Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

It's been a busy 24 hours for TEAM USA, between Opening Ceremonies and the beginning of preliminary play today, so here's a summary of what's been going on in Athens:

The Good
The Opening Ceremonies can only be described in one word: Olympic. They were artistic, inspiring, and on a colossal scale. We arrived in the afternoon at the staging area, but had some time to walk around. First, we saw the Ivory Coast, sporting traditional clothing:

Then the guys were approached by the Kenyan women's track team, and although several played coy, they eventually gave in and posed with ladies:

The march then started. As is often the case at these kinds of events, we had to walk about a half mile before we got to the stadium, and the march came in fits and starts as other countries ahead of us entered at an uneven pace. Coach John made the most of the down time, showing our anti-dancing team how to break it down (with the help of a Greek volunteer):

Then things picked up and we approached:
The Discus Thrower, cast for the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896...the Opening Ceremonies were in the track stadium from those Games!
Then entered the stadium, greeted by American fans peering over the edge:
..and in the stadium:
Entering the Panathenaic Stadium
The ceremony interpreted the creation of the world according to Greek myth:

...and also offered a staged version of Homer's Odyssey, challenging the athletes and fans to face discrimination with the determination of Odysseus:

Then we had the obligatory speeches, though two were memorable. A tribute to Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver:

and the introduction of Special Olympics' Global Ambassadors, 12 athletes with remarkable stories of success and integration:

Then came the first:
Representatives of Law Enforcement from every country...they were the torch runners over the course of the last year

 All told, it was a moving way to open the Games.
The final moments of the Opening Ceremony
There was more to the Good than just the Opening Ceremonies. The guys opened preliminary play today, and performed very well. Although they lost to Canada 1-0, and tied Austria 0-0, they had more shots on goal in both games and dominated possession. Again, only the finishing was missing. The team will continue to work on this, though some of it was just bad luck. Wes Thompson rattled the crossbar in the Canada match, and Avery Long just missed the corner of the goal against Austria. Full match reports can be found here. But for now, here are a few pics:
Introductions before the match with Austria
Action during the Austria match, which ended 0-0
The Bad
Unfortunately, the guys have had some challenges on this trip, as logistics and organization continue to be a problem. The Opening Ceremonies ended at 12:45, and after a glut at the bus station, we did not get back to our remote hotel until just before 3am. Departure for today's games was at 7am. Then it turned out that our Austrian opponents missed their bus while trying to sneak in an extra hour or two of sleep, so we didn't play our first match until 1:30pm, and then played immediately afterward at 2:30pm. As a result, the guys slept at the stadium for an hour or two in the morning, but in addition to the difficult ferry ride, they were clearly running short on sleep. Most of them hit the hay at 9pm tonight, as we must be up at 5am for mandatory arrival before 8am tomorrow (3 hours before our final preliminary match against Italy).

The other logistics problem has been food. Breakfast at the new hotel consists only of corn flakes with warm milk, and hard boiled eggs. And meals at the Opening Ceremonies and stadium have included only a thick french loaf with a single thin slice of cheese or meat, along with a small granola bar. Hydration resources have been excellent, but the guys have needed additional food on a regular basis and the coaching staff was challenged to supply it today, since most groceries are closed in Greece on Sundays.
Terrell Nowlin showing the complete contents of his dinner sandwich before the Opening Ceremonies
Both of these difficulties, the transportation and the food, result from the difficult economic circumstances in Greece. The organizing committee is clearly short on resources, and the Games have received criticism from workers complaining that the government should not be spending money on an event like this during such a crisis. Indeed, a general strike is planned for Tuesday and Wednesday, which could affect transportation to the venues. We'll keep you posted.

The Ugly
Another of the organizational snafus is more comical than truly problematic...the new hotel outside of Athens will only wash clothes at the outrageous price of 4 euro per item ($6 for a shirt)! As a result, necessity required the players to learn to do their wash in sinks and bathtubs over the last two days. Happily, we'll all be smelling fresh and clean tomorrow, and friends and family will rejoice to learn that the players have a newfound respect for washing machines. Perhaps their laundry duties at home will increase?

The Take-Away
All of this is to say that the last 24 hours have given us everything we expected in terms of experience and competition. Some things haven't run perfectly, but those problems have taught us new skills and a new appreciation for the differences that exist in other places around the world. Plus, we've learned to challenge ourselves and perform in the face of a little adversity (and it is just a little, considering what the Palestinian, Iranian, Afghan and other delegations face at home on a daily basis). Tomorrow, we'll put those lessons into action against Italy at 11am in our final preliminary match. Scores have been improving (1-3 vs Ireland; 0-1 vs Canada; 0-0 vs Austria), so we expect that to continue tomorrow. Go USA!

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