J.J. Clark's Diary from Beijing

Aug. 12, 2008

Hello world! On July 29th I left for U.S. Olympic Team processing, which was at San Jose State University in California. We got all of our Olympic gear, and it was a lot of nice stuff! They also mailed some Olympic clothing to my home before I got to processing.

I mailed home all of my Olympic gear that I got from processing in San Jose. I had already pre-packed in Knoxville and didn't want take more than one bag. I should have brought it all with me to Beijing. I will not be able to wear any of it when I get back to Knoxville because of logo issues, as we wear adidas at UT.

Processing was very organized, even though there were hundreds of people to size and to distribute equipment. I saw former Lady Vol basketball players Candace Parker and Kara Lawson, and we all joined in for a "Go Lady Vols" chant.

We only stayed one night in San Jose and were on the 7 a.m. chartered bus to the airport the next day. It was a 13-hour flight to Beijing, on the heels of the previous four-hour flight from Knoxville to San Jose. I'm glad we had processing and didn't have a 17-hour straight flight! Thirteen hours was hard enough, because I don't sleep on planes.

I traveled with my sister, three-time Olympic 800-meter runner Hazel Clark-Riley, who was out cold. She slept almost the entire flight. Many times I wanted to shake her and wake her up. She looked too peaceful, but she does have to compete and certainly needs the rest.

Finally we landed in Beijing! I was glad to get off the plane! This is where the VIP treatment started. They had a special line for us to go through customs, and for most of us it was a smooth process. There were three people out of 50 who had passport problems. Of course, my sister was one of them. It figures something like that happens during my first time to work as an Olympic coach.

I pulled out the pre-programmed phone I was given and made several calls to our delegation. After 90 minutes, or so, I finally got Hazel and the others into the country. The team had to wait outside in a bus until the passport issues were resolved. Of course, we were a big hit when we stepped on the bus. We got a 20-second ovation, and we were on our way to the Olympic village.



After a 25-minute ride, we were at the village. Security was high, but officials were waiting and moved us through quickly. I had not seen my luggage since I left the USA and was promised it would be in my room when I got there. It was.

I had all my credentials and was ready to go to my room and crash. Wishful thinking, though, as a staffing meeting was called and we did a walk-through of the Olympic Village and had a meal. I was sleep-walking and don't remember much of anything that happened, except that the village was still fairly empty, as we were one of the first groups to arrive. Also the dining area was huge -- probably longer and wider than a football field.

FINALLY, it was time to get some rest, with it approaching 7 p.m. in China. We are exactly 12 hours ahead of the USA, and by now I'm walking in a deep, deep fog. Just when I thought it was time to turn in, my cell phone rang. I started not to answer, but my natural reaction took over and I answered it. My delegation leader called and said we were having a team briefing to go over safety. It would be a little over an hour long. I asked them if I could roll my bed into the meeting. They thought it was funny, but I was serious.

After the meeting, it was off to sleep. Morning, though, would come soon. The team had to be on the bus at 7 a.m. to travel to the airport and go to training camp in Dalian, China. I woke up feeling a little rough, but did my best to shake it off. It was a short flight to Dalian, and the spirit of the team seemed good.

When we landed and got off the plane, I could tell something serious was going on. They told us that the security was as if the president was coming. They closed all the roadways down so our bus could travel safely and quickly. Hundreds of people lined the sidewalk just to see our bus pass. I was amazed because our windows were tinted, and they really couldn't see us.

We stayed at the Dalian Resort, a nice place with wonderful facilities. We got checked in and the group I'm working with, those running the 800m, 1500m, and steeple chase, wanted to go to the track to shake out. I wanted to go to sleep.

So, off to the track we go. The athletes started to talk about workouts and training. I then became very attentive, and the shot of adrenaline I was awaiting finally came!

Many of the athletes' personal coaches can't make this trip, or they can't get into the areas needed. You need a credential to go anywhere, including the practice track, so I became the person the athletes relied on. They finished the very light workout, and for most of them the "real" training starts tomorrow.

The weather is so hot here, and I became concerned about the heat and the intensity of the athletes' workouts. This was heat I have never felt before. We discussed the issue and adjustments were made. I was actually surprised how open these athletes were about their workouts and training and racing plans. I had several good discussions and enjoy timing and working with them. They are extremely committed and they do many things right. Their focus and business-like attitude was prevalent.

I had an option of going to the Opening Ceremonies, but I declined going because many of the athletes wanted to stay in training camp. They did not want to stand five hours on their legs before and during the event and then two hours clearing the stadium.

Once someone leaves the training camp in Dalian and goes to Beijing, you are not allowed to fly back to training camp. So, I missed the wonderful ceremony but enjoyed the one-on-one sessions with the athletes. Training camp was a success! Athletes I had never talked to are now people I'm around and dialogue with regularly.

We arrived in Beijing on Aug. 10th, five days before our first running events, and the Olympic Village is now packed. We had our first practice in Beijing. I sensed a different aura in the air. These world class athletes took their focus to another level. Workouts were sharper, the talk and chatter was less than at training camp. I became more serious because of the atmosphere (which is easy for me to do).

Over all, the people here have been extremely hospitable. I have seen some creative training ideas and look forward to the rest of the trip.

J.J. Clark
Head Women's Cross Country/Track and Field Coach, University of Tennessee
Assistant Coach, U.S. Olympic Women's Track & Field Team



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