LONDON – When you’re an Olympic athlete engaging in the biggest moment of your career that you’ve been working towards your entire life, where do you go to let loose? For some American athletes, it is the Team USA house. Thanks to fellow Bobcat, Christa Mann, who is the Communications Coordinator for the United States Olympic Committee, the Scripps London team got the chance to tour the house and see where some of the athletes and their families hangout.
Sheryle Miller, Coordinator of Meeting and Event Services at the house, said that it took seven days to transform the Royal College of Art into the Team USA house. The retreat spot is private and available only for Olympians both past and present (because once an Olympian, always an Olympian), families of the athletes and sponsors and partners of the team.
At the Team USA house, all of these approved people are able to relax, grab a bite to eat and watch some of the Olympic action. Athletes and their company are provided the same catering service that the royal family uses as well as an outdoor Budweiser Deck equipped with comfortable couches and two weatherproof televisions. Any guest is also able to check out a laptop to surf the web or a bicycle to enjoy a stroll through one of London’s royal parks. Team USA house serves as the ideal chill spot for an Olympian trying to relieve some stress.
What better way is there to relax then to go shopping? In the house is the two-story, official Team USA shop. This is the only venue in the United Kingdom where the official team gear is sold. Customers have their choice ranging from $28 Team USA t-shirts to $250 Ralph-Lauren polos to the $450 jackets that the athletes wear during competition. The shop is open to everyone with access to the rest of the house as well as all United States citizens. How much money do the athletes spend in the shop for team gear?
“The athletes get one of everything in the store,” said Peter Zeytoonjian, Managing Director of Consumer Products and Licensing.
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.
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.
The players are known for their dominating talent on the court and also for their ability to play as a team as if they had been one for years. What most people don’t know, however, is the more personal side of the players, their likes and dislikes.
Three time Olympic gold medalist Diana Taurasi and 2008 Beijing gold medalist Sylvia Fowles discuss their favorite meals, music, movies and more after their practice at the University of East London.
LONDON – Even though he is a native of Bulgaria, Tervel Dlagnev moved to the United States at the age of four. He did not start wrestling until his sophomore year of high school. From there he continued to wrestle when attending Nebraska-Kearny. Now the Columbus resident will represent Team USA in men’s freestyle wrestling.
This is Dlagnev’s first time on an Olympic team. At 6’2″ and 120 kg/264.5 lbs, Dlagnev said he knows what he needs to do to prepare himself.
“I’ve had four years of preparing my thoughts, my body and getting ready in every way,” said Dlagnev. “I know what has to be done and I know the expectations so they’re not sneaking up on me.”
The first round of freestyle begins Friday, Aug. 10, and Dlagnev hits the mat on Saturday.
“Everything is going well,” said Dlagnev. “I feel that physically, mentally, and spiritually I’m just great.”
He is thankful for the fans from Nebraska, Texas, and even Columbus, Ohio who have been supporting him.
“ [To my fans] thanks for the support first of all,” said Dlagnev. “Tune in Friday, Saturday and Sunday because USA freestyle is going to make some noise.”
LONDON, England — Moments after Ashley Richardson came through the terminal at Heathrow Airport, she realized her Midwestern accent and Indiana University apparel made her distinctive in the convenience store line, a realization that she said bothered her. However, just days later, as Richardson and her family painted their faces and dressed in bright blues and reds in preparation for their first Olympic outing, she was proud to be an American.
The typical American buzzing about the Olympics, is not like the Richardson family, however. Team USA’s greatest moments such as Phelps’ swim to his final career gold or Carmelo Anthony leading the men’s basketball team to shatter records, were all seen from the comfort of their couch.
Jay Dailey of Chillicothe, Ohio, never booked a flight to London, but said he still follows the Olympics and Team USA to his best ability.
“I try to watch as much as I can,” said Dailey. “NBC has events on four different channels on my cable subscriber so there is really never a lack of coverage.”
NBC earned the rights to broadcast the games in the United States, a country five hours behind London time. After years of strategizing, NBC decided to delay footage to coincide with America’s prime time television hours. For those back home, the decision became controversial. Twitter users even created the #NBCFail hashtag.
“With social media being the way it is today, it’s way too easy to see who won all of the prime time events before they come on here,” said Dailey. “It’s frustrating because I love the dramatics of the Olympics. It kind of takes the fun out of it.”
To limit the spoiler alerts, Dailey avoids online sites such as NBC, Yahoo! and ESPN, but finds this inconvenient when needing baseball updates or general news.
Richardson, venturing through Olympic Village and various London pubs, hears, watches and cheers in live time. Her Twitter followers and Facebook friends, however, do not appreciate that, she said.
“I’ve ruined a few moments I’m sure,” said Richardson. “I just forget they can’t see it yet and I get excited about the event. I can’t help wanting to tweet about Lochte and Phelps winning.”
Richardson, constantly surrounded by flags and colors from 213 other countries that are not always her own, uses social media to connect and share pride with fellow Team USA fans.
“Sometimes I wish I ran into more American fans,” she said.
As for Team USA’s homeland, Olympic pride and gear appears everywhere, Dailey said.
“Everywhere I go, there is always someone talking about the Olympics,” said Dailey. “It’s pretty cool to see everyone have common ground to carry on conversations, even total strangers.”
NBC broadcasting back home focuses on Team USA, said Dailey.
Richardson, who has access only to the BBC stations, watches more Great Britain matches than she expected to.
“We are staying in a hotel so we only have so many channels to begin with,” said Richardson. “BBC obviously wants to show the teams around here.”
American basketball surely does not reign over British sailing for airtime. To deal with this, Richardson said her family tries to get to a number of events and explore London.
“You go to the Olympics to explore a new place,” she said. “I’m here for London too.”
Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and London Bridge fill up Richardson’s time outside of events, along with running into athletes here and there. The atmosphere makes the trip, she said.
For most Americans, a trip to the Olympics would be the preferable place to cheer on their team, but sometimes time and money present obstacles.
“I would have loved to go to London,” said Dailey. “I wasn’t going to be able to afford the trip or get the time off. “
As the Olympics began, athletes, teams and fans of Team USA united as one family. For the USA Taekwondo team, however, their family goes much deeper. Blood deep.
USA competitors Steven Lopez, Diana Lopez, Coach Jean Lopez, and alternate Mark Lopez share more than just a last name. They are a Taekwondo family. They have all reached the highest level of athletic competition, the Olympics.
“It’s been a blessing to experience this journey with your family at such a high level,” said Jean Lopez, now coaching his third Olympics. “In today’s world, it’s very difficult for a family to sit down to have dinner and share quality time, but for us, to find a sport like Taekwondo that we’re all passionate about has kept us close.”
With Jean as their coach, the history-making family celebrated in Beijing in 2008 as Steven and Diana won bronze and Mark brought home a silver medal.
“This sport has brought us together, closer than most family members and siblings,” said Jean. “It’s a very intimate moment that you share together when you’re competing at this level.”
Steven won gold medals during the 2000 and 2004 summer games and hopes to reclaim that spot following his Beijing bronze.
“When it gets to this stage of the games, the mental preparation and the emotional preparation comes into play a lot more,” one of Steven’s training partners during the Olympics, Nir Moriah said.
Emotion can be a mind game while training and competing at this level, but Jean said he thinks family helps him all deal with it.
“It’s a very lonely feeling sometimes and when you know other people have experienced it, in this case your siblings, then you can relate to each other about what you’re going through,” he said. “We can help each other and empathize.”
Beyond the emotional support, the Lopez family members are each other’s greatest competitors.
“In our family, it’s still competitive, not about the accomplishments, but we’re just trying to live in the moment,” said Coach Jean. “We are always competing whether it’s playing basketball, soccer, poker or any other sports. We always want to win.”
He admits, however, that the constant desire to see their family succeed can actually be hard on them.
“For me as a coach, it is very difficult to just be their brother,” he said. “I feel like I always need to be the coach over the brother. I tend to always have their interests as an athlete first.”
Despite this, Jean believes this dedication has paid off for the team.
“I feel like everyone is ready now. Steven, Diana, TJ and Paige look very good,” he said.
With the Lopez family at the center of USA Taekwondo, people may overlook the other two competitors, Terrence Jennings, 25, who beat out Mark Lopez for a spot, and Paige McPherson, 21, a former dancer and first time Olympian. Also, Team USA has brought along several training partners for the athletes including Charlotte Craig, who competed in Beijing, and Nir Moriah.
“In the gym, we’re all teammates, brothers and sisters. We see each other everyday,” Craig said. “Even outside of the gym, it’s hard to separate us.”
Craig was the fourth member to the 2008 Taekwondo Lopez team. Steven, Diana and Mark all secured the other three spots on Team USA in Beijing.
“We always joked that I was part of the family. The adopted Lopez,” said Craig. “I really do feel like their youngest sister. They took me under their wing and were always there for me.”
Even though Craig finds herself as only a training partner for this summer’s games, she said she still feels a part of the team. This extended family of Team USA serves two purposes said Moriah, Steven’s training partner.
“Inside the gym, it’s all business. This pressure requires a certain degree of intensity with a ‘no room for error’ kind of mentality,” Moriah said. “Once workouts are over, it’s about hanging out and being the way we normally are.”
Thanks to the hours of training and preparation over the last four years, this group is already familiar with one another.
“There is a group from Miami that trains together then also a group from Houston,” Moriah said. “Everyone has known each other for a long time so it’s almost like we are family. Some actually are.”
On Aug. 9 and 10, this Taekwondo family, Lopez or not, will support each other as they try to fight for multiple gold medals. Team USA Taekwondo and the Lopez family continue to remind Americans of the Olympic spirit.
“What I notice is that there is a degree of comfort and a degree of stability in a sense that no matter where they are in the world, a family has that home court advantage and that support,” Moriah said.