Chanman's Blog


The night I won the Internet

There we are on NBC!

There we are on NBC!

I consider myself an active social media user, mostly using Facebook. The majority of my posts are about running (coaching at Sacred Heart Cathedral or running races for Pamakids) or food. When I travel to Olympics and World Championships, I also use social media to “bring my friends” with me to the meet.

The night of Shannon Rowbury’s 1500 Final, I experienced something on social media that I had never experienced before. My smartphone was blowing up with likes, comments, and tags. It was a fun experience – feeling popular and cool and loved. But don’t get me wrong, I would trade all of that for 0.53 seconds off of Shannon’s time.

It's just about Game Time...well, in 3.5 more hours.

It’s just about Game Time…well, in 3.5 more hours.

We arrived at our seats close to four hours before Shannon’s race and two hours before the meet started. There was nothing else to do, really, but be social on social media. I posted a picture of our group holding the Go Shannon banner and said “It’s just about game time.” People living vicariously through us started liking it. Shannon’s former SHC teammate, Michelle, questioned me about my timing, pointing out that it really wasn’t that close to game time….I still had three and a half hours. We bantered a little bit about what I should do to kill some time. She suggested dancing and eating.

A bit later, Jane and David Monti, who were working for NBC came to our seats. They wanted to make sure they knew where Shannon’s mom, Paula, and dad, Gary, were sitting so that the cameraman could find them when Shannon got introduced. I got introduced to Jane and David and they thought it was cool that Shannon’s high school coach was in the stands with her parents. They liked that we all had on the same “Rio makes it a trio” shirts that I had made for everyone. They liked that we had this cool “Go Shannon” banner with good luck wishes for Shannon in English, Chinese, German, Korean, Russian, and Portuguese (representing all the languages of the countries we’ve gone to, to cheer for Shannon). Malinda and I had seats in another section but it became apparent that if we stayed where we were with the Rowburys we would probably get on NBC. I decided to give up our closer seats first to sit with friends and second to become an internet star. The Monti’s took some pictures of us and wrote down some notes about us and checked the exact spelling of our names.

We tied the Go Shannon banner to the railing and some cameramen came by to see what we looked like and to check out the banner. Apparently the banner was a godsend to them because they were having troubles finding parents in the stands. But not us. We had a banner to mark our spot!

We shared with a few people via social media that we were probably going to be on NBC for Shannon’s race. I also texted my mother so she would make sure to look for me. Malinda’s mom happened to text me, so I told her too.

Shortly after, they started playing samba music in the stadium and encouraged the crowd to dance along. Never ones to be shy in these situations, Malinda and I got up and danced in the aisle. Apparently NBC was checking their cameras then because we got a text that they just saw us dancing on their cameras! I sent a message to Michelle that I had now danced so next I was going to eat something. We also talked about what color lipstick I was going to wear for the race. (Shannon wears colored lipstick for her races and at this year’s Olympic Trials I got talked into wearing lipstick for Shannon’s final. Shannon was so happy when she saw me with the lipstick on, that me wearing lipstick for her final is now a new ritual.)

Even with all this excitement and distractions, time was moving slowly. I had to force myself to find things to do. I decided that I would go to the bathroom at 8:00. At 9:00 I planned to eat my sandwich. In between I must have checked my phone every two minutes. Amazingly there were usually a handful of new notifications to look at. I told Malinda that when the men’s 200 semi-finals started (the event before Shannon’s) we would put on our lipstick.

Finally the 200’s started. Out came the lipstick. Malinda put it on herself first and then I puckered up and she began putting the lipstick on me. As she did, I could see out of the corner of my eye, ALL the other men in our group (Pablo, Gary, Alan, and even our driver Leandro) got up and went to get a beer. Not in touch with their feminine side, I guess. Wimps!

Pucker up, it's time for the race.

Pucker up, it’s time for the race.

Of course now that the lipstick was on, that meant pictures. And if you don’t post it to Facebook, it didn’t happen. So up go some pictures of me and the women (Malinda, Paula, Chin, and Christy), puckering up and showing off the lipstick in support of Shannon. That started generating more likes and comments than little ol’ me has ever seen before.

Finally the race was about to begin. We knew the NBC camera was on us now. We cheered wildly when Shannon was introduced. I knew we must have been on the live stream feed because my phone buzzed with a Facebook Messenger message that someone had seen us on TV. I got a text message but didn’t read it. I glanced at my phone and I had ten new notifications since I looked at it last about 30 seconds ago.

Several people have said that I got introduced as Shannon’s father. I think the announcer said, “That’s Shannon’s mother Paula, on the right there applauding and her father with the camera.” In the shot at the moment, I am holding up my phone taking a picture. Shannon’s dad, Gary, is actually in that same shot, hiding behind the bars with a real camera (Nikon strap around his neck) with a large lens. So the announcers may not have erred. But based on a couple of Google searches that found their way to my blog (including “is shannon rowbury half asian american”), I think many people were confused.

But back to the race, it was time to cheer for Shannon. Our whole section caught on as to who we were rooting for and chanted “Shannon! Shannon! Shannon!” on every lap. It all happened so quickly. We were all talking to each other but probably none of us listening to any of us. The nervousness was incredible. I remember Pablo telling everyone that it was okay, when Genzebe Dibaba, Faith Kipyegon, and Laura Muir pulled away, “they’ll come back to them.” With 300 to go, I remember yelling, “It is okay there’s still plenty of time left in the race. She only needs twenty seconds to catch them.” With 200 to go, I remember saying “She’s still got 30 seconds left.” That’s when she really started moving up. It was hard for me to really identify anyone else in the race but I could tell that Jenny Simpson was one place in front of Shannon and they were both moving up with about 150 to go. With 100 to go, I think they were in fourth and fifth but looking like it would only be a matter of time until they passed Sifan Hassan, which they did with about 75 meters to go. Right then I think we all thought Shannon had the bronze. With about 50 meters to go, I had to make a decision – our seats were beyond the finish line and it was going to be hard to see who was ahead of who if the finish was close. Should I keep watching the track or should I turn and look at the big jumbotron screen. I saw others in our group turn to look at the screen so I did, too. With 25 meter to go, all of a sudden it looked like Simpson was matching Shannon’s speed. Shannon wasn’t gaining ground anymore. She was going to be fourth.

After the race, we all felt the same thing. We knew she had given it her all. She was fourth in the world, which is pretty darn amazing. But we knew she was going to be bitterly disappointed.

I knew I needed to post something on social media. You can’t be jabbering all night in anticipation of a race and then just because the race isn’t what you dreamed it would be, not post something. But I needed to say the right thing. A lot of details weren’t necessary. But it needed to be from the heart. Then it came to me. “So close. And oh so proud.” I showed it to Malinda to make sure she thought it was OK, and then I posted it.

It was around that time, that things started getting crazy. The post itself generated a lot of likes, loves, and comments. Then I noticed that people  that

Have to admit I teared up reading this.

Have to admit I teared up reading this.

had seen us on NBC were posting screenshots and even video of us on television. E-mails and texts were flying in. The kids on the SHC team were communicating with me via something called “Schoology.” One thing was clear, we had generated a lot of excitement and interest among our friends and that made me really happy. It was as if all of them were in the stadium with us and it felt great to be with so many friends at that moment.

One thread on Facebook from Jenny H that Christine B commented on made me tear up in the stands – Christine B said that I would probably go to Mars to cheer for Shannon (I would….and like Gary said, I would find space on the banner to write Go Shannon in Martian).

When we got home, the notifications kept coming. One screenshot in particular moved us both. It was our banner. This banner that has traveled everywhere with us and has come to represent cheering for Shannon to us. “After all these years, it made it onto international television tonight for the world to see,” Malinda said.

Our banner's moment of glory on international television.

Our banner’s moment of glory on international television.

Malinda and I responded to a few messages and then finally around 2:30am, she said, this isn’t going to slow down, I think we just need to go to sleep. Of course the next morning I awoke to an all-time record for me, 35 Facebook notifications.

I think Erin K said it best in one of her comments. Andy Chan: you totally WON the internet! Maybe I did. It sure was an unforgettable night. I need to go charge my phone.

Thanks, Erin. #MadeMyDay

Thanks, Erin. #MadeMyDay

Celebration Flags

Mo Farah - 2015 10,000 meter World Champion

Mo Farah – 2015 10,000 meter World Champion

Have you ever watched an Olympics or World Championships and seen the athletes who place in the top 3, celebrate with a flag from their country? They usually pose for pictures while holding the flag behind them.

Have you ever wondered where those flags come from?

I have.

Do the athletes pack a flag in their sweats bag and run to get it if they medal? Does someone from their federation have a stash trackside?

I distinctly remember in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, going out and buying a USA flag. I didn’t know where these celebratory flags suddenly appeared from but I’d be damned if I wasn’t prepared. I e-mailed Shannon Rowbury and told her that if she needed one (and that I hoped she did), her old high school coach was prepared with a USA flag in his backpack.

Celebratory Flags_Being Patriotic in Moscow

With our USA flag that’s been with us since 2008. Photo by Paul Merca.

At the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, Malinda and I had very good seats by the finish line in about row fifteen. Bernard Lagat won the silver in the 5000 meters. I waved my USA flag proudly (the same flag I had purchased in Beijing in hopes that Shannon would need it). Lagat was right in front of me and looking up into the stands. He was looking for a USA flag for his celebration. I swear, we locked eyes for a split second. My mind raced, trying to figure out how I would get my flag down the fifteen rows and into Lagat’s hands. But before I could move, Lagat spotted someone with a USA flag sitting closer. He motioned for that flag. If only I had been a few rows closer to the track.

As we prepared for the 2015 World Championships back in Beijing, I noted that we were sitting pretty close to the track and in the middle of the first turn, near the photographers and not far from the finish line. I decided there was a chance US athletes could be asking for our flag. There was only a week left before we left. Luckily, Malinda’s friend has Amazon Prime. We left for Beijing with our original USA flag from 2008 and three new ones… just in case.

Malinda has listened to me talk about fans giving athletes their celebratory flags for seven years. She humored me by helping me acquire the three new flags for this trip… just in case. But all through this, we’ve never really known how this works. Do athletes really take flags from fans in the stands?

Mo doing the Mo-Bot and the fans (including us) cheering. That Union Jack would be tossed down to Mo on the track  moments later.

Mo doing the Mo-Bot and the fans (including us) cheering. That Union Jack would be tossed down to Mo on the track moments later.

On the first night of the 2015 World Championships, we got our answer. Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters with a great final 100 meter kick. He ran around to the middle of the first curve in celebration. Photographers followed him. He made the Mo-Bot gesture with his arms. The crowd cheered wildly. Now he needed a Union Jack flag. He looked up into the stands and the people right in front of us were waving their Union Jack. Mo locked eyes with them. They didn’t move. But I had been in this position before and I yelled to them, “Throw him your flag. Throw him your flag.” They did. The photographers helped relay it down to Mo and he started posing for pictures with the flag. Malinda high-fived the two guys who gave up their flag. I talked excitedly to them about how in every picture they see of Mo celebrating with the flag, they’ll know that it’s their flag! In my mind, they are famous!

Some people go to baseball games, dreaming of catching a home run or foul ball. Me? I go to track & field meets, dreaming that someday I’ll throw my USA flag down to a USA athlete for their celebration pictures.

The Bird’s Nest Again

2015 - at the Bird's Nest again

2015 – at the Bird’s Nest again

The first Olympics I ever watched were the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. I watched on my parent’s television as athletes, many of whom I would meet as a UCLA manager some years later, won medals. The first World Championships I ever watched were the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. I was working at a running camp and we watched on a tiny television between our assignments as camp counselors.
By the mid-1990’s, running, coaching, and track & field were cemented as central aspects of my life. But I did not aspire to coach an Olympian or World Champion or to attend these global championship meets. Those were things for other people, not me. My loftiest goal was to coach a high school state champion. In 2001 and again in 2002, that dream came true.

Then 2008 happened. Shannon Rowbury, who I coached in high school at Sacred Heart Cathedral and won those aforementioned state championships, was entering the professional running scene. First she ran not just an Olympic “A” standard but one of the fastest times by a US woman in many years. Then she won the US Olympic Trials in the 1500 meters. Shannon was going to the Olympics!

One year removed from our wedding, Malinda and I got our visas, booked our flights, bought our tickets and jetted off to China for the 2008 Olympics. This was to be our honeymoon. Our once in a lifetime trip.

I was looking at pictures from that 2008 trip a couple of days ago. Seeing pictures from the first time we went to the Bird’s Nest, I can almost feel the emotions I felt that day. I was in awe of being at the Olympics. I was wide-eyed, taking in everything with all my senses. I couldn’t believe I was actually at the Bird’s Nest about to watch this girl that I coached in high school, compete at the Olympics. I was taking mental snapshots of the moment because in my mind, this was the one time I would ever be on such an adventure. I think Malinda could see all those emotions on my face, which is why she took a lot of pictures of me displaying this expression of excitement.

2008 - first time at the Bird's Nest

2008 – first time at the Bird’s Nest

2008 - watching the Olympics

2008 – watching the Olympics

At that time in August 2008, I had no idea that Shannon would qualify to represent Team USA at every global championship from 2008-2015. I had no idea that Malinda and I would travel to Berlin, Daegu, London, and Moscow to watch Shannon compete on the world stage. I had no idea that this Go Shannon banner that we made in our hotel in Beijing, that we cleverly included a good luck message in Chinese, would become our traveling companion and would have German, Korean, and Russian added to it. I thought that this was my once in a lifetime trip to China and my once in a lifetime trip to watch Shannon and I was just fine with that.

Our Go Shannon banner on display in Beijing, Berlin, Daegu, London, and Moscow.

Our Go Shannon banner on display in Beijing, Berlin, Daegu, London, and Moscow.

Today, on August 21, 2015. Malinda and I were back at the Bird’s Nest picking up our tickets for the 2015 World Championships. Being back here has made a flood of emotions hit me. Many things have come together to allow us to be here, not the least of which is Shannon qualifying for the meet, my understanding bosses and administrators who allow me to vacation during a busy time-the start of the high school year, and Malinda using her own vacation to come with me.

It’s just unbelievable that we are here. But it also reminds you that you never know where life will take you. Who knows where you may go on your journey. Maybe you will go places and do things you never imagined you would do. And maybe seven years later, you’ll end up going back and doing it again.

 

The Last Night

image

Tonight is our last night in Moscow at the 2013 IAAF World Championships. Just like in Beijing, Berlin, Daegu, and London, I have mixed emotions. I am both sad that this current adventure is about to end but also ready to be back home.

There is a little bit of a letdown when a global championship comes to its conclusion. Usually during the last month before an Olympics or World Championships, I spend a lot of time thinking about Shannon Rowbury’s race. I scout the competition, research splits from previous meets, and consider a variety of race strategies and tactics. On Shannon’s race days I feel nervous. And when she’s done competing, I feel pride. But also a little bit of emptiness as this goal race that has been on my mind for at least a month (often longer) is over. “What do I do with myself now?” is what I often end up thinking to myself.

Spending ten days at a global championship for me is like having Christmas ten days in a row. I have almost no concerns each day except what time do we need to get to the track and what event is happening tonight.

I love watching athletes competing in track & field at the highest level. There’s so much excitement, emotion, and drama. Just tonight in the span of one hour, I felt exhilaration for Matthew Centrowitz when he found an opening and sprinted to a silver medal in the 1500, I felt empathy for a courageous Alysia Montano, who just couldn’t hold on in the 800, and I felt frustration when the US women had a bad exchange in the 4X100 meter relay. Taking the kid on Christmas Day analogy one step further, I was a kid on Christmas Day opening presents when Centro saw me waving my US flag as he took his victory lap and he pointed at me. Yes, I am going to miss being at this meet every night.

Lunch at Cafe Pushkin the day after Shannon finished 7th at the 2013 World Championships

Lunch at Cafe Pushkin the day after Shannon finished 7th at the 2013 World Championships

Today, as often happens at the end of the meet, we got to spend some time with Shannon. We had lunch at Cafe Pushkin and grabbed some pies at Stolle. It’s nice to just spend time with her (and Pablo) and talk a little track, but mostly exchange stories about this current adventure. Like I said on Facebook, it really is a privilege to be at a World Championship meet and feel nervous before a race.

All that being said, I am also ready to get out of town.

Beijing Daegu, and Moscow were particularly challenging trips because of the language barrier (so many Germans speak English that Berlin was nowhere near the same challenge). Every outing, every meal, and every trip to the bathroom required mental thought and that can be draining. We also keep pretty long hours when on the road. The meet tends to be a night meet so we often do not get back to our room until midnight. E-mails and internet surfing tend to occupy another hour or more. Come seven the next morning, I am usually up and ready to do some sightseeting. After all, it’s a limited amount of time we’ll be in this foreign land. No point sleeping the time away. All of this hyperactivity, however, can leave one pretty tired by the end of ten days.

On top of all that, in Moscow, we had to do a lot of walking to get around. The subway was 0.75 miles from the hotel and the subway stop nearest the stadium was a 0.5 mile walk. Just getting from the hotel to the stadium and back required 2.5 miles of walking. Malinda and I estimate that we walked about 55 miles while here in Moscow, so over five miles a day. No wonder I am so tired.

Probably the main reason that I look forward to being back in San Francisco is to see the SHC team and start cross country season and to see my Pamakid teammates and tell them stories about Moscow. The official start of the cross country season is August 19. My assistant coaches will be running practice because I’ll spend most of the day in an airplane traveling home. But I’ll be there on August 20. There may or may not be another Shannon Rowbury on this year’s team, but I still plan to put all my heart into coaching this group and making them the best runners that they can be – just like I did with Shannon and everyone else that’s been on the team over the past fifteen years.

Good night and good bye, Moscow. Thanks for a memorable trip!

Trials Day

 

Cheering Shannon at the 2013 World Championships. Photo by Paul Merca.

Cheering Shannon at the 2013 World Championships. Photo by Paul Merca.

As everyone who follows my coaching style knows, I hate Trial Days. If you are one of the favorites then nothing real good can happen, only something bad. If you qualify on, it’s no big deal because you were supposed to. If you don’t qualify on, it’s a disaster. I often use the phrase, “live to run again,” when giving instructions to my athletes at trials.

Today (Wednesday, August 14) was a Trials Day.

On most of Shannon’s trials days at global championships in the past I have been quite nervous – usually indicated by me not talking much (so only Malinda really knows that I am nervous). Interestingly, neither Malinda or I were as nervous as usual today. Last night I was super tired from all the walking we’ve been doing and the less than six hours of sleep we’ve been getting. Upon waking this morning, I was more tired than nervous.

There’s also something to be said about the 5000 trials being less stressful than 1500 trials. In the 5000, Shannon could control more variables and there would be more time to deal with problems during the race (getting boxed in, not the pace desired, etc.). I really felt like Shannon should cruise to the 5000 final….and she did.

After a super slow first 800, the pace picked up in such a way that with about six laps to go, it was apparent who the top five would be because there was a sizeable gap back to sixth place. That’s when I started yelling to Shannon that she was clear. In high school, I told Shannon she was never to look back in a race except in a trials race when it was okay to look back to check your position. I think she may still employ this strategy. Over the last lap she checked behind her several times and definitely jogged in the last half lap when she knew she was going to place in the top five and qualify on.

In the end, the times were very slow in Shannon’s heat 1. That led to all the time qualifiers coming from heat 2, where ten out of the eleven runners qualified for the final.

After the race we met up with Shannon, her parents, coach, and boyfriend and went to the Nike House with them for some food and relaxation. With the trials behind us, there was no need to talk track. Instead, we could focus on swapping Russia travel stories. But unspoken throughout the afternoon was the fact that Shannon’s in a great spot. It should be an exciting 5000 meter final and with her speed, if she can hang around with the leaders until it’s time to kick…..well, you just never know.

Opening Night in Moscow

The view from our seats at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.

The view from our seats at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.

I’ve been to a lot of track & field meets in my lifetime. Often things happen at meets that stick in my mind – sometimes something big and sometimes something small. Tonight, on the opening night of the fourteenth IAAF World Championships in Moscow, two things, both small, occurred that stuck in out in my mind.

First, after the men’s 10,000 meters, Mo Farah was beginning his celebratory victory lap surrounded by photographers. I noticed some British fans in front of us waving their UK flags. I told Malinda to have her camera ready because Mo might stop in front of our section, because of these UK fans, and do the “Mobot.” Sure enough, he did (photo coming when we can get to a computer with a USB port). After that, Mo motioned to one of the UK fans for his Union Jack flag – Mo needed a flag for the traditional photos and victory lap. The man tossed his flag to a photographer, who was gracious enough to take it to Mo. “Wow!” I thought to myself….what an honor to have Mo take YOUR flag for all these photos and the victory lap! “That guy is going to have a story to tell his running buddies when he gets home,” I told Malinda.

This reminds me of a story from the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. We had great seats, right by the finish line in around row fifteen. After the men’s 5000, I was on my feet waving a US flag and cheering for Lagat. Suddenly, “Kip” looked up into the stands. He was looking for a US flag for the victory lap that all three medalists take. I swear Lagat looked at my flag and our eyes locked for a moment. Then someone closer (maybe around row eight) got his attention and Lagat ended up taking that person’s flag. I was THAT close to having my own, “my flag went on a victory lap” story.

But I digress…

The second small thing from tonight happened with Usain Bolt. As Bolt came out for his heat of the 100 meter rounds, the somewhat sparse crowd in Luzhniki Stadium went wild. It was the loudest the crowd was all night. Malinda and I had a short discussion about whether or not track & field has ever had an icon like Usain Bolt. I think the answer is no. Bolt is the first, the current, and possibly the greatest most recognizable athlete that the sport has and will ever see. Bolt is a world record holder, he competes in multiple events and is thus a multiple time champion, and he knows how to play to the crowd.

In the final moments before the race, Bolt removed his sweats and placed them into the sweats basket. I was thinking to myself, will Bolt interact with the volunteer who is in charge of carrying his sweats. In Berlin at the 2009 World Championships, Bolt was always playful with the volunteers. But Russians are known to be quite serious and maybe he would resist the temptation. But luckily, Usain Bolt is Usain Bolt. He fist pumped the volunteer and then made his way to his starting blocks. I loved it! That young volunteer will have a story for the rest of his life about giving Usain Bolt a fist pump before his race.

The first day of ten days at the 2013 World Championships is in the books. It was a great night of small things.

The opening ceremonies were not small at all.

The opening ceremonies were not small at all.

Keep Calm and Kick

Keeping Calm and Waving Our Banner!

Keep calm and carry on. You hear that a lot here in London. I believe the track & field distance race equivalent is “Keep Calm and Kick”.

The women’s 1500 meter final will take place Friday at 8:55pm London time (12:55pm on the west coast). Shannon Rowbury will be running in her second Olympic final and she’ll be looking to improve on her seventh place finish from Beijing (which as of now is the highest finish by an American woman in the Olympic 1500 meters in history).

Shannon gave us some anxious moments during the qualifying races. On Monday in the first round she finished seventh and we had to sit through the next two heats to see if her time would qualify to the next round. As the Brits like to say, Shannon’s 4:06.03 was the “fastest loser” and she moved on to the semi-final. On Wednesday, Shannon was well positioned throughout the race and inspired by her teammate Leo Manzano’s patient race tactics (more on that in a later post) hung out patiently around seventh place for most of the race. Only the top five would automatically qualify for the final and with 100 meters to go Shannon still had some work to do to move into the top five. She surged down the final homestretch passing two runners to secure the fifth and final automatic qualifying spot by one tenth of a second (4:05.47 to 4:05.57). The times in the second semi-final heat were much faster and it turns out that that one tenth of a second was huge because it was the difference between making the final and being eliminated (as all the time qualifiers came from the second heat).

In many ways, the stress is off. The goal in these first two races was simply to qualify on and Shannon has done that. She’s in the final along with eleven other women – the best female 1500 meter runners in the world. Previous championship meet credentials, PR’s, and season bests are immaterial. Everyone will line up even at the starting line and attempt to run three and three quarter laps around the track and get to the finish line first.

The final is simple and straightforward. You go for it. You leave it all out there. In most of the other distance finals that I’ve seen at these Olympic Games, the top finishers have been very patient early in the race, letting others set the pace and deal with the pushing and shoving that occurs in the middle of the pack of races of this nature. Then at some point later in the race, there comes a moment when it’s time to make your play for the medal. A moment when it is time to put four years of training and dreaming to work.

It is an honor and a privilege to be in London sitting in my hotel room and preparing to watch someone I know and care about run in an Olympic final in less than twenty-four hours time. What a wild journey cheering on Shannon Rowbury has been.

For Shannon, it’s time to Keep Calm and KICK!

For me, it’s time to Keep Calm and wave my banner!

The London Olympic Stadium

Welcome to the London Olympic Stadium!

I have now been in the London Olympic Stadium four times. Even though we are sitting high in the second deck, the sight lines are great. We can see all the action. My only minor complaints are that the scoreboard is hard to read (it’s not my fault I have bad eyesight, the London Olympic Committee should be taking care of my needs!) and that when the UK fans cheer loudly (which they do a lot), I can’t hear what the announcer is saying. Pretty minor things to be fussing about, huh?

We’re lucky, we can see the Olympic flame from our seat inside the Stadium.

There have been some complaints regarding the Olympic flame. The only people who can see the flame burning inside the cauldron are people who have tickets to attend an event (i.e. track & field or athletics as they call it here) in the Olympic Stadium. Since I am one of the lucky ones who has tickets to the Olympic Stadium, this has not been a complaint of mine.

On the flight over to London, Virgin Atlantic offered a documentary about the construction of the stadium. It was very insightful and easier to understand than the technical article my dad showed me from Civil Engineering magazine.

The London Olympic stadium seats 80,000 people and was built in east London at a cost of 486 million pounds. One of the cornerstones of the London Olympic bid was the eco-friendly and flexible nature of the Olympic Stadium. The stadium was built in such a way that it can be partially dismantled after the Games leaving the lower bowl, comprised of the track and 25,000 seats.

There were many challenges the architects and engineers faced when designing and constructing the stadium. Over two hundred building were demolished in east London to create space for the stadium. Some of these buildings produced toxic waste so the soil needed to be decontaminated. In the end some of the soil was re-used for landscaping and another 800,000 tons of soil were removed from the area. There was believed to be over two hundred un-exploded bombs from World War II buried in the ground that had to be considered during the construction  to prevent an unplanned explosion. The land allotted for the stadium is surrounded by rivers on three sides and the area was not large enough for the traditional footprint of an 80,000 stadium. Designers got around this by “pulling” out food preparation areas and moving them to outside the stadium.

Some of the steel girders that support the upper bowl.

The upper bowl of the stadium is comprised of steel components that are bolted together and can be un-bolted and removed after the Olympics. The roof, too, is a stand-alone feature of the stadium, weighing 450 tons. The roof is not connected to the lower bowl of the stadium. The roof has four components: an outer ring, an inner ring, 12,000 meters of cable, and 25,000 square meters of fabric. The roof is designed to shelter the fans as well as block wind for the athletes so that any marks run are not wind-aided or wind-hindered.

There are fourteen light towers, weighing 500 tons, attached to the roof. Each tower provides 14,000 watts. The lights are all angled properly to illuminate the track but to not create any shadows or glare for the spectators.

You can see the light towers attached to the roof from this shot inside the Stadium.

The grass on the field was grown off-site and then cut into rolls and brought to the stadium. Three hundred and sixty rolls of the turf were brought in. The transfer of the grass from its off-site location into the stadium needed to be done in less than twenty-four hours for the grass to stay alive.

Throughout the construction, workers had to deal with typical London weather issues. In the winter of 2010, work stopped for two weeks during a freeze. High winds were often a concern when working with the cranes and lifting heavy steel components into the air.

In the end, over 5,000 workers helped to build the stadium. The circumference around the outside of the stadium is one kilometer (anyone for 5 X 1000 meter intervals?). There are 338 kilometers of cable, twelve kilometers of ventilation ducts, and eleven kilometers of drainage.

Number of days to build the London Olympic Stadium: 1,000

Number of toilets in the London Olympic Stadium: 1,387

Number of memories for the athletes and spectators inside the London Olympic Stadium: infinite

There is something about being inside an Olympic Stadium and seeing the Olympic flame burning that is indescribably special. Knowing a little more about the construction of said stadium adds to the experience. Thanks, London! I’ll consider my poor vision and hearing to be my own problem and give you an A for your stadium!

The London Olympic Stadium gets an A from me.

The greatest day in UK Olympic history?

The end of the 2012 Olympic women’s heptathlon 800 meters. Spurred on by the crowd, Jessica Ennis kicks by to win the race and claim the gold medal.

The announcers around here are calling Saturday August 4, 2012 the greatest day in United Kingdom (UK) Olympic history. At least from a track & field (or athletics, as it’s called over here) perspective.

Walking around the Olympic Park this afternoon I saw two British fans wearing specially made t-shirts in support of two of their favorite athletes. One’s shirt said “Yes Jess” on it. The other said “Go Mo.” The newspaper slipped under my hotel room door this morning, The Independent, had two articles each on this Jess (heptathlete Jessica Ennis) and this Mo (10,000 meter runner Mohammed Farah) and their prospects for bringing home the gold medal on their home turf. At the very beginning of the meet, the public address announcer informed the crowd that the last time a UK track & field athlete won a gold medal at an Olympics held in London was 1908. Well, that is a long time. But track & field at the 2012 Olympics just got underway so all the statistic really means is that the home team got shutout on the gold medal front when they hosted the Olympics in 1948.

Still, the pro-Great Britain/cheer wildly for every Great Britain athlete attitude was on display at the track on this night. This night that would turn into quite a special one for fans of athletics in the UK.

It all started around 9:02pm local time. Ennis had a strong lead in the women’s heptathlon and was more or less assured of the gold medal. In the final event of the heptathlon, the 800 meters, she went out hard for the first 400 meters and then slowed and was caught by a couple runners. With 200 meters to go, however, the crowd roared to life and this inspired Ennis to find re-take the lead down the final straightaway, much to the delight of the crowd. Her time of 2:08.65 earned her 984 points and brought her final score for the two-day, seven event competition to 6,955 points. She finished 306 points ahead of second place and broke her own UK record for the heptathlon. How dominant was Ennis in this event? Second place finisher Lilli Schwarzkopf of Germany finished with a score closer to eleventh place Brianne Theisen of Canada (who also happens to be Ashton Eaton’s fiancé) than to Ennis’ score.

Right as the heptathlon was winding down all eyes in the stadium shifted to the long jump runway. Great Britain had two athletes, neither of whom got much press in the newspaper today, unlike Ennis and Farah. Greg Rutherford and Christopher Tomlinson were trying to win Great Britain its second gold medal earned on home turf since 1908 as well as the second one of the hour. After one round of jumps, Tomlinson led with a jump of 8.06 meters. Rutherford took over the lead in the second round with a jump of 8.21 meters. For a short time, Great Britain was sitting in the gold and bronze medal positions in the long jump.  Rutherford improved to 8.31 meters in the fourth round, a jump missed by many in the stands as when it happened the crowd was focused on another British athlete in the heptathlon, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, a nineteen year old athlete, who just may be the “next Jessica Ennis.” At 9:22pm, as Ennis finished her victory lap, Will Claye from the United States was on the runway. He was the penultimate jumper and the last jumper with a chance to knock Rutherford out of the gold medal spot. When Claye’s mark fell short, the crowd went wild as Rutherford celebrated winning a gold medal in the long jump.

Minutes later, the men’s 10,000 meter race was underway. Farah bided his time in the front pack, not concerning himself as runners from Eritrea and Kenya jockeyed for position, continually surging and slowing down. The lead group got smaller and smaller but there were still eight or so runners still in contention with a mile to go. Even over the last lap five or six runners were still in it with a chance to win. The stadium was going crazy cheering for Farah, who for his part, looked in control the whole way.

Over the last 300 meters, Farah looked strong with the lead but not all eyes in the stadium were strictly on him. Earlier in the race I had commented that maybe this wasn’t Galen Rupp’s day as he seemed to fall back from the lead pack for no apparent reason. But when it came time to really race, Rupp was there and Rupp was ready. He surged past a couple of runners at the 300 to go mark. With 200 to go, he was well positioned on the outside and appeared to be running faster than the runners just ahead of him. Just like at the 2011 World Championships when I started screaming, “She’s going to medal. She’s going to medal,” about Jenny Simpson in the women’s 1500 with about 150 meters to go (Simpson would not only medal but win the race), I started yelling that Rupp was going to medal. Down the final homestretch Farah held on to the lead and Rupp secured second place. It was a third gold medal for the UK in less than an hour. A medal for the USA in the men’s 10,000 meters, their first since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when a kid named Billy Mills won the gold.

Mo Farah and Galen Rupp in the 2012 Men’s Olympic 10,000 meters. They would go on to win the gold and the silver.

The guys at FloTrack have a great photo sequence of the final 100 meters.

I am not versed enough in Great Britain’s Olympic and track & field history to know if today should rank as the greatest day in their Olympic history. It was certainly a terrific day, though, but not just for the Brits. I am pretty sure that for Galen Rupp, he can say that today was his greatest day in his track & field career.

San Francisco and Sacred Heart Cathedral, we have a two-time Olympian!

Shannon Rowbury became a two-time Olympian with her second place finish in the 1500 meters on July 1 at the 2012 US Olympic Trials. In 2008, Shannon was the US Olympic Trials champion and went on to place seventh at the Beijing Olympic Games. That seventh place finish is the highest finish by an American woman in the 1500 meters in Olympic history.  This is Shannon’s fourth consecutive national team qualification. In addition to these two Olympic team berths, she was also a member of Team USA for the 2009 and 2011 World Championships. At the 2009 World Championships she earned the bronze medal in the 1500.

The three qualifiers for the London Olympics were Shannon (4:05.11), the number one ranked runner in the world in 2011 Morgan Uceny (4:04.59), and the 2011 World Champion Jenny Simpson (4:05.17). The fact that all the experts were saying that these three were the clear favorites to qualify, didn’t make my race day morning have any less butterflies.

After two laps that were led by Treniere Moser and Brenda Martinez, the big three made their way to the front of the pack. With 500 meters to go there began to be some separation between these three and the chase pack. In reality, the drama of who was going to make the team was gone. The three battled it over the last lap before the final order was settled.

After screaming our heads off from the stands during the race, we hustled down to the fence to give Shannon a hug as she took the traditional Hayward Field victory lap. After the meet we headed to the Wild Duck Café. Tamalpan Mike Fanelli insisted on buying us a pitcher that we drank while watching NBC’s west coast broadcast of the meet (it was almost as exciting watching Shannon qualify for the Olympics this second time). Another highlight was taking a picture with Dave Frank, a coaching friend who used to coach at St. Francis and run for the Aggies. He now coaches in Portland and was the head coach at Cathedral Catholic when one Galen Rupp attended school there. I feel that Dave and I share some common emotions. Then we headed for some coffee and dessert. Finally Shannon finished her Olympic processing so we met up with her, her parents, her boyfriend (Pablo) and others in her core support group to raise a glass of champagne in celebration.

We got back to our hotel room just shortly before midnight. I was still pretty excited and couldn’t pull myself away from the computer to go to sleep. I read every e-mail, text, and Facebook comment. I re-lived the race and conversations with people at the meet. I watched a FloTrack interview where Shannon even gave me a shout out.

When I woke up this morning, I checked to make sure this wasn’t all a dream. Nope, it wasn’t. It all really happened. Shannon Rowbury is now a two-time Olympian! Congratulations!

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