Athletes, athletes, everywhere (and also, free chocolate)

Any day that starts with a demo of how to make Lindt chocolates is bound to be a winner, and that was certainly the case for us today, our first full day in Olympic London. The Lindt tent was at Switzerland House (where else?) and it was heavenly, and not just because there was a nonstop parade of volunteers handing out free chocolates. (Although that certainly contributed to the overall heavenliness of the place.) What made the tent even better was that it was air conditioned. Also, the chocolatier was like a reality TV chef, offering nonstop patter as he dipped and smoothed the hazelnut praline treats he was crafting.

Then he handed out samples. (Yes, they were good. Very, very good.) Here’s what we tasted: white-chocolate covered hazelnut praline, chocolate macchiato (a star-shaped chocolate cup filled with light-coffee-flavored cream), Irish cream Lindor ball, and milk chocolate Lindor ball.

We were so impressed with the Swiss that we decided to visit their neighbors (geographically both in Europe and in London), the French. But the line for the French hospitality house went around the corner (there was no line for Switzerland. Foolish, foolish tourists, waiting at France when they could have been eating free chocolates just a few blocks away). We opted to buy lunch at a French-named restaurant, Pret a Manger.

Before going to Switzerland House, we checked out the Olympic rings at Tower Bridge, although they weren’t on display when we arrived at 11 a.m.; they’d been folded up because a boat was scheduled to go under the bridge. When the bridge goes up, the rings do, too. So we waited till 11:35, after the boat went under, and watched the rings emerge. Pretty neat.

The real highlight of the day, though, was seeing athletes. Everywhere. It helped that we spent the bulk of the day at Westfield Shopping Centre, which is basically the barrier between the Jubilee Line underground station (which we were allowed to enter) and the Olympic Park (which we were not; you need tickets, and no one can get them anymore).

Because we couldn’t enter the Olympic Park, we decided to pay £2 each and view it through a glass window at John Lewis, a giant department store at one end of the shopping centre. But when we arrived, store management had closed the viewing area because it was overcrowded. They told us to come back in an hour. Dave and Noah went off to explore and Elizabeth and I went off to shop.

En route to a store, we saw a handsome young athletic-looking fellow in Team USA gear. He was wearing one of those giant ID tags, and it said, “athlete.” Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: What sport do you do?

He: 110m hurdles.

Me: Oh, like Jason Richardson.

He: No, he and Aries have long hair. I have short hair.

Me (Feeling that I needed to explain why I knew Jason Richardson’s name): I met Jason in Edmonton — he was at a track meet there.

He: I was there, too.

Me (embarassed, and feeling that I needed to explain why I’d remembered Jason Richardson): Well, I gave him and his coach, K-Ron, and Jay Ndure a ride to and from lunch.

A look of recognition spread across his face.

Me (really embarassed): Did  I give you a ride, too?

He (kind of sheepish, smiling): Yes.

Oy vey! He was one of the eight athletes who crammed into the van on my second trip to Foote Field the day before the Donovan Bailey meet, when I was pressed into driving duty because Donovan had commandeered the shuttle bus for errands. Jeff said he was pretty out of it that day, sitting way in the back — I think that was his way of saying, “Really, it’s okay that you have no idea who I am.” But still, I felt a little bad.

His name is Jeff Porter. He was our first athlete of the day.

Then I began following Elizabeth into clothing stores. After the second one, I got bored watching her shop, so I left her and went down to the first floor of the mall to check out a kiosk I’d seen from above. On my way back to meet Elizabeth, who did I see stepping onto the down escalator, but Jason Richardson (who, among other things, is the 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the 110m high hurdles). Could the day get any weirder?

Jason Richardson graciously takes time to pose with yours truly

Kind of, yes, it could. Tonight, back at the Celtic Hotel, I started talking to a woman who was watching the 4 x 100m relay in the lobby. We wound up having a nice, long chat (okay, I did most of the chatting). Her name is Christina, and she’s an editor, from Pennsylvania. She’s here with her husband, who is covering track and field for Runner’s World.

I thought to myself, “Her husband couldn’t possibly be Amby Burfoot,” because that would be way too much of a coincidence (as if I hadn’t already had enough). I was just reading about him the other day. (After watching most of the movie, “Prefontaine,” on the plane, I got all nostalgic for track and field circa 1970-80). But of course, that’s exactly who her husband is. Amby Burfoot. The editor of Runner’s World. Winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon. So I met him, too.

What a day!

Here are some pics of other folks we met today:

Kaliese Spencer, 4th place, 400m hurdles, Jamaica

Traves Smikle, discus, Jamaica

Andrew Riley, 110m hurdles, Jamaica

Boxer Dominic Breazeale, USA

Diego Valencia, high jump, Ecuador

Dr. Ian Gordon, team physician, Great Britain

Elizabeth also met some members of the Canadian rhythmic gymnastics team (they were all shopping in the same store). And we met two women in Team USA gear; one was a diver, one was a swimmer. But either I got their names wrong or they were pulling our legs, because I couldn’t find any info about them on the Team USA site. (As for stats on everyone we met — you’re on your own there — the only one who told us how she did was Kaliese Spencer, who was really sweet and I think she felt quite horrible about having finished fourth. I wanted to say, “But you were in the OLYMPICS!” but I sensed that was not what she needed or wanted to hear. So in an uncharacteristic display of restraint, I kept my mouth shut.) (Diego Valencia told us how he did, but my Spanish failed me. I think he said he jumped 2.20 meters.)


One Response

  1. sounds like a wonderful trip! Full of adventure!

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