Thursday, August 14, 2008

Beijing 2008: False Start

The waiting is almost over and track and field competitions will finally begin at the Beijing Olympics in just few hours. We are already one week removed from the spectacular Opening Ceremony (what could London 2012 do to top that?!) but I still find myself going back to last Friday, not to relive the show, but because I can’t get over the absence of the world renowned Ethiopian athletes in the Parade of Nations.

Back on July 21, Voice of America’s Amharic Program aired an interview with Ato Takele Gebeyehu, the Ethiopian team leader for the Beijing Olympics. Ato Takele mentioned that he would be leaving for Beijing in two days (July 23) to make the “necessary preparation” for the anticipated arrival of the athletes. Ato Takele then is quoted by VOA to have stated that the entire Ethiopian delegation would arrive in Beijing by the end of Hamle (11th month on the Ethiopian Calendar). Well, the end of Hamle was August 6th, two days prior to the Opening Ceremony.

Things took a curious turn shortly thereafter when it was announced the Ethiopian team, following the lead of the Kenyan team, would postpone its departure for Beijing until
close to competition time. Reason given: Beijing will be very hot and this could force athletes to take lots of water that could lead to undesired weight gain."

Two questions immediately come to mind: 1- did the coaches just figure out the weather conditions in Beijing, and at the same time forgot to relay this new found strategy to their team leader? 2- Since when do we alter our training strategy based on some
off-the-cuff last minute decision made by Kenya? This is not exactly a move that would instill confidence in the Ethiopian coaches’ skills.

Few months ago there was mention of Ethiopian athletes setting up camp in South Korea for few weeks before the Olympics so that they can acclimate to the heat and humidity of Beijing. This has not happened and the team has instead camped at the Ghion Hotel in Addis Ababa with some training stint in Sodere and other warmer climate locals. However, it is very obvious now that there has apparently never been a long term and well thought out strategy put in place to prepare the athletes for Beijing. Otherwise we would never have seen this knee-jerk reaction by the Ethiopian coaches to Kenya’s decision.

The Ethiopian team appears to be at best disorganized and at worst completely distracted and in disarray. Haile Gebrselassie has
recently stated that the team’s training method is outdated by 20-30 years. We have been seeing reports of fighting, with fists and guns, among fellow athletes. This is hardly what any athlete needs during a run up to the Olympics, even the highly talented ones in Ethiopia who somehow manage to find success, on talent alone, and despite lack of coherent leadership.

Going back to the Opening Ceremony, all the reports I have read, from journalists and athletes alike, state that it was simply an unforgettable experience. It is a shame the Ethiopian athletes were not able to celebrate, with thousands of fellow Olympians from around the world, the signature moment of the Olympics. Below is some excerpt and links from athletes who took part in the Opening Ceremony:


5:15 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.—that’s the amount of time that we were at the opening ceremonies. Do I second-guess the decision to go? NO WAY!…contrary to what most think, we do not get to see the show before the parade of nations. We were put in the upper deck of an arena, and it was so hot. We may have been the best dressed, but we also lost about three pounds from sweating. But everyone was in the same boat. It was a little sad that we did not get to see the show because of the rave reviews, but I have it recorded and that would not have replaced walking out into that stadium…The rest of the night was realizing that I fulfilled my dream. At times it almost brought tears to my eyes, and for some it did. I was seriously acting like a little kid in the candy store running all over the place trying to get as much video and pictures as I could. I wanted to be able to keep this experience with me forever… more from Matt Tegenkamp

When we walked into the stadium I couldn’t believe it! It was so amazing and the stadium is HUGE!!! I can’t imagine racing there! I can’t wait. We had the option to leave after we walked around the track for early out, or you had to stay for the whole ceremony. I decided to stay and for a little while I was regretting it. I have never been more uncomfortable or hot in my life!!! I probably lost 10 pounds from sweat. I was really beginning to wish I had left and then they ran the flame in. The lighting of the torch was worth all of the sweat and tiredness and smelly-ness! I was so emotional! It was one of the top few experiences of my life. I started crying so hard. It was beautiful, with the torch bearer running around the very top of the stadium and then lighting the torch. I cried and cried. And then the men’s soccer team all came and gave me hugs! They said it was cool to see someone get so emotional about how happy they were to be there. It was so amazing! … more from Kara Goucher

Whew, talk about an initiation to the Olympic Games. All of the athletes that marched were troopers. We stuck it out together, sweated our hearts out to see and experience that Olympic moment, the one that hits your soul, your heart, our dreams coming true, no matter how drenched we were in our own sweat, knowing we were tough and we have all been through rigorous workouts. And all of the sudden, Kobe Byant, Carlos Boozer and all the NBA guys and gals that are high profile athletes, over the course of a few hours, became human, and celebrated with us, as people, not as these enormous icons, because they were toughin' it out like the rest of us, wanting to experience that same Olympic moment. It was incredible…The moment happened for me, that Olympic moment, that realization, deep down that it's here, and the Games are about to begin... This moment happened as the Olympic torch was on its last stretch, before the runner was hoisted up to the ceiling... and made the final lap to the torch. That was the moment I balled!! With excitement, all of a sudden the sweaty mess we were swimming in wasn't there. I couldn't feel the aches in my feet, just the torch, the stadium, the cheers and tears… more from April Steiner
Good luck Team Ethiopia. May your talent take you far!

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