Thanks for the memories

As I sit here in my flat at the University of Surrey, I’m struggling to wrap my head around the fact that today is really August 13.

For the past several months all I could think about was London: what I was going to pack, where I wanted to visit, and what types of stories I was hoping to pursue. Now, though, it’s over and in just two hours I’ll be turning in my key, hopping on a plane and flying out of the UK for what could very well be the last time.

Scott Hutchinson and Chris Longo take in track and field action at the Olympic Stadium.

Fortunately, I’ll have some incredible memories to take back with me.

We had our ups and downs out here in London, sure, but it’s the ups that I’m always going to remember:

Interviewing NBA superstars. “USA” chants at Olympic Stadium. Wetherspoon’s. Turning 15 strangers into 15 friends.

I could sit here all day and list the issues we encountered, the plans that could have run smoother and the mistakes we made along the way, but when I’m 90 years old reflecting on this trip, those things won’t even cross my mind.

Instead, I’ll be thinking about Trafalgar Square at the opening ceremonies, the late night train rides back to Guildford, and the awesome people I was lucky enough to enjoy this amazing experience with.

Thanks for the memories, everyone.

Handball hoopla: Popular Olympic sport hasn’t yet reached States, but Americans want it

Despite the lack of a handball team from the U.S. playing in the London Olympics, dozens of Americans lined the stands Wednesday in the Copper Box of Olympic Park to watch the game.

As the women of Brazil and Norway battled it out on the court for a spot in the semifinals, American flags waved proudly in the stands.

“We have never seen handball before except for when we watched it on TV, and then we came out here, and it is unbelievably exciting,” said Tori Anthony of California. “We were so in it, and we didn’t know any of the teams or any of the people, but the comeback was awesome.”

Handball resembles a mix of soccer, basketball and water polo. Finding a handball team in the U.S. can be difficult.

“We are a huge water polo family, and a lot of us coach handball, so a lot of us are going to start using it as a cross training because it is very similar,” said Jessie Cima from California, who added that handball wasn’t originally on her family’s agenda when they decided to come to the Olympics.

“It was one of those things that we wanted to see because it is so similar to water polo,” she said. “And it just kind of worked out that we could come here to watch handball and then go see water polo.”

According to the Olympic website, the game was developed in Germany, Sweden and Denmark throughout the 19th century. The game made its first appearance at the Olympics in Berlin in 1936, but for women, it did not appear until Montreal in 1976.

Anthony and Cima said they want to figure out a way to get handball better recognized once they are back on U.S. soil.

“We were in Germany last week watching it on TV, and we got really excited about it,” Cima said. “But watching it live is a lot different. It’s awesome, and I want it to come to America and for it to be this big just because it is so exciting. It’s fast, and it’s entertaining.”

Anthony said she doesn’t want to wait another four years to see the game played again, and she said she hopes it will gain popularity fast in the U.S.

“We are all talking about how we can get it bigger in America because it is so fun,” Cima said.

Texas-native Roy Blatis, who found his tickets online to the handball quarterfinals, said he also thinks the U.S. should have a handball team, and that it would be a great success because Americans are so athletic.

The London Lowdown: Episode III

Tim Dix and Scott Hutchinson are back for another installment of the London Lowdown podcast. Episode three features interviews with Olivia Arbogast and Kayla Hanley, who covered a U.S. men’s basketball team practice and U.S. women’s team practice, respectively. Tim and Scott discuss the highlight of the games so far as well as Tim’s experience at men’s table tennis.

The London Lowdown 3

U.S. prepares to take on Argentina after close-call game

After two practices off, the U.S. Men’s Basketball team will face Argentina at the Olympics tonight, one night after a close call against Lithuania.

“We are fine … everybody is fine,” Forward Carmelo Anthony said. “We talked about what we didn’t do yesterday; we talked about what we are going to do.”

Anthony added that the team is in a great place, and all they have to do is continue to make good plays to continue winning.

“It is crazy when you schedule us to play teams where we beat them by 20, 30 or 40 points,” he said. “When we have a close game like we did (Saturday), nobody knew … we had to win the game and make some plays … and LeBron (James) did come through to make some great plays to win the game.”

Guard James Harden said the game against Argentina will be a challenge for the team.

“Obviously they have a couple of NBA players – it is going to be a tough challenge for us,” he said. “But we’re up for it and looking forward to it. We played them in exhibition, so it is going to be a rematch.”

Harden added that U.S. is familiar with Argentina and their big names, so that gives them an advantage as well.

“They make big plays, so you just have to be ready for it,” he said.

Anthony Davis, who is the youngest player on the U.S. team, said that in situations like the Olympics, players have no time to get scared. They just have to play the game.

“You might be nervous before every game, but you can’t be scared,” he said. “I think we just have to keep working to keep working hard over here.”

Anthony said that they know how Argentina plays, but the U.S. will not play “dirty” like the South American team.

“We are going to try to slow the game up a little bit,” Anthony said. “We played them once before in Barcelona. It was a sticky game – it was a dirty game. You know, that is what they like to do – play dirty. We like to play dirty; it is just a matter of who they let get away with it.”

He added that Argentina is one of the best teams, and that they will challenge the U.S. when it all comes down to the end.

“It’s not a revenge thing,” he said. “There is a little bit of a rivalry though. We always say it is going to be a good game when we match up with them, so we are looking forward to it.”

Harden said the team will do what it takes to win because in the end. That is what they travelled here for.

“No matter who we play, we are trying to win,” he said. “We are going to do whatever it takes to win – just not Argentina, but every other team. They are a very good team, but I think that we can get it done and play our game.”

Phelps all smiles as retirement looms for most-decorated Olympian ever

Another gold for Michael Phelps – a phrase that has become commonplace, and even cliché, throughout the past 12 years of his career. It is also a phrase Olympic swimming may never hear again.

The most decorated Olympian in the history of the Games retired after his final race on Saturday, the 4×100-meter relay, in which the U.S. claimed yet another gold medal. For Phelps, it was his 23rd medal and 18th gold.

“I couldn’t ask to finish on a better note than I did,” Phelps said. “I don’t think everything has really hit in or struck me yet with what happened, but I am sure the next couple of days things will really start to settle in.”

He added that he just gave in while he was standing on the podium for the last time receiving his gold medal, and he “just let it go.”

Michael Phelps celebrates his last gold with a final post-gold medal press conference.
Swimmer Michael Phelps said he couldn’t have imagined ending his Olympic career on any better of a high note, winning his 18th gold medal this past Saturday, August 4.
Photo by Jacob Corrigan.
Click the picture to see the slideshow for the press conference.

“I thought that this could be pretty brutal, and (the tears) just started coming,” he said. “I tried to fight it, but I just decided to just let it go and whatever happened, happened. And I was just taking in the last couple moments and memories of my swim career.”

The 27-year-old could easily continue swimming and compete in the Rio Games in 2016, but he said he has hit his age limit.

“I have always said to myself that I would never swim after the age of 30, and I want to be done before I hit the age of 30,” he said. “It’s just something I have always said throughout my career, and I have been fortunate to look back at my career and say that I have been able to accomplish every goal that I have ever wanted to.”

Phelps started his Olympic career 12 years ago in Sydney with the 200-meter backstroke that helped him win his first medal. Back then, he was a 15-year old with a ton of energy. Now he wants to enjoy traveling a little bit and avoid the rigorous training that swimming demands.

“I have seen so many great places in the world, but I have never really gotten to experience them,” he said. He wants to travel throughout Europe, Australia and Africa, even go cage diving with the Great White Shark in South Africa.

Phelps also said he wants to work on his foundation and help promote a healthier lifestyle to the younger generation.

As the most-decorated Olympian of all time, Phelps said he is ready to pass the torch on to the younger swimmers on the U.S. team.

“I am ready to be done; I am ready to retire and move onto new things,” he said. “This is one of our best Olympic teams we’ve ever had. We have a lot of rookies on our team and a lot of younger swimmers. They have sort of been able to take over the leadership role of sort of passing the torch to them. It’s pretty special.”

Going for gold

Part of the Scripps London team explored the Main Press Centre on Saturday, where they attended press conferences with the USA BMX team as well as Olympic gold medalists Jamie Gray, Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin.

Phelps goes for gold in his last Olympic press conference

Michael Phelps won his 18th gold medal (22nd medal overall) on Saturday, Aug. 4. He visited the Media Press Centre to discuss what his plans are after the Olympics, how it felt to win the gold and if he really plans on staying retired.

 

“The beauty of us women”

When I woke up yesterday morning, I didn’t realize the opportunity that awaited me. I did not comprehend who I would be meeting that day and where I was headed. When I was assigned and granted access to cover the USA Women’s basketball practice for Aug. 4, I was extremely excited, but it still had not hit me yet.

We trucked from Guilford all the way to East London University; it took about an hour and 20 minutes. London is so huge! But the train system is actually a very efficient way to travel. Once we walked into the media press waiting room, we were surrounded by journalists — some from NBC London and even some from New York City. It was a little unreal that I was about be a junior in college and there I was, preparing to come face-to-face with an Olympian. Women that I have idolized since I was a young basketball player.

As Kayla, Jillian and I made our way to the gymnasium, I began to feel nervousness take over my body. We waited in the waiting area for the women to finish practicing. I was blown away when we entered the gym. It was all themed USA, and it was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. I saw all the journalists were getting out their equipment and begin to approach the ladies. I instantly felt like I was wasting time being star struck by all the tall, athletic women. When I saw Candace Parker and Maya Moore, I was blown away. I have watched these women throughout their careers and use to pray every night that I’d wake up and be 6’6″ and get a call from a Tennessee or UConn, begging me to join the team. Obviously, that never happened, but I was as close to that dream as I have ever been when I saw them standing there.

I finally approached a player, Sylvia Fowles, a 6’6″ center for the U.S. team. She was sitting down when I approached her so it wasn’t as intimidating. Before I could even spurt out my first name she says, “Hey girl, pop a squat!” She pulled a chair closer to hair and motions for me to sit. Her warm voice and welcoming smile really made all my nervousness melt away. I began the interview with laughs and a brief introduction of myself. Her story was amazing. She didn’t even want to be a basketball superstar; she wanted to be like the women in her family and run track. To read more about our interview and her story go check out my story at www.scrippslondon2012.com! She talked about “the beauty of a woman” and how it pays to be humble and respectful as a basketball player. They are dominating the olympic games, but they will not be celebrating until they have the title and their 5th gold. She was exceptional, as a player and especially as a human being. Speaking with her was such a pleasure, I appreciate how wonderful she was. I felt like I knew her for years after our interview.

After Sylvia helped me shake off my nerves, I was ready to get another interview. I really thought about trying to approach Geno, but as soon as that thought crossed my mind, there she came. Diana Taurasi. I had only seen her on TV, and I had always wondered how we would match up in real life. She was obviously taller, standing at 6 foot and at least 30 pounds heavier than I was, but her body consisted of only lean muscle. She was built just like a basketball player should be. I knew it was now or never. Kayla sort of gave me a shove and said, “What are you doing?! Get over there!” So I did. I approached my childhood hero and began to introduce myself. I probably sounded so stupid but I began to remember the mellow, happy feelings I got when I talked to Sylvia. I tried to pretend it was the same thing. Diana didn’t make me feel as at home, but she was very sweet and willing to speak with me. She shook my hand with a smile and we began. I asked her numerous things and told her I was a huge fan and that I had been forever. I remember watching her dominate the game when she was at UConn. She is making her third appearance at the Olympics, and you could tell she was prepared mentally and physically, yet again. She gave me some great quotes, my favorites were what she said about her opponents. She said basketball was all about respect, win or lose. I couldn’t have agreed more. Basketball is about so much more than just winning or losing, I have learned this throughout my own time spent playing the game. I admired how real Diana was. She said it is great to have Geno as her coach, since he was previously at UConn as well. Finally, I wrapped up the interview and thanked her profusely. Then as soon as I moved out of the way another herd of journalists took my place and she began the process again.

I kept telling everyone that I was never washing my hand again … excessive I know.

Then I saw Debbie Antonelli there! I introduced myself as the fellow Bobcat who had been hounding her on the phone to meet up in London. She remembered me and gave me a big hug. I was really excited when she introduced me to some of her colleagues and proceeded to ask when we could meet this week. I told her anytime, any place, I will be there! She was very sweet. I really want to just pick her brain and learn about her journey to where she is in her career now. There is so much you could learn from a women like Debbie. The whole USA basketball team ran up to her and hugged her. How many journalists can say that? I will be looking forward to meeting with her this week!

This was probably the highlight of my trip so far. Some journalists work their entire career to be able to go to the olympics and interview athletes, I already have. It was an experience I would not have traded for the world. Yesterday “my balls” officially dropped. I know what I want to do for the rest of my life. This trip has really made me realize my potential as a journalist. It’s all I want to do.

Olympic travel commotion calmer than previously projected

Months of planning have paid off for London as the city expected hours of travel delay with the surplus of visitors for the Olympics, and residents are seeing very little delay.

According to the Transport for London website, it is estimated that 12 million people use the London public transportation per day, with an additional one million during the Games.

“It is estimated that 80 percent of spectators attending the Greater London venues will travel by rail, including the Tube,” said a TFL spokesperson. “On a network of this size and scale, issues will arise, but we are confident that we will get everyone to and from their Games events and keep London moving.”

In fact, many companies have told their employees not to even bother coming into the city to work during the week – telling them to opt to work from home instead until the Games are over, said Susannah Kyte, a tour guide of Proscenium Tours.

“If it (is) possible for people to work from home, then they have been encouraged to do so,” she said. “And it seems to be working because there is no one in London now.”

Kyte added that people are making such an effort to avoid all traffic in London that numbers are actually below what the city projected for public transportation usage.

Some people have opted for more extreme measures to avoid the mayhem from the Olympics.

“I used to work in Central London until December last year, and one of the reasons I left my job (is that) I just didn’t want to commute into London during the Olympics,” said Susannah Salling of Dorking. “So I just changed jobs and moved right down the road.”

Salling, whose husband works from home, said that the travel around her house hasn’t been bad, but that it was backed up for a few days when the city was making repairs to the road for the men’s cycling road race.

“There have been so many temporary traffic lights, which has sort of slowed down the traffic, and you get sort of stuck in traffic on your way to work and from work and that,” she said. The road were completely shut down on July 26 because of a course test run.

“It hasn’t been too bad because the cyclists go on weekends,” Salling said. “But with millions of extra people in London, I couldn’t bear the thought of travelling into the city – so I really can’t complain.”

But other Londoners have not seen any difference in their commutes, such as Richard Martinez, who is a manager at YO! Sushi near Waterloo Station. His general commute to work has probably been extended by perhaps an extra 20 to 30 minutes.

“It’s not necessarily because it’s busier, but it’s because of the way that they changed the exits and entrances – it adds another 10 or 15 minutes of walking time,” he said.

The city of London created a website to help those living in the area “Get Ahead of the Games” by offering interactive maps with suggested times of travel and alternate routes to take.

Travelers can expect trains to run later than usual for the Games, up to 1 a.m., according to the website. In addition, the website also offers advice to business owners about deliveries, customers and getting their employees into the city.

“We were all advised from our head office which days were going to be the busiest days and which events were going to take place near our places of work,” Martinez said. “We were given advice to go to the government website for transport so we can plan our journeys to work and make sure that we are going to work on time.”

 

The world is watching

It is the second full day of the Olympics, and I must say I love every minute of it. It is amazing how this event has literally brought the whole world together. Everyone is watching.

According to BBC, there were more than 27 million viewers in the United Kingdom watching the Opening Ceremonies, and according to NBC, there were more than 40.7 million viewers in the United States.

A Brazil super fan interviews with a Spanish television station. The Jesus figure on his head has a 2014 sash on it, representing the country’s hope for a World Cup win then.

Since the first day that we got here one week ago, it has been amazing to see how all of the different cultures have come together and blended for this competition. It is a time for everyone to set aside any differences that they have may for the love of the Games.

When we went to Olympic Park on the day of Opening Ceremonies, it was astonishing to see how many people were there. There were so many people from different walks of life. I actually did not see very many Americans present, maybe a handful, but I might have been looking right at them.

There were super fans from Mexico, Venezuela, Iran, Holland, Canada and one particular guy from Great Britain who was getting all the television interviews. There were news stations from all over the world as well, with hundreds of different languages flying in every direction. I wish I could say that I understood more of them, but aside from a few words of French that I could pick up, there wasn’t much that I could comprehend. I must admit that I have been living in somewhat of a bubble in Northeast Ohio, and then again in Athens. Besides Canada, I have not ventured outside of the U.S., so coming over here was a big culture shock for me.

This super fan from Great Britain was a favorite before Opening Ceremonies. He was the subject of many photo opportunities and television interviews.

I think that I am still trying to get over some of the fashion trends (or figure them out just in general), and I really don’t understand some of the foods (still can’t get over the not-free refills). Adding hundreds of other countries to the mix for this event – talk about a completely different experience.

The point I’m trying to get at is we all live in our own little worlds, and it’s very easy to get caught up in them, especially since the United States can be so isolated from the rest of the world (location-wise). An event like this is something indescribable, and it shows you that there is so much more out there and just how united a world can become through the love of a common denominator – sports.

That is a powerful thing.