Updates from Mike Beres

Monday, August 11, 2008 5:31 AM


Yesterday I saw a giant. Thatís the only way I can describe it. You know when you see an adult sit at a plastic miniature table on a baby chair in a nursery? Thatís what this looked like in the cafeteria yesterday morning. I saw him again today. If you looked quickly, youíd think he was trying to cut his food with a toothpick. A closer look told you that it was a regular sized knife he was holding.

It made me think just how used to being in a village I have gotten. I have been comparing this trip to my past ones. For those of you who have never been to a Games before, I will try to describe it so you get a better picture of what itís like.

Being at the Olympics could be described as an elite all inclusive for sport. Itís even better because this all inclusive is free. You step off of the plane and from then on, you are made to feel like a special person. Now for some, this is just their normal day. Iím sure Roger Federer and most of the basketball guys are used to this, but for the rest of us, itís a time for us to feel like what we are doing is seen as important to other people, not just ourselves. We get to go through a special line at customs and have someone guide us the whole way through to the bus. They even paint special lines on the airport floor to make the process easier. We have a bus waiting for us, and as soon as we get on it, it leaves for the village - the most exciting place we can imagine. As we get there, there are other people walking around in their team uniforms. Countries names are splashed all over them. Some are walking in groups (teams) and some are alone. There are all different kinds of body types wherever you look and it becomes a fun game to guess what sport they are from. We donít normally confuse the basketball players and gymnasts. Everyone looks fit and it makes you wish youíd been a little more disciplined when it came time to decide whether or not to finish the ice cream. Nevertheless, you feel the adrenalin rush of being in a place where everyone takes sport as seriously as you do. It is quite the environment to be submersed in.

One of the first things to take care of is picking up your Canadian package. You canít wait because youíve seen it unveiled on TV and you know youíre getting a lot of free clothing that says Canada on it, and thatís cool. Youíre getting all this free Canada stuff because you are worthy of it. They want you to be here representing your country. You have to go and try on your clothing to make sure it fits. If it doesnít you just get a different size or they would make adjustments and now you have tailored clothing. Thatís better than my regular clothing - finally something that fits my butt! During the process you start to think, oh man, this is taking a long time, because you have so much stuff - nice problem to have. All of this free clothing comes inside a free suitcase we get. Inside is also a backpack, some hats, a pair of shoes, some sandals, a package of Canada pins to trade, and other things to give it a grab bag feel. My sun glasses from Athens just broke a month ago. Itís like Christmas in August. This is what we get from the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC). Also in our rooms waiting for us is something from the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (BOCOG). We got a bag with Olympics written on it, with some maps, pins and other info. Also there was another bag in the first one with a care package from Johnson and Johnson. We more or less got a sample of everything they make- lotion, soap, shampoo, bug repellent, a toothbrush, and other stuff I canít even remember now. Itís so much on those first days you canít even look at it all thoroughly.

For me, a highlight of course, is the first visit to the caf. Imagine, you just walk in to the biggest buffet you have ever seen. For three weeks you can come and go as you please at any time of the day. You just step in a short line, tell them what you want, order any combination of food you want, and after you enjoy it, you just walk out. The food is great and thereíre more types of food that you would ever find in a restaurant. The biggest problem is that you end up taking some of everything. You walk to a table with four plates of food because everything looks so good and you want to try it all. Some end up not being able to finish half of what they take. Some like me end up gaining 10 pounds in a week. Eventually it becomes taste bud overload and you have to change strategy and just choose a few items so that you donít feel bloated all day, but also so that you can focus on a particular taste to the food and the next day you can go for a different kind. The food seems to get boring if you eat everything every day.

There is a lot of walking involved with a Games. You walk to the caf., you walk to the bus, you walk to the international zone, and you walk to get massage, physio and chiropractic care. At first you canít wait to get there because you feel like a kid in a candy store. You want to do it all. It is so exciting to have somewhere to go where they give you a free t-shirt for quickly filling out a form, or for doing a survey and getting a traditional Chinese style hat. Itís such a treat to just hop downstairs to sign up for a massage, or to get an adjustment. You feel like the support system here, if given to you on a regular basis would make all the difference for you game. Now you feel like you want to make up for all of those times where you needed it and didnít get it.

I havenít had time to go yet, but another thing worthy of mentioning is the first trip to the international zone. Thatís where you get a free haircut at the barber. You can post Olympic stamps with your picture on it back home to family and friends. Most important is the store. Official Olympic merchandise stores are placed throughout the city and there is one in the village too. You walk in and there is a whole myriad of things to remind you that you were at the biggest sporting event in the world. You want to get one of everything, and there is a lot. I still have the plastic bags they gave me when I bought something at the store in Sydney , just because it says Olympics on it. All the cunning of people who make souvenirs is perfected into the items they sell there. I am further made defenseless by having some of these things being badminton specific. Anything with badminton on it is a given purchase for me. At home if I could just find a Wii system in stock at a store, I would buy it because there are two badminton games for it. I always like the badminton symbol/icon they make and think itís the coolest one of the bunch. I want it painted on everything. I want to take all the banners on the walls. I buy shirts with all the icons and ones just with badminton. I canít imagine I wonít wear the shirt every day for the rest of my life. It looks so good on the rack. I have to have it. Because I have a big family too, and lots of people who have gotten me here, I have a list of forty people I want to get gifts for. In the past, my family was here and they took care of a lot of it, but now I will need every square inch of that suitcase they gave me. Sometimes my lack of moderation shines so brightly that I wonder why I donít do anything about it. That would come in handy with the food, too, but my gut is stronger than my intellect.

Early on, you may take a walk around the village. This is something I havenít made the time yet for either, but I will get there. The village is so big they make maps for it. You find out where the fitness is. Itís probably the biggest gym youíve ever been in with brand new equipment, probably having everything you need, but also those very specific machines you think would be neat to try but wouldnít get used enough to make it necessary for a normal gym to pay so much for them. The two that I like here are stretching machines. One for the hamstrings and back is kind of like a bed that bends at the waist. Itís like a partner assisting stretch where the partner doesnít shake or get tired. You can adjust it to right where the stretch feels the best. The other is for the hip flexors. Itís got a moving bench where you put one knee on and your other leg is doing a lung. The bench slides back and you can hold yourself stable with some hand and elbow rests. I think they are genius. Itís also neat to see what types of things other athletes are doing. For the most part it is good to know that what they are doing is what you have been doing. For me, I had one lucky thing happen. About a month before coming here, my ipod died. I think it was because when I was running with it in my pocket, I was sweating so much it got soaked and just stopped working. I thought it just broke, but right before I came here, it started to work again. It is comforting to have back all the songs I have been training with over the 3 months before it broke. It somehow gives me confidence to hear the songs and remember how much work I have put into my training. Now I am listening to the music each morning and getting into a good groove. I just finished my last bike this morning as a full-time athlete. Hard to believe that I only have the competition left now. Itís all coming to a close.

Also part of the Olympic experience is the Canadian athletesí lounge. This is where you may get free tickets to other events. You can get snacks- I havenít had fruit rollups or McDonaldís cookies in a while. You also find out information on how the Canadian team is doing and a message board keeps us updated on other things like ceremony procedure. We got a gift from Burkís here- a necklace with a pearl. They also have cereal so in the morning if you donít feel like walking all the way to the caf. you can get something small there.

If you have family there with you. You feel not only their support now, but from all the years they were behind you 100% . You want to personally phone up and thank everyone who helped you along the way. After the Games, you will travel a bit and finally get to see the city you are competing in- something that rarely happens when playing a regular tournament. It is also the opportunity to see other sporting events live at the top level in the world. Most of the time, these tickets are free for athletes.

There are thousands of volunteers just waiting to help you for whatever you need. Here, there are people to open doors for you, to walk you from the practice hall to the bathroom, to wipe the table the moment you stand up from your meal. They greet you at the entrance way to every building. They are just waiting for you to ask anything of them and most of the time they ask you if they can help you if you hesitate while looking at them. They are really eager to please. An entire city has been built just for you and it is manned with so many people to cater to your every need.

The hall is the best badminton gym you have ever played in. It is so professional looking you feel like a better player just to play there. Olympics is splashed all over the walls and the blue colour scheme will make you think of Olympics every time you see it from now on. Again, thereís free juice, water and pop. They have fruit, cookies and even Snickers just waiting for you to take. You walk on to your match as your name is announced and feel the entire crowdís attention on you. The adrenalin is pumping and you want so badly to play your best. Motivation is not an issue. You have to try to focus and not let the excitement get the best of you. Youíve trained for months just for this and years for other things to lead you up to this point. Itís over before you know it and you wish you could play it again so you could enjoy it for longer. Hopefully youíve played your best and can remember that forever, but even if you have played your heart out that is something to be proud of.

Thereís nothing like the Olympics.

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