Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On location in London #5

I'm covering the 2012 Summer Olympic Games from July 27 through Aug. 12 in London for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

Olympic coach, new daddy
What would we do without Skype?
U.S. Virgin Islands track and field coach Charles Golphin and his wife, Trudi, welcomed the birth of their first child Wednesday night. Only problem was Golphin was in London for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games and his wife was back on St. Croix.
“I waited as long as I could and just flew over on August 1 because our women sprinters were racing the next day,” Charles Golphin said. “My mother and I were both born in July and we were hoping for another one but I guess it didn't work out.”
Weighing in at 7.5 pounds and measuring 19.5 inches, a healthy Charles Golphin III came into the world at 9:45 p.m. on Wednesday and the cameras were rolling.
“Oh man, I was up until about 6 a.m. on Skype,” Charles Golphin said.
Trudi Golphin, who has served as a USVI team leader for previous international competitions, is doing well and passed on her congratulations to the USVI athletes at the Games.
“We talked about this six months ago,” Charles Golphin said. “I didn't want to leave the Olympic Committee in limbo and she really encouraged me to go. If it was a girl, we were going to name her Olympia.”
Charles Golphin returns home to his new family on Sunday.
USVI Paralympic athlete visits London
Lee Frawley is the first-ever Paralymic athlete from the USVI and she got a sneak preview of the equestrian venue for the 2012 Paralympic Games when she caught up with the USVI Olympic contingent in London on Wednesday.
Frawley, an English resident, will compete in several equestrian events at the Paralympic Games, which will run from Aug. 29 through Sept. 9 in London.
“There seems to be a lot of walking in this city and it's much bigger than I imagined,” Frawley said. “I know there won't be as many athletes for the Paralympics but the scale is just incredible.”
Frawley will compete in a freestyle event where she will ride her horse, Rhapsody, in a choreographed performance to music. She played the selected song – a Caribbean steel band drum song – for USVI Olympic Committee president Hans Lawaetz from her cell phone during the visit.
“They loved the island music,” she said. “I think they definitely approved.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On location in London #4

I'm covering the 2012 Summer Olympic Games from July 27 through Aug. 12 in London for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

No guns, plenty of security

Unlike the Pan American Games last October in Guadalajara, Mexico where security guards dressed in all black and walked around with high-powered machine guns, the security in London has been highly effective without the fire power.

Before the Games, there was a lot of attention on the lack of overall security and Olympic organizers summoned a few thousand military men from England to help out. They dress in camouflage fatigues while the normal London security and police forces have their own special threads.

Checking into any sports event is similar to a security check at a U.S. airport sans the show removal. The cops, security guards and military men have a constant presence in the crowd and when empty seats were visible in the early part of the Games, they turned into spectators but still kept a constant eye on the crowds.

From what I've heard from athletes, coaches and delegation officials, they all feel very safe in and around London. There have been very few – if any – security gaffes.

That was before they met me.

During the first day of track and field, I mistakenly brought a backpack and a camera bag for the full day of action. I arrived early and left my backpack in the front row of the media tribune. Then I took my camera bag and grabbed a spot near the finish line.

When I returned to my backpack hours later, two security guards grabbed me and immediately got on the radio. I'm not sure what they exactly said into the walkie talkie but it sounded like, “threat neutralized, all is well.”

Then I got a stern lecture from the men. Apparently, they took the location and random placement of my black Olympic backpack in the front row as highly suspicious. They had carefully watched it for hours, they said.

Highly embarrassed and on deadline, I apologized profusely and tried my best to get out of there quickly. Instead, they had to have a look inside.

What they thought would be a WMD turned out to be a English ham sandwich, two oranges and a folded map of the London tube trains.

“OK, you're good,” they said and patted me on the shoulder. “Cheers, mate.”

BMW capitalizes on laziness

As the eyes of the world are on London, every company out there wants to get their name involved.

BMW provided three electronic Mini MINIs to the 2012 Olympic Games. The company supplied a fleet of electronic cars for broadcasters and operational support staff to use during the games but the Mini MINIs have a far more important task.

Each Mini MINI is a 1/4 scale replica of a MINI Cooper hatchback. Picture an small electronic car with a remote control. I received a similar gift from Santa when I was nine years old.

The Mini MINIs are powered by a 10-horsepower electric motor with 35 minutes of usage time per battery pack. Grass tires, heavy duty shocks and vented disc brakes are also thrown in. They are designed to shuttle track and field projectiles like javelins, hammers, shot put and discuses back to competing athletes, saving field judges valuable time from walking back to the throwing area.

Each are expected to cover more than 30 miles of hard labor during the Games. In 2016, they are expected to compete in the marathon.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

On location in London #3

I'm covering the 2012 Summer Olympic Games from July 27 through Aug. 12 in London for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

Coming up short at Wembley

I was with my friend Scott Hensley, a former USVI swimmer, on Wednesday and we decided to make a quick trip out to historic Wembley Stadium for a football – eh, American soccer match – between South Korea and Gabon.

Where is Gabon? Great question. I still don't really know because we spent most of the afternoon trying to explain to other spectators where the USVI is located.

Scott's friend with their tickets was running late on the tube so we wanted to grab an adult beverage and wait for the beginning of the match. The only place open for miles around was the T.G.I. Friday's across the street.

I am embarrassed to say this but yes, we went inside.

The match started and we asked the bartender to turn on the television so we could at least watch the action. No go, the bartender said. They were not allowed to turn off the U.S. corporate restaurant jargon that ran on a continuous loop. They didn't even have a cable hook-up, he said.

“You're trying to tell me that we're in the shadows of Wembley Stadium, one of the most prolific sports venues in the world, and we can't watch any sports?” Scott asked.

He wanted to leave immediately. I figured we could walk outside and at least listen to the roar of the 90,000 people who had packed the stadium to watch the Gabonese. Or was it the Gabonites? Gabalonians?

The match ended in a uneventful 0-0 draw and we didn't even get a chance to order their world-famous potato skins. For shame.

Lawaetz soaking up his final Games

U.S. Virgin Islands Olympic Committee president Hans Lawaetz and I spoke briefly on the phone on Thursday. Strangely enough, we have not crossed paths in London yet.

“Where are you?” he asked. “Russia?”

While I have been hiding out with the Ruskies, Lawaetz has been on an Olympic farewell tour. The long-time USVIOC president announced he will not seek re-election in September so the 2012 Summer Olympics will be his seventh and final Games after more than 40 years of service.

But just like he did in Guadalajara, Mexico for the 2011 Pan American Games – and countless other international events I can only assume – Lawaetz has been on the move.

Aside from showing his unwavering support for the USVI athletes, Lawaetz has already seen tennis star Roger Federer in action and visited with St. Thomas native Megan Hodge and the U.S. women's volleyball team when it took on Brazil.

He also made the 3 1/2-hour drive to Weymouth to support the USVI sailors on Wednesday and put in a stint at the equestrian event on Thursday.

What was on tap for Thursday night?

“Michael Phelps, of course,” said Lawaetz, was the first president of the USVI Swimming Federation. “Track and field starts tomorrow. You better be ready.”

At first, I thought the 75-year-old Crucian was challenging me to a race. I've been training with the Russians so I'm ready for you.

Bring it on, Hans.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

On location in London #2

I'm covering the 2012 Summer Olympic Games from July 27 through Aug. 12 in London for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

What empty seats?

Photographers at the Olympics have kept their heads on a swivel the last two days. After they shoot the action on the court or in the pool, they immediately turn around and shoot the crowds taking in all the action.

Since when have the spectators at sporting events, or lack of, received more attention than the actual athletes? Seems like a streaker's dream.

Two days after the British media exploded with criticism over empty seats at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games – one local newspaper had the lead headline, “Empty Seat Saga Continues” – major sport venues like volleyball and swimming were just about at capacity on Tuesday. I dropped in on both and I thought the British fans came out in numbers.

Olympic organizers said Tuesday that a combined 2.1 million people have attended events in the first three full days of competition. They said 86 percent of ticket holders showed up Saturday, 92 percent Sunday and 88 percent Monday.

I think the local media just needs something else to talk about. As of Tuesday afternoon, the host country had won just four medals – no gold – which is only one more medal than Kazakhstan, which has tasted gold three times already.

Homer goes global

Facebook, Twitter and a plethora of other social media networks have been ablaze since athletes from around the globe arrived in London.

Just like in the States, the people of Europe have also become addicted to their cell phones along with the boundless wonders and incredible roaming charges they provide.

One athlete who has had a strong web presence even before he started his 2012 Olympic campaign is New York City resident Daryl Homer, a men's sabre fencer, who was born on St. Thomas. Check out his Facebook page – he already has more than 5,000 fans.

With such a global connection to other fencers in tact, pictures of newspaper coverage from around the world have flooded into him – via Twitter – over the last 48 hours.

On Sunday, Homer made U.S. fencing history when he advanced to the quarterfinals and finished sixth overall in the men's individual sabre event. Along the way, Homer beat Russia's Aleksei Yakimenko, a three-time consecutive European champion, who entered the Olympics with a No. 2 world ranking.

“I grew up idolizing him,” Homer said. “He’s a great fencer and a very nice person. I think he’s the best fencer in the world right now.”

It was the best finish for a U.S. men's sabre fencer since World War II. They didn't have Facebook back then so I've decided to send him an old-fashioned congratulatory letter through the mail.

Liquid Sunshine

On my way to see U.S. Virgin Islands swimmer Branden Whitehurst compete on a soggy Tuesday morning, I missed the first media bus and had to sit and wait for the next one with a few of the Olympic volunteers at the media bus stop.

Since I arrived, they have been very helpful and have always had a smile on their face. Even when the weather has not cooperated.

“Do you like our liquid sunshine?” one of the happy volunteers asked me as we huddled under a small umbrella during a brief rain shower.

“Oh, it's quite lovely,” I answered in my best British accent.

Before my visit to London, the only 'Liquid Sunshine' I had previously enjoyed was consumed at the Tap Room on St. John. Sunshine in London has been a rarity so far and guess who forgot to pack an umbrella?