Sunday, October 31, 2010

Stage Three: PHO, MIX, TRI

There is method to WK Turnen's madness.

TRI finds volunteers on the press tribune, a prime seating area where journalists watch the competition and type away. We're there to "help the journalists." In reality, I sneak photos during the women's team final and refrain from clapping. Dutch Reuters man next to me is very disgruntled when I do so.

But from here I get to see Alicia Sacramone's amazing save on beam. Mattie Larson's unfortunate collapse on floor. The Chinese and Romanian coaches verbally guiding their gymnasts through the routines from the side. The Romanian coach talks constantly. The Chinese coaches walk away when their athlete falls.

MIX is frightening. The center, roped-off ring is for the media. The surrounding ropes (and backdrops of Rotterdam) are for the athletes and coaches. They can move through in a (supposedly) fluid curve to chat with the press. This is all well and good, except the mixed zone happens to be sandwiched between two hallways. Just as the zone is at its fullest, everyone who's not an athlete nor a coach needs to get from one hallway to the other, and they need to get through now. Working the mixed zone is an easy way to get people to dislike you.

The Japanese and Chinese media are quiet. So are the athletes, who stand with perfect posture to answer the questions of their countrymen. The German men, by contrast, are loud and exuberant, and so are the journalists. But don't get me wrong -- the victorious Chinese and Japanese are just as happy. Just more reserved.

PHO means you're on the border of the field of play. You hide your accreditation because the glare will disturb the TV cameras. You stand on the side and make sure the photographers don't pass the rope. You make sure everyone behaves. But really you watch the competition, closer than ever. I'm just by the scoreboard as the women vault. I'm not far away when He Kexin misses her bar routine and Beth Tweddle walks away with the title. In fact I feel like I'm part of it, this whole energy, standing quietly and orangely.

Maybe not so quietly.

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