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James O'Brien's Blog

Lord Seb on the Subway. A Day of Disquiet

Monday, August 6th

When I went for my morning coffee this morning, there was a man in the shop with three gold medals. I presume they were fake; but, you never know. This is London 2012 and there are all kinds of athletic celebs wandering around. Just two nights ago, a friend of mine mentioned that he was leaving Olympic Park along with 100,000 or so other people, just stuck in the throng, heading for the Stratford underground station. The mob would inch forward, then stop; inch forward and stop. There’s not much you can do except discuss the day’s events and walk on the heels of the person in front of you.

Andy, said friend, being a voluble type, walked on the heels of the bloke in front of him, who turned, only to reveal himself as Seb Coe. That would be Lord Sebastian Coe, two-time Olympic 1500m champion, former member of Parliament and head of the London Olympic Organizing Committee. There he was, heading for the tube, stuck in the mob, just like everybody else. “There’s a beautiful democracy in England,” quoth voluble Andy. Got to think about that one, this being the land that bestows knighthoods. But it’s good to know that Lord Seb buys his Oyster card and queues up, just like everybody else.

It’s as well that Lord Seb was not in the throng returning to the Park this morning. Invariably, there are enthusiastic volunteers with megaphones directing and advising the invading hoards. I’ve heard all kinds of announcements, from “Welcome to London. Enjoy your day,” to “I don’t know what your flag is, mate. I failed geography at school.” This morning’s was a good one, too. The eager announcer was trying to ease some pain by explaining, “Tickets are not on sale at this location. To purchase tickets, go to London2012.com.” Inevitably, all he received for his kindness was a chorus of jeers. (Obtaining tickets has been a thorny issue) But he wasn’t cowed. “Oi! Don’t blame me,” he responded. “I ain’t got none, either.” You’ve got to hand it to the London volunteers. They’re a cast of characters and probably the best I’ve ever encountered.

When the water polo guys parade onto the pool deck, it’s like a parade of gladiators. They walk in, some looking somber, others looking like they just can’t wait to get it on. Then, they line up alongside the pool as the announcer introduces them by name. They accept the raucous cheers of the crowd - and today, they are seriously raucous - then exchange flags, shake hands and get down to business. It’s all ritual.

As I write this, the US team is being introduced, and Lou, Tommy and the guys are just about bringing the house down. I know it’s them. It’s always tense; but, it’s more so than usual today. Today, it’s versus Hungary. They are the three-time defending champions. In Hungary, you play water polo before you learn to walk. It’s a rule. And it becomes a religion. Hungary played the USA in the final in Beijing. Hungary won. Today’s game is the last in group play. It’s - how shall I say? - significant.

But things have not gone well for the defending champs, so far. They lost to Serbia and Montenegro, both powerhouses, before beating Romania and Great Britain, both not powerhouses. The US has fared better, beating Montenegro, Romania and Great Britain before losing to Serbia. How this game ends will determine who plays whom in the next round - the quarter-finals. 
By my calculations, regardless of who wins and who loses this game, both will go to the quarter-finals. I needed some clarification about this, so I asked the bloke alongside me, who seems to know a lot about water polo.  “That is correct,” said said bloke, “but the loser will play Croatia, and that is not a good thing.” He didn’t smile in the slightest when he said that. I think he’s Croatian.

The way things are going right now, the US will be the ones lining up against the Croats. We’re only mid-way through the second quarter, and our boys have just scored, making it 4-1 in the wrong direction. (Well, mostly in the wrong direction. The NYAC also has Tamas Kasas playing for the Hungarians, so you kind of have to root for him, too. Kind of). At the end of the first half, the score is 6-2, definitely the wrong direction.

I’m looking at the US coach, Terry Schroeder. I remember him from Beijing. Four years ago, I thought he was going to have a heart attack poolside. He’s a touch more subdued right now; but, he looks like somebody murdered his dog. 

The second half has begun. Every time there’s a time out, the strains of the King fill the arena. Elvis vs JXL to be precise - “A Little Less Conversation.” Always the same song, which is brilliant when you think about it. Youhave to wonder if the coaches get it. (They love digs like that in England. I saw a poster today that had the NYAC 2012 logo and a line that said, “Thanks for the Warm-Up.” Then came a signature: the Paralympic Games. Love it).

At the end of the third period, it’s 10-3. This is not looking healthy. At the end of the fourth, it’s 11-6. That means Croatia in the quarters, which take place on Wednesday (August 8th). There’s sure to be a little more conversation between this and then. Or, a sload. Hungary, for the record, will meet Italy in its quarter-final, also on Wednesday.

These have been an exceptional Games so far for the NYAC. Club members have claimed 11 medals, and the men’s and women’s water polo teams are still very much in the hunt. But, today brought some disappointment and disquiet. Wrestler Ellis Coleman met defeat in his opening round of the 60kg Greco Roman competition, going down at the hands of Bulgaria’s Ivo Angelov. If Angelov had kept winning and reached the final, Coleman - famed on YouTube for his flying squirrel - would have stayed in the competition. But the Bulgarian went out in the next round, taking the NYAC man with him. 

In the women’s shot put competition, the news was worse. Following her bronze medal performance in last year’s World Championships, Jillian Camarena-Williams was looking like a real medal contender in London; but, hampered by a back injury, she didn’t advance from this morning’s qualifying rounds. 

“I hurt myself last week,” the co-NYAC Athlete of the Year explained. “I haven’t been able to practice pretty much the whole time I’ve been in England. It’s been a rough go; but, I wanted to go out and try my hardest. That’s what I did.”

Camarena-Williams reached just 18.22m/59” 9 1/2” in the qualifier.  She would have needed 18.45m/60’ 6 1/2” to make the cut. Her best this year is 19.89m/65’ 3 1/4”. Her best of all time is 20.18m/66’ 2 1/2”. But, as they say, you can only play the hand you’re dealt, which does absolutely nothing to ease her disappointment.

The above was disappointing; this is the disquieting part. The IOC this morning issued the following statement: “The International Olympic Committee (IOC) today announced that it has disqualified American judoka Nicholas Delpopolo from the men’s 73kg judo event of the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London. Immediately after his participation in the event on 30 July, Delpopolo, 23, provided a urine sample that tested positive for the prohibited substance 11-nor-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol-9-carboxylic acid.”

In short, that means that Delpopolo is out of here. Remaining to be seen is how long he will be out of his sport. 

Basically, 11-nor-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol-9-carboxylic acid is marijuana. Delpopolo issued this statement: “"My positive test was caused by my inadvertent consumption of food that I did not realize had been baked with marijuana, before I left for the Olympic Games. I apologize to the US Olympic Committee, to my teammates, and to my fans, and I am embarrassed by this mistake. I look forward to representing my country in the future, and will re-dedicate myself to being the best judo athlete that I can be.”

One should never rush to judgement; but, dude - these are the Olympic Games! What were you thinking?
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