Everybody has their job. Usually at the Olympics, mine is a coordinating role for the paper and a reporting role for the web site. The hours are insane, and it’s a lot to juggle (especially with a time difference some of us are still trying to get our heads around), but it’s also a real adrenaline rush.
The Olympics are like nothing else, and just to be reporting on them off a television set in the press room is not a bad thing when that’s all you can do. But, sometimes, the schedule works so that a desk-bound journalist can escape for a few minutes and watch an event live and in person. And, boy, did I pick a couple of good ones on the weekend.
On Saturday night, I packed up my trusty Dell laptop (the one with the Canada flag over the word “Dell,” because, after all, they’re not an Olympics sponsor and I don’t want to offend the Lenovo people) and wandered over to the Bird’s Nest to see some track and field. Hadn’t seen the stadium since the Opening Ceremony, and I’m glad to say it has aged well in the last week.
The bright orange-red lights they use under the criss-cross steel beams look uber-cool at night, and the light standards along the main spine of the Olympic Green all flash in bright colours as you walk along and check out folks from all over the world; Mexican fans in giant sombreros, Aussies of both the male and female variety with bright green wigs and Russian women in red dresses with stiletto heels (odd choice for this kind of sport).
The walk over was terrific, but the best part of the night was the track, where I got to watch Jessica Zelinka of London, Ont. run a terrific 800-metre race. She didn’t win a medal in the heptathlon, but she competed strongly despite a severe foot injury last year.
A few minutes later came the piece de resistance; the 100-metre dash. The press tribune was jam-packed with far more people than it should’ve been, and there were no empty seats. But I managed to squeeze in between some folks and watch Usain Bolt make history with his “Is it really this easy” gold medal sprint and his 9.69-second world record.
It’s pretty neat to say you’ve seen the fastest runner in history strut his stuff, especially when you know he could’ve gone as low as 9.59 if he hadn’t slowed down from warp factor six as he came near the finish line.
A few hours later, I got up and wandered to the Water Cube to help colleague Rosie DiManno cover the Sunday morning swimming. Rosie was charged with looking after Michael Phelps, so I said I’d keep an eye on Canada’s Ryan Cochrane. Sure enough, the kid comes through with a bronze medal. That was fun.
But here’s where I really owe Mr. Cochrane a debt of gratitude. If he was a real quote machine, I would’ve had to spend a lot of time going over notes and such and putting my story together for our 12:15 a.m. drop-dead deadline. But he’s a swimmer, not a public speaker, and it didn’t take all that long to put a story together that bore a passing resemblance to journalism. I looked up at the clock on the press room wall in the basement of the Water Cube where most of the reporters were working and realized that Phelps was going for his record eighth medal of the Olympics. I was able to dash (well, it felt like it) to the stairs and up four short flights to the main deck and then ran to the stands to see him jump into the water for his amazing butterfly lap.
He turned a deficit into a lead that the Americans would not give up, and I could see the expression of joy on Phelps’ face when teammate Jason Lezak – the guy who had saved his bacon in an earlier relay – touched the wall in front of his rivals to give Phelps medal number ocho. I had to run back downstairs immediately to finish up the Cochrane story, but I got to see Phelps in the biggest swimming race in history. Just as I had managed to see Bolt set his world record the night before.
Remind me again some time that I might be one of the luckiest people I know.
SEPARATED AT BIRTH? Those of us who work at the Toronto Star, and there are a few, probably know one Gabe Gonda, currently the Saturday Ideas editor. We noticed he bears a strong resemblance (do a photo shop and take off Gonda’s dark locks) to American swimmer Michael Phelps. Don’t let it go to your head, Gabe.
(Photo credits: TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO; REUTERS)