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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Can It Get Any Better Than This?

Our Olympic Insiders are Jim "Frit" and  Linda Cooper. 

The most rewarding thing about my efforts to unite all of PSU Track and Cross-Country, is not only making new friends, but reuniting with "old" friends.  I had not seen Frit or Linda for about 30 years when they came to last year's Alumni Reunion.  Little did they realize at the time that now I'll hound them to golf with us next!  (Remember everyone, even non-golfers have found themselves on the Coach Groves Memorial Cup.) I can't thank him enough for getting us some photos from London, complete with thoughts and memories we never could have gotten otherwise.  And we must also thank Le faucon d'orange for arranging to get Frit his Alumni Singlet in time.  We also attempted to get a Singlet to Bridget Franek while there, and we will still get it to her sometime soon.  Without further ado, here's the Cooper's thoughts on the 2012 London Olympics:

Can It Get Any Better Than This?

Bedlam, not the Queen, reigned in the Olympic Stadium as Mo Farah took the lead with 400 meters to go in the 10K. The predominantly British crowd, already whipped into a frenzy from their earlier gold medals in the heptathlon and long jump, emitted a roar to bring their man home that would have knocked down the blue-stone blocks of Stonehenge. My voice was part of that roar as Galen Rupp, instead of being chewed up and spit out the back of the pack, steadily passed one competitor after another to get his silver medal. As Mo and Galen crossed the finish line, everyone in the stadium was screaming, laughing, crying, or hugging someone. I found myself somehow doing all four simultaneously (hugging my wife, in case you were wondering). Could this trip get any better? It could, and it did.

Our trip of a lifetime began innocuously enough three years ago with a $100 deposit to secure two spots on the Track and Field News 2012 Olympic tour. After adding a considerable sum to that initial $100, we were guaranteed a hotel room and tickets to every evening session of track and field. Determined to immerse ourselves as much in British history as Olympic events and fortified by a substantial (i.e. free) breakfast, we departed the hotel each morning to visit a cathedral, museum, or gallery. Then, we rested our sore feet while we had an early dinner and a pint at whichever nearby pub looked most inviting. From there it was on to Olympic Park for that evening’s track and field session. Finally, we would return to our hotel about midnight with our sore feet matched by sore hands and throats from all the clapping and cheering in response to the athletic achievements we had witnessed. This daily routine necessitated cramming many and varied types of clothing into our backpack to accommodate the changeable British weather, not to mention the essential items for spectating, such as our tickets, snacks, and binoculars.

You’ve no doubt already seen and read more than you want about these Olympics, so I will just provide you with a series of reflections on the city and the track and field events that made this trip worth every penny it cost us.

·       There was a warm, happy atmosphere throughout the city, generated by the ever-present volunteers who remained cheerful and smiling throughout the entire two weeks and helped us successfully navigate the London Underground.
·       It was wonderful to be able to strike up a conversation with the Brit standing next to you in the queue or on the street. They would always inquire sincerely if we were having a good time or what we thought of the opening ceremonies.
·       We were amazed at the vast collection of cultural artifacts the British have squirrelled away in their museums, but proudly share with visitors. By the end of the trip we felt like we could ace a final exam in Western Civilization 101.
·       Incredulously, the BBC’s coverage was more country-centric than NBC’s. We didn’t find out that the U.S. women had won the soccer gold medal until two days after it had happened.
·       The marathon races were a fine example of the British sense of sportsmanship. There were huge crowds lining the entire marathon course (even in the rain during the women’s race) that cheered for every competitor and didn’t leave until the last runner had passed.
·       To our surprise, we found ourselves caught up in the Brits’ partisan enthusiasm for their athletes and cheered wildly for Andy Murray as we watched the men’s tennis gold medal match on one of the outdoor big screen TVs. 

Olympic Track and Field
·       Being able to watch every lap, jump, or throw of every event, unfiltered and without commentary was sublime.
·       At times there were so many events occurring simultaneously that if you blinked, you missed a critical jump or throw.
·       Despite mass quantities of beer consumed by spectators in the stadium, there was no profanity or other ugliness.
·       After the 10K, we watched Galen Rupp and Alberto Salazar engage in an affectionate, joyful discussion of the race. This was something we would never have seen on TV.
·       Fortuitously, the night of the women’s steeplechase final, our seats were in row 1 at the top of the backstretch. We cheered as loud as we could for Bridget Franek on each lap. 

·       Usain Bolt is aptly named. He is a human conduit of excitement and electricity that actually made your skin tingle as soon as he entered the stadium.
·       We felt a great sense of satisfaction watching competitors like Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards-Ross, and Jenn Suhr overcome setbacks and disappointments to finally win Olympic gold medals.
·       It was a relief to watch two high hurdles finals that did not include someone crashing to the ground in the last 10 meters.
·       It was thrilling to see the flawless baton passes in both U.S. 4x100 relays, and witness the world and national records set in those races.
·       Another big thrill was being present at the greatest 800 meters ever run as David Rudisha took the lead at 150 meters and stormed around the track to set the world record, pulling everyone else in the race to incredible performances as well.
·       The tour included a luncheon featuring a number of current and former Olympians as special guests. We were able to chat with Nick Symmonds, Leo Manzano, and Billy Mills, but the crowds around Jenn Suhr and Dawn Harper were too big so we just took photos. I also made a huge faux pas when I mistook Jesse Williams for Trey Hardee and asked him a question about the decathlon. Fortunately, he was very gracious, saying that many others have made the same gaffe.
·       It was a marvel to find that the person sitting next to you at breakfast was just as much of a track nut as you, and therefore willing to discuss the women’s discus final in minute detail.

So by the numbers, this trip was a spectacular success as we saw three world records, 29 U.S. medals, and 2000 years of British history in 12 days! However, it was the range of emotions we experienced from actually being there that made this the trip of a lifetime: disbelief and dismay as Morgan Uceny fell in the 1500, disbelief and joy as Galen Rupp medaled in the 10K, and awe at the power of Shakespeare’s words delivered by accomplished British actors in the Globe Theater. I still get chills down my spine when I recall the emotional moments of our trip, and I expect that I always will.

Check out more photos from Jim and Linda Cooper on the slide show on the left sidebar.

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