Eight years ago around this time we were in Beijing. Eight years and we still get goosebumps recalling everything we lived. Experiencing an Olympics is not a minor thing. It is the biggest sports event in the world. Going to an Olympic Game is every athletes’ dream but only a few can make it. The decision to go to the Games was easy: my sister was participating; the only other reason that would have top any of my siblings going to an Olympic game would have been going myself as an athlete.
We landed in Beijing the same day as the opening night, tired after many hours on a trip where we couldn’t fall asleep (the excitement was so much). We enjoyed as we could the opening and we managed to stay awake to say the appearance of the star we came to see and cheer. It would be good to let you know that unless you are the person holding the flag of your country or someone really famous in the sports business, finding an athlete among so many people is not an easy task. But we did it, for a split of a second we saw her.
Rested, we step on the streets for the first time and headed to the Olympic area, first The Nest, that impressive building where the opening was held the previous night and where the 29th edition of the Olympic Games started. Crowds were taking photos with such a piece of art. We walked around the area and found out that locals were taking pictures of ourselves and kept doing it through out our stay the Asian country.
Next, we visited the center where we would spend the 11 days we went to the competitions: The Aquatic Cube. The drops represented in its surfaces that at night were lit was as impressive on the outside as it was on the inside. But after this first impression of the Aquatic Centre what was important was everything that could happen on its inside. Every Spanish swimmer we knew was there, ready to the highest competition, among them Escarlata Bernard (my sister). But furthermore, there were all those swimmers that through the years and years of training you admired so much and that your coach kept repeating to you “look at her/his technique”, “look at the strengths of her/his kick”…
And HE showed up, that athlete that started the Games with a personal challenge that we all felt part of it: Michael Phelps. As days went by and he was closer to achieve his goal, the audience admired him even more. First was the 400 metres medley, then the 4×100 freestyle relay, on the next day the gold medal in 200 freestyle, a day after that two more golds in 200 butterfly and 4×200 freestyle relays and then he rested (at least the final rounds) for one day. He kept winning the 200 metres medley and the next day he made us all suffer and even doubt of his achievement (until we saw the underwater images that confirmed his winning) with the 100 metres butterfly against Cavic; now there was only the 4×100 medley relay when we beat his own challenged and Mark Spitz record. The stadium stood up once and once more and bent to his greatness.
But we also discovered many other great swimmers:
- César Cielo (BRA) with whom the whole audience was moved and broke the silence during the medal ceremony with applause after his bronze and his gold medal. This year, however, he hasn’t been able to reach the level to go to the Games in his own country, we will miss him.
- Park (KR) got his gold medal in the 400 freestyle but won’t go to the Games this time for doping.
- Ryan Lochte (USA) two bronzes and two golds made clear that he was ready to stay in the high competition with his unique style.
- Laszlo Cseh (HUN) the great European swimmer he was out of breath after each race showing the audience that it wasn’t as easy as it looked, not even for them.
- Dara Torres (USA) was 41 years old and got three silver medals showing that age doesn’t have to be an impediment.
- Natalie Coughlin (USA) with three bronzes, a silver, and a gold medal on her neck showing that elegance is possible inside the water. “I definitely had the inner motivation needed…“
- Federica Pellegrini (ITA) was only 20 years old when she was proclaimed double Olympic champion beating the world record in both races.
- Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) who finished the competition with 3 bronze medals and 1 gold.
We suffered with the Spanish basketball team in the final against the United States, and enjoyed so many other athletes and we had the luxury of visiting the Olympic Village. If we looked like groupies inside The cube, here it was even worse: Rafa Nadal, Jose Manuel Calderón, Juan Carlos Navarro or Martín Fiz as Spanish examples. But we had lunch at the communal dinner: the whole United States swimming team, the German basketball team with Novinski among them… A treat for any sports lover.
The trip around China continued one more week but the Games are one of those things not to miss. One of those dates that you just have to live, the vibe, the athletes’ sacrifice and the hopes that fulfil them is contagious.
We would like to wish all the athletes best wishes, enjoy the experience in Rio, and to all those visiting get a grip of all those moments because it will take at least another four years to do it again.
Are you in Rio? Tell us about it, we would love to live this Olympic experience through your eyes this time.