Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Greg Welch: Live From Beijing, Day One

By: Greg Welch

Couldn't dig your way to China for the 2008 Summer Olympics? Don't worry, we'll bring the five-ring action to you. Check in throughout the next couple weeks, as multisport legend and triathlon luminary Greg Welch reports on all the sights and sounds surrounding the Games.

The Olympic triathlon, where do I start?

I can go back to the beginning, it was 2000 and it was my hometown, born just kilometers from the triathlon site, it was always going to be epic.

The women’s triathlon was the first event on the whole program. The scene was set as the Sydney Harbor bridge looming in the background and the Sydney Opera house in the foreground, you couldn’t have asked for a nicer venue and the organizers were hoping for a stunning Sydney day, and they got it.

On a picture perfect late-winter morning, yes late-winter morning, the women’s triathlon was run and won, but not by an Australian, by a Swiss woman, Brigitte McMahon, who could rarely crack the top 10 in a World Cup. Michellie Jones from south of Sydney flew the boxing kangaroo and narrowly missed the gold by mere seconds.

The men’s race was what I thought it would be: a running race. And the best runner won. Simon Whitfield, a cheeky little bugger from Victoria, Canada, stormed down Macquarie street, rounded the roundabout and raised his arms in a well-deserved gold medal.

I think the fondest memory for me was that triathlon was accepted into the Olympic program and you couldn’t have asked for a better way to start a Games or a more incredible city to feature. Sydney is my home!

Onto Athens and a different situation, triathlon was now slotted into the mid-program and two veterans in Kate Allen, an Australian now married to an Austrian and representing Austria, and Hamish Carter, who orchestrated an Ocean’s Eleven-like move, towing only the people that could take him to the gold, running with them until he needed to then making his move to bring home a gold for New Zealand. Kate, on the other hand, did something I never thought possible, running from 28th off the bike and over two minutes down to catch Australian Loretta Harrop inside the last 400 meters to claim the biggest victory in her life.

The Olympic triathlon is going to be hotly contested with both men’s and women’s fields at near to full strength.

This time we are going to be treated to an epic clash in the women’s event with Emma Snowsill and Vanessa Fernades set to race head to head yet again, this time for a title that can ride for the rest of time. To me, Snowsill deserves this more than anyone. Why, you may ask? Well, for personal reasons that I won’t go into, but she was left off the team in 2004 after she won her first of three world titles (She is the only woman with three such titles). Why on earth would you leave the current world champion off the Olympic team? Oh, by the way, Michellie Jones didn’t make the team either, and she was still winning World Cups, and she could swim bike and run better than anyone at the time.

The women’s event is not a two-horse race, though. Helen Tucker is the reigning world champ, Erin Densham and Emma Moffatt make up our strongest Olympic team to date, and the Americans are strong, too. Laura Bennett is due: She won the Hy-Vee Triathlon last year in her biggest win but has an incredible record at the world championships and is one to watch. Same with Sarah Haskins.

There are others to mention and I will do that as we get closer, but today I am happy to report that all athletes are still healthy and ready to go.

My flight here was non eventful but I did strategize and ask for a window seat trying to get a glimpse of anything Olympic.

I wasn’t surprised to find that descending into Beijing, the skies darkened and the haze set in. My views were uninterrupted, nothing!

Ah well, I have seen it all before, I have come here a few times on business and I have taken in all the sights before.

I must say that the venues here are fantastic, reports to come.

The weather. I awoke to the chickens crowing. Highly unlikely. No, I woke up and took an early walk through Chaoyang Park, the host of the beach volleyball and also the Coca-Cola festival.

It was 6 a.m. and the gates opened and the hustle and bustle was on; crowds stormed through the gates and they were on their way. Did I mention the Olympic games have not started yet?!

The temperature was upper 70s at 6 a.m. and the humidity was a staggering 90 perfect. Needless to say, my early jaunt was a sweaty at that!

While I was walking, it lead me to think that he or she who performs well in the heat and humidity is going to walk away with a gold medal here.

OK, enough for now. Way to much to give, so stay tuned for my next installment from Beijing.

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