• Preparing For London: What I read, bought, listened to and forgot

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    One of the great things about covering the Olympics is you get a chance to delve into the culture and city where it’s taking place. Admittedly, there was a bit more interest when I went to Beijing. I knew very little about China and had never visited. On the other hand, I lived in London for six months when I was in college. That didn’t stop me from reading some London history over the last few months. Here’s a look at some of what I’ve read and other things I’ve done to prepare for the Olympics.


    “Johnson’s Life of London,” by Boris Johnson.
    The London mayor’s book is a quick recap of London history stretching back to Roman times as told through some of his favorite characters who lived in the city.

    “Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now — As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long for It,” by Craig Taylor. This Canadian writer interviewed hundreds of people living in London over the last decade and gives their first-person stories about life in the city. My favorite was from the lady who voiced “Mind the Gap” for the tube.


    The best magazine preview I read was The Economist’s, which put out a special section on London in July. It was a great overview of the city’s rise to become a financial power in the last few decades and it’s unclear future in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008.

    The best magazine story I read was Alexander Wolff’s “London” article in Sports Illustrated’s Olympic preview. It was a brief synopsis of some of the issues the city has run into in its preparation, and its potential as a host of the Games. And don’t miss our former correspondent Jay Weiner’s column on covering the Olympics the last three decades in next week’s SportsBusiness Journal.


    The one thing I had to get for this Games was a raincoat. I had one but the waterproofing on it had worn off. I bought the lightest one I could find because I imagine I’ll be schlepping it and an umbrella everywhere the next few weeks.

    Listened To:

    I’ve had 100-plus Rolling Stones songs on shuffle for the last week. No band says London to me more than the Stones. I hate that they won’t be performing at the Opening Ceremony. I’ve mixed some Radiohead into the rotation, as well.


    My computer charger. It would have been a tough few weeks without it. Fortunately, I realized it while I was at the airport in Charlotte and my family was able to get it to me before my flight departed.


    I always try to go to events that seem endemic to the host city. In Beijing, that meant ping pong — sorry, table tennis. In Vancouver, it was curling. In London, it will be rowing and equestrian. I’ll also get in my share of swimming and track and field. But I’m most intrigued by women’s gymnastics and the competition between Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber.


    When I went through customs at London, I was surprised to be asked for my Olympic credential. The man at customs looked it over and stamped my passport a second time. “Here’s a souvenir for you,” he said, handing it back to me. I flipped inside and saw the London 2012 logo stamped in my passport, as well as permission to enter the U.K. through November. It was a nice gesture and something neither customs in Beijing nor Vancouver offered.

  • On The Ground: The Olympics’ enormity, drama can change any skeptic

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    The people who call it a Movement told me the Olympics would change me.

    It’s an event unlike any other, the proselytizers said. Sports and culture collide in ways you can’t understand. The values of peace, sustainability and good sportsmanship are in every event. You’ll see.

    But I didn’t believe them. I’m paid to be skeptical, and words like values, movement and family sounded like the language of an international cult. I’d seen the Olympics. I’d watched as NBC highlighted the tears of gymnasts and snowboarders. I wasn’t buying it.

    That was four years ago, and a lot has happened since then.

    I’ve seen 2,008 Chinese men rise from the floor of the Bird’s Nest in Beijing and simultaneously pound on drums. I’ve sat in Wukesong Stadium and heard Chinese fans ooh and ahh as Kobe Bryant pulled up for a jumper. I’ve watched an Australian swimmer stand on the podium and cry as her country’s flag rose to the rafters. And I’ve witnessed Shaun White celebrate a perfect run down a halfpipe by hooting and hollering with his support team.

    Attending the Beijing and Vancouver Olympics definitely changed me.

    I may not call the Olympics a “movement,” refer to national governing bodies as being part of an “Olympic family,” or believe the Games will lead to world peace. But I’ve joined the proselytizers on one point: The Olympics are an event unlike any other.

    Completely won over by the size and scope of the Olympics and the dedication of Olympians, I’ve spent the run-up to the London Games trying to convert someone else.

    This will be my colleague John Ourand’s first Olympics. Usually, he spends the early part of August every four years watching the Orioles and wondering why people care about swimming and gymnastics. I’ve spent the last few months telling him that will change. And here’s why.

    Olympians aren’t your average pro athletes. I don’t mean that they make less money or don’t get arrested or are less well-known. All of which is true. What I mean is: Most Olympians spend their entire life training in one sport for one shot to compete on the world stage.

    Unlike the NBA or NFL, there is no “next year” for Olympians. There is no chance to go off to a rowing competition or swim meet that the world is watching. For most of these competitors, this will be it, and because they’re acutely aware of that, it means that much more when they stand on that podium and watch their nation’s flag rise to the rafters.

    All of that becomes clear the first time you watch a podium ceremony. It’s something you don’t forget.

    The other thing that’s unforgettable is the scale of the Olympics. Imagine three Daytona 500s, two Nationwide Series races and a Camping World Truck race taking place simultaneously. Or a Super Bowl, World Series and NBA playoff game happening in the same city. Then add more venues and more spectators and you’re coming close to the vastness and complexity of an Olympics.

    There are 32 summer sports and each one has countless events spread across a mere 17 days. There’s one day on my calendar next week, Friday, Aug. 3, when there are 24 sports that will be played that day. Twenty-four sports!

    Because NBC (until this year) hasn’t made all the competition available live online, it’s been tough to understand how sprawling and complex the Olympics are unless you’re in attendance. And even when you are in attendance, it’s tough to understand.

    I’ve explained that to John. Admittedly, it’s been a tough sell, and recent events in London haven’t helped matters.  The last few weeks there were marred by a security plan that imploded right before the Games, rain that refused to stop, and a litany of complaints from Londoners about everything from transportation delays to sponsor exclusivity.

    But there’s so much potential for these Games to be great. There’s so much potential for them to change the perspective of skeptics the same way Beijing changed me.

    London is one of the world’s most diverse cities, filled with people who speak 300 different languages. It can literally have fans for every country that fields an Olympic team, creating an atmosphere unrivaled at recent Olympics.

    And while most events will take place in the East End, the organizers have mixed the city’s most historic sites into competition. Cyclists will race past Buckingham Palace and beach volleyball players will rise for spikes behind 10 Downing Street. It will make for a dramatic juxtaposition of the historic and contemporary.

    Those are the type of things that can change the mind of a skeptic. There’s no doubt that they changed me.

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