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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
Yasas (or yasu if we know each other) from Athens. It’s Wednesday afternoon local time — nine hours ahead of the East Coast back in the States — and your intrepid reporter has found his way to the Olympic Village for a 1:30 appointment with Tyler Hamilton. The Phonak pro is out on a training ride at the moment, but assuming he shows up afterward we’re going to snap a photo of him in U.S. team kit for his column in VeloNews.
In the meantime here’s a little rundown on my first days in Greece. The whole adventure (I’m calling it that because this is my first go round with the world’s biggest sporting event) got started with a four-leg flight from Denver to the Olympic city via Frankfurt, Brussels and Rome. Total travel time came in at just under 24 hours. Body is still not sure when to sleep.
First order of business upon arrival was getting checked into my new digs for the next 20 days. I’m sharing a room with British photographer Graham Watson at the Agios Andreas media village. Strange place, Agios Andreas. I’m told it was once a military campground where officers came to vacation with their families. Can’t blame them for that. It sits 30km east of Athens along the coast of what I’m pretty sure is the Aegean Sea. The shoreline is a mix of rocky outcrops and small beaches. The water is crystal blue and warm.
Sometime along the way, though, someone decided Agios Andreas would make a good place for a media village. Now what was once a pleasant swath of open space has been overrun with a mix of plain-Jane condo-type buildings, basic cabanas and a modest outdoor restaurant. Pretty sure the whole place was erected about two weeks ago, as the TV remote was still wrapped in plastic when I arrived. Not sure what they’ll do with it when all us media types go home.
There’s definitely good and bad to Agios Andreas. The beach is good. The working AC is good. The sunsets are good. The free Heineken until 11 p.m. is good. But in terms of work — or getting to work I should say — it’s not so good. Each morning starts at the bus stop, which is actually a train stop — sort of. To get to the bus that takes you west through Athens’ suburbs to the main downtown press center and all the Olympic venues, you start by riding one of those slow mini-trains on wheels that you might see hauling around gawking tourists at Disneyland. Definitely a strange way to start the day, but the real bus stop is a couple miles away so what are you going to do.
Once on the bus it’s about a 45-minute ride to Olympic HQ, which includes the main press center (MPC), international broadcast center (IBC) and the Olympic sports complex. Could be worse, though. Apparently Athens is renowned for its traffic (I saw somewhere that the average speed was once clocked at a brisk 6mph), but this being August most Athenians are on their mandated one-month holiday, so the streets are not nearly as crowded as they could be.
The hallmark of the sports complex is of course the Olympic stadium with its crazy spaceship roof. Haven’t been inside yet, but even from the distance it’s very impressive. Nearby is the velodrome, the cousin of the big stadium, as they share the same whitewashed-spaceship look.
The main pressroom inside the MPC is just a little bigger than the digs I’m used to at NORBA races. The place is literally the size of a football field, with rows upon rows of workstations. Only bummer is that unless you’re with one of the world’s major media outlets, dial-up is all they offer. Not exactly Olympic connection speeds.
As advertised, the weather is hot. But it’s a dry heat, so if you get in the shade it’s not so bad. There’s also been a steady breeze, so that helps.
As for all the organizational fears that have been so prominently reported on, so far from my little world things seem to be running reasonably smooth. The buses show up on time. There’s always someone around to answer questions and everybody is very friendly. One Greek man said to me, “This is how we do things. We wait until the last minute and then we get it done.”
Anyway, got to go get with Tyler for his photo op. But check back throughout the Games for more adventures in journalism from Greece.