. This, I believe, should reign even above medals. This Olympic Games is a great example. Five girls on the team, two repeats, which left three "new" spots in the course of four years. That is less than one athlete per year - for which the dream of making the team will come true.
Social media was all a buzz yesterday regarding the Laurie Hernandez controversy. It is amazing when people, general public, spectators, and "those who think they know the sport better than the ones in charge of the sport," speculate on data, information, and decision-making strategies that they truly may not have all of the information to do. In general, there are two all-around spots that can advance to the all-around finals coming out of qualifications at Team Prelims on Sunday. That does not mean that more than two people cannot do all around in preliminaries, but the "two per country rule "still stands to advance to AA finals (if qualified). Simone Biles is the obvious choice for our first spot. The next two all-arounders are to be decided by the selection committee, coaches and really...Martha. The decision for the second all-around spot was gabby Douglas, given her experience, the trust that the US system has in her, Martha's instinct, and the peak that she is having at these Olympics. Of course this was all up in the air if she had not regained her focus, but as my women's preview article states (CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THE ARTICLE), it was really not much of a decision. The third spot, therefore, it was between Aly and Laurie. Aly has a vast amount of experience, international success, and a calmness about her that should lead us to a successful evening in the best chance at submitting two all-around athletes that can podium at finals. Speculation is abound about injury, and from a social media outlet perspective especially. We are not sure why people would create data that was never factual, but then again, everyone is looking for a story. Our team looks stronger than ever and ready to go. Of course, getting to the Olympics or even being an Elite does not come without pains and aches, everyone has them. Gabby's knee. Aly's ankles. Laurie's knee. If you did gymnastics yourself, and you stand up in the AM without pain, you are lucky.
The two hour and 45 minute trek was arduous for Chris and myself just to get to watch the opening ceremonies. We did not attend, due to again the transportation nightmare, as well as the fact that there is a limited amount of credentialed seating. There were people whose journeys were greater than four hours, then to have to stand in line for longer to get in. I'm sure it was beautiful in person, as many of my friends were consistently sending pictures and videos who were there. But my butt was comfy on the couch drinking and actually relaxing. Read the article written by my peers at Inside staff on gymnastics and its influence with flag bearers! (CLICK HERE!)
We had the pleasure of being invited to the VIP Nike party in Copacabana. The bus got us "close." We then had the experience of walking through what is actual local living. As much as the Olympics bring about the best show for the world with new buildings, cleaned-up areas, the village streets of Rio make it evident that we are truly in an impoverished nation. It was, however, good to experience this- local culture. A walk along the beach walkway allowed us to hear local sounds. Every few meters there is yet another bar with food and a performing artist. People are dancing everywhere. Street vendors, tourists, and more. The people of Brazil could not be nicer- the volunteer staff to the locals on the street. They are truly excited.
The party was an amazing experience as we were welcomed like royalty from Nike representatives around the world. Their hospitality was amazing, their displays of uniforms and technology was informational, and the location was breathtaking. The picture shows our view from the balcony of Copacabana Beach and the stadium for Olympic Beach Volleyball. This is especially important to have gotten a great picture of this, seeing as I have been the Chicago Medical coordinator for the AVP tour for years, and write for Inside Volleyball Magazine as well.
On the streets and buses, I have had the pleasure of meeting gymnasts from Iceland, judges from Germany, swimmers from Sweden, and the ability to observe amazing spectacle that his platform diving. And the Olympics have just begun.
Today marks the first day for men's gymnastics. We will be entering into the arena for a long, arduous day. There are many flights of athletes that will enter into podium competition today, similar to the structure of training day. The U.S. is later in the day, but we are covering all countries, all day. We have the distinct pleasure with the journalist credential, of being in what is called the "mixed zone" after the meets. This is a place where all athletes and coaches, and Federation staff if applicable, join after competitions to address the media - weather television or magazine or news. The familiar faces from the U.S. are always good to see, such as our friends from the Associated Press, USA today, and states such as California Texas and New York. No matter how many words in print with my writing, I hope I am able to use my words to get across not only what they say, but how they say it, the feeling in the arena and room, during and following competition. I pinch myself every day that I am able to do this "journalism my second job" and magnificent hobby.
Already on the way to the stadium this morning, there thousands of people milling around. Very different from the previous week, when it was credentialed people and those in volunteer uniforms. I've spent majority of my time "backstage", as we are dropped off and then have the ability to ride a credentialed internal bus through the Olympic competition venue transportation system. I do want to make sure I spend significant amount of time in the public areas to grasp the excitement, energy, and the spectacle that the Olympics brings. I will try to do some video interviews of people throughout the week from the U.S. and around the world.
My Publisher and President of Inside Publications, Chris Korotky, is along on this journey with me (or shall I say I am along on this with him!). He has an eloquent way of writing, and has experienced many Games. If you want his perspective, CLICK HERE for his preview.
Have fun watching the men's competition today. There are some new skills being "presented" today, or at least the men are planning on it, from around the world. I explained it for you, so you know what to watch. CLICK HERE to link to the article. As for the U.S., we are hoping to have an easy glide to team finals, two all-around athletes in finals, and a chance at some individual medals. Sam and Chris will strive for the AA today. Remember that Chris Brooks is 29. As you are watching him, know that he has been doing gymnastics at the Elite level longer than most of our women's team has been alive. Watch Danell on high bar and on parallel bars, and the excitement of his coach and father, Yin. Watch the strength of Alex on pommel horse and rings. Watch floor for Sam. And in general watch a team of guys that I have the pleasure of knowing, who couldn't be nicer, more appreciative, and more understanding of their ability to have such an experience.
Thanks for the men's pic, photo credit to John Cheng (USA Gymnastics Photographer) Cheers!