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By Neal Henderson
Neal Henderson is the Sport Science Manager at Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. He is a USA Cycling certified coach and works with a diverse clientele at BCSM. He has been Taylor Phinney’s personal coach since 2006 and will is traveling with Phinney and his family in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics.
The city of Beijing is buzzing on an Olympic scale. The past week has been a busy one full of exercises in frustration as well as exhilaration. One of the hardest parts of being a coach who is not part of the national governing body, and therefore without Olympic credentials, is the isolation that occurs with your athletes.
When Taylor left on Thursday from the airport on an Olympic Athlete Village bound bus, that was the last time that I even saw him until Tuesday evening. For the first few days in Beijing I stayed with a friend of a friend who lives in Beijing. Hamilton Gregg works for the International School of Beijing and has been here for seven years. He speaks Chinese pretty well, and definitely helped me ease into life in Beijing. I do not speak Chinese, other than being able to say “hello” and “thank you,” two important words. I also used a lot of hand gestures and pointing to maps that are written in both English and Chinese to be able to make my way around.
The pure size and Beijing are impressive … and the Olympic venues that I’ve been to are also incredible. As I can only stay in touch with Taylor via email, text, and phone he might as well be half the world away at this point. Fortunately, I have had two chances to spend a few minutes with Taylor at a sponsorship dinner and tomorrow (Friday) I will go to the athlete’s village in the morning. Taylor will be racing tomorrow evening at about 5pm local time. Taylor applied for day passes for his parents and I last Saturday, and the first available opening is tomorrow. I feel fortunate that I’m able to be with Taylor on the day of his event … while Davis will be going in on Saturday — hopefully on the second day of racing for T.
I have had a chance to see several swimming preliminaries, and also the qualifying days for both men’s and women’s gymnastics. Later today I’m going to table tennis … which should be pretty cool here in China. I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve heard that table tennis is one of sports with the greatest numbers of participants … simply because the number of Chinese people who play.
Interestingly, and somewhat frustratingly, the only cycling events that I’ve seen was the men’s road race fly by in town on Saturday. We scouted out a downtown location that was on a corner with a massive big screen TV. I was hoping that they would be showing some of the race on the TV, but it only had a repeating “about cycling” video meant to educate the crowd. We were 10K into the race, and there were two riders off the front and then it was about a minute to the peloton. I only made out Christian Vande Velde in the group, but shouted out for Ivan Stevic … who finished in 67th. In a park right by the road there were two groups of 50+ year old women doing cheerleading routines … it was pretty entertaining to watch.
Taylor’s final workouts on the Laoshan track have been very good, and everything is in order for him to have a great race tomorrow. As an 18-year old with just three seasons of cycling in his legs, it’s amazing that Taylor is even here riding. Most of the competitors in the field are seasoned pros that have been around for a long time, and many who have competed and/or medaled in the pursuit at the Olympics. Taylor represents a lot of what is good in the Olympics and specifically in cycling.
We have no idea what the TV coverage is going to be for Friday, but we’re hoping that everyone gets to see it at home. We’re going to have a pretty big USA section here in Beijing, as we have 12 of us staying at this hotel that are cheering for Taylor … and we’ve got lots of other friends around who are going to be there as well. So, think good thoughts for Taylor on Friday!