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Paul Alvarez’s Universiade blog

  • September 19, 2011

Friday, August 12

Greetings to friends, family, and colleagues from China!

As most of you know by now, I am in Shenzhen, China, with the US Team at the World University Games. More formally referred to as the Universiade (university + olympiade), this is the Olympics for college student-athletes and is second only to the Olympics as a world sporting event in size and scope. My role here is to serve as assistant athletic trainer to the US athletes, although a number of the teams have their own athletic trainers. As a result, our role as medical staff is primarily to coordinate any medical needs with the local physicians and to provide an athletic training room for athlete treatments.

A brief history of how I got here . . . three years ago, Leroy Heu (Head Athletic Trainer at UC Santa Barbara), approached me during our District Convention and asked if I would be willing to be part of the Team USA staff going to Belgrade, Serbia, for the Universiade. Having always aspired to be part of the Olympics, this was really a dream come true for me. After a phenomenal experience in Belgrade, I was quite pleased to be invited to be part of the staff coming to Shenzhen.

On the way here, I had the opportunity to spend a day in Hong Kong. Quite a remarkable city, and so incredibly busy! In addition to some of the more traditional experiences such as riding the Star Ferry across the harbor, going to the top of Victoria Peak, and visiting the Wong Tai Sin temple, I was perhaps most taken by my trip to the Nan Lian Gardens and Chi Lin Buddhist Nunnery. In the midst of the hectic city, the Gardens are a place of quiet beauty, and the Nunnery a place for quiet contemplation.

I arrived at the Universiade Village on August 7th, and it has been non-stop since! While my official role is that of assistant athletic trainer, we are all needed to multitask as the 420 USA athletes arrive. They all need to be issued temporary credentials, given room keys, and oriented to the Village. We have orientation meetings and staff meetings, issue Team USA gear, arrange transportation, and troubleshoot for any issues that come up. Needless to say, this keeps us all busy!

 

Additionally, we needed to set up an athletic training room, meet with the local medical staff in the Polyclinic, and solve the many logistical issues that come up with any big organization. A huge help are the many local volunteers who work within the organization, as well as the attachés assigned specifically to our delegation to help us. They are wonderful, energetic, and we could not do our jobs without them!

The entire Village is brand new, and will become Shenzhen University of Technology after we leave. I will attach more photos later, but attached one that shows a hill in our area and one of the dorm buildings.

The first official event we had was the Delegation welcome ceremony where we joined several other delegations as our respective flags were raised. We took a group photo (attached), but many more athletes are arriving daily.

Last night was the Opening Ceremonies, but will save more news for later.

 

 

 Tuesday, August 16

 The Opening Ceremonies for the Games was Friday night, and it was spectacular! The logistics of putting it on was equally amazing.

The Opening Ceremonies were held at 8 p.m. at the Stadium of Shenzhen Bay Sports Center, also known as the “Spring Cocoon.” However, this site is almost an hour away via bus from the Village, so the Chinese had the challenge of moving over 6,000 participants representing 152 nations from the Universiade Village to the stadium without overly disrupting practice schedules. To accomplish this, they marshaled over 200 buses in the Village shuttle parking lot and surrounding streets. They then assigned time slots for each delegation to assemble, and volunteers led the delegations to their respective buses. One by one, the buses were filled. When all were ready, a police escort led the first buses out of the Village and to the freeway. The freeway to Shenzhen was completely closed to outside traffic and so two lines of buses as far as the eye could see sped down the freeway. Upon arriving at the stadium parking lot, again we were met with volunteers who led us to an assembly area in the arena adjacent to the stadium.

Half of the teams were assembled in the arena to wait for the call to line up while the other half were assembled into the parade of athletes. As the “United States,” we were fairly late in the parade, so we were in the gymnasium. While there, we entertained ourselves or were entertained by doing “the wave,” chanting, or, best of all, listening to the South African team singing. Think “The Lion King” theater production and some of the traditional songs from that, and you get the idea.

Finally, we were called to assemble in the parade line. While we were in the arena, the main part of the program was taking place in the stadium. The walk to enter the stadium was long, as we wound around in the tunnel under the stadium from one side to the other. Along the way, we saw numerous costumed performers waving from access tunnels, and a number of the athletes took photos with them. However, it was very hot, and although the numerous volunteers provided plenty of water along the way, it was getting a bit tedious to get our chance in the stadium.

But all the wait was well worth it to have the chance to enter the stadium behind the flag. We marched down the center of the stadium and then were directed to seats on the side of the center section where we were able to watch the rest of the ceremonies, including the raising of the FISU flag and anthem, the oath of the athletes and officials, and, of course, the lighting of the flame

Many of the performers we saw and greeted in the tunnel were part of the celebration that followed the lighting of the flame, and that knowledge made the performance that much more personal.

Finally, we were led out of the Stadium and back to the buses, which took off as soon as they were filled rather than the team loading that was done to get to the stadium. Because I was assigned to follow the last US athletes out, I ended up on a bus with representatives of the United Arab Emirates in their traditional robes, the French, and I sat next to Michael from South Africa. We had a good chat on the way back to the Village about his major (transportation engineering), his event (track and field, 800 meters), and how he enjoys singing, as they had done in the arena prior to the ceremony. We got back at midnight, tired but energized by the ceremony.

A brief note about the volunteers . . . it was announced that there are over 130 volunteers for EVERY Universiade participant. This was evident in the thousands that were involved in the Opening Ceremony, from the bus monitors to the guides in the arena, those who directed us along the parade route, the performers, and all of those who work with each of the delegations. They truly put a human face on the complex organization that is the Games.

 

 

Wednesday, August 17

I thought I would try and give you a brief look at life in the Village. To begin with, the entire complex is brand-new, and will become the Shenzhen University of Technology when we are done. It is quite a large facility, and a photo of “the Mall” that runs down the center only hints at its true size. The towers are the dormitories where we live, and the tower at the end of the mall is just over halfway across the campus. Beyond the tower are additional buildings that will become classrooms and faculty offices, as well as a fitness center that includes a 50-meter swimming pool!

The rooms are typical dorm rooms, although unique in that the shower and toilet are out on the balcony! Yes, enclosed, but you have to step out onto the balcony in full view of anyone when going to the bathroom or shower. The rooms, thankfully, have individual air-conditioners, crucial in that the weather is hot and humid.

There are two dining halls in the same building — not sure why they structured it that way. Both are open during peak times, but they shut down the smaller one when not needed. However, during the Games you can get food 24 hours a day. This is actually quite helpful when you have athletes (and staff!) eating early in the morning prior to competitions or practices, and then on the other end, eating late at night after a contest. Overall, the food is pretty good although not what we would normally eat in America. They have the serving lines divided up into Muslim, International, Local, Asian, and Mediterranean. Plenty of rice, noodles, vegetables, pasta, and various meats – duck, chicken, pork, fish, and beef – served in various asian sauces and grills. In addition to the hot foods, they have sandwich makings, various breads, and some fruit. Finally, they have uniquely asian foods such as mochi, pickled vegetables, and dim sum.

During the Games, they provide a limited laundry service to the athletes. This has been kind of a challenge for the staff, as we were told that only athletic gear would be laundered for free, with a charge for any “regular” clothes. So we have taken to making sure our “USA” shirts are on top of anything we submit, and that seems to satisfy the inspectors.

 

Security at any international event is a concern. We all have to wear photo credentials wherever we go, and certain areas are limited to certain types of credentials. When entering the Village, we have to pass through security with X-ray machines for bags and hand-held scans of each person. Military guards are around the perimeter of the Village, and police are present at the main gates. When going off site, the buses are escorted by police.

The final photo is of the Flag Plaza where the flags of the representative nations are displayed. The Flag Plaza is at the other end of the mall from the Welcome Building where our offices are and the USA dormitory rooms. Our office is the central hub for Team USA, where we do all of the business needed to support the teams in and out of competition.

If you go to the Games website and scroll down, you can find the video section which includes the Opening Ceremony.

 

Saturday, August 20

 Hello from Shenzhen!

As the last athletes have arrived, others are leaving. The good news is that the volume of work is slowing down. This means we have been able to get out and see some of the events. The not-so-good news is we are having to say goodbye to some of the athletes and staff that we have gotten to know even in this short time. Of course the other good news is that we are now only a few days away from closing and heading home. Hard to believe it has been over two weeks since I left Southern California.

If nothing else, the Games are about people and relationships. We have been encouraged, and in turn, encourage, our student athletes to mingle with other countries, try the other menu items, and play down the image of the ethnocentric American. Pin trading is one way this happens. Many of the countries, including the USA, have given their athletes national or sport pins to trade with other countries. Also, the Chinese volunteers have been given several types of pin to share or trade. Without trying very hard, I have managed to accumulate a lanyard full of pins from our Chinese hosts and other countries.

Story: I was getting on the elevator in the delegation office building, when two burly coaches from Belarus (a former part of the Soviet Union) got on as well. They barely acknowledged my ‘hello,’ just curtly nodded with their arms crossed. This was not an insult as, for the most part, the Belarussians have kept to themselves. So I was a little surprised when one turned to me and in a classic, deep-accented voice said, “You are an Amerikan.” This was a statement, not a question. Not knowing what else to do, I replied, “Yes, sir.” He reached in his pocket and said “Want to trade pin?” So, now I have a Belarussian pin and a different sense of our differences, or lack of.

Those of us on the U.S. Delegation have often reflected that the United States will probably never host another Universiade (Buffalo, N.Y., in 1993 was the one and only U.S. hosting). For these games, not only did the Chinese marshal thousands of volunteers, but build this entire Village from scratch and a number of world class athletic facilities. Across the street from the Village is the Universiade Athletic Complex consisting of a track/football (soccer) stadium, indoor swimming arena, and gymnasium.

I’ve attached a photo of the outside of the track stadium; the swimming venue is barely visible to the left of the stadium. I’ve mentioned the Shenzhen Bay Athletic Complex, but there are also a number of other facilities the Chinese build expressly for these Games. Additionally, the entire city is enamored of the event. At track tonight, with only a few finals being contested, the stadium was mostly full, and it seats 60,000 people! While the Chinese athletes were obviously favorites, they also cheered good efforts from everyone.

Story: Since the U.S. does not have a soccer (football) team here, I went to watch the British play Korea at Shenzhen Stadium. I was trying to figure out how to take a photo of myself in the stadium when a young Chinese man approached me, and in a perfect British accent, asked if I wanted him to take a photo of me. After doing so, he explained that several busloads of fans from Hong Kong had come up to support the British, and he was happy to help anyone who was also supporting Britain. End result, Britain won, 1-0, and I was reminded that old bonds die hard.

Sside story to this:  If you go into sporting goods stores in Hong Kong, you can get any British Premier Football League jersey you want. The only thing Hong Kong is more passionate about than British football is horse racing — something else they acquired from the English).

I have mentioned before that our Chinese attachés have been wonderful. They run errands, run interference when we need translators, and are very excited to be part of the U.S. delegation. While they are not “supposed” to attend athletic events with us — I think the local organizing committee feels it would send the wrong message about the purpose of volunteering — we have found ways to get some of the hardest workers into events with us. We did have a little thank you event today to give out some of our extra USA gear — you should have heard the excitement! And all wanted to take a photo with “Mr. Gary” — Gary Cunningham, the head of our Delegation. I may have mentioned before that Gary was a player and assistant coach with John Wooden, and UCLA head basketball coach, but he also has an international reputation as a man of honor and integrity in the Universiade movement.

In closing . . . we were asked not to be too demonstrative in displaying the U.S. flag in our residential area as other countries tend to do, mostly for security reasons. Above us, the British have a few flags out, and other buildings are positively festooned with the flags of their respective delegations. While not defying the recommendation to not display the American flag, I thought it would be okay and appropriate to display a “ULV” flag from my room balcony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, August 22

A few random notes as we begin to prepare for the Closing Ceremonies tonight.

I mentioned in my last e-mail that I had lunch with the Head of Delegation from Ethiopia the other day. I won’t do the injustice of trying to spell his name, which I only caught once. He had been trying to meet with “Mr. Gary” and we got to chatting and that led to lunch. We found that we have a few things in common: He is the chair of his Sport Sciences Department at a university in Addis Abba, the capital. He is trying to improve his department, and has been asked to begin the process to offer a Ph.D. program. However, he is struggling to get sufficient doctoral-level faculty to come to Ethiopia, with its somewhat turbulent history. We discussed the relative merits of a “visiting professor system”, which might assure others that it would be a good environment to teach in. As it is, his wife is studying in the United States to earn her doctorate so that she can help her country’s educational system. It is a sacrifice, as she has been gone for two years with two more years to go. I did learn something new from him: He was very emphatic in noting that “Ethiopia is a Christian nation”, and added that in Ethiopia, you say “Thank Gosh (God)” after you finish your meal or even a favorite dish.

The weather here has been tough if you are in an outdoor sport. Most days, it hits 90 degrees F, and 50-70% humidity. While most of us have experienced higher temps, the humidity is brutal. The organizers have placed rather odd-looking mist fans (eyeball fan) around the village, but with the high humidity, they are not of much use. To add to the challenge, the first few days we had tremendous thunderstorms and torrential rain. Fortunately, competitions had not yet started. However, there was minor flooding in some areas of the village, and a couple of the lightning blasts were right overhead.

Politics have been pretty much out of the picture here, although traditional rivals have teams present. However, I understand that Israel was scheduled to play Iran in men’s volleyball and boycotted the contest, accepting the forfeit rather than play. Otherwise, it is heartening to see the many nations all eating together in the dining hall, many interacting with other nations and sharing their experiences.

We are fortunate to have access to the Polyclinic, a multi-modal medical facility on site that is staffed 24 hours a day by a full staff of medical specialists. We had occasion to refer an athlete to the clinic and went over with her coach. Everything turned out as well as could be expected, but it turned into a photo shoot when the medical staff discovered that the coach was a former world champion for China before he emigrated to the United States. So we (the doctor and I plus the coach) were included in a group shot (Polyclinic staff).

In the village, there is a memorial commemorating the villagers who gave up their land so that the Village (which will become Shenzhen Institute of Information Technology), could be built. Every day, the housekeeping staff clean the rooms, the grounds, and offices. I captured this photo of one of them sweeping the memorial with the reed broom that most of the groundskeepers favor over nylon brooms.

I have been able to go watch our athletes competing in Judo, Track and Field (Athletics), Women’s Basketball, and today, Taekwondo. After leaving the track stadium the other night, I was able to get this shot of the stadium showing how it lights up at night.

Tonight are the Closing Ceremonies. Many of our athletes and a number of our staff have already left, so it will be a much smaller contingent than we opened with. It is going to be held at Windows of the World park, where the Chinese have duplicated in reduced size many of the great landmarks of the world. We will have a chance to tour the park before we have the final show of the Games.

 

Tuesday, August 23

 

 

Wow.

Only description that will suffice for the Closing Ceremonies. As was the case in Bejing for the Olympics, the Closing was as dramatic, if different, than the Opening. It was held at Windows of the World, a theme park that features replicas of many famous world landmarks. These include the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, seen in the background of a photo of the US Pistol Team.

When we entered the park, we were greeted by thousands of volunteers, whose job it was to route us through the park, hand us liquids, and begin the process of saying goodbye. The Ceremonies featured both traditional China, and modern, with jazz, tap dancing, and rock music. The flags of all the participating nations were paraded in dramatic fashion. The traditions of the Olympics and the Universiade were maintained with the formal lowering of the FISU flag and extinguishing of the Flame, which was displayed via video feed since the Opening site and Closing were held in different venues. Finally, it was time to say goodbye to the thousands of participants, volunteers, officials, staff, and citizens of Shenzhen who have all had a hand in the Games.

We are packing up the office today, and at some point we may need to shut down the wireless router to ship it home. We are leaving tomorrow at 9 a.m. for Hong Kong, where I will fly out from tomorrow evening.

Thanks to all who made this trip possible, beginning with my family – Jenn, Matthew, and Daniel – for letting me “play hooky” for the past three weeks; to my parents and in-laws for helping mind the boys while I was gone and Jenn was in school; to Leroy Heu for asking me to join the team for Belgrade in 2009, which gave me the chance to come here as well; to Gary Cunningham for supporting us in our adventure through his leadership; and lots of other people who have been part of this. Thanks also to those of you who were willing to read this semi-regular posting, and hope I did not jam up your mailbox too much.

Related posts:

  1. HMO, Team USA
  2. A World of Experience
  3. Experience of a Lifetime (Again)
  4. Diamonds In The Rough
  5. Eight Inducted into Hall of Fame

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