Have been all around Göteborg this week, and wanted to talk a bit about what goes on behind the cameras.
Some surprise, out-of-competition drugs tests sprung on folks at odd hours (during breakfast, for example). Have gone to two different hotels this week, and surprised a soon-to-be medalist during breakfast. Took blood (the second time during a six-day period we:d done that, apparently) from this person, and headed to the next hotel with the same goal. Have been on the field during competitions, and have shadowed athletes like a hall monitor does when kids are supposed to get out of the corridors after the bell rings. Fun stuff, and only one athlete thus far has been rather cranky about the process. Most prestigious place? Mixed Zone where they get interviewed.
We take a blood sample on the out-of-competition tests, and if those tests show abnormalities, we take a urine test (which takes 8-9 days to get back from the lab in Norway).
Athlete warm-up area:
For those fans who truly want to get a close-up look at the stars and competitors of these games, this is the place to hang out. Not much one can do prior to the events, but afterward, the athletes walk from the back of the stadium down a small service road, and back to the warm-up track. It is there that autograph-seekers have hung out since Monday. It is well-guarded, but the scrutiny applied to credentials differs from one official checker to the next. I:ve used my credentials once to walk in off duty with an athlete with whom I was having a conversation, but foto taking was not allowed. Most of the fotos you have seen this week have been in this general area.
The most accomodating athlete in terms of autograph signing and picture taking both before and after their competition thus far has been Silnov. Second must go to Rybakov. Conversely, other Russians - even coaches - have held a long, straight arm out against any foto-taking or name signing.
Speaking of Russians: None of them have used any VIP status to get to the stadium by any means other than walking on their own two feet. Spotted Isinbayeva the other day as she walked down the service road well ahead of every one of her competitors, and snapped her foto. She tried being inconspicuous, but her drawn-down hat over her face gave her away. All of the Russians - after their events - have been ecstatic, elated and willing to pose with everyone. Prior to the competitions? Kotlyarova has been most unwilling to even crack a simple smile; she has stayed focused. Had a chance to talk to a prominent woman athlete on the Russian team for an extended period of time both on Monday, and again yesterday afternoon, and she provided me astounding info on the team. She competes in a high profile event, but knows absolutely zero about one of her main team competitors - a woman who has struck it big on the world scene; all she knows of this person is what she sees on tv. The exaggerated, the Russians seem to have one coach per athlete, and all of them continue to remain silent about their roles.
Apropos VIP status: Even Klüft has been seen jogging on the road between stadiums on her warm-ups and warm-downs, and I got a chance to snap a foto of Olsson last evening while he was walking up the service road presumably back to the hotel. The only Swede who has been iffy about any foto taking has been Jenny Kallur, who got a bit snippy when I approached her while she was playing with her mother:s dog yesterday.
Britons have been excellent so far. Every single one of them have been great to speak with, and have taken opportunities between races to pose for fotos. Rebecca Lyne was the only one who was most pressed for time, but even so, she took a foto before her Round 1 warmup. Chambers and Lewis-Francis have been two gold mines this Euro Champs. They have spoken much about everything, and seem genuinely interested in my being able to comprehend what they are saying on the magnitude to which they are saying.
The stadium atmosphere has been electric. There is a tie between the two best crowd-pleasing moments: when Klüft was presented the gold medal by Kronprincessen Victoria, and the national anthem was sung; and when Johan Wissman snuck up for the silver in an =PB, =NR in the 200m - our first sprint medal on the men:s side in 44 years. Athletes, themselves, have stated to me both during duty and privately, that the atmosphere here is inspiring; we know our stuff when it comes to who:s who, and can appreciate good performances and great duels.
Then there is the stadium:s history. Michael Johnson - who is attendance as a BBC reporter - was the first to win the 200m/400m double in a major championships. Kravets and Edwards set WR:s in the triple jump the last time we held any major event here (save Finnkampen).
Touched briefly on this above with the athletes. Most everyone is an arm-length:s distance from the regular folk, and this nearness to those elite athletes has inspired many a fan to continue having hope in this sport. So many kids have run wildly around the back of the stadium in search of an autograph - anyone:s autograph. Fans from specific countries have had their clothes signed by their national team members on the way to the warm-up track, and those types of memories for those kids will last a life-time.
Göteborgs-Posten has been prepared for this since 1995. More than 11 years of waiting has payed of for the newspaper. We are treated to so much information - overkill in some senses. Fans - no matter what language they speak - are provided stats and information - fotos - on the key players in this EC competion.
Spoke with both Lívia Tóth (9.31,50 steepler) and her trainer today while printing out select fotos from an Epson centre. Her trainer stated that all the Nordic countries have been exceptional, with Sweden topping the list in terms of living accomodations, spare time activities and quality of meetings. Tóth didn:t qualify for the steeple final after injuring herself near the line in qualifying.
Asked Silnov about Sweden, and he stated he really enjoys it here - and it had nothing to do with his having won the EC high jump medal.
Polis has been out in extra full force, but nothing about their presence is threatening. As a matter of fact, two of them posed with Ukrainian 1.500m athletes Tetyana Holovchenko and Nataliya Tobias today in a foto which had the cops on their knees, and the two 1.500m athletes jumping over the cops heads! I:ve talked to a few cops, and they are very happy to be here for the possible historic evening which is tonight (Bergqvist attempt at the WR). They are here from all over Sverige, and have become better colleagues as a result of the true teamwork involved with working with different (sometimes far away, like Malmö) districts.
They make this championship truly historic. I was outside the stadium when Obikwelu won the 200m final, and Wissman tied his newly-set 200m record (20,38) by placing 2:nd. The noice was deafening some 200m from the stadium.
Kids make up a great deal of the fans here. Athletes have been more than willing to ensure the kids have something by which to remember these games. Fans have clapped for - and cheered on - rivals to the Swedes, and embraced every athlete as their own. Great performance has been justly rewarded from the people paying the tickets to be a part of that atmosphere.
Finally, I:d like to point out that most things here have been consistent on all fronts (save the credential checks in the athlete warm-up area). Athletes have consistently been cooperative for the drugs tests. Fans have consistently cheered on with excitement. Transportation has run consistently and according to schedule - even the special spårvagn (street trolley) which only transports atheltes to - and from - the stadium. Athletes continue engaging the fans. And, the media has consistently kept us in the loop.
Just want to say thanks for sharing the experience with us EPelle.
I am not the least bit surprised that Sweden has done such a magnificent job.
It also gives one hope to hear how friendly and approachable the athletes are. Despite the problems in our sport it is full of exceptional people and there is a great deal of reason to remain optimistic about its future.
Keep the stories coming!
Last edited by mojo on Fri Aug 11, 2006 2:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"They make this championship truly historic. I was outside the stadium when Obikwelu won the 200m final, and Wissman tied his newly-set 200m record (20,38) by placing 2:nd. The noice was deafening some 200m from the stadium."
I was pleased for Wissman, but sorry for Obikwelu. A little like Dwight Phillips' sitch in Helsinki. In this case worse, because the photographers literally elbowed Obikwelu out of the way to get pictures of the Swede.
Have really enjoyed EC in general, tho today was a sad day for Sweden (WHJ). Especially have enjoyed sung national anthems--though the sopranos seem to have been picked as much for their beautiful blondness as for their voices, which may explain why 2 baritones balance 6 sopranos. A lot of work to memorize all those foreign texts! Especially nice was Baala's teary ceremony, with Raquil, still on his victory lap, joining him in weepily mouthing the "Marseillaise".
Another great moment (sad for you guys) was Hellebaut being the first to embrance Gevaert after the finish of the 200, the two of them wrapped in the Belgian flag.
Gothenburg was, in many ways, my favorite World Championships venue and I was looking forward to going back there for the Euros this year. Unfortunately, a conflicting obligation prevented that. And so I had mixed reactions to EPelle's post. Obviously, like everyone else (except maybe markhj :-) ), I very much apprecated his comprehensive inside report (as well as all the other stuff he's been posting). On the other hand, it made me feel even worse about not being there. It sounds as if it's been a wonderful week.
Thank you, EPelle, for taking the time to share all you have, even if it arouses jealously and nostalgia for some of us.
I think this Saturday's session being Epelle's favourite ever might have something to do with him getting his picture taken with Isinbayeva who was unreservedly nice and receptive after she had secured the gold.... Sorry for being the whistle blower, or rather bean spiller, Epelle
We:ll get to the action, rather than starting off with the plot -- thanks, man! :-)
Foto: EPelle Yelena Isinbayeva is, in my opinion, very generous with her time, and appreciates fan support - and interest in - not only her jumping, but the pole vault itself. Snapped some fotos of her in the mixed zone after the vault, and she stood in front of the reporters for 30 minutes answering questions in russian and english. This was after her tv interviews, and prior to her one-on-one tv special interview. Her smile was golden - not because she had added the trifecta (World, Olympic, Euro title) to her medal count, but because she put forth a good performance in a season of adjustments.
She, like one other Russian (Kotlyarova) during the week, avoided fan contact at nearly every venture.
Isinbayeva tried being inconspicous during her walk from the hotel to the warm-up track (500m around a bend and down the service road) prior to the prelims, having drawn down her Nike team hat over her face, and looking down at the ground. You guys got a couple snapshot views of her as she approached the w/u area. She avoided looking up in the tunnel between the warm-up track and the private area where athletes were escorted to the track via a 300m athlete-only service road.
However, once the final was contested, and she had given her all - for the fans, she stated in the interviews, she was relaxed, down-to-earth, and happy her competition was finally over.
Isinbayeva demonstrated a certain flair and grace in the Mixed Zone yesterday - one which is difficult to articulate without short-changing her. She was asked some tough questions, and she answered each one without hesitating - or thinking of a pc way to talk about her 1-year WR drought.
La Spigola Loca and I were waiting on Powell last evening, when we spotted a Russian team member walking back up the service road. Turned out to be Isinbayeva, and we made the not-so-mad dash over to get a foto with her. She actually stopped and signed a few autographs (for those same folks who had been out there since Monday). And, yes, some foto taking with Isinbayeva made my day.
Post script: I just watched Isinbayeva, Pyrek and Polnova receive their medals. Great demonstration of character on the stands by Ininbayeva. She took her arm around Pyrek, and smiled.
Isinbayeva was one who made this a great (understated) day. However, she was not the only one.
jla, the walking book of knowledge:
It:s not every day one can meet a walking encyclopedia. And it is not every day one has an opportunity to meet another board poster. Yesterday, La Spigola Loca, Powell and I had the chance to do both. These two guys - La Spigola and Powell - have more times and results (including wind readings for a heptathlon 100m hurdles!) in their heads than I could imagine. They met their match last evening when I noticed jla walking by and called out his name. It took him a second to respond, but he turned around. Introduced ourselves, and he seemed genuintely interested in not only speaking with us, but teaching us history of the sport, and providing some very keen behind-the-scene details and athletics accounts which, unfortunately, are not repeatable on a pubilc forum. As far as posters here: eldrick, watch out: you are known around the world. Squackee, you seemed to be his favourite! I kid you not, as he mentioned you, specifically as being one who brings life to the boards.
We spoke (rather, listened) for two hours (!) as jla discussed everything imaginable under the sun from his role here to Tyson Gay and Xavier Carter. He:s got a library of video which go back many, many a year.
When you love talking track, and can meet someone who not only knows track, but lives it, you tend to get awe-struck. That happened to me.
Foto: Epelle One of my favourite athletes. I love the way Pyrek fights - her drive is visible, and her determination continues lifting her to higher heights, a trading of national records and the medal stand. She seems to be both gracious on the field and off it.
Had a chance to talk to a soft-spoken Pyrek yesterday on two different occasions. She is one of the nicest people (the nicest follows below) I have ever met. She:s a personable athlete who takes time to give back to the sport (read fan appreciation).
Took several other fotos of Pyrek during the interview sessions, and also during the week as she was out and about. Some athletes (very, very few, actually) have been completely opposed to talking after their events (Feofanova was one yesterday). Pyrek not only talked, but was interested in getting the fotos I took of her.
Had her high on my list just as an athlete. This week:s conversations have raised her up even more on that "truly enjoy watching" list.
Foto: EPelle Ok, so this is my first really big chance ever to get close to the Russians. We:re not talking about foto taking, but conversational opportunities - some of them long and interesting.
Russian athletes have long been an interesting topic of conversation, and not only putting faces with names, but seeing first-hand the personalities behind those has been worth the week of star gazing as it may be.
Began the week with small talk with Tatyana Lebedeva. Took a foto with her. Next person I spoke with was a favourite on my top-athlete list who is still to remain nameless. Took a foto with her, and then had a long conversation with her another day on the way back to the hotel where the Russians are staying. Seems like I took fotos with many Russian athletes, most notably Insibayeva and Silnov, the men:s high jump champion (2,36m).
Keeping the boredom factor down for you guys, I:ll cut to the chase.
Larissa Kruglova, 4x100m anchor Foto: EPelle
Stopped the Russian women:s 4x100m team for a couple fotos yesterday, and then reached into my bag for a few fotos I had taken of them individually during the week - including one taken together with Irina Khabarova. Do you know what? They were so happy someone had taken a moment to provide them a small memory from this week. This sentiment was shared by other Russian athletes whom I had located and provided fotos.
Russia landed in Göteborg full force, with the athletic "machine" well-oiled, and all cylinders burning as they should. I had an opportunity to look under the hood, if you will, and see some of the small components not visible to the naked eye. And the athletes whom I have provided fotos have been so happy to see themselves on foto paper, and to take back with them those ordinary moments the regular photographers decide to skip during the week.
I gained a new appreciation and deeper respect for the Russian athletes - not due to their athletics prowess, but due to their humilty off the field. Winners and also-rans, also-competed:s were willing to stop, smile, talk and provide back to the average guy an opportunity not likely to be personally witnessed in the very near future.
Foto: EPelle How many times does one really have an opportunity to stop a true star, get a close-up look at their medal, and snap a foto of the proud gold medal winner? Well, don:t answer that, because it seemed to happen a lot this week.
Nevertheless, a national treasure turned international star (a couple GL wins, WJR champion, indoor euro champ, etc) stopped by to say hello. What more can I say about Sweden:s nicest athlete?
Foto: EPelle Yes, this athlete truly made my day yesterday for reasons far too many to list. I appreciate Olsson:s commitment to this sport, and his determination to be the best he possibly can. He helps raise the level of interest in his event.
Christian Olsson was unsure a few months back if he would ever return to the sport due to his injuries. He:d gotten surgery after surgery without any significant improvement to his injury. He:d rested. Seen specialists. Tried training. His body failed to respond.
Then something amazing happened this season: Olsson came back. He took a lump along the way by means of a defeat at DN Galan, but he kept his head up, increased his strength, and gave me goose bumps last evening when he put his two feet forward - one at a time, and won the European Championships in front of the biggest home crowd he will ever have in his competitive lifetime.
I think you:ll agree he had been sorely missed.
Day 6 of the 2006 European Championships goes down in my memory bank as the best-ever feel-good day for reasons too numerous, and too personal, to name. I was very happy to have been in the right place at the right time, and have the right people pass my way.
The athletes, fans, supporters, officials, and reporters have all made this a spectacular week of action, news and interesting stories. These will remain with me the rest of my life.
The let down has finally begun setting in... you know, like when you are holding off a cold until something important passes, then you get sick?
Ok, bad analogy, but I am experiencing athletics withdrawal syndrom!
Must have been something in the Scandic Hotel:s (a place at which I did not drugs test, so no non-disclosure rule here) water: The #1, #2 and #3 in an event previously stated above (perhaps including a foto) - athletes from two different countries - all stayed at that hotel :-) They (Scandic staff) had a tavla (what is the english word???) up for the athletes from their hotel who had won gold, silver and bronze medals. It was actually quite interesting to see that several of the competitors in a profile event listed above perhaps had dinner with each other during the week.
Spoke with Natalya Ivanova last evening. Think everything is glamourous in this life they lead? :-) Try the Russian team having flights at 04.15, 05.30 and 06.15 today. I believe she was mistaken, and meant that they were leaving at those times to get to the airport. In any case, I don:t think they were out too late last evening, though it was nearer to 23.00 when we spoke.