Aug 24, 2008

Olympics: water polo finals

Today was the event that I think I looked forward too more than any of the other sports: the men's gold medal water polo match. When I bought my ticket in the first application round, about a year ago, I had expected I would be watching Hungary and one of Serbia or Montenegro.

It was a wonderful thing indeed that the US team had its best Olympic performance in 20 years and made it all the way to the final match. As another added bonus, my ticket not only included the gold medal match, but also the bronze medal match, and the 5th-6th place classification match before that. So I got to see:
You couldn't ask for a more interesting day of world-class water polo. I've never seen such a high level of water polo play in-person before.

Here's Croatia on offense against Spain:

You can see the Croatian team's Borat-style mustaches a little bit in this photo:

Montenegro on offense against Serbia. This was an interesting match to see, but it seemed too much like a scrimmage without a lot of meaning for the players. They didn't seem that into the game.

I've heard that water polo is the national sport in Montenegro, and that kids grow up tossing around water polo balls rather than baseballs and footballls. I've also heard that it's similar in Hungary. Not having been there to confirm it for myself, I can tell you that these Hungarians are really into their water polo. It would be great if we could have this much interest in the US and not have participation focused so much in California only.

For the gold medal match, the Hungarian fans outnumbered American fans by 5-to-1, I'd say. I had my American flag of course, but the Hungarians went a lot farther than that. They had their faces painted with Hungarian flags, Adidas track suits in their national colors, and there were more than a few Hungarian guys that showed up in the caps of their favorite players. Check out these two:

During the first two matches, the audience sat normally. For the gold medal match, however, everyone was standing the entire time. The Hungarian fans had some standardized cheers that they would all do together. Too bad I couldn't understand Hungarian, but probably something like "Go Hungary".

There were quite a few American flags and USA! USA! chanters, myself included. Team USA got a turnover and scored on Hungary in the first quarter at one point, and I started yelling out USA USA, and I got what I think was a snide remark from a Hungarian fan. Not really sure what he said, since he was talking that Hungarian talk, but he sure looked snide. I guess that's the abuse you've got to take when you're a US fan in a sea of Hungarian red, green, and white. The snide guy didn't give me any more guff after we continued to score goal after goal in the first two quarters. Too bad the second half of the game didn't go as well.

Overall, the game had a really loud and passionate atmosphere, exactly what you'd expect at a gold medal match. Here's team USA's pregame huddle:

Hungary on offense against USA:

USA on offense against Hungary:

Hungarian fans with their banners and flags. This one says "Csurg├│i KK", which is apparently a handball club in Hungary. I guess he didn't realize this was water polo, not handball.

Final score:

Not a bad finish at all. 14-10 is pretty respectable against a team like Hungary for a team like the US that wasn't expected to get anywhere near the finals.

Here's the medal ceremony, with the US team on the board:

Olympics: marathon

One of the last events in the Olympics is the men's marathon. Lucky for me, the course takes it a stone's throw from my apartment. I got up at the crack of dawn (actually 8:30 AM) to make some coffee and wait by the roadside for a while.

Isn't he cute? I hope he doesn't turn into a fenqing.

Drink tables set up for different countries' runners, here's Turkey, Ukraine, and the USA:

Polska, Polska, Polska! Yeah! I actually yelled that pretty loud when their two runners made it by. No shortage of stares and giggles from the locals. Same reaction when I yelled USA, USA, USA!

Pace car:

This next car gave me a laugh. Look at all these fancy pants photographers they've got crammed on the back of a Chinese work truck!

I wonder how those lead runners enjoyed sucking down the diesel fumes from this truck as they followed behind it.

I took a photo of a number of runners, this is one of the ones that came out ok.

Here's some screenshots from the NBC broadcast of the marathon as it made it's way down the street by my place. (Watch it here, and fast forward to about 1:06:00 into the video stream, around 1:45:00 into the race itself)

Aug 23, 2008

Holland House and USA House

Some of the countries involved in the Olympics, most notably Holland, the UK, Switzerland, Canada, and the USA, have set up Olympic Houses for special guests and sometimes for the public. The USA house is in Jasmine Restaurant. You're not getting in unless a VIP brings you or if your last name is Phelps. We couldn't even get into the attached souvenir shop. I guess you need a special invite from the US Olympic Committee. They were hosting the BMX and beach volleyball US teams there that night, so I guess they had to restrict access. I asked the bouncers if Michael Phelps showed up there, they said, yes, for about a half an hour a few days ago. (If you're curious what USA House looks like inside, check out this Flickr page.)

The Holland House, on the other hand, was very welcoming, and a nice place to get some snacks after work. They've got a souvenir shop and display area inside:

There was a health check area set up. You could ride a virtual bicycle race, use a BMI/body fat/blood pressure calculator, get your peak flow measured, and sit in some Sharper Image-type massage chairs.

They've got a list posted of some Dutch Olympians that came in to measure their peak flows and time to do a 1 km loop on the virtual bike race. They even had the four women from their gold medal winning 4x100 m free relay stop by. If you're curious, my peak flow was 121% of normal.


Inside there's a lot of places to buy beer, but it's pretty pricey, 30 RMB ($4.38) for a cup of Heineken. The food was priced more reasonably.

Sports viewing area outside. The Holland vs. China gold medal field hockey game was going on during this time, which Holland ended up winning.

Outside of the Agricultural Exhibition Center:

Aug 22, 2008

Olympic lunch boxes

I ate one of these self-heating MREs the other week before I saw the 100 meter final. Check out this nice video on the Wall Street Journal's site. The Beijing Olympic committee really lost a big money-making opportunity during this Olympics. There's just not much edible food available at the venues. They could have set up a hot dog stand or even sold microwaved Hot Pockets and made a ton of money.

The instant meal in the video tastes pretty bad. I would say as bad or a little worse than airline food. I say "a little worse", because it wasn't just chicken meat that was included in the meal, they also included some bone fragments, rubbery skin, and other hard bits. I'm glad that for the most part I was smart enough to stuff myself on regular food before heading into the Olympic venues, and then just eating some snacks when I'm inside.

Aug 20, 2008

Olympics: gymnastics finals

Here's some pictures from the finals of the gymnastics men's parallel bars, women's beam, and horizontal bar finals. I saw myself briefly on TV when I watched the replay on NBC of the women's beam portion.

The stadium is a lot smaller than I had thought. I had envisioned an area the size of a football field where you could barely see what's going on across from you, but the floor area was closer to the size of a hockey rink. Great view of the balance beam and medal ceremonies. Here's a panorama of the inside of the stadium, click for a larger photo.

Shawn Johnson practicing her routine:

Shawn Johnson's gold medal balance beam routine:

Nastia Liukin
, silver medalist:

Medal ceremony:

There's almost nothing as good as an American gold medal and an American silver medal in the same event, and getting to hear the national anthem:

Smiley girl. She'll definitely get a ton of endorsements out of this, she seems very personable. I was close enough in the stands that when I yelled out some words of congratulations afterwards I had them looking my way.

Jonathan Horton's silver medal horizontal bar routine:

Gold medal winner of the parallel bars, Xiaopeng Li:

As an added bonus, there was a men's trampoline final, a relatively new Olympic event.

Gymnastics was a really fun event to attend. I'm surprised how intimate the venue seemed, and how quickly everything moved. For each event, it only took about thirty minutes from start to finish for everyone to complete their routines and for the judges to determine the winner.

Aug 19, 2008

Olympics: baseball

This is the last year that the Olympics will include baseball, so what better excuse to go see a game? Our tickets were for South Korea vs. Taiwan, and the action was more exciting than I would have expected.

Here's a panorama of the temporary stadium they've got set up in Beijing. I would say that in general, the set up, and the play, reminds me of college baseball. There were tons of foul balls that made it into the stands.

Korea pitching against Taiwan.

Kung-fu demo for the spectators after the sixth inning.

Inventive ways of staying cool under the sun: the always-reliable umbrella, or the piece of newspaper tucked under the hat.

Aug 18, 2008

Olympics: women's volleyball

Saw two women's volleyball prelims on Sunday: China vs. Japan, and Russia vs. Serbia. The women's volleyball in China has the profile that the New York Yankees have in the US, you can see their faces all over the place, for example Adidas ads. As you'd expect, this match was very well attended. Not to mention, if you ask Chinese people which country they dislike the most, they'll almost always answer "Japan". Needless to say, this had the makings of a really emotional and loud volleyball match.

The view was from behind the court for the first match, and then at least two thirds of the stadium cleared out and we were able to move to center court to watch the Russian team.

It's a girly high-five after scoring on Japan.

Mid-game action.

The second match, Russia is blocking a hit by Serbia.

They've got a nice cheerleading squad to entertain folks between games.

I dig this Japanese guy. He's either very brave, very patriotic, or very drunk to dive into a nest of rabid Chinese volleyball fans wearing his Japanese outfit and meatball flag draped over his back like a cape. I would equate what he's doing to going into a den of pitbulls with steaks duct-taped to your legs. Luckily China won, and this fellow got to go home in one piece.

The majority of the riotous Chinese fans went home before Russian and Serbia came out, but there was a gaggle of drunk Russians to make up for that. They were very engaged and supportive. I couldn't understand their chants and songs, but I think they were singing some kind of patriotic Russian songs.