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Fifth Advocate Article
Every Olympics have there defining moments, some humorous, like when Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea rocketed to super stardom in the men's 100 meter free style. I was working at the pool the night it happened. Eric was in a heat with two other athletes with “dubious” qualifying times. As they took their mark the two others jumped the gun and were eliminated, leaving Eric to swim solo.
Few knew then that Equatorial Guinea doesn't posses a single 50 meter pool and that Eric had never swum more than 20 meters in his life! And no one cared as we cheered him on to a new Olympic record. Eric's time may never be surpassed, it's the slowest Olympic time ever. I thought he was going to drown.
Since then, Eric's become a closely followed celebrity. Today's Sydney Morning Herald has a huge front page color picture of a grinning “Eric the Eel” (as he's affectionately been dubbed) surfing at Bondi with some of Australia's greatest gold medallists. I'm still trying to buy an Eric the Eel T-shirt.
Romania will know doubt remember the Sydney games for gymnast Andreea Raducan having her gold medal stripped away for testing positive to a cold tablet. While the Greeks will long remember winning a gold medal in the men's 200 meters.
Australia, and I hope the rest of the world will remember these games for Cathy Freeman. Who in her quest for gold showed great bravery, humility and pluck. Cathy didn't just win a gold medal in the 400 meters, she united her nation.
Own my last visit 14 years ago I spent 9 months riding a mountain bike half way around this country. Then it was not unusual to encounter negative stereo types about “abo's” in the press, on the radio and from the locals.
Being an average college educated American, I had absolutely no knowledge of Australian history besides it was founded by the British as a penal colony. Though it didn't take me long to learn that in the 50's the prime minister of OZ in defense of a whites only immigration policy, (enforced till the late 60') proclaimed “two Wong's don't make a white”. The British were allowed to detonated atomic bombs in the desert where aboriginal people lived and indigenous people didn't get the vote until the late 60's.
Up until the early 70's, (that's 1970's) Aboriginal children were routinely “separated” from their parents and “educated” to become servants, forbidden to speak their native tongue in an orchestrated attempt to stamp out their culture. These people have become known as the stolen generation.
Cathy Freeman's relatives were among the stolen generation, making her struggle for equality and reconciliation all the more remarkable. Only recently has the government gone so far as to acknowledge its occurrence. Mind you, they have yet to apologize for it, but they have stopped denying it.
But the times they are a changing. Australia is now a nation of many nationalities and one trying desperately to reconcile it's deeply troubled past so it can move on to a brighter future. And to be fair, changing prejudice and institutionalized racism is neither quick nor painless. We don't have to look far in our own country to see that.
I think it's apt to compare her to a modern day Jackie Robinson. She wasn't just running for herself, she was running for her Aboriginal self and the collective consciousness of her country. No other athlete here had to carry her burden.
In less than 50 seconds she changed the course of this nation. After winning the gold she said, “ I know I have made a lot of people happy, from a lot of different backgrounds who call Australia home”.
The sole story on Page one of the Sydney Morning Herald the day after her race was a picture of Cathy Freeman, with the headline, “The race of our life”. Being an outsider it's difficult for me to fathom why an entire nation became so obsessed and emotional over this one race. I can say the feeling was contagious. Never in my life have I wanted anyone to win a sporting event more.
Cathy Freeman embodies the ideals and sprit of a greater humanity and her achievements on and off the track are truly Olympic. Twenty years from now I doubt I'll remember Eric the eel, but being here to see and experience Kathy Freeman win her race and the hearts and adulation of her nation is a something I will never forget.
Fourth Advocate Article
Gary Hall Jr., winner of 2 gold medals and one bronze emerged from his daily massage and took a few minutes to sign autographs for several excited Australian therapists. I had to chuckle over the furor he had generated before the games began by declaring that the US swim team would smash the Australian swim team like guitars. The Australian press demonized the “uppity American braggart” on page one for three days. But Gary, like everyone I've met here is incredibly pleasant, friendly and easy to talk to.
When I first learned of my assignments at the aquatic center I was totally non pulsed until several Australian volunteers told me how lucky I was to be a witness to “history in the making”. Clueless as ever, (I've never followed any organized sport) I had to ask my host to explain. To say that people in Australia were keen on swimming would be analogous to saying a few Americans tune in to the super bowl. Swimming is the king of sports here, it's where we win the most medals”.
So I was less surprised to find the prime minister of Australia and Chelsea Clinton among the 18,000 spectators at the swimming finals. I had a great view of the heats from beside the athletes seating and loved hearing the mostly Australian crowd screaming their lungs out while waving Australian flags. There main cheer being, “Oi, Oi OI, Ossie, Ossie OSSIE!”
But for a “sportsman” like myself, being free to roam around the athletes preparation area watching the different sport therapists ready their athletes for competition was far more interesting. All the affluent countries like the USA have their own trainers and therapists.
Most of the competing athletes received some sort of “massage” before their race, though some looked down right painful. One therapist I watched pulled a swimmers leg back forcefully by yanking on her toes while the swimmer grimaced in pain. I watched and learned the most from a brilliant 71 year old Hungarian massage therapist.
The village is full of TV's wired to receive coverage of all of the Olympic sports live in their entirety with no interruptions or commercials! It's not uncommon to find yourself in a growing crowd of people watching three TV's of say archery, rowing and swimming wishing there were three more sets so you could see the athletics, gymnastics and equestrian events too.
Athlete visits to the poly clinic, the main medical center in the athletes village where I'm posted most of the time are declining. The athletes that do arrive have more serious and sport related conditions like dehydration after the marathon.
Because of patient confidentiality I'm not allowed to relate any specific gossip, but it's no secret that the Cuban team is far and away the Gold medal champs at the pharmacy for picking up free condoms with strawberry being the preferred flavor. I'm told that in Atlanta the condoms came wrapped in Gold, Silver and Bronze.
As the games rapidly head to there conclusion, one of the main story in the newspapers here seems to be an obsession with the number of medals won, especially gold ones. Except on channel seven beginning at 11 PM there's a two hour show called “the dream” in which two commentators as the saying goes here, “take the piss out of” the days Olympic events. Sort of a combination of mild Saturday night live with Monty python humor.
The mood in the Athletes village continues to change daily. More and more athletes have completed their events, some have returned home, other's are off cheering on their team mates or sight seeing around Sydney. Poster size cards have appeared on doors to congratulate team mates for winning a medal.
The extra ordinary sight of Olympic athletes and officials from every corner of the globe moving about together in peace, now seems ordinary and commonplace. Yet it's only a matter of days till the close of the games and my return home to the Berkshires, know doubt richer (not monetarily as I had to pay my own way here and received no salary) for my month spent with the International medical team at the Sydney 2000 Olympic games.
An incredibly tall and beautiful woman dressed in a blue and red track suit with the word CUBA proudly proclaimed on her back towered over me. She handed me a nearly illegible referral from a DR stating that she had a slight hamstring problem. I guessed correctly that she was a member of the basketball team, but there was more she needed to convey, so I called for an interpreter.
Waited for the interpreter to arrive we gazed out a window. A kilometer away the Olympic torch burned brightly atop the stadium. In between various groups of athletes were training. A Chinese women's team, dressed in fire engine red uniforms embossed with a dragons head jogged back and forth amidst race walkers, soccer players, various groups of runners and several Ukrainians practicing archery.
Serious, focused and secret faces circulated around the track. Gone were the relaxed athletes of two weeks ago. The hole of the athletes village seemed gripped in a silent internal life or death struggle, broken only occasionally by laughter or a flirtation. And who could blame them. For as we all know, it's not how you play the game that matters, it's winning.
The quiet of the massage clinic was suddenly shattered by an explosion of exuberant cheering from my next door neighbors at doping control and gender verification. I poked my head in time to see a TV replay of an Australian swimmer win a gold medal in record time. My Ozzie mates were ecstatic to say the least.
For Australia, these Olympics are more than just a game. They are a coming of age ceremony for Sydney and a uniting force for the entire nation. Many view these Olympics as a way to show the world how sophisticated and beautiful Australia is. For example, how many capital cities of the world can you think of that have water clean enough to hold the swimming portion of a triathlon in, Boston harbor?
The city is set for one huge party. I ventured downtown last week to watch the torch parade which began 1 year ago. In my journal I wrote. “The opera house glowed red in the setting sun as I stood among ten's of thousands of people waiting for the Olympic torch to pass by. The harbor was crowed with boats of all sizes and exuberant people jockeyed for the best vantage point by climbing up on barrels, trees, light poles and each other. Even my host, who had hitherto expressed non-interest and even disdain for anything having to do with the Olympics got caught up in the excitement and pushed forward to view the torch.
Being short I elected to stand back from the front line and watch the Holy Grail, I mean the torch, carried by Olivia Newton John pass by on one of the huge television screens erected throughout the city.
After, I went to a park for one of the free nightly concerts highlighting Australian musicians. Before the first band, “Killing Heidi” took the stage, fire works and lazier lights mounted atop sky scrappers illuminated the night sky.”
Speaking of TV, the coverage of the games here is so much better than in the states. I've yet to see one of those sickening pre-game in-depth soap opera pieces of gold medal favorites. Instead, they just show you more of the competitions. How many of you know that badminton, fencing and hand ball are Olympic sports?
The other great thing about being here is that I'm spared the run up to the US Presidential elections. The only story I've seen was on page 15 about G.W. Bush “Heralding a Return to Civility in Politics”. The story then went on to inform us of how G. W. Bush, not realizing his microphone was still on, told his VP nominee that so and so from the NY times was a “major league asshole”.
The interpreter arrived and after a few minutes I was able to begin the treatment. It had been another interesting day. My first patient was a Turkish weight lifer, followed by an Ethiopian boxer, a Spanish sailor, a Nigerian 400 meter runner that had won a silver medal in Atlanta, and a Romanian gymnast who looked like she was 8, but sore she was 15. (Gymnasts train 35 to 40 hours a week and the exercise delays the onset of puberty).
As one of the 48,000 volunteers at these games I have nothing but positive things to say about the way they have been run and how I have been treated. Each day at work flies by and I am still awed at being able to “put my hands” on so many gifted athletes.
For the second time in my life I've missed seeing Nelson Mandela. It was rumored he and lord of the rings chairman Juan Antonio Samaranch would be touring the state of the art athletes medical center known as the Poly clinic where I work, but the only official who turned up was an Australian politician. The clinic, staffed by volunteer specialists from around the world has all the latest toys. An athlete can have a CAT scan, MRI, get a crown, see a dermatologist, podiatrist, optometrist, have blood work done in pathology, physiotherapy, remedial massage therapy and more. Everything but major surgery.
My first few days of getting to and working at the Athletes village could best be described as organized chaos. Imagine thousands of volunteers that have never met turning up to work together at new facilities on the same day. Bus drivers got lost, people gave out wrong directions, and nobody knew where the little things were, like extra towels. But everyone was hugely friendly and on the whole, the organizers have done a phenomenal job. Contingency planning has gone so far as to include the postponement of non elective surgery in Sydney hospitals.
Everyone entering the Athletes village has to have a 4” x 6” photo ID which is color coded and letter marked to easily indicate your job and station. The bottom of the ID is white if your working in the general circulation area, Red allows access to operations area while Blue permits one into the athletes preparation and competition area. ID's are further coded to announce who you are, athlete; workforce, press, VIPs, etc. and which venues your allowed into.
Our “Olympic” uniforms have colored sleeves to further ID our place. Everyone has an accreditation number which is scanned every time you enter the athletes village. Among the volunteers, I'm fairly high up in the pecking order. My uniform has a red sleeve denoting medical and the bottom of my pass is blue allowing me access to the athletes village and field of play at the aquatic center.
Besides a huge food tent to feed the 10,600 athletes, plus coaches and thousands of volunteers, the athletes village includes a small shopping and recreation center complete with a library, movie theater, McDonnell's, game room, gym and the popular IBM “surf shack” where athletes can make there own web sites and send e-mail. The game room is packed with high tech video games, common in the west but a unique and popular novelty for athletes from less technologically developed countries.
Outside the shopping and entertainment area known as the international zone there is a small park surrounded by rows of flag poles. Each of the 200 country's come to a welcoming and flag raising ceremony which begins with aboriginal children doing a traditional dance and then grade school children singing the “G'day, G'day, welcome to Australia” song. Followed by an Olympic official who gives a political speech in English and French, national anthems are played and finally the flag is raised.
I'd seen three welcoming ceremonies which appeared festive and some what silly when I happened by the square as the Israel team was entering. Immediately I sensed this ceremony was completely different. An increased security presence was the most noticeable, but the Israeli team appeared solemn and somber. They walked erect, and slow, eyes straight ahead.
As I watched, news and rumors of terrorists planning to attack these Olympics games made me shudder and feel afraid. In New Zealand it was reported that a group planning to target a nearby Nuclear reactor had been uncovered. Three men were arrested at the Sydney airport photographing and sketching the terminals. A teddy bear mailed from China was discovered that contained three vials of an unknown substance.
Surveying the scene I wondered how many present were remembering the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich. I began to speculate on the possibilities of something happening at these games. For despite the best efforts of any nation, especially and open democracy like Australia, there's really no possibility of assuring everyone's safety from a well trained and financed group of fanatical terrorists.
But my apprehension was momentary and fleeting. Long ago I had decided not to let my life be ruled by fear. For in the end, I believe it's how I face my fears and choose to live my life that really matters. So I went joyfully back to work. Hugely content to be able to play a small part in such a unique and wonderful event.
First Advocate Article
The plane stopped in Fiji so I got off. That was in 1986 on my first trip to Australia on what I thought would be a two year Mt bike trip around the world. Little did I know then that it would take me 8 years to complete my journey and lead me to my current profession.
Now, 14 years later I find myself once again privileged to be in the wonderful land of OZ. This time as a massage therapist invited by the Australian Olympic Organizing Committee. Recently I learned that over 2,500 massage therapists from around the world applied for the 200 available positions. Of those, I'm one of 25 therapists assigned to work in the main medical center know as the poly clinic. As a member of the International medical team, I will be providing massage therapy to any of the 10,305 Olympic athletes who, due to injury, are referred by either a doctor or physical therapist for massage. I also have 5 additional assignments at the aquatic center.
For me, this is a dream come true. In a few days I'll begin massaging some of the worlds best athletes, most of whom have trained for this day their whole life. Competition at this level is so intense that a fraction of a second can make the difference between immortality and obscurity. The pressure is intense for all concerned and adds a completely different meaning to what I do. For I believe I can make a few 100's of a second difference in an athletes performance, one way or the other.
So far my only “Olympic” experience has been to join a queue to pick up one of the 100,000 uniforms distributed and get valid credentials. Naturally security is an overwhelming concern and taken very seriously. Of all the stories I've seen in the media, security concerns are mentioned more as an aside to how much longer it's going to take you to get somewhere near an Olympic venue. In truth, it's virtually impossible to protect everyone in such a huge area.
For Australia and Sydney in particular, I think this Olympics is viewed as a celebration, a coming of age or rite of passage to being an equal among nations. To ensure things go as smoothly as possible Sydney has done some amazing things. For example, day light savings time has been implemented two months early. Public schools and Colleges normally start in September but have been postponed till October. Many venues will take place in the city center where security is especially difficult and traffic would be horrendous during the games. So to address both issues they have banned all vehicular traffic for three weeks. Because of that, most downtown business will close for three weeks.
After recovering from the 20 hour flight and nearly being run over a couple of times I'm now much better at looking to my right before crossing the street. It's early spring, cherry tree's and magnolias can be seen blooming among the palm trees and other “exotic” plants. I'm residing with my friend Shelley in the small town of Summer Hill 15 minutes from the Olympic village. I first met Shelley in the tropical N. Eastern part of Australia in 1986, she was also cycling and it's quite fun to see her again after so many years. And lucky too! Accommodation prices have soared in anticipation of the 100's of thousands of expected visitors.
I'm keeping busy being a good tourist. I particularly enjoyed the botanical gardens which front the harbor and are adjacent to the opera house. I took the ferry across the harbor to Manly and did a 6 mile phenomenally scenic cliff walk along the ocean. Another day I stumbled into the Museum of modern art and was blown away by an exhibition by an aboriginal artist, Lin Onus. One of my favorite prints is of a stylized wild Australian dog called a dingo, perched upon a stingray surfboard which he is riding a top a huge wave.
Waiting for the games to begin, I can't help but wonder what working at the Olympics is going to be like, who I'll meet, and what opportunities might arise. The last time I came here, it took me an extra six years to get home.