Reporting on the Olympic Games has, quite naturally, focused on the athletes. In swimming, there were records galore, memorable match-ups and, of course, dominating performances by Michael Phelps.
But there's another point of view that was — and usually is — almost totally ignored: that of the officials, those anonymous volunteers who keep the competition running smoothly (or, as in the case of gymanstics, not so smoothly).
For years, one of USA Swimming's most respected volunteers has been Pat Lunsford of Ohio. Pat was on-deck in Athens, . Here is his official's eye view.
By Pat Lunsford
In a brief nutshell, here are some of the more interesting stories from the past two weeks:
Security – there were many reports of a very visible military and security presence. This was not the case. They were there but very unobtrusive. Many were supposedly undercover. The visible security was not noticeably different than it was in Atlanta eight years ago. Occasionally, a soldier would walk by with a machine gun, but many of the security were unarmed. To enter a venue, credentials were checked and then bags were screened as at any airport. Vehicles entering a secure venue would be checked with undercarriage mirrors and, occasionally, with explosive-sniffing dogs. This did not take very long and all security personnel were very polite and professional. All in all, it was a very safe environment 24 hours a day.
Transportation – also many reports that Athens would not be ready. This was not the case. The metro system, trains, and buses were constantly moving people. There were long lines to get on transportation when an event would let out but the frequency of public transportation made it bearable to most.
Housing – the technical officials stayed at the Agricultural Bank Training Center. It turned out to be very nice and very accommodating. Breakfast was provided daily and was usually good (although my wife and I went to Cracker Barrel the first morning back to get the real thing). We had Skyline chili the first evening back as well. The Greek food was really good. I was told by several about trying some Ouzo – sorry guys, it didn't happen but I did bring some home and may try it when I build up the courage. My wife, Joan, stayed with Lou and Georgette Grivetti, a Cal – Davis professor and his wife in Athens, whom I met on a plane last October. They were tremendous people and very generous with their time, assistance, and hospitality. The Grivettis made Joan feel comfortable with the transportation, food, money exchanges, shopping, etc. I know this worked when Joan told me to not be shocked when I received the VISA bill!
Competition – if you saw any of the swimming, you know what I mean when I say WOW!!! I will save stories on the controversies for clinics and casual gatherings if people are interested. I can only give my version of what went on, but don't know very much once it got past the deck. The Greek starter was a great guy. He had a lot to learn and I was told to help him along. He was extremely nervous at the beginning but did settle down a lot. We worked on his delivery and hope it was noticeable by week's end. He called me his teacher! What a meet to train someone, huh! He did well. Regarding my self evaluation, I felt it was one of the best meets I have ever had. It was eerie in that, after the first event/day jitters, I was extremely relaxed. Not once did I take Rolaids! I credit the opportunities the summer leagues and clubs gave me to start at their meets as a great warm-up. The 6, 8, and 10 year olds were the best training I could have had. Thanks kids! It was very reassuring when several of the members of the U.S. team commented they were happy to see familiar faces in Wells O'Brien and myself and they knew the competition was going to be as fair as possible.
Unusual events – the officials went to the Opening Ceremonies the night before the swimming competition began. It was spectacular to say the least. I sat next to Ann Sissons, a diving judge from New Zealand. From our conversation, we discovered that we had close mutual friends (Bruce and Toni Bischoff) near my hometown. Their daughter, Tina Bischoff, is the godmother of her two children. Bruce Bischoff, is an avid Ohio State Buckeye fan and gave me a luckey buckeye for the trip which I showed to Ann at Opening Ceremonies.
Also, in the early part of the competition, I wasn't sure about the anti-American sentiment and was being overly cautious about what I said and to whom I said it. This turned out to be of no importance. One incident at the venue led me to be cautious in the beginning. An NBC cameraman asked if I could help him find the American flag among all the flags at the venue. There was one pole without a flag – the American flag was not there! Immediately, my thoughts were that of concern regarding the sentiment already mentioned. I pointed out the missing flag to several of the Greek officials who immediately began an inquiry. It turned out the flag's anchoring system had worked loose due to the extremely high winds during the morning session. It was repaired and flew high and proud for the remainder of the competition. That alleviated any fears that I had and I felt extremely comfortable from that time on.
All in all, Athens was an unbelievable experience for my wife and me. The performance and demeanor of our swimmers made us extremely proud to be Americans, citizens of the greatest swimming nation in the world.