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|Sesker Olympics Journal: Exciting day as U.S. wins its first Olympic title in judo|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
LONDON – It was an amazing day!
I was on the shuttle bus on the way back from the Main Press Center late Thursday afternoon when my boss, Gary Abbott, called me.
Team USA had a finalist in the women’s judo competition and he was checking to see if I wanted to go over with him to watch it.
American Kayla Harrison had reached the finals.
I got off the bus, and Gary and I ran to catch the train over to the ExCel Center.
We walked into the packed arena just in time to see the finals match between Harrison and the local favorite from Great Britain.
Harrison dominated the bout and won a gold medal, the first in U.S. history for an Olympic judo athlete.
It was incredible to see the emotion pouring out as Harrison celebrated her win. The medal ceremony gave me goose bumps. It was very cool to hear the Star Spangled Banner and see our flag being raised in the same arena where wrestling will compete next week.
Hopefully, we are going to hear that song a few more times in the same venue when our guys take the mat.
Harrison’s coach, Jimmy Pedro, wrestled at Brown. Gary said he actually coached Pedro when he was coming up through the wrestling ranks.
We walked down to the mixed zone and Pedro couldn’t contain his excitement when being interviewed.
“Kayla Harrison, Olympic gold medalist, baby!” Pedro called out.
You got to love the Olympics!
It was good to see our head honchos, Rich Bender and Jim Ravannack, at the Greco-Roman practice on Thursday at the University of East London training facility. Rich and Jim mingled around and gave our boys some encouragement as their competition is only a few short days away.
The third member of our communications team, Jason Bryant, rolled into town on Thursday. We took a bus over to the Main Press Center after Jason took some photos and shot some video at practice at UEL.
We are now two days away from the start of the wrestling competition at the Olympics.
I can’t wait!
LONDON – Dremiel Byers is one of the best Greco-Roman wrestlers in U.S. history.
He’s captured World gold, silver and bronze medals, and is preparing for his second Olympic Games.
He also is one of the funniest and most personable guys you will ever meet. His personality was on full display when a group from NBC appeared at our practice on Wednesday morning.
Dremiel and Olympic teammate Ellis Coleman were taping a segment that will appear next week on NBC. I've never seen him smile so much. He and Ellis enjoyed doing a segment where they were demonstrating holds for the NBC crew.
Ellis even did his trademark "Flying Squirrel" move for them. Dremiel laughed when I asked him if he was going to do his "Flying Walrus" move.
The Greco-Roman competition starts in just three days, and Dremiel had me feeling good about the U.S. chances in London.
“We are all ready to go – everybody is ready,” he said. “We are ready to have a great performance. We’ve done the work, now we just have to go out there and get the job done.”
The U.S. isn’t being picked to win a lot of medals in Greco, but don’t sell this group short. I know I won’t.
I had my best meal of the trip tonight when press officer Bill Kellick of USA Taekwondo and I ventured into an Italian restaurant called 07 Zero Sette.
The restaurant is in a brick building right next to the ExCel Center, where wrestling and a number of other sports are being contested at the Olympics. We both ordered lasagne and it was nothing short of outstanding. It definitely hit the spot.
I returned to the University of East London and hung out with John Sachs of Tech Fall for a bit following dinner on Wednesday. John has done a great job taking photos of our team in preparation for this event.
I forgot to mention I ran into former NBA player Dikembe Mutombo in a hallway during my trip to the U.S. men's basketball game on Tuesday. I said hello to him and he said, "Hello, how are you doing?" He really does sound like Cookie Monster from the old television show Sesame Street.
I am ready for the first whistle on Sunday at the wrestling venue. We are eager to get this party started here in London!
LONDON – A busy work day was capped by an enjoyable night at the Olympic Games.
I took in the late-night men’s basketball game between Team USA and Tunisia. It was the blowout everyone expected, but Tunisia actually led for much of the first quarter before the team of U.S. NBA stars finally started clicking.
The NBA boys put on a great show with an array of spectacular dunks by Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Davis, the college player of the year for Kentucky, put on a phenomenal dunking display as his teammates continually fed him lobs against the outmanned Tunisian team. I am a big NBA fan, so it was great to see them play.
I also saw a majority of the first game of the night, a well-played battle where France held off Argentina. It was interesting to see San Antonio Spurs teammates Tony Parker (France) and Manu Ginobli (Argentina) battling each other down the stretch.
I walked down into the mixed zone after the USA-Tunisia game, which tipped off at 10:15 p.m. local time, and listened to interviews with LeBron, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. Their mixed zone is an absolute madhouse with hundreds of reporters covering the game.
I saw press officer Caroline Williams of USA Basketball running around frantically in the mixed zone after the game. Caroline is a great lady, and does a great job there along with Craig Miller, who is the head of communications. I ran into Craig in the press tribune during the game. He’s a true professional and a really good guy.
I met USA Badminton press officer Cecil Bleiker at the basketball game, even though the Diesel got stuck in traffic and didn’t make it in until the second quarter.
I headed over to the Main Press Center to get some work done earlier in the day. I set up a few athlete interviews for later in the week, and also worked with NBC for a feature they have coming up on some of our athletes. It is something we think everyone will enjoy, and we will provide more information about it soon.
I also wrote a feature on Justin Lester that is now posted on our website, TheMat.com. I think Justin/Harry has an excellent shot to win a gold medal here.
My hair was getting a little “shaggy” – as they like to say in these parts – so I ventured down and got a free haircut at the Proctor and Gamble salon they have at the MPC. I had a nice chat with a photographer from Getty Images named Kevin, who was next in line after me. He is based in Atlanta and our visit helped the wait time go by quickly.
The guy who cut my hair was all excited when I told him I worked for USA Wrestling. He asked me if Kurt Angle would be wrestling here, and I got a good laugh out of that one. He told me he was a big fan of the World Wrestling Federation when Hulk Hogan, Macho Man and the Undertaker were in their prime. He did say, “I know Olympic wrestling isn’t fake wrestling like the WWF is.” At least he understood that part of it.
The dude who cut my hair was a funny guy, who had spiked blonde hair and an abundance of tattoos and piercings. He did a great job cutting my hair and we had a great time talking. He reminded me of the classic punk rocker from the UK.
I also found a bank at the MPC and I exchanged some of my U.S. currency for British money, which is called Pounds. The British Pound is worth quite a bit more than the U.S. dollar. I gave the lady at the bank, a very friendly girl named Jasmine, a chunk of $20 U.S. bills that totaled $240. I received 140.42 Pounds in the exchange.
I grabbed lunch at The Edge, the dining area where the American athletes at East London eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. Flower Nowicki, who works at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and is here preparing meals for the athletes, made me a great pasta concoction complete with tomatoes, spinach, olives and cheese. It was delicious, and worth the 16 pounds of British money I paid for the entire lunch. I also had chicken noodle soup and a strawberry/banana smoothie. It was a nice break from the Bite, the restaurant available to everyone else at UEL.
I saw a number of athletes in there, including two-time Olympic Taekwondo gold medalist Steven Lopez and 2008 Taekwondo Olympian Charlotte Craig.
The U.S. Greco-Roman Team was scheduled to practice at noon today, but Chas Betts was the only Olympic athlete on the mats at UEL. The other five Greco members were doing cardio workouts on their own at the Olympic Village as they bring their weight down for competition.
The Greco boys will kick off the wrestling portion of the Olympics on Sunday. Spenser Mango and Ben Provisor are scheduled to wrestle on the first of eight straight days of wrestling competition at the ExCel Center.
I kick-started the day with a workout at the 24 Hour Fitness, here at the U.S. training center at the University of East London. Olympic Greco coach James “J.J.” Johnson was giving me grief while I pedaled on a bike. He couldn’t figure out how I rode four miles on a bike twice as fast as he did four miles on the elliptical machine. Nobody is quite sure what goes on his head – not even J.J. himself!
LONDON – The Olympics are less than a week away now, and the Greco-Roman wrestlers are starting to bring their weight down for the competition that starts Aug. 5.
I went to the Greco-Roman practice at noon Monday at the University of East London at Docklands. I had a great interview with USA Assistant Coach and 1976 Olympic champion Momir Petkovic.
Momir is one of my favorite coaches, and he had some great insight on the Olympic experience. The video of the interview is posted on USA Wrestling’s Facebook page, along with themat.tv.
Olympic coach James “J.J.” Johnson grabbed his phone before practice and we read through Nate Engel’s blog that talked about “The Adventures of J.J.” There is a never a dull moment when you are around J.J. I was giving him a hard time for having black socks pulled up to his knees at practice on Monday. I think he forgot it is 2012 and not 1972. He was struggling with his phone and I had training partner Andy Bisek laughing when I asked J.J. if he still had an old dial-up computer.
I’m just glad J.J. has a good sense of humor. I shouldn't be too hard on J.J. since he took the photo of my red, white and blue ASICS shoes that I put on Facebook. The shoes are awesome, and they are comfortable as well!
My boss, Gary Abbott, is heading to France tomorrow to work with the media who will be covering a women’s freestyle practice session. He and John Sachs of Tech Fall are scheduled to travel by train to France. Joe Williamson of FloWrestling also is planning to go along with some folks from the Christian Science Monitor. Look forward to seeing the coverage from there.
I will stay in London to take care of any media needs we have with the Greco-Roman team. The freestyle team is now training in Belarus. I heard Raymond Jordan, training partner for World champion Jordan Burroughs, was finally able to get out of London and on his way to Belarus. Raymond wasn’t able to get on his flight yesterday because of an issue with a travel visa.
I grabbed a short nap late this afternoon before traveling back to the ExCel Center to watch table tennis and fencing on Monday night. I have now been in all five venues in the ExCel Center. The place is massive, and very cool. I met USA Taekwondo press officer Bill Kellick over there.
The table tennis competition was incredible with action going on simultaneously on four tables. It’s a game we can all relate to, as most of us have played it. But these guys are amazing, cranking up and ripping the ball across the net like they are playing tennis on a bigger court. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. It is so fast-paced and action-packed. Glad I got a chance to see it in person.
After fencing and tennis, Bill and I met USA Cycling press officer Andrea Smith at this really cool sports bar called Fox @ ExCel. It is right next to the ExCel Center. We had dinner there and enjoyed some great conversation.
We joined a group sitting at a table that included Olympic Greco Coach Dan Chandler and Flower Nowicki from the U.S. Olympic Training Center. They were sitting with Georgia, a very nice girl from England who is helping Flower and others prepare meals for U.S. athletes at the East London training facility.
Anybody who has eaten at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs knows Flower. She is a very sweet, kind and outgoing woman, and knows athletes from Michael Phelps and Apollo Ohno to the juniors who are just starting out. We had a fun time talking with those guys. I told Flower I would be over there for lunch tomorrow. She’s also very funny and a joy to talk to.
Well, that’s all for now. The countdown continues toward the start of the wrestling competition. It should be fun.
LONDON – I started the day with a workout of my own before venturing over to the U.S. Greco-Roman practice at the University of East London.
The Greco boys are looking good as they are now in their final week of training for the Olympic Games.
Following the Greco practice, I went and checked out the ExCel Center on Sunday afternoon. It is important for us to check out the venue in advance of the competition to make sure we have an idea of what we are working with.
The ExCel Center is the massive convention hall where wrestling is among a number of Olympic sports being contested in various arenas.
The ExCel Center is located very close to where we are staying at the University of East London at Docklands. That is a very big relief for us to have the venue so close. We have been at our share of big events where we have to do a ton of traveling to reach our venue.
I took an eight-minute, four-stop train ride on the DLR line to reach the ExCel Center, an enormous facility which is reportedly half a mile long.
I stepped off the train, went through security and then walked into the ExCel Center. I then walked down a huge hallway, lined with concession stands, to the far end of the building to reach the venue where the judo competition is being held. It is the same venue that wrestling will be contested in from Aug. 5-12.
It’s a great facility. The venue is the perfect size for this event. It seats around 6,500 spectators, fewer than what we expected, but the fans are very close to the action. The press tribune also is very close to the mats. There are Internet cables at each work station in the tribune. I grabbed a seat next to a reporter from Belgium and he said the Internet speed is extremely fast. That is a big plus for our operation as we try to get information back to the U.S. as quickly as possible.
There are big screen televisions hanging above the competition floor, where fans can also see the action and watch replays.
I went down and checked out the mixed zone area, where the athletes walk on one side of a gate with the media on the other. It is where interviews are done immediately following matches. The mixed zone is a huge area, and it is much bigger and better than the one we had at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
I ran into a familiar and smiling face in the mixed zone when I was greeted by Japan wrestling guru Bill May, who is working the judo and wrestling events in London. Bill is a good friend who is an encyclopedia of international wrestling. We had a good visit and then he went back to work. I hope he knows I was joking when I called him a “slacker.” Bill is one of the best people in wrestling.
After watching the men’s judo semifinals at 66 kilograms, I walked across the hall to the weightlifting competition.
I sat in the press tribune with Associated Press reporter Luke Meredith, whose main assignment is covering wrestling in London. Luke was at all three of our wrestling press conferences. Luke was assisting with AP’s weightlifting coverage. I enjoyed seeing the snatch, and clean and jerk competitions for the women. Those girls are incredibly strong and powerful, as you would expect.
The public-address announcer made an interesting comment to the crowd during a short break: “Snatch for show and jerk for dough.” Luke and I got a kick out of that one. Luke does a great job, and he’s been enjoyable to work with. I look forward to his coverage when the wrestling competition starts. He is based in Des Moines, so he can’t be all bad since he now has ties to the great state of Iowa.
I watched weightlifting for about an hour and then walked next door to boxing. I caught the last two rounds of a fight that was won by a Great Britain boxer. The crowd just went bonkers when he won. It was so loud that I thought Rocky had just beaten Apollo Creed again. It was exciting to experience that.
I returned to the ExCel Center to see U.S. boxers Jose Ramirez and Errol Spence win their bouts late Sunday night. That was very cool as well. I sat with USA Badminton’s Cecil Bleiker and wrestling photographer John Sachs of Tech Fall. It was a fun evening.
It was a really enjoyable day. Our competition is still a week away, but it was great to see the Olympics in full swing in England. The stands at all three venues I visited were packed with enthusiastic fans. I hope that trend continues.
Some of our wrestlers checked out the table tennis competition on Saturday night at the ExCel Center. It is amazing to see all these great athletes in so many sports from all over the world in one city. It is quite a spectacle, as they say here.
Anybody who doesn’t think the Olympics are a great event needs to have their head examined. It is hard to even put into words what an event of this magnitude is like. It’s pretty special, that’s for sure.
I also did my first load of laundry after being here for nearly a week. I had fun chatting with some of the training partners for boxing and taekwondo in the laundry room.
I met Charlotte Craig, who was a 2008 Olympian in taekwondo. She’s a training partner here in London, and seems like a great girl. As she was putting some clothes in the dryer, she told me she wanted to pass along her wishes of good luck to the American wrestlers here at the Olympics.
I want to thank everyone who is reading this journal. I have received a lot of positive feedback from a lot of you here and back in the States, and it’s good to hear. I also have “talked” to a few of you on Facebook. It’s good to hear from folks back home.
It’s been an amazing journey so far here in London. Thanks for reading!
LONDON – The United States of America won its first gold medal of the Olympics on Saturday night.
And I was there to witness it in person.
I ventured over to the Aquatics Centre and arrived just in time to see American swimmer Ryan Lochte blow away the field in winning the 400-meter individual medley on Saturday night before a raucous sellout crowd.
Michael Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, finished a distant fourth in his first race here in London. It is his third Olympics, and you can bet Phelps will still win a bunch of hardware here. Phelps is entered in seven events in London.
It was awesome to hear the chants of U-S-A, U-S-A bouncing off the walls at the swimming venue. There was a huge contingent of American fans, as you might expect, during the event.
I also saw three other finals, including an exciting 4x100-meter women’s freestyle relay. The U.S. battled neck-and-neck with Australia until the final 50 meters when Australia pulled away for the gold. The Netherlands came on strong to edge the U.S. for second.
Lochte’s medal ceremony was awesome. It was the first time the Star Spangled Banner was played here in London, and I stood with my hand over my heart during a very cool moment. Hopefully, we will be hearing that a few times in the wrestling venue on Aug. 5-12.
China’s women set a World record in the 400 IM.
We had our third and final wrestling press conference on Saturday afternoon with the freestyle team. Jake Herbert provided the most entertainment as he raised his hand and tried to ask questions of his teammates. His charisma was on full display as he joked around with teammates, coaches and the media.
It would be great to see Jake win a medal. He was a big hit at the Olympic Media Summit in Dallas earlier this year and would be an even bigger hit here if he collected a medal.
All seven of our wrestlers did a great job. They were well-spoken, engaging and funny.
The freestyle boys are now heading to Minsk, Belarus to get in a solid week of training before returning to London.
The U.S. women are now training in France. The U.S. Greco-Roman squad will continue to train here at the University of East London. Greco wrestles first in London, followed by women's freestyle and men's freestyle at the ExCel Center.
I want to thank Greco-Roman training partner Tim Taylor for giving me the Internet cord from his room here at the University of East London. My Internet is much faster now with the hard wire. I was using the wireless Internet before. Kudos to Tim for helping me out.
LONDON – When I walked into the U.S. Olympic Committee press office at the Main Press Center on Friday afternoon, I had no idea whether I was going to the Opening Ceremonies or not.
The Opening Ceremonies is one of the toughest tickets in sports – considered more difficult than landing a ticket to the Super Bowl.
Around 4 p.m., I walked over to USOC ticket guru Bill Hancock and asked him if he was able to find me a ticket. Bill, the head of college football’s Bowl Championship Series, flashed a smile and said, “Yes, I was able to hook you up.”
I excitedly high-fived Bill, who is one of the best people I have ever been around. He's a total class act who is a very positive, upbeat person.
Bill hooked me and my boss, Gary Abbott, up with tickets, along with every other American press officer who requested one for the Opening Ceremonies. Bill is the man. I stood and applauded when Bill walked into the area where we were sitting in the Olympic Stadium. I am very grateful for everything he does.
We had great seats, in the lower part of the second deck, and were treated to a fantastic show. This was my second Opening Ceremonies after I went in Beijing in 2008, and it was a spectacular display.
The presentation, production, etc. were right on the mark. I am a huge Beatles fan, so it was a real treat to see Paul McCartney close the show by singing one of his many classic No. 1 Beatles tunes, “Hey Jude.” I saw Paul in concert nearly 10 years ago, and he still sounds great. Paul, John Lennon and the boys recorded their first Beatles album 50 years ago.
The Queen of England also was there, but to me, Paul McCartney is the King of England. He looks and sounds pretty good for a guy who just turned 70.
The lighting of the Olympic torch was unique, and impressive, and it was great to see Muhammad Ali there. The fireworks were phenomenal as well.
It was exciting to see the U.S. team finally walk into the stadium just before midnight local time. I could see Justin Lester, Spenser Mango and Ellis Coleman, and later spotted Clarissa Chun.
What a thrill for the U.S. Olympians to walk into a cheering stadium of 80,000 fans on the world’s biggest stage. It was an exciting and electric night.
It was interesting to see Cuba’s Mijain Lopez, Japan’s Saori Yoshida and India’s Sushil Kumar all serving as flagbearers for their respective countries. It was a very deserving honor for all three of those great wrestlers.
It was also cool to see Jamaica's Usain Bolt and Spain's Pau Gasol carrying the flags for their countries.
Following the event, I pulled freestyle wrestler Jake Herbert aside to get his thoughts on the Opening Ceremonies for a USOC press release.
Jake, a 2009 World silver medalist who is wrestling in his first Olympics, looked dapper in his Olympics attire.
“There’s nothing else like it at all. It was breathtaking,” Herbert said of the Opening Ceremonies. “It makes you want to represent your country and win gold. All of the pain and sacrifice to get here was worth it.”
Lester, a two-time World bronze medalist, also enjoyed the experience as he prepares to compete in his first Olympics.
“Once it got going it was amazing,” Lester said. “You could feel it all the way through your body when you walked into the stadium. It was everything and more than you could imagine.”
We also ran into Stan Dziedzic and his wife on the way out of the stadium. Stan has served as president of USA Wrestling and is now heavily involved with FILA, the international governing body for our sport.
It was a fun, and exhausting night. Gary and I sat with our friends from USA Volleyball, press officers B.J. Evans and Bill Kauffman.
We ran into former USOC communications chief Darryl Seibel on the way back to the Main Press Center. Darryl has been helping Great Britain the past 2½ years in preparation for this massive event. We had a good visit with Darryl, who got his start working for Gary at USA Wrestling.
We finally left the Main Press Center on a shuttle bus at 2 a.m. Time to get some sleep.
We have our final pre-tournament press conference tomorrow with the U.S. freestyle team at 4 p.m. local time.
LONDON – There are an abundance of perks that come your way when you are an Olympic athlete.
One came the way of the U.S. women’s freestyle wrestling team on Friday morning.
First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to a group of Olympians that included U.S. wrestlers Clarissa Chun, Kelsey Campbell, Elena Pirozhkova and Ali Bernard.
Clarissa walked out of the meeting with a huge smile on her face: “It was awesome. It was great to meet her.”
The U.S. women’s basketball, track and field, fencing and diving teams were also there for Mrs. Obama's visit to the Sports Dock, the training facility for American athletes at the University of East London.
Clarissa challenged Michelle Obama to a push-up contest and the First Lady quipped: “I don’t want to challenge you, you will beat me.”
Elena approached the First Lady, and gave her a hug before asking: “Can I pick you up?”
“Um, yes,” Mrs. Obama said with a laugh.
Elena picked up the First Lady, and the picture was captured by Clarissa. It can be seen on USA Wrestling’s Facebook page. USA Today also ran Clarissa's photo and USA Today reporter Gary Mihoces wrote a story about Elena picking up the First Lady.
One of our Olympic Greco-Roman coaches, James “J.J.” Johnson, also had a chance to meet the First Lady.
“I was very impressed – it was incredible to hear Mrs. Obama talk,” Johnson said. “She’s a very dynamic speaker. She talked about watching the Olympics on TV while growing up on the south side of Chicago. She said it was amazing to be here and be a part of this event. She gave the athletes some encouragement and told them to enjoy the experience. It was very inspirational.”
During the session, women’s basketball player Angel McCoughtry asked to meet Clarissa and then posted on Twitter: “Just met one of the best wrestlers for the USA.”
I saw USA women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma in the practice gym, along with women's stars Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker. These girls are very tall. I've never felt so short!
The Opening Ceremonies are set for tonight, and we will find out today if there are any tickets available. I hope to be able to go, but I understand if we don't. I went to the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing in 2008, and it was spectacular.
LONDON – Our first press conference was – as they say in these parts – a smashing success at the Olympic Games.
We had a turnout of roughly 30 media members for the presser with the six-member U.S. Greco-Roman Team on Wednesday afternoon at the Main Press Center. USA Wrestling’s Gary Abbott moderated the press conference while I shot video, conducted interviews and distributed media guides to the group.
Each of our wrestlers handled everything like the true professionals that they are. Veteran heavyweight Dremiel Byers was particularly engaging and funny, and newcomer Ellis Coleman had everyone laughing when he talked about the pet squirrel he has now.
Byers said he has his own answer for Coleman’s popular “Flying Squirrel” move. The powerful 6-foot-2, 265-pound Byers said he calls his move “The Flying Walrus.”
Justin Lester, Spenser Mango, Ben Provisor and Chas Betts also were very well-spoken during the session. They answered an array of questions, ranging from thoughts on the heavy security presence here to their opinions on the legalized betting being done on the athletes who are competing here.
When Byers was asked about the level of security at the Olympics, he quipped: “Usually, I’m my own security. These guys should feel safe because I’m here.” The room broke up in laughter.
A reporter told me that Byers is listed at 20-to-1 to win the Olympics, and Lester’s odds are slightly more favorable. I am not betting on the Games, but I wouldn’t bet against either one of those great wrestlers. They both have, in my opinion, an excellent shot to win some hardware here.
This group of Greco athletes is not being picked to win a lot of medals at the Olympics, but I believe they have the potential to have an outstanding performance.
I am looking forward to seeing what ESPN The Magazine’s Wayne Drehs comes up with as he writes the compelling story of Ellis Coleman. Wayne is an excellent writer and spent considerable time talking with Ellis following the formal part of the press conference on Wednesday. Wayne and I covered Iowa Hawkeye football together many moons ago.
The press officers and media came together again a few hours later when the U.S. Olympic Committee sponsored a social for us at USA House, the place where American medal winners will be honored with celebrations as they traditionally are during the Games.
It was great to see a lot of old friends in the Olympic family at USA House, and it was fun to meet some of the new faces who are here. I rode over to the social on a shuttle bus with Sports Illustrated’s Brian Cazeneuve, one of the best in the business. Brian is a top reporter and a great dude. He and I collaborated on SI’s medal picks for the second straight Olympics. He has season tickets for the Boston Red Sox and he shakes his head in disbelief when I talk about my Cincinnati Reds beating Boston in the 1975 World Series. Brian keeps inviting me to come out and see a game with him at Fenway Park. I definitely need to take him up on his offer.
Following the social, a group of us set out on foot in search of a place to grab a late dinner. We stumbled upon a gold mine of sorts when I suggested we try a place called Billy’s Baked Potato, located in the South Kensington portion of London.
Our group – which included Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Tim Warsinskey, USA Badminton’s Cecil Bleiker, USA Cycling’s Andrea Smith, USA Tae Kwon Do’s Bill Kellick and myself – were treated to an outstanding dinner. Our waiter recommended the ribeye steak, and it was one of the best slabs of beef I have eaten in a long time. We may be back there again at some point.
We said goodnight to Tim, a superb writer who is attending his first Olympics, before Cecil, Andrea, Bill and I navigated the train system here for the long ride back to the University of East London. Three trains and numerous stops later, we finally made it to our home away from home here in London.
The USOC gave us an Oyster card, which is already serving us well here. The Oyster card allows us to travel for free on all of the public trains and buses here in London. That makes life much easier for us. The trains are the way to go, although my boss, Gary Abbott, and I got stuck on a train that was having mechanical issues on Tuesday. We didn’t move for roughly 30 minutes, and it was almost as hot as a sauna in there.
The U.S. Olympic Women’s Freestyle Team will take part in a press conference at the Main Press Center this afternoon. The women arrived in London on Wednesday morning.
The U.S. Olympic Men’s Freestyle Team is scheduled to fly into London today, and will take part in a press conference on Saturday.
All 17 U.S. Olympic wrestlers are scheduled to take part in the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics on Friday night at the Olympic Stadium in London. I am hoping to score a ticket of my own, but there are no guarantees for even the press officers here. Hopefully, I will get lucky enough to land a ticket. I was fortunate to attend the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing in 2008, and it was an unbelievable experience.
Bill Hancock, head of college football’s Bowl Championship Series, works in the USOC press office as a volunteer and he is the keeper of top tickets like ones for the Opening Ceremonies. Bill is one of the nicest guys on the planet, and I know he is trying to find seats for all of us. Bill still gives me a hard time for carrying Henry Cejudo’s flowers after Henry won the Olympics in 2008.
On a final note, the people in London have been extremely friendly and helpful. They obviously want the Olympics to be a great experience for everyone, but the people here really do seem very genuine and nice as a whole. We have had a number of locals point us in the right direction as we try to navigate this massive city of over eight million people.
They have definitely helped make this experience a memorable one so far.
LONDON – It is my second day in London, and I feel much better than I did on the first day here.
It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do for you.
Our first official workout in London took place this morning when the USA Greco-Roman Team worked out in the training facility at the University of East London.
The training facility here is top-notch and first-class all the way. Our team has a huge area to train in, with fencing and badminton teams from the U.S. working out right next door.
The wrestling area features two full-sized mats, a sauna, and some exercise bikes. There also is a fully equipped 24 Hour Fitness club in the training facility. I worked out there this morning – running, biking and lifting weights. After my workout, I had a nice chat with 2006 World champion Joe Warren in the sauna. The guy is always fired up, and he was cracking me up the whole time. Joe is here as a training partner.
Five of the six U.S. Greco Olympians were on the mat for the first London workout on Wednesday morning. Olympian Ellis Coleman wasn’t feeling well and took the morning off.
I ran into U.S. training partners Aaron Sieracki and Tim Taylor on the way down to practice. Aaron and Tim will play a key role in helping our Olympians prepare for the Games. Aaron is training with fellow U.S. Army wrestler Justin “Harry” Lester and Tim is training with U.S. Army teammate Dremiel Byers for the second straight Olympics.
Tim and Aaron are both great guys, who understand what it takes to push, motivate and encourage the Olympians to be at their peak in a little less than two weeks. Lester and Byers both have a shot to do really well here.
The U.S. Greco boys will be taking part in a press conference this afternoon at the Main Press Center. It will be a great opportunity to gain some international attention for our athletes.
I talked with producers from NBC Nightly News last night at the MPC and they said features I worked on them with Jordan Burroughs and Elena Pirozhkova are set to run in early August. We will keep you posted when we have exact times on those.
I had lunch with USA Badminton’s Cecil Bleiker at the MPC, which like in Beijing, looks like a small city. The MPC has it all. Restaurants, lounges, coffee shops, grocery stores, a post office, etc. It also houses the thousands of media and press officers that are here to cover this massive event.
I am housed in the U.S. Olympic Committee press offices. They are a great group to work with, and we look forward to working side-by-side with them to promote this massive event.
LONDON – As you can see by the dateline, I have arrived in London, England.
The flight from Chicago to London was relatively smooth, and we made it here in a little less than eight hours. I watched a Kate Hudson movie, listened to my iPod and read through the Sports Illustrated Olympics preview.
When you’ve been on 13-hour flights, like the one I made four years ago from San Francisco to Beijing, an eight-hour trip is fairly tolerable.
We were also pleasantly surprised to see the sun shining brightly on a cloudless, warm day in London with temperatures in the 80s. So I guess it doesn't rain every day here.
We took a shuttle bus from Heathrow International Airport to the Olympic Village. Our bus driver was an excellent tour guide. We drove right by Buckingham Palace, the Big Ben clock tower, the indoor and outdoor volleyball venues, the Olympic stadium and the ExCel Center, where wrestling will be contested.
We saw what you might expect – an abundance of double-decker buses and the trademark London phone booths.
My boss, Gary Abbott, along with USA Volleyball press officers B.J. Evans and Bill Kauffman, rode together with me on the one-hour ride from the airport to the Olympic Village.
B.J. and Bill headed to the Main Press Center for their first press conference while Gary and I headed to the University of East London, where we will be staying for the next three weeks. The rooms are fairly small, but the shower and electricity works. Gary and I were able to get online, a critical component in what we do.
The venues, from what little we could see from the road, look great from the outside. It is finally starting to hit home that the Olympics are going to start in a few days.
The U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman Team flew with us from Colorado Springs to Chicago, but they were on a later flight from Chicago to London.
Gary and I are headed over to processing now to pick up our Team USA gear in addition to our London cell phones.
Our first press conference, with the U.S. Greco-Roman Team, is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at the Main Press Center.
I have been up for almost 24 straight hours now. After we get back from processing, I am going to crash and try to get adjusted to the time change after flying over the Atlantic Ocean.
London is seven hours ahead of Mountain Time, so it will take a few days to adjust.
I am very tired, but I am very excited about being here in London for my second Olympic Games!
CHICAGO – It happened 36 years ago today, but for Momir Petkovic it still feels like yesterday.
On July 23, 1976, Petkovic stood atop the podium after winning an Olympic gold medal for Yugoslavia in Greco-Roman wrestling in Montreal, Canada.
“That was an amazing day,” Petkovic said Monday morning, while sporting a Montreal 1976 shirt. “I obviously will never forget it.”
Now the top assistant coach for the U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team, Petkovic is trying to help American wrestlers achieve what he did three-and-a-half decades ago in the Olympics.
Petkovic boarded a flight with the American squad on Monday morning, and traveled from Colorado Springs to Chicago. Following a short layover in the Windy City, Petkovic and the U.S. Greco boys will fly across the Atlantic Ocean and are scheduled to arrive in London early Tuesday morning.
Momir is one of my favorite coaches, and always has something interesting to say.
When I asked him what his thoughts were on the Olympics, he had a quick response: “We’re ready to go – this time for real. I have a real good feeling about this group of guys.”
I flew with the Greco team from Colorado Springs to Chicago today, and as you might expect, there is a buzz and excitement among the guys. Justin “Harry” Lester, despite being seated in the back of the bus for the flight to Chicago, is as eager to compete as I have ever seen him. He has won two World bronze medals, but he is ready and focused to deliver on the World’s biggest stage in the Olympics.
A huge cheer went up on our United Airlines flight to Chicago when it was announced that the U.S. Olympic wrestling team was on board. The U.S. women and freestyle teams will be heading to London in the next couple of days.
The U.S. team is being bolstered by training partner/coach Joe Warren, a 2006 World champion. Joe is one of the most enthusiastic and high-energy guys we have in wrestling, and he’s done a great job working with Junior World medalist and Olympian Ellis Coleman.
Known as “The Baddest Man on the Planet” when he won a World title, Warren now calls himself “The Baddest Coach on the Planet.” It is great to have Joe on the trip with us. He had a huge smile on his face when he walked down to our gate in the airport this morning.
World champion Dremiel Byers is looking good, and he is poised to win a medal to cap a great career as one of the World’s premier heavyweights. I am really excited to see what Dremiel can do in London.
Sports Illustrated picked the U.S. Greco team to win just one medal in London, a bronze by Byers, but I have a strong feeling that this group may fare better than that.
We have landed in Chicago, and are now boarding our flight to London. We are scheduled to fly approximately eight hours before landing at Heathrow International Airport in London.
I am all set to go, with my iPod charged and my Sports Illustrated Olympics preview in hand. Hopefully, they will show a few decent movies on the trip over.
This is a very exciting time, and this why I truly love what I do for a living. I can’t wait to land in Jolly Old England!
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – It is kind of hard to believe it has already been four years since I traveled to Beijing, China for my first Olympic Games in 2008.
It was an incredible experience – one of the best of my life – and I can’t wait to take part in another Olympics as the communications manager for USA Wrestling.
I am in scramble mode today after flying home last night from the Junior and Cadet Nationals in Fargo, N.D. I am finishing laundry, packing, re-packing, and making sure I have my passport, credential, etc. for the trip to London for the 2012 Olympics.
I am scheduled to leave tomorrow morning for London. I will be traveling with my boss, USA Wrestling communications director Gary Abbott. We are scheduled to fly to Chicago and then fly to London.
Gary and I will represent USA Wrestling, but we also are part of the U.S. Olympic Committee press staff. The USOC is paying our travel expenses and we will work closely with them in promoting the American athletes. We will stay at the University of East London, where a large number of people in the U.S. delegation will be housed.
The U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman Team will be traveling with us tomorrow. They will be the first of our three teams to arrive with women’s freestyle and freestyle heading over later in the week. Each team will take part in a press conference at the Main Press Center and then participate in the Opening Ceremonies on Friday.
Rumor has it that my two good friends from volleyball – press officers B.J. Evans and Bill Kauffman – are on our flights. They are two of my favorite people in the Olympic family. I enjoy giving Bill his share of grief for basically just being Bill. We roomed together at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Being my second Olympics, I have a pretty good idea of how everything will work in London. By the same token, it is a new city. We have to learn how the transportation system works and we have to figure out where we are staying in addition to scouting out where our teams will be training. Everyone speaks English, so that makes a big difference as well after playing our share of charades with the cab drivers in China.
The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the World, and you can’t match the electricity of a sporting event that every corner of the planet is following. I was lucky enough to see athletes like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt compete in 2008, and hope to see a few more this time around.
I was lucky enough to be on the arena floor when Henry Cejudo won the Olympics in 2008. It was an amazing moment, even though he did make me carry his flowers and the whole world saw that on NBC. I am excited to see what the U.S. can do on the mat in London.
I will be providing daily updates like I did in 2008, with some behind-the-scenes information and tidbits like I did in Beijing.
It should be another fun ride!