Sunday, September 7, 2008

Phelps Phans, part one

During the first few days of the Beijing Games, tickets were really, really tough to score. Everything was officially "sold out" and even Ebay had a scarce supply (and the few tickets there had hefty prices). Well in advance of heading to China, I did invest more than $150 to experience the women's beach volleyball gold medal game (an event my good friend, Brian, and I attended at Athens in 2004).

But as I mentioned in the post for Sunday, Aug. 10 (archived here with Annie Lennox's famed Eurhythmics photo), a special ticket source entered our Olympic world at just the right place and time.

Now that all is said and done, there's no longer a need to keep it a secret.

The ticket source we (and eventually many others) found was in Novotel (the hotel where I stayed the first three nights in Beijing -- across the street from our B.C. Canada Pavilion team corporate apartment/hotel, Lee Gardens). Co-Sport had a special office there, and for the first five or six days of the Games, few people seemed to know of its existence (which helped me help more than a few friends to get some primo tickets). A colleague told me a reporter friend from Canada was trying to help the family of an Olympian who had been scammed by the online ticket fraud that made headlines, and we helped that reporter to get some tickets in that family's deserving hands.

Tickets, tickets, tickets. If I had 20 hours a day to deal in tickets, I'd be a rich man about now. But we had many official duties to tend to that first week of the Games. So I limited my purchases only to friends in need, as well as to score a few cake seats at evening events inside the magnificent Water Cube. It was a morning ritual that first week -- get up, get coffee, get breakfast (at Novotel's Western food buffet, my saviour), then get tickets -- all by 8:45.

Who knew the special ticket source would come through when it mattered most?

They sure did.

The night of August 16, my colleague/roommate Paul, and newly arriving to Beijing friend Brian, and I each closed out the evening (and Paul's last night in China) with dinner and drinks. I think Paul's expectation for the following morning (Aug. 17) was that he would pack for the flight back to Canada at a leisurely pace, do some last minute shopping, and head to the airport.

Brian's plan for Aug. 17 included an attempt to hit a few late morning events, or something along those lines. Or hit the pin trading circuit. A calm morning.

My plan: Score a ticket (one ticket) for Michael Phelps' final race. The big race. Numero Ocho -- Lucky Race Eight.

On the morning of August 17, I was up at 5:30, showered, and first in line at Co-Sport's temporary office. I read a few newspapers, drank juice and canned Nescafe coffee, and cleaned up my FlipCam and digital camera files while patiently waiting for the office to open at 8:30 a.m. Made new friends of a couple of former California cops, the first duo to join me in line (they arrived at 7:30-ish). By 8 a.m., the line was several dozen people deep and out to the hotel lobby -- the word was definitely 'out there' on the recently unknown ticket source.

The early bird gets the worm. This early bird got one-two-three -- that's THREE -- tickets to Phelps 11 a.m. race!

I don't know whether the former cops got the other (last two) tickets I left behind, because in spite of my newly emptied wallet, I was beaming and flying out of that office to get to Paul and Brian with the good news!

Back at the apartment, Paul was speechless. So much for shopping.

Brian, by phone, I think was hyperventilating. So much for pin trading.

It was SO ... ON! We were going to see the GREATEST OLYMPIAN of ALL TIME swim in his final Beijing race!

We calmly and collectively agreed to meet in the lobby of Lee Gardens for a 9:30 a.m. taxi ride to the Olympic Green. We figured this gave us time to spare -- arrive at the Water Cube security entrance around 9:50 a.m., in advance of the 10 a.m. session start time (which we later learned included Dara Torres in her final race as well).

9:15 -- Nick completes post ticket purchase shower and shave. Check.
9:20 -- Paul completes packing. Check.
9:25 -- Brian arrives from morning walk from his hotel. Check.
9:28 -- Bellman hails taxi. Check.

We are Water Cube bound! No traffic! The sun is shining! It is our LUCKY DAY!

Even the Chinese-speaking taxi driver, upon learning of our destination and seeing our tickets, made a huge "LUCKY EIGHT" figure eight on the dashboard! He was beaming. We were beside ourselves at our good fortune.

And then the radio reminded us ... women's marathon ... just started ... route ends at Bird's Nest (next door to Water Cube) ... roads are ... OPEN! We were sailing toward our destination. Traffic never was so easy. We toasted our good fortune with a round of Nescafe canned coffee. TO THE WATER CUBE!

And with the Water Cube in sight, just one exit away from the 10-lane expressway, everything stopped. Well, at least every car -- including our taxi, ground to a halt.

To be continued ...
(PS: The photos with this particular post, and the video, are from Aug. 14 and Aug. 15 visits to The Cube -- Phelps photos and video to follow next post)

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