Saturday, October 1, 2016

Back In The (Blogging) Saddle Again

Whoa! The Rio Olympics sort of kicked my ass.

Following a troublesome mid-Games trek to the Deodoro venues in search of Olympic shooting, I was pretty much done, cooked, completely spent and downright cranky about the host city, a five-ringed first!

Years ago in Blogging 101, they taught us to avoid posting while angry or overly negative. So, I created the end-of-Games roundup of medalists and took a breather.

The good news, however, is that in spite of my frustrations the second week of the Games provided an array of exciting experiences, providing content for many future posts.

And with a month of rest and recovery under my belt (now about five weeks since the Closing Ceremony), a trio of Team USA-related events in Washington revived my enthusiasm for posting here.

It makes me happy to feel "Back In The Saddle Again" just like Gene Autry or Aerosmith.

With thanks to the U.S. Olympic Committee communications team for a media credential, on Wednesday evening I enjoyed collecting interviews and photos on the red carpet for the 2016 Team USA Awards presented by Dow.

Held in the historic McDonough Gymnasium at Georgetown University, the wear-your-best-suit or don-your-most-glamorous-dress event featured Akbar Gbaja-Biamila and Matt Iseman of "American Ninja Warrior" as co-hosts, with more than 500 Team USA Olympians and Paralympians as VIP guests.

Just like the red carpets for the Oscars, Emmy's or Grammy Awards, reporters and photographers had their hands and heads full trying to keep up with all the A-listers making their way to the arena.

With the help of the USOC's designated handlers, I enjoyed a few minutes of conversation, photo access or pool Q&A with the following Olympians:

A special highlight of the red carpet experience was spotting Paralympic shooting athlete Tricia Downing, with whom I was a U.S. Olympic Committee intern in the summer of 1995.

At events like this, it's not too shabby catching up with journalist friends like's Olympic beat writer Tom Burke or USA Today's Roxanna Scott while meeting other Games-minded journalists.

Each of us had Rio tales to tell, not to mention a bit of anticipation for the following morning and Team USA's visit to The White House (for which I was biting my nails over press credential approval until the very last minute -- more about that experience in a separate post).

Check out this gallery for a broader view at the scene outside the arena.

The red carpet media opps also included conversations with living Olympic legends or family related to other legendary athletes:

  • Carl Lewis, who recently donated nine of his 10 Olympic medals to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • Swimming superstar and LA2024 Olympic bid executive Janet Evans
  • Mexico City 1968 Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos (enshrined in the NMAAHC as a large medal stand statue)
  • Lonnie Ali, accepting an inaugural Team USA honor presented posthumously to her husband Muhammad Ali
  • Marlene Dortch, granddaughter of Jessie Owens and Georgetown alumnus.

I'll post videos, notes or additional images from these many conversations.

Once the busloads of athletes had all arrived to a hero's welcome that included Georgetown cheerleaders and hundreds of excited students, inside the arena the Olympians received their official Team USA rings before the live show began as cameras rolled.

Turns out the Team USA Award trophy is a three dimensional object, usually in the likeness of an Olympic torch. During the event I got a peek at Katie Ledecky's trophy as she carried it back to her seat (see photo), and post-event I found this link with brief details from the designers.

A list of the winners is available via the Team USA press release here, and fans can tune in watch the taped ceremony on NBC Sports Network on Oct. 4 at 10 p.m. ET. My favorite presenter: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Team USA Awards post-party was spectacular, and its organizers deserve gold stars or perhaps a gold pin like the ones given to athletes as their "ticket" and Olympian status for security purposes (yes, I did manage to trade a Rio blogger pin for one of the auric mementos).

With an excellent DJ setting the scene musically, I had never seen so many Olympians dressed to the nines and dancing/partying in one setting ... or ever.

Held in an elaborate meeting room overlooking the Potomac and high rise towers in Rosslyn, Va., the catering was superb and most athletes lingered until the final fleet of buses arrived to whisk them back to their hotel. And were it not for the rain drizzling on the party venue's overlook patio, the revelers may have spent more time enjoying the early autumn breezes outside.

It was fun to get acquainted with more Olympians during this laid-back event, including a follow-up conversation with 2012 silver medalist diver/medical student Abby Johnston, first met at the Team USA Media Summit earlier this year. We swapped stories of Rio pedestrian and security headaches, and also tracked down Uber options as the party was winding down.

Also enjoyed an extended conversation with Olympic diver Katrina Young, who I previously met in the rain behind the Carioca One arena just before the gold medal men's basketball game in Rio. On that day in August, we were both in search of tickets or special access, and during our post party D.C. chat she cheerfully shared how she scored court side seats while I explained the paths bloggers take to get last-minute access. Very fun to learn Young studied music at Florida State -- check out her YouTube Channel for some great performances away from the pool.

It was also a wonderful surprise to bump into Atlanta-based "Olympic Pride, American Prejudice" documentary filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper and her Coffee Bluff Pictures colleague Lacy Barnes to catch up on the film's journey to mainstream release, and the duo's role in a special presentation to surviving family members of the 1936 Berlin Olympiad. More on that soon.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver except Katrina Young's Instagram photo, and the topmost ticket image cropped from the site for the artists selected to create the Team USA Awards trophy.


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