August 12, 2008

Where to begin . . . how about reason #479 that this trip has been perfect . . . make that, reasons #479 and 480 for the two World Records set this morning. It was my first finals session and everything went nearly perfectly for the USA. Watching swimming while not the experience of volleyball yesterday, gives you the feeling that you're a part of something very big.

The session began with the men's 200 freestyle. Eight years ago I remember Josh Davis qualifying for our team in the 200 with a 1:47 and change. This morning, the Michael Phelps show featured just 102.9 seconds of swimming. Nobody was even close to MP's world record 1:42. Two people who were close to Phelps were Henry and I as we sat down in front of the on-deck media area. We were able to watch everyone go past after their race, and scrambled down a couple of rows to get in front of the aisle for some kick-but photos.

One thing here - the ushers. They're these young high-school aged kids and like most of the people here in China, they abhor confrontation or conflict. They would politely ask people to sit down (and of course, the compliant spectators would), but when they came to tap us on the shoulder to go back to our seats, Henry and I could send them away with just a stare, and a "Sheya-Sheya" or thank-you. What would happen though is in the final 15-30m of a race, everyone would stand up leaving these poor little kids trying to do the right thing, but wholly overwhelmed. I turned to one to kind of give her a smile and pat on the back as if to say, "You're doing good . . . even if nobody's listening" and she just raised her hands in the air and said in almost flawless English, "I have no idea!"

The other World Record came in the 100 backstroke where Aaron Piersol teamed with Lake Forest's own Matt Grevers for an American 1-2 finish. Piersol tossed a shirt into the stands. This suprised the entire crowd, but then a couple of moments later, a guy swiped the shirt out of the hands of the poor old woman (who was asking who Aaron Piersol was). In the states, the crowd would have erupted, but here, it was only after a few minutes (and a couple of boos from this spectator) that the un-assertive ushers were able to shame the shirt swiper into giving it back.

We saw semi-finals in the women's 200 IM and 200 Free. Watched Liesel Jones set an Olympic Record in the 100 breast, and Phelps do the same in his semi-final of the 200 fly. Watch out because tomorrow Michael Phelps, who is already the only guy to go under 1:54 in the 200 fly, will become the first guy to go under 1:52, if not 1:51.

HIGHLIGHT of the morning session didn't make television. It was a swim-off for 8th place in the 200 IM. The swim-off, in my mind is the highlight of swimming because its pure drama. One person wins and one (or more loses). This morning Japan's Asami Kitagawa blistered Hungary's Evelin Verraszto, and it was the first event that truly gave me chills. We moved over to the middle of the pool, row one to watch, and when she touched first to make the final, her mom erupted in tears (as did she). It was incredibly dramatic and emotional to watch and even Nathaniel had to say, "Swim-offs are fun." To put into perspective how crazy this notion is, Chappy was in a three-way tie at NCAA's his sophomore year. He so feared the swim-off that he said, "I don't want to swim it, let the other two guys swim for that spot" but he did and he won and he set our school record in the 100 backstroke - in a swim-off in Holland, Michigan.

After the morning session we were off to the Great Wall, and let me tell you it is . . . AMAZING. You'd look up into the air and see this massive structure - 10-20' wide and 15-50' high. Then, you'd look off in the distance (and thank goodness today we were finally able to see blue sky) and you would see a ribbon of wall leading to another guard tower, and another peak over, another tower. It just stretched on and on and on. It was a little built up and apparently there's a less-touristy area that I want to go back too, but this - the view, the structure, the enormity of its construction could be one of the most breathtaking sights I've ever happened across. As we climbed (and you really do have to climb some parts) I kept thinking of all the people I know who NEED to see this. Casares, you need to appreciate this, Mom, you should make the trip just to see this one thing. It was amazing . . . wait did I say that already?

Oh - and one thing they don't say on the tourist brochures - there's a slide down the Great Wall. There's a massive slide down the great wall. You drop about 600 feet, hitting speeds of 30 mph (that is if you don't have someone slow in front of you). We had so much fun that when Henry, Chip and I got to the bottom we bought another ticket up just to go back down again. The video above is from round one.

Tonight then, it was time for a trip to a traditional Chinese dinner with Mr. Chapman and one of Nathaniel's childhood friends. Now as I stated, I'm about as finicky as they come when it comes to trying new things and for every swimmer who I've talked to about moving outside of your comfort zone - take heart because tonight was your revenge. This restaurant took me well outside that. I tried a lot of things I wasn't really sure about (and truth be told, didn't try a lot more things I definitely wasn't sure about) and managed to eat enough to sustain myself through my next meal, but I did manage, did survive, and am definitely looking forward to Mrs. Chapman's scrambled eggs tomorrow morning.

Finally - we wrapped up the night at a lounge next door to the restaurant. It wasn't like the club of last night (as the timestamp will show), and was much more my pace. Some of the youngsters who were out a little too late, imbibed a little too much and had to be up a little too early this morning decided to turn in early. I decided to tag along in order to start typing this up and get some more photos uploaded, when who do we see in the elevator but none other than three-time Olympian Gary Hall, Jr. Gary is an icon of our sport. He's gone from arrogant, brash young ass to outspoken proponent of our sport and against doping. He's one of those guys who if you know me, you wouldn't think I like him because of some of his outrageousness, but the truth is, I think he's great. That belief was cemented tonight in talking with him for just a few moments. He was gracious, he was modest (I said, "Gary, I just have to ask . . . why no 100-free, you'd have made the team" and he just demurred quitely). He was accomodating of our photo request (and even a second photo when the flash didn't go off). Finally, we spoke a little about each other's websites and he capped the day with, "I aspire to be and have messageboards as popular as yours."



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