Friday, November 4, 2011

Guadalajara Glory Days #8

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.

Security at the Games

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Gaudy M-16 machine guns don't seem to deter computer hackers.

There's no question the Mexican federal police force stepped up its presence in and around Guadalajara during the 2011 Pan American Games. At almost every corner, the policemen were dressed in dark blue commando outfits and carried huge guns I've only seen before in video games.

Early on during my stay, I had to snag a picture of one cop who held a massive gun in one hand and checked the text messages on his cell phone with the other.

But these intimidating figures apparently have little sway when it comes to computer security at the Games.

The Globe and Mail out of Canada reported Monday that an anonymous tipster alerted reporters via email that personal information about the media – full name, date of birth and the first five digits of his or her passport – was accessible through the Pan Am Games website.

There are more than 1,400 journalists covering the Games as 21 accredited Canadian journalists received the email, along with reporters and photographers from The Associated Press and Reuters. I'm happy to report the V.I. Daily News was spared during this fearful campaign.

The Guadalajara 2011 Organizing Committee (COPAG) later released a statement denying any illegal access to the website took place. But the fear still remained.

“I'm just going to work from my hotel for now on,” said German, an Argentinian writer I met at the main press center, who had interviewed me earlier about where exactly the U.S. Virgin Islands were located.

“I'm not so sure that will preserve the safety of your online information,” I told him. “Those police officers with the big guns can find you anywhere.”

Maybe the sarcasm did not translate, because German quickly became annoyed, rolled his eyes at me and left the press room.

WAPA troubles in Mexico

It was the emptiest open bar I had ever seen. Bartenders with their arms crossed and nothing to mix up. Bottles of water everywhere.

I guess that's what happens when international athletes get together for a little dancing and fun.

A local club in Guadalajara sponsored a “Athletes' Village night” on Tuesday where Pan American Games athletes could drink for free. I won't mention any names, but the USVI was well represented. The territory's best athletes – and a certain sports writer – owned the dance floor and we felt right at home when all of a sudden, the music stopped and room went dark.

“Someone didn't pay their WAPA bill,” I yelled out. No one really laughed but I got a few snickers from the USVI contingent.

Cornell University reunion

USVI track coach Nathan Taylor grew up on St. Thomas and graduated from All Saints Cathedral. He represented the territory as a track athlete when he lived on St. Croix in the 1980's and has been a college track coach for 24 years – the last 12 at Cornell University.

Strangely enough, Taylor was not familiar with the fictional character Andy Bernard from “The Office,” who boasts his complete allegiance to Cornell.

“Never heard of him,” Taylor said. “Is he a dweeb? We have a lot of them up there.”

Along the way, Taylor has coached over a dozen college athletes who had ties to the USVI. One of his Cornell products was Mohammad Halim, who is not a dweeb and competed for the USVI in the triple jump at the Pan American Games.

“For me, this was a great experience because Mohammad is a special athlete,” Taylor said. “I've known that ever since I met him when he was 17 years old. It's been a pleasure to coach him at Cornell and at the international level.”

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