Friday, October 21, 2011

Guadalajara Glory Days #3

I'm covering the Pan American Games from Oct. 13 through 31 in Guadalajara, Mexico for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

Patching things up

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – A long-time Olympic tradition is the swapping of national pins between athletes and coaches. It reminds me of high school when all the popular kids had the most signatures in their yearbook.

U.S. Virgin Islands taekwondo coach Eugene Phipps doesn't play the 'pins' game. But he still likes to leave his mark when he travels to different locations for international competitions. Phipps is a lieutenant volunteer with the St. Croix Rescue Squad and never leaves home without a commemorative patch.

“I've been there for a few years and every time I visit another country, I try to visit the local fire station and see what they have,” Phipps said Tuesday. “It's good to see how they do things differently. It's a rescue firefighting tradition to trade patches.”

He met a rescue responder at the Pan American Games opening ceremony on Friday but he didn't have time to unpack his bags and his priorities were not in order. Marching around a stadium with over 60,000 cheering fans will do that to you sometimes.

“I didn't know I would actually see firefighters there,” said Phipps, who is a full-time volunteer, is on-call 24 hours a day and helps teach and form local task force units on St. Croix.

Between training USVI taekwondo fighter Jahmar Jean-Marie and watching other events, Phipps was not able to visit the Guadalajara Fire Station during his stay. But he gave a St. Croix patch to one of the Mexican volunteers helping the USVI contingent and will hope for a envelope postmarked from Guadalajara in the very near future.

Team USA off to a fast start

During the opening ceremonies last Friday, it was obvious the United States and Brazil had many athletes in Guadalajara. But it's the Mexicans who understandably have the largest contingent with 617 athletes competing in 344 competitions.

Quantity hasn't added up to quality though.

At the beginning of competition on Wednesday, Team USA had racked up 46 medals, including 18 gold medals. Brazil and the host country were tied at 22 each and were a distant second to the Americans.

The U.S. has made a big splash in the swimming pool as it has already collected eight gold, eight silver and four bronze medals. The aquatics competition ends Friday.

“I think the U.S. sends it's 'C team' to the Pan Am Games because their best swimmers are already focused on the Olympics,” USVI swimmer Branden Whitehurst said.

Doping with Mexican beef

Before my trip to Guadalajara, I was told by many to stay away from the street vendors who sold beef on the corners. I guess the main fear was that I may get ill from the food. But if I were an athlete – many people here have already asked me which sport I'm competing in – another huge risk is attached to eating those delicious beef kabobs and tacos.

Canadian and U.S. athletes have both been warned to stay away from the beef because of a certain drug Mexican farmers inject into their cattle. The drug causes no real physical harm but it shows up on the radar of the World Anti-Doping Agency and could mean disqualification. Even the fine-dining restaurants in Guadalajara can't guarantee the meat they serve does not have the steroid clenbuterol.

Clenbuterol is used to reduce fat and increase lean meat in cattle, a process that is outlawed in Mexico but continues to occur. Five Mexican soccer players tested positive for it a few months ago, and it is the same drug that pushed 2010 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador right into a doping scandal.

If everyone just eats at the cafeteria in the athletes village, they should be fine. They don't serve anti-doping Johnny Cakes there but I think our USVI athletes will survive.

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