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Sesker Olympics Journal: Varner strikes gold as U.S. caps Olympic Games in style
LONDON – What a spectacular way to end the Olympic Games!
American Jake Varner strikes gold in a memorable performance on the mat.
Jake is normally pretty low-key and laid back, so it was great to see him flexing, pumping his fist and running around with the American flag after winning an Olympic gold medal on Sunday.
He earned it! Jake wrestled superbly, and showed great composure in winning an Olympic freestyle title at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. It was great to see Jake share the moment with his mentor and coach, 2004 Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson.
What a finish to the Olympics with Jordan Burroughs and Varner winning gold on two of the final three days. Coleman Scott grabbed an Olympic bronze medal in between those two titles.
After writing my story on Jake’s big win, I ventured over to the U.S. Olympic Committee press office to grab a couple of tickets for the Closing Ceremonies with colleague Jason Bryant.
We were joined by volleyball press officers B.J. Evans and Bill Kauffman at Olympic Stadium. We had great seats in the press tribune, sitting in a row that had tables and comfortable chairs.
What a show it was! They have some of the greatest musicians on the planet here. It was great to see The Who, George Michael, Queen, the Spice Girls, Annie Lenox and Ray Davies perform, among others.
I loved the tribute they had to the great John Lennon, where they showed the video of him singing his memorable song, “Imagine." That gave me goose bumps.
The Who capped a great evening with a great performance. It was a perfect way to end an outstanding 16 days of competition here in London.
I slept in this morning before doing some shopping and sightseeing with my friend Bill Kellick, a press officer for Taekwondo. We saw Big Ben, the Parliament and Buckingham Palace, among other attractions.
We took the train, and ran into Nebraska coach Mark Manning, who coached Jordan Burroughs to a gold medal here. Mark is headed off to Spain for a well-deserved vacation with his wife. Mark is a good friend. I will never forget the smile on his face when Jordan won the gold here. What a great moment!
This was only my second Olympics, and it was another incredible experience. I can’t wait for the next one, in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil!
Thanks to everyone for reading this over the last few weeks. I enjoyed bringing you a little insight into what I’ve been up to here in London. I fly home tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to seeing my beautiful daughter, Hayley, and returning to the best country on the planet!
It’s been a lot of fun here at the Olympics Games!
LONDON – We are down to the final day of the 2012 Olympic Games.
Jared Frayer and Jake Varner are the last men standing for the U.S. wrestling team, and hopefully we can add some more hardware after the freestyle boys won gold and bronze the past two days.
I was happy to see Coleman Scott come through and win an Olympic bronze medal on Saturday night. I can’t imagine how hard it was for him to win the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in April, and see everyone else so happy because they were headed to London.
The U.S. was still trying to qualify the weight class of 60 kg/132 lbs., so Americans Shawn Bunch and Reece Humphrey were held out of the Trials to prepare for Olympic qualifiers overseas.
Shawn Bunch took care of business by qualifying the 60 kilo weight class for the Olympics with a clutch, hard-nosed performance at the Olympic qualifier in China. Please don’t forget Bunch’s role in what happened on Saturday night. If he doesn’t qualify the weight for London, Coleman wouldn’t have received his opportunity on Saturday.
Coleman beat Humphrey and Bunch in a Special Wrestle-Off in New York City to make the Olympic Team.
Coleman did a great job and really delivered. That’s the best I’ve ever seen him wrestle. Let’s hope he decides to compete for another Olympic cycle. He was right there with the wrestler from Azerbaijan who won the title.
Coleman’s a great young man who continues to develop under the coaching of the great John Smith.
I looked back at my Olympic preview to see what I wrote about Coleman and here is what I found: Scott is an aggressive, offensive-minded wrestler who could contend for a medal in London.
Yes, he is. Coleman has the type of style where he can go get a point on offense at a crucial point in a match. He proved that in his bronze-medal win over Japan’s Kenichi Yumoto, a past Olympic and World bronze medalist.
That’s why he has a bronze medal and is $25,000 richer from the Living the Dream Medal Fund.
I received reports from the people I know at the U.S. Olympic Committee that Jordan Burroughs did very well during his appearance on the Today Show the morning after his gold-medal win. Not a big surprise.
Jordan wants to be the face of wrestling, and he has the type of personality and charisma to be just that. He obviously has the ability on the mat.
I hit my favorite London restaurant again, and had lasagna again. This may be the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted. It’s magnificent. WIN Magazine’s Bryan Van Kley had heard me talking about it for days. Bryan had the lasagna and he wasn’t disappointed.
LONDON – There haven’t been too many nights in my career like this one.
It’s one I will never forget.
American Jordan Burroughs stepped up and delivered in some clutch situations to capture our first Olympic gold medal in wrestling here in London.
Jordan was magnificent under pressure, pulling out a tight semifinal match over two-time World champion Denis Tsargush of Russia before sweeping two-time World silver medalist Sadegh Goudarzi of Iran in the finals.
I told him afterward that my heart can’t take many more matches like the instant classic between him and Tsargush. Jordan scored twice late in the match to prevail.
Once Jordan’s finals match ended, that is when a lot of the work begins for myself and my boss, communications director Gary Abbott.
Following the medal ceremony, Burroughs was taken to a press conference on the second floor of the wrestling venue. Reporters from Sports Illustrated, ESPN.com, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Newark Star-Ledger and Des Moines Register were among those covering the event along with daily regulars Bryan Van Kley of WIN magazine, Andrew Hipps of InterMat and Luke Meredith of the Associated Press.
Jordan was fantastic in the press conference, showing off his intelligence, his charisma and his excellent sense of humor.
He said he would double-leg the Queen of England if she was the one standing across from him in the gold-medal finals. Jordan is very engaging and articulate, and he’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever worked with.
He also talked about his comments on Twitter on Thursday night where he said his next post would be after he won gold.
After winning gold, he posted a photo on Twitter that I was in the background of.
His tweet: I did it! 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist! Well said and well done, Jordan!
After a great press conference, Jordan, Gary, Nebraska coach Mark Manning, myself, and Jordan’s mom and sister boarded a van to the Main Press Center for another press conference.
It wasn’t a huge gathering of writers since it was very late here, but we still had reporters from the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and USA Today asking questions. I shot video and asked questions.
From there, we walked over next door to where NBC has their studios. We were taken to the Green Room, where they asked us what we wanted to eat. Jordan ordered a cheeseburger and fries, and we all decided to get the same thing. They had a cooler full of water, Coca-Cola and Powerade, along with a large assortment of candy and granola bars.
Jordan took off to do a radio interview with the station formerly known as Westwood One.
When he was gone doing an interview, I noticed the name on the room next door. It said “B Costas” on the door. I peeked inside, but nobody was there. I am a big fan of Bob Costas, and I wanted to thank him for his work on the video Matt Lauer and Al Roker did with U.S. Greco-Roman wrestlers Dremiel Byers and Ellis Coleman. The video turned out great!
After Jordan was done there, we boarded a van and headed over near where NBC films the Today Show. It is right next door to the Olympic basketball venue.
Jordan did a great interview with NBC Sports Network that ran after they showed the replay of his championship match. It was shown early in the evening in the U.S. on Friday.
Jordan will be back at NBC today to appear on the Today Show weekend edition. He also has an interview scheduled on E!, along with a sit-down with broadcasting legends Al Michaels and Dan Patrick.
Jordan also was going to do interviews with NBC that will run on affiliates in New Jersey and Nebraska.
Jordan is probably going to miss the first session of wrestling today because of his interviews, but he has a great chance to market and promote himself and the sport in the process.
My colleague, Jason Bryant, informed me that a Google news search revealed there are 897 articles on Jordan this morning. He has posted more than a dozen stories from top journalists who covered us.
LONDON – We have an outstanding group of volunteers at the wrestling venue at the Olympics.
They are braving the not-so-cool conditions at the ExCeL Centre to provide us with all that we need on press row – brackets, results, pairings and water. My favorite part is when they stop by and ask if we have any “rubbish” we want to discard.
I love the people over here. They are some of the friendliest folks I have ever met. It has made life a lot easier for us in the press tribune.
I had a chance to spend some time with Hannah Davies, Rosie Williams and Conrad Langridge after the wrestling competition on Thursday night, and I enjoyed chatting with them about music, movies, American television (they refer to TV as “telly” over here), and a number of other topics.
I wanted to know how they “fancy” someone when they like them and why they drive on the wrong side of the road. And why they are not crazy about us calling a game we play football, and that we refer to the game they call football as soccer.
They also wanted to know if I've ever seen a "twister" in the U.S. It rains a lot here, although not much since we've been here, and they don't have tornadoes in England. Hannah impressed me when she said she knew who Fonzie was from the old U.S. sitcom, "Happy Days." She thought he was cool, which of course he was.
It was a fun evening, filled with laughter and great conversation. I can’t thank those guys enough for being so hospitable over the past five days.
They got a kick out of the fact that I have a Beatles keychain. I am a huge Beatles fan, and they laughed when I told them my brother has a Rolling Stones tattoo on his arm. Some of the best musicians in history hail from these parts.
The locals take great pride in having the Olympics here, and it’s amazing to see how passionate they are about this magnificent event. They have done a great job, in my opinion.
Photographer John Sachs and I stopped into the Taekwondo venue in the ExCeL Centre between wrestling sessions late Thursday afternoon to check out yet another Olympic sport we’ve never seen. It was pretty cool. The U.S. won a bronze medal in Taekwondo on Thursday and have two-time Olympic gold medalist Steven Lopez competing today. Steven was on the train with us on the way to the venue on Thursday, and I wished him the best in his event.
Jordan Burroughs and Sam Hazewinkel will take the mat today for the U.S. as the freestyle competition starts.
We need a big day, and I’m eager to see how it unfolds.
LONDON – I know I talked about it in my last entry, but who says you don’t win a bronze medal.
Obviously, athletes are shooting for the gold medal in wrestling.
But seeing Clarissa Chun capture a bronze medal at the Olympic Games on Wednesday night was a special moment. Very special.
Especially when you consider all of what Clarissa has endured. I remember having to interview her when she lost to Mary Kelly in a wrestle-off for the U.S. spot in the 2006 World Championships. Clarissa broke down and was emotional, and it was understandable.
She spent years trying to be the No. 1 girl in the U.S. It finally happened in 2008 when she made the Olympic Team and then won a World title later that year.
I actually thought she wrestled better at the Olympics in 2008, even though she won Worlds. The Olympic field was stronger, and she advanced to the semifinals. She beat Sweden’s Sofia Mattson in the first round. Mattson later went on to win a World title after bumping up a weight class.
Chun had the lead late in the Olympic semifinals against Japan’s Chiharu Icho before Icho rallied late in the match to win. Chun then lost in the bronze-medal match to Ukraine’s Irini Merleni, the 2004 Olympic champion.
I remember bringing Clarissa back to be interviewed after she lost in the semis and in the third-place match in Beijing, China. She was devastated and heartbroken, and couldn’t stop crying. It was difficult to see because I knew how much it meant to her.
To her credit, Clarissa came back this Olympic cycle. She battled injuries and survived a tough three-match battle against 2010 World Team member Alyssa Lampe to win the Olympic Trials in April.
Chun persevered though. She received a really tough draw for the 2012 Olympics, but swept the two-time World bronze medalist from China in the first round. She fell to World champion Maria Stadnyk, but received a chance to wrestle back when Stadnyk made the finals.
This time, Chun was ready to win a medal. She hit a sweet cement mixer to pin a World bronze medalist from Poland to advance to a rematch with Merleni for bronze.
Chun came out focused and delivered to win the match over Merleni in two straight periods.
Her emotions came pouring out as she ran around the mat holding the American flag above her head as the sellout crowd of 6,500 fans stood and applauded.
It wasn’t the gold medal she dreamed about, but she did an amazing job to win a bronze medal. Yes, I did say “win” a bronze medal.
Clarissa is one of the sweetest and nicest people I have ever worked with, and she deserves to celebrate winning a medal. That may be the best she's ever wrestled.
Kudos to Clarissa for winning the first medal of the Olympics for the U.S. in wrestling. She did a great job.
Team USA still has nine more opportunities to win medals. Let’s keep it going.
I ran into U.S. referee Rick Tucci shortly after the wrestling competition on Wednesday night. Rick was sitting at an outdoor table smoking cigars with seven-time World champion and Olympic champion Valentin Jordanov of Bulgaria.
I couldn’t resist asking Jordanov, “Why did you let Zeke beat you?”
Jordanov got a good chuckle out of that one. U.S. National Coach Zeke Jones beat Jordanov in the 1991 World freestyle finals in Jordanov’s home country of Bulgaria.
Jordanov did gain redemption of sorts when he won an Olympic title in the U.S. – in 1996 in Atlanta.
I enjoyed chatting with Rick, who is working his seventh and possibly last Olympic Games. He has traveled to over 100 countries in his long and distinguished tenure as one of the world’s best officials.
LONDON – I have heard a lot of wrestlers talking about their gold or nothing approach for the Olympic Games.
The goal is a gold medal, and nothing else will make them satisfied. That’s a mentality you may need when the stakes are so high.
That makes sense because that is what everyone is working for – to climb the top step of the championship podium in wrestling’s showcase event.
But what happens when you lose? And when you have a chance to come back for a bronze medal.
Sweden’s Jimmy Lidberg did just that. He won a bronze medal, he paraded around the mat with his flag and hugged his coaches in a very emotional scene.
I actually ran into Lidberg late Tuesday night in London and congratulated him. He was being toasted with champagne, lifted into the air by his countrymen and interviewed by a television station from his home country.
Lidberg, who has battled past World bronze medalist Justin Ruiz of the U.S. in recent years, was very proud he was able to win a medal. And with a good reason. It’s not easy to get on the podium at the Olympics. Kudos to him for enjoying his moment. Even if he didn’t win gold.
I ran into my good buddy, Erik Nyblom of Denmark, this evening following the wrestling competition. Erik’s son, Hakan, finished fifth at 55 kg in London. Erik is an absolute wrestling fanatic. We have had a few impromptu wrestling matches, including one tonight. That man is very strong.
Erik is an awesome dude, and I always enjoy running into him at tournaments. He helped run the 2009 Worlds in Herning, Denmark. You won’t find anyone more passionate about this sport than Erik. He has pretty good single-leg defense - for a Greco guy!
I had a chance to hang out with Luke Meredith of the Associated Press on Tuesday night. He’s doing a great job covering wrestling. We need to give Luke something to write about!
Four years ago today, I was heading to the “Bird’s Nest” in Beijing for the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in China on 8-8-08 at 8:08 p.m. It was one of the best moments of my life. I will never forget it.
I love the Olympics! It is an amazing event.
LONDON – A day that started out with a bad start turned into a pretty darn good night on Monday.
I left the wrestling venue – with permission from my boss – after the U.S. experienced a rough first session on Monday at the ExCel Center. I accepted my friend from Denmark’s invitation to check out track and field at the Olympic Stadium.
It was a night I won’t soon forget.
The highlight was the medal ceremony for Usain Bolt’s win in the 100-meter dash from the night before. I saw the Jamaican star win the 100 in person at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, but missed his big win last night. I watched it live on my computer instead.
I felt a lot better when I got to see Bolt be presented with his medal and see him sing along as the Jamaican national anthem was played on Monday night. The crowd of 80,000 fans cheered him on and cameras flashed all over the stadium. He jumped on top of the podium with both feet in true Bolt fashion as he was announced as the gold medalist in the 100.
It was a great night on the track. One night after striking Olympic gold in the 400, Sanya Richards-Ross won her heat in the 200. That was exciting to see. I watched her run in college, and she is a joy to watch compete.
I had a perfect seat in the press tribune, right on the start/finish line and only five rows up. I could almost reach out and touch the athletes, I was so close.
I also saw the men's 400-meter hurdles and 400-meter dash finals, and the women’s pole vault, shot put and 3,000-meter steeplechase finals. I also saw the semifinals of the 400 hurdles for women.
Wish my dad could’ve been here to watch. He still coaches the hurdlers in the town where I grew up in – Tipton, Iowa – and he would’ve loved watching the Olympians fly over the hurdles in person.
A 19-year-old from Grenada easily outdistanced the field in winning the men’s 400, my old event in high school and college. It was exciting to watch. It was strange not seeing someone from the USA in the finals of the 400. Maybe we should’ve brought Michael Johnson out of retirement.
The fans in the track venue are simply fantastic – very loud and supportive. The atmosphere there is unbelievable, it really is. It was a fun evening, that’s for sure. I was in the stadium for the Opening Ceremonies, and the atmosphere Monday night was almost as electric.
It was cool to see how much winning the 400 hurdles meant to Felix Sanchez, a 34-year-old from the Dominican Republic. He also won Olympic gold in 2004 in Athens. Sanchez broke down in an emotional display in the medal ceremony as he couldn’t stop crying. The crowd became louder and louder as they appreciated how much the win meant to him.
How special are the Olympic Games? It’s a phenomenal event that means so much to people around the globe. It’s hard to put into words what it means to be here.
I really wish they would seed wrestling at the Worlds and Olympics, and make it double-elimination. It was unfortunate that Dremiel Byers ended up being on the side of the bracket with the No. 1 and No. 2 guys in the world. Dremiel could've contended for a medal if the tournament was seeded.
Instead, he loses to the returning World champion who loses to a guy who is now a two-time Olympic champion and three-time World champion. And Dremiel doesn't get to wrestle back because the World champ who beat him didn't reach the finals. Not a big fan of the format.
Big day coming up for the U.S. Greco-Roman boys. Two-time World bronze medalist Justin “Harry” Lester is taking the mat for Team USA. I think he has a great shot to win a medal, and maybe win the whole thing. Harry is focused, motivated and hungry.
LONDON – The U.S. fell short of winning a medal on Day 1 of the Olympic Games on Sunday, but it was still a great day for the sport at the ExCel Center.
The packed house of 6,500 fans was loud, energetic and supportive as the eight-day tournament kicked off in London. It was an electric atmosphere that gave me goose bumps as the competition kicked off.
The venue and the atmosphere is every bit as good, if not better, than where the Olympics were wrestled in 2008 in Beijing, China.
There was tremendous fan support for wrestlers from fans from all over the World, as you would expect in an event of this magnitude. This is a special tournament where the stakes obviously are extremely high.
I didn’t hear much booing, which is unusual for an international event, and the sportsmanship among athletes also was very good.
Iranian fans were going crazy, as they always do, when Hamid Soryan captured his first Olympic gold medal after winning five World titles. They had their bugle blaring and their chants going in the stands. It was Iran's first Olympic title in Greco-Roman.
The Russian fans were everywhere as their countryman, Roman Vlasov, won a gold medal of his own in Greco-Roman wrestling. It wasn't Russia's first Olympic gold in Greco. They've won a bunch.
Fans from the U.S. also could be heard rooting on Spenser Mango and Ben Provisor while a number of other countries were very vocal as well.
Announcer Ken Berger, who is from Virginia Beach, was outstanding in pumping up the crowd with his golden voice and his enthusiasm. It’s great to have him on the mike here at the Olympics.
The press staff and volunteers in the press areas have been outstanding. They are very friendly and helpful, which makes my job a whole lot easier. They work long hours and always seem to have a smile on their faces. Kudos to them for all that they do.
The athleticism of numerous medal winners was amazing, as a number of them did backflips after earning wins. Hungary’s Peter Modos did a cartwheel into a pair of backflips to celebrate after his bronze-medal win.
Who says you don’t “win” a bronze medal. Modos was more exuberant than the guys who won gold on Sunday.
Now we need to get a few Americans on the medal stand. Dremiel Byers, Ellis Coleman and Chas Betts will look to do just that on Monday for Team USA.
I did make it back to my room at the University of East London in time to fire up my computer and catch the finals of the 100-meter dash in track and field. The BBC has a live webcast and I was able to make it back in time to watch Jamaica's Usain Bolt turn in another incredible sprint to history.
The track venue is only a few miles from here, and I’m sure that place was rocking. I was there for the Opening Ceremonies and it’s a fabulous venue.
I was in the “Bird’s Nest” stadium in Beijing in 2008 when Bolt won his first Olympic title. As a former track athlete, I really appreciate how amazing Bolt is. I’ve never seen anything like him. I think he is just as good in the 200 and 400 as he is in the 100 with his long, fluid stride.
LONDON – Just arrived at the ExCel Center for Day 1 of the Olympic wrestling competition.
I was wide awake at 6:30 this morning, with the magnitude of what we are about to see finally hitting me. I ventured down to the 24 Hour Fitness at the University of East London and got a short workout in.
I ran into photographers John Sachs and Larry Slater at breakfast. Larry just rolled into town, and it will be good to work with both of those guys here in London.
They are doing sound checks on the public-address system and it was good to hear the familiar voice of Ken Berger.
Kenny, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va., is doing the announcing again at the Olympics. He’s heavily involved in wrestling, and just recently was officiating at our Junior and Cadet Nationals in Fargo.
Kenny is a good dude, and I actually ran into him a couple of days earlier when I was boarding a train in London. He has a great voice – one of the big reasons he’s here.
Just saw former Ohio State coach Russ Hellickson, who is helping out behind the scenes with the broadcast here. Russ has called the Olympics for NBC in the past and did a great job.
Keep an eye on our USA Wrestling Twitter page for updates on results and when wrestlers are coming up to compete. Jason Bryant, our social media guru, will be manning the Twitter updates for us.
You can follow the action live on the webcast provided by NBC. Follow it on nbcolympics.com.
I’ve been here for 12 days now, and I’m ready to get this party started!
Aug. 4, late edition
LONDON – We had an opportunity to venture over to the venue on Saturday as workers scrambled to change the layout over from judo to wrestling.
The three wrestling mats were set up when we arrived at the ExCel Center early in the afternoon. The arena looks great. It should be an excellent setting for this huge event.
It is an outstanding facility, which seats around 6,500 fans. I was there for the judo competition, and the atmosphere should be electric for the eight-day wrestling event.
Check out some of photos of the venue, taken by John Sachs of Tech Fall, on USA Wrestling’s Facebook page.
Our first two wrestlers – Spenser Mango and Ben Provisor – made weight and they received their draws for Sunday’s competition.
Neither wrestler is being picked to win a medal, but Spenser and Ben are both capable of providing a spark and making an impact here in London.
Check out the feature I wrote on Spenser on themat.com and read Gary Abbott’s story on the draws Spenser and Ben received for the tournament.
I ran into Tim Johnson today at the venue. Tim, as many of you know, is a broadcaster for college wrestling on ESPN and the Big Ten Network. T.J. is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.
Tim was an excellent coach for Mount Vernon High School in Iowa back in the day, and actually coached a wrestler who beat my cousin in the state finals. He coached against me when I wrestled for nearby Tipton High School way back in the stone ages.
Tim and Doug Brooker are helping out behind the scenes with the broadcast of the wrestling event at the Olympics.
Tim was happy to be in attendance Friday night when his close friend, wrestling legend Dan Gable, was inducted into the FILA Hall of Fame.
I want to wish my brother, Aaron, an early happy birthday. He turns 40 on Sunday. Aaron was a state qualifier back in the day, and he has stayed involved with the sport as an official.
Aug. 4, early edition
LONDON – The Olympic Games provide more than their fair share of memorable moments.
But there also is the other side of it with the heartbreak that occurs when an athlete falls short of their dream.
I witnessed that first-hand at the boxing venue when three-time Olympian and World champion Raushee Warren of the U.S. dropped his bout Friday night against a fighter from France.
The lightning-quick Warren, fighting in the flyweight division, came out strong to win the first round. But he dropped the next two rounds against a scrappy, hard-nosed opponent and ended up losing by one point.
I’ve met Raushee and followed his career, and it was tough to see his Olympic dream end that way.
I sat in the press tribune and had the chance to see past Olympic champion and World champion Evander Holyfield, who was seated directly in front of us.
I had an opportunity to offer my perspectives on the Olympics during an audio interview I did on Skype with Takedown Radio’s Scott Casber on Friday.
Click on our Olympics Special Section to listen to the interview I did with Scott.
It was great to see Dan Gable finally go into the International Hall of Fame on Friday night. It was a long overdue honor for the best wrestler, best coach and best ambassador the U.S. has ever had in this sport. He’s one of my all-time favorite people.
I want to offer a special thank you to photographer John Sachs of Tech Fall for his great work in London. John does an excellent job, and took some great photos of our press conferences and during the U.S. women's freestyle media day in France. I look forward to seeing his photos once the competition starts.
We are getting closer to go time! Spenser Mango and Ben Provisor are scheduled to weigh-in today and will take the mat as the eight-day wrestling competition starts on Sunday at the ExCel Center.
Go Team USA!
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!