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WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS JOURNAL: On the road with Team USA in Guangzhou, China



COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Kristie Marano is just 27 years old, but she has a passport filled with stamps from her travels all around the world.

She's checked out the Pyramids in Egypt and seen the Parthenon in Athens.

I'm the 40-year-old, first-year Communications Manager for USA Wrestling who hasn't been anywhere outside the Continental United States. Until now.

Armed with a brand-new passport, two suitcases, a computer bag and a camera bag, I'm ready for my first overseas trip - a 10-day journey to Guangzhou, China to cover the World Championships. Along the way, I kept a journal chronicling everything from the magical nights when Joe Warren and Bill Zadick won World titles, to watching coaches Dave "Doc" Bennett and Joe Corso bargain with local merchants at the massive outdoor market on Beijing Street, to enduring the long, tiring journeys to and from the tournament.

Come along on my journey:

Friday, Sept. 22, 5:14 a.m., Colorado Springs, Colo. - After a 3:30 wakeup call and a shower, my wife Diane and I swing by the home of my boss, USA Wrestling Communications Director Gary Abbott, to pick up Gary and Doc on the way to the airport. We immediately encounter our first challenge - trying to fit all our bags into the trunk of my wife's 2006 Dodge Stratus for the short trip to the airport. We not only have packed all our clothes for the trip, we have equipment packed to cover the event. Gary and I have computers, cameras, media guides, tape recorders and notebooks. Doc has video equipment he will used to videotape all the matches involving American wrestlers. We somehow manage to squeeze everything in.

6:32 a.m. - We're all checked in and ready to start the marathon journey. The Greco-Roman and freestyle teams are already in Guangzhou since they compete first. The Greco boys left Sept. 13 and the freestyle team left three days later. Each team needs about a week to acclimate to the surroundings, adjust to the time zone (Guangzhou is 14 hours ahead of Colorado Springs) and then have time to get their weight down before the competition.

The women's team competes last, so their seven World Team members, their training partners and the women's coaching staff are on the same travel schedule we are. We run into USOC Media Services Manager Kevin Neuendorf at our gate. He's on our flight to San Francisco and then he will fly to Beijing to take a tour of the facilities and venues, and see how that city is progressing as it prepares to host the 2008 Olympics. As fellow Washington Redskins fans, we also discuss how disappointed we are in our team's bad start.

7:32 a.m. - After a short delay, United Airlines Flight 6331 is off the ground and we're on our way to San Francisco. It's the beginning of a long day. Thank God for modern technology. Once the flight attendants give us the go-ahead, people in the travel party quickly pull out iPods, MP3 players, computers and portable DVD players. Gary pulls out a book, The Da Vinci Code, which is about as thick as the New York City phonebook and probably weighs almost as much as petite women's wrestler Clarissa Chun. This flight is a piece of cake compared to what we encounter later on the marathon flight over the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Hong Kong.

11:04 a.m., San Francisco, Calif. - We've landed in San Francisco, and the four-hour layover we were supposed to have is shortened a bit since we took off late from Colorado Springs. The women's team had planned to maybe hit a nearby 24-Hour Fitness for a short workout, but because of the delay they won't have time now. That doesn't stop World Team member Erin Tomeo from getting her workout in. While a number of athletes are trying to decide which restaurant to eat lunch at, Tomeo throws on a pair of sweats and is jogging around the terminal for a quick workout.

1:03 p.m. - The lengthy boarding process for United Flight 869 from San Francisco to Hong Kong is finally complete. Sounding like the small-town kid from Iowa that I am, I can't believe the size of this 747. It is massive. There are 60-plus rows, with 10 seats in each row (3 seats by the windows on each side, with four seats in the middle). Luckily, it's not a full flight and most of us aren't sitting right next to anybody.

The captain comes on the loudspeaker and announces the flight will be approximately 13 hours and 42 minutes as we cross the International Date Line. We will fly right past Honolulu, Hawaii, and later go past Tokyo, Japan, as we fly over the Pacific Ocean to Hong Kong. According to our travel itinerary, we will cover 6,914 miles on the flight.

Before we take off, a voice comes onto the loudspeaker and announces the name Sara McMann. Our World Team member at 138.75 pounds is in the back of the plane talking with some of her teammates and needs to take her seat so we can leave. Sara smiles and the rest of the women's team busts out laughing.

I'm ready for this flight (or maybe I'm ready to get it over with). I'm reading, Invincible, the inspiring book about Philadelphia native Vince Papale. The story chronicles how the 30-year-old Papale, a substitute teacher and part-time bartender who never played college football, tried out for and made the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976. As good as the movie was (it came out this summer and was No. 1 at the box office), check out the book. It is phenomenal. It's the new Rocky.

This flight is so long I have time to read nearly the entire book and still watch three of the movies being shown - Mission Impossible 3, Inside Man and Nacho Libre. Most of the people on the plane watch the first two movies, but Nacho Libre, the Jack Black movie where he works as a cook in a Mexican orphanage and moonlights as a "pro" wrestler, is not exactly a cinematic masterpiece. I look around and see numerous people dozing off during Nacho Libre. The sight of Jack Black with his shirt off for nearly the entire movie must have been too much for them.

These overseas trips are killers and our World-class athletes make a handful of them each year to try and face the best competition. I definitely have an appreciation for what they go through now. The women handle it well. Mary Kelly is a first-time World Team member, but she started traveling overseas when she was only 14 and wrestling in the Cadet World Championships (which she won). The flight is so long we have time to have lunch and dinner served to us, and a snack in between. People are seen walking down both aisles continuously during the flight. I see Doc doing some stretching exercises in the back of the plane. "Gotta keep the blood flowing," he tells me. He's a Doctor, so he must know those things.

Saturday, Sept. 23, 6 p.m., Hong Kong - The long flight finally touches down at the Hong Kong airport. It looks like Christmas on the descent with all the bright lights shining in downtown Hong Kong. The flight is over, but the travel headaches are not. We board a bus that will take us some 120 kilometers (however far that is) west to Guangzhou. Before that, we twice have to go through customs and immigration. We have to take all our bags off the bus and through the long lines once, even though nobody checks them. One of the girls says, "They like to mess with us, because we're Americans." After about two hours of standing in line and having a bunch of stamps put on our passports, we're finally in China and on our way to Guangzhou.

I point out to Dave and Gary that the bus driver is now driving on the right side of the road. He was driving on the left side of the road in Hong Kong, which used to be a British colony. The steering wheel is on the right, like it would be in London. It's funny seeing the guy driving on the right side of the road with his seat on the right side of the bus instead of the left.

10:10 p.m., Guangzhou, China - We finally arrive at the hotel and get our first whiff of Guangzhou, and it's not pleasant. It's a nasty stench we'll have to live with for the next 10 days. It's an old industrial town of 10 million people that nobody has heard of. It's not a tourist destination by any means. It stinks so bad that it makes the OTC wrestling room smell like a flower shop.

Mitch Hull, the National Teams Director for USA Wrestling, meets us in the lobby of the Mandarin Hotel, a nice, upscale hotel with Chinese and American restaurants. Mitch has already been in town a couple days and gets us checked in.

We quickly pick up some Chinese currency - Yuan - at the front desk of the hotel. I hand the lady a $100 bill and she gives me 750 Yuan. Less than an hour after checking in, Gary and I are both asleep in our room on the 11th floor. It was roughly 26 hours from the time we left Colorado Springs to the time we arrived at our hotel. It was an exhausting trip.

Sunday, Sept. 24, 2:30 a.m. - The time-zone switch is already messing with me. I wake up at 2:30 a.m., after about three hours of sleep, and I'm wide-awake. I figure out that the Iowa-Illinois football game should be on right now since it's still Saturday afternoon in the U.S. I grew up near Iowa City and as most people in our travel party know, I'm a big Hawkeye fan. I sit in my room with ESPN's GameCast on, getting the play-by-play account of the game online from halfway around the world from where the game is being played in Champaign, Ill. Iowa takes a big second-half lead, so I go back to bed.

Rich Bender, the Executive Director for USA Wrestling, later tells me he was up in the middle of the night about 24 hours after I was, following his beloved Green Bay Packers on a radio broadcast he found over the Internet. Thank God for the World Wide Web.

9:30 a.m. - After getting photos taken for our credentials, we have a few hours to kill before weigh-ins, so me, Gary, Doc, volunteer women's coaches Bill Scherr and Joe Corso, and Paul Kieblesz of the New York AC decide to check out the massive outdoor shopping area called Beijing Street. We take two cabs down there. The 10-minute ride only cost about 10 Yuan (just over $1 U.S.).

Beijing Street is gigantic. It has shops on both sides of the street. The streets are jammed with thousands of people. It's Sunday, so everybody is out. The heat is stifling. It's in the mid-90s and the humidity is very high (we're in southern China). Doc is looking everywhere for a Rolex, or some other quality watch - the game is trying to find one that's real.

Joe finds some really cool Jade nicknacks at this crowded shop you can barely move in. He's having some fun with this lady, trying to knock the price down on a really cool, dark green container with Chinese lettering on it you could put tea bags in and keep in your kitchen. I'm actually trying to buy it. She wants 400 for it and we're saying 250. She finally goes down to 300 and says, "Final offer." We counter with 250 and settle at 280. We still get it for 250 because as we're walking out I notice she gave me 30 more Yuan for change than she was supposed to.

DVDs also were a hot-selling item, going for just $1 U.S. apiece. A number of wrestlers brought home dozens of DVDs.

These salesmen on the street are relentless. They keep hounding you about coming to look at their watches. Telling them "No" 10 times is not enough. They just keep coming.

3:10 p.m. - With the competition starting tomorrow, the first group of Americans weigh in at a building adjacent to the competition area. It feels like it's about 120 degrees inside this building, a badminton club, when the Greco-Roman athletes at 55 kg, 60 kg and 66 kg step on the scales. Shortly after weighing in, American Lindsey Durlacher is laying face down on the ground after making 55 kg. If you've seen Durlacher train at the Olympic Training Center, you know he has very little body fat on him to begin with. Cutting around 15 pounds to make 121 is not easy for him, but he makes it.

Americans Joe Warren and Harry Lester also weigh-in and receive their draws for the next day's competition.

Gary interviews all three guys. Says Warren: "My goal is to win this thing. My preparation has been great. Physically and mentally, I am on the top of the world. Now I have to perform. I have to get it done." Boy, would he prove to be prophetic.

Monday, Sept. 25, 9 a.m. - It's kind of hard to tell if we're getting ready to start the World Championships or we're sitting in the public library. You could hear a pin drop at the Tianhe Sports Center just minutes before the start of the seven-day tournament because nobody is here. I mean nobody. Less than 100 people are in the stands as the event begins. There is no national anthem before the action - just an announcement that the three weight classes were ready to start on the three mats. They don't even start at 9. It's more like 9:15 when the first whistle of the tournament is finally blown.

The American Greco-Roman team, which won only one medal in the 2005 World meet, clearly means business. Warren completes a stunning run to the finals while Durlacher and Lester will come back to win bronze medals. The U.S. is the early leader in the team race with three medals.

7:27 p.m. - The finalists at 60 kg/132 pounds are being paraded onto the elevated platform to be introduced just before the finals. The announcer says in both English and Chinese, "And from the United States of America, Joe Warren, and his coach, Momir Petkovic." Can you believe this? It's only Day 1 and the USA has a chance for gold already.

Warren is pacing back and forth just before the match, repeating the same mantra over and over. "I'm the baddest (man) on the planet," Warren keeps saying. A few minutes later, Warren is right. He beats Georgia's David Bedinadze and has his gold medal. Warren does a flip in celebration and is hugging everyone in sight as the small contingent of American fans chant, "USA, USA."

Warren becomes just the fifth U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to win a World Championship.

A few minutes later, Warren stands on top of the podium as the "Star Spangled Banner" is played. It's an emotional moment for Warren as he raises both arms in the air.

Covering Day 1 of the tournament was a bit of an adventure. The Internet was not working in the arena, so we had to shuttle back and forth to the media center located across the street from the arena. Luckily, the Internet was working in the arena every day after that.

Tuesday, Sept. 26, 7:25 a.m. - Our hotel has an excellent breakfast buffet, complete with food we actually recognize like sausage, eggs, hash browns and all different kinds of fruit. I don't have a fork, so I try eating with the chopsticks in front of me and that's a disaster. A waitress finally stops by and hands me a fork.

After breakfast, Gary and I flag down a taxi in front of the hotel. The junky little green cabs - Volkswagen Jettas - are everywhere in Guangzhou.

They might as well not waste their time painting lines on the roads in Guangzhou. Nobody pays attention to them anyway. The road that passes by our hotel has four or five lanes on each side. The roads are packed - not only with cars, but with motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians. People riding bikes just venture right out into traffic, but somehow nobody seems to get in an accident.

A farmer who looks so old he may have been a former classmate of past Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung is pedaling along very slowly right down the middle of the road as cars zip past him. He has a large metal basket on the back of his rusty, run-down looking bicycle, which looks like the same type of Schwinn my grandfather rode. The basket is overflowing with green beans, and he apparently is taking them to the market. The beans are spilling out of the basket as he slowly pedals down a very busy street.

5:33 p.m. - The U.S. medal count remains at three after Day 2 of the Greco-Roman competition. But the Americans still lead the team race after T.C. Dantzler places fifth in Greco at 163 pounds.

Wednesday, Sept. 27, 10:08 a.m. - The United States title hopes in Greco-Roman are dashed when heavyweight Dremiel Byers loses a controversial second-round decision to Turkey's Ismael Guzel.

Byers is called for a caution for allegedly head-slapping Guzel, giving Guzel the point that eventually decides the outcome. The U.S. coaches are livid about the call. Anybody who watched the match is puzzled by the call, which didn't look like anything flagrant or intentional on the part of Byers.

The U.S. still manages to tie its best-ever finish in Greco-Roman by placing third in the team standings. But that is little consolation to a group that badly wanted to take home the gold trophy.

11:11 a.m. - Anybody who didn't think Mike Zadick was going to win a medal at his first World Championships are proven wrong just a couple of hours into the first session on Day 3 of the event.

Zadick gets on an early roll and stays there, knocking off 2004 Olympic champion Mavlet Batirov of Russia in the semifinals to cap an impressive four-match blitz that sends him into Wednesday night's freestyle finals at 60 kg/132 pounds.

The rapid-fire format, where wrestlers may have only about 20-30 minutes between matches, suits Zadick perfectly. He's always beaten opponents with his conditioning, going back to his days at Iowa, and this tournament is no exception. Zadick is all business, showing no emotion on the mat after he reaches the finals.

The worst Zadick can do now is a silver medal. Not bad for a guy who placed fourth at the U.S. Nationals in April.

Veteran Sammie Henson loses to talented young Radoslav Velikov of Bulgaria (the eventual champion) in the semifinals, but can still come back with one victory in the second session and win his third World-level medal.

7:27 p.m. - Henson comes back to win a bronze medal at 55 kg/121 pounds. Now the U.S. wants to win its first World freestyle gold medal since 1999 when Zadick steps up on the platform to be introduced for his finals match.

Zadick is introduced along with his coach, USA Resident Freestyle Coach Terry Brands, a two-time World Champion who helped coach Zadick at Iowa and also has worked with him at the Olympic Training Center during the team's training camps.

Zadick never won an NCAA title at Iowa, but none of that matters now. He has a chance to be a World Champion. Zadick scores the only takedown of the match against Iran's Seyed M. Mohammadi, but loses the match on two rules FILA implemented last year. He loses one period on a pushout and another on the leg clinch, where Zadick won the flip but was unable to finish as the offensive wrestler.

It is a crushing loss for a distraught Zadick, who works out for 20 minutes in the warmup area after the match. He wanted nothing less than a gold medal, but he still had a great tournament by capturing a silver medal. At age 28, he's a guy with plenty of good years ahead of him. And a guy two years out from being a legitimate gold-medal threat at the Olympics in Beijing, China.

Thursday, Sept. 28, 11:44 a.m. - Not to be outdone by his younger brother, 33-year-old Bill Zadick picks up where his brother left off by rattling off four straight wins of his own to reach the freestyle finals at 66 kg/145.5 pounds.

Seventh at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials, Zadick has made a remarkable turnaround after moving to the Olympic Training Center two years ago. Zadick hasn't wrestled much overseas in recent years, but his experience of placing seventh in the 2001 Worlds seems to have helped.

One of the nicest and most polite guys you will ever meet, Zadick is in the finals. Another nice guy, Donny Pritzlaff, has a chance to wrestle back and win a bronze medal. Whoever said nice guys finish last never met Zadick and Pritzlaff.

1:33 p.m. - NBC researcher Lee Ann Gschwind is attending the World Championships to gather information as her network starts gearing up for its coverage of the 2008 Olympics.

Lee Ann travels all over the world and serves in a number of different capacities for NBC. Among the events she's covered this year are the Winter Olympics in Torino, the French Open in Paris and Wimbledon in London. She's apparently not listing smog-filled, overcrowded Guangzhou on her list of favorite foreign cities.

Lee Ann invites us to lunch during a break between sessions. We're a little hesitant about trying some of the local Chinese restaurants (for fear of getting sick), so we settle on a Pizza Hut right across the street from the arena. We end up ordering something safe, a Cheese pizza. It actually is pretty good and tastes like the Pizza Hut back home. The air conditioning also is blasting, a nice reprieve from the sweltering heat outside.

A giant billboard of Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, who is from Shanghai, China, is in clear view just outside the window of the second-floor restaurant.

We have a good laugh when Lee Ann tries to use her NBC credit card and it is declined. She assures us the Peacock is not in any sort of financial trouble, it's something on the restaurant's end. American restaurants are everywhere in Guangzhou with numerous McDonald's and KFCs spotted in the city. There seems like there is a Starbucks on every street corner.

Lee Ann is learning a lot at her first international wrestling meet, including that nothing is guaranteed. Just minutes after I told her that six-time World Champion and two-time Olympic champion Bouvaisa Saitiev of Russia was one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time, he is upset early in the tournament and doesn't medal. Saitiev has been battling a rib injury and clearly is nowhere near 100 percent. Who would've thought Donny Pritzlaff would place higher than Saitiev?

7:02 p.m. - Bill Zadick is up on the platform now, along with Brands, for the introductions for the gold-medal match at 66 kilos.

Bill seems supremely confident and the guy standing just to his right is a big reason why. Brands has injected his brand of passion, fire and intensity into his wrestlers. And has made quite an impression on Zadick.

Zadick's match with Georgia's Otar Tushishvili is back-and-forth, and neither wrestler can gain a takedown in the final two-minute period.

All the training, all the tournaments, all the ups and downs that Zadick has experienced in three decades as a wrestler all come down to something he can't control. A coin flip. The coin lands on red, Zadick's color, and he is the offensive wrestler in the 30-second clinch.

The former Iowa Hawkeye standout starts with Tushishvili's leg and in less than 10 seconds transfers it into a double to score the winning takedown near the center of the mat. Second at the U.S. Nationals five months ago, Zadick is the best in the World. The normally low-key Zadick sprints across the mat and jumps into the arms of USA National Coach Kevin Jackson after the win.

Zadick's win gave the U.S. its first gold medal in freestyle since heavyweight Stephen Neal won the World Championships in 1999. Neal now is a starting guard for the New England Patriots.

It's around 5 a.m. back in Great Falls, Mont., but thanks to the Internet and TheMat.com, folks back in Zadick's hometown already have gotten the news. One of their own is a World Champion.

Pritzlaff, who is tough to stop with his ability to shoot a single from either side, relies on that move to come back and win a bronze medal. Thanks to Zadick and Pritzlaff, the U.S. now has four medals and is in position to win the team title with two weights to go on Friday.

Friday, Sept. 29, 10:24 a.m. - A rough morning sees Daniel Cormier and Tolly Thompson both lose to wrestlers from Iran, ending the title hopes for the U.S. freestyle team. The women's tournament starts and first-time World Team member Mary Kelly loses a heartbreaker to knock her out of the event.

The American men still manage to finish third, but like the Greco-Roman team, are disappointed about what could've been.

3:13 p.m. - Doc Bennett, USA Wrestling's Developmental Freestyle Coach and video guru, returns to the arena following yet another shopping spree.

He's already found the watch he wanted, but now he's stumbled onto something bigger. He bought 14 pearl necklaces for $100 U.S. apiece, a discount of some 80 percent, according to Doc. He's sure of their authenticity and Gary Abbott quickly offers to buy one. I have a few more questions for Doc before I decide to buy one of the necklaces for my wife. Doc is certain they are real and are not among the many knock-off items for sale in the market. He's a Doctor, so he must know what he's talking about.

9:42 p.m. - After returning to the hotel, I try to exchange the 100 Yuan bill that I was given the night we arrived here. I've tried to use the bill at a handful of different businesses and they keep telling me "fake, fake" after examining the lower right-hand corner of the bill. The lady in the hotel says, "I no take, it's fake." I try explaining to her that the hotel gave me the counterfeit bill, but it doesn't help me. I'm stuck with a souvenir bill with a picture of Mao on it. The good news is the 100 Yuan translates to only about $13 in U.S. currency.

Saturday, Sept. 30, 5:14 p.m. - Yale University Law Student Patricia Miranda delivers a convincing verdict at 51 kg/112.25 pounds when she comes back to win a bronze medal. Miranda won a bronze medal at the Olympics at 48 kg. She took last year off when she started Law School before moving up a weight class this year after returning to the mat.

Miranda is a coach's dream. She's not only intelligent, but she's very coachable and has a work ethic that USA National Women's Coach Terry Steiner loves.

9:10 p.m. - Gary and I are standing on a curb just outside the arena, trying to catch a cab. We haven't had any trouble, until this night.

The streets are packed with thousands of Chinese and the little green cabs just keep on zipping by without stopping. We see a number of people having the same problem, including massive World Champion heavyweight Artur Taymazov of Uzbekistan, who stands about 6-foot-5.

We finally walk down a block toward the media center and are able to grab a cab.

Our driver, like most we encounter, doesn't speak a word of English. Luckily, we have business cards with the name of our hotel written on it in English and Chinese. The driver nods his head and zips down the street toward the hotel after glancing at the card.

He seems to be going the wrong way and I try to tell him that. He just says, "No English, No English" and throws his arms up in the air. We have a little fun with the guy and I ask him if he knows who Yao Ming is. His eyes light up immediately, "Yao Ming, Yao Ming, yes, yes." He then holds his hand over his head, showing us that he knows the 7-foot-5 Yao is indeed very tall.

I tell Gary I can't believe the Rockets can't make the playoffs with Yao and Tracy McGrady in the lineup. The cabbie's eyes light up again, "Tracy McGrady," he says with a smile. "Tracy McGrady, yes, yes." All the Rockets games are shown on TV in China. They even have McGrady No. 1 jerseys on sale in the malls in Guangzhou.

Sunday, Oct. 1, 11:01 a.m. - The American women are ready to cap the tournament in style by sending heavy hitters and World medalists Kristie Marano, Sara McMann and Katie Downing to the mat for the final day of the seven-day tournament.

But another rough morning sees all three girls drop matches, with McMann and Downing both being eliminated. Marano is wrestling back later, but will need three straight wins to capture a bronze medal.

5:41 p.m. - No American woman has as many World-level medals as Marano, and after watching Marano wrestle back to a bronze medal, it is easy to see why.

Marano, a two-time World Champion, has now won an amazing eight World medals in eight appearances in this event. She came back strong after making her first World team in three years. She's as tough a competitor as you will ever see.

7:11 p.m. - The seven-day tournament comes to an end with Japan striking gold in five of the seven weight classes to run away with the women's team title.

It's been a strong showing for the Americans with nine overall medals and team trophies for the Greco-Roman and men's freestyle teams.

Monday, Oct. 2, 5:33 a.m. - We're ready to begin the long journey home as we hop on the bus for the two-hour ride east from Guangzhou to the Hong Kong airport. After reaching Hong Kong, and nearly getting in an accident when another bus cuts in front of us, we twice have to take our bags off the bus to go through immigration and customs. None of our bags are checked.

11:37 a.m., Hong Kong - We're loaded onto a 747 again and ready for another marathon, 12-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean. Gary and I finish our books. I also find time to watch the movie, The Lake House, that stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. Doc has it pegged before it starts. "Must be some kind of chick flik," he says. After the movie, he gives it two thumbs up.

Nacho Libre is on again. Jack Black must be paying United to keep showing this on their flights or something. I actually watch it and stay awake this time. Jack's Spanish accent, and his acting for that matter, need a little work.

9:17 a.m., San Francisco, Calif. - With China being 13 hours ahead of California, it's still Monday morning when we finally arrive in San Francisco.

For Mary Kelly, who is celebrating her 23rd birthday on Oct. 2, it's the longest birthday she's ever had. And maybe the most painful. The women's team convinces Kelly to go through a spanking machine and she quickly crawls through a line of girls near our gate inside the airport. The laughter it produces is a welcome relief for the weary traveling party.

4:03 p.m., Colorado Springs, Colo. - I've only lived here seven months, but Colorado Springs never looked so good. The flight from San Francisco to the Springs finally touches down and we're finally home. The clean mountain air never smelled so good.

My first overseas trip certainly has been memorable. Seeing Joe Warren and Bill Zadick win World Championships. Seeing the Greco-Roman and freestyle teams turning in strong showings by each finishing third. And seeing how another culture lives, in a Communist nation, was an interesting experience.

I'll probably reflect more on that later. For now, it's time to put away my passport and unpack my bags. And time to get some sleep.
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