March 4, 2012

MUSINGS: A Normal Day With Guys in the Pros

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There are few times in my life that I can admit that I will remember for the rest of my life. March 4th was one of those days, and it revolves entirely around sports — short track speed skating, to be specific.

I’ll start by giving a little back-story to how this awesome day came about. Since I was in middle school, I was always fascinated with the fast ice-sport. By the 2006 Olympics in Turin, I decided to give the sport a try and I fell in love with it. Over my skating career (which has been put on hold until after I graduate due to Cornell’s desire to run Lynah for-profit rather than to support its paying students), I was given some of the most amazing opportunities I could have asked for. The likely most memorable of these experiences was in 2008 when I spent the summer training with Jae-Su Chun, the U.S. Olympic head coach, in Salt Lake City with other members of the national team. During my four years of skating I was able to get rather close with some of the skaters, coaches, and staff who represent the United States at international meets. One such meet was the Short Track World Championships this weekend here in Shanghai.

My closest friend on the team, Jordan Malone, reached out to me a couple of months ago when he realized our times in Shanghai would overlap. Once the team (made up of five men skaters, five women skaters and nine coaches and training staff) got to the hotel in Shanghai on Saturday, I was directed to where they were staying to figure out a schedule of when they were free from training to be shown around the city.

Sunday morning I arrived at the hotel after their practice to pick up the team to bring around Shanghai. Since they got in the day before some were still jet-lagged, so I ended up taking just the men’s team (Jordan, Kyle Carr, Simon Cho, Travis Jayner and JR Celski) and its coaches around town. We left their hotel at around noon on our adventure around the city. Our first stop was the Shanghai Shi Liu Pu Cloth Market.

Although I have been to a similar market, I didn’t expect to get to this specific market through stairs of a used kitchen appliance store (which the market was above). In China, it is incredibly cheap to have a custom tailored suit or pea coat made at these kinds of markets and that’s exactly what the guys wanted. I spent the next hour and a half running back and forth between vendors the skaters were looking at, bargaining a price, explaining the details of the suits they wanted, figuring out picking them up, etc.

After our stint at the cloth market, we made our way to Madison Restaurant, my personal favorite contemporary-American restaurant here in Shanghai, for brunch. Austin, the owner and executive chef, has become a good friend of mine here in the city and was very excited to have such elite athletes at his restaurant – he also has a connection to Cornell, as his dad was a Class of 1975 hotelie. Without having to order anything, the wait staff started bringing out dish after dish family style for our group of 14 to share; it was a great meal (ranging from fresh bread, to country fried steak, to eggs benedict, to probably the best BLT anyone at the table had ever eaten) and the team was more than blown away since it is normally stuck to food served at the hotel. During the meal, one of my friends here in town asked the guys: “who’s the fastest?”, which is probably a hard question to answer when asking 4 Olympic medalists and one world champion. Just the thought of their credentials is humbling due to the magnitude of these guys as athletes, but is very easy to forget about since they, as my friend said, “are just normal guys.”

Since we needed to get a move-on and not get stuck in the food coma we were left in, we made our way to the subway to go to LuJiaZui – the location of the Pearl Tower, World Financial Center Building, and other well-known skyscrapers. Although the weather was not ideal, and there were clouds covering the top parts of the taller buildings, the guys were in awe from the sheer size of everything. We went to the top of the Ritz-Carlton where there is an outdoor balcony at the 60th-floor that overlooks the major buildings in the area — specifically the Oriental Pearl Tower. After they took hundreds of pictures we took a ferry across the water to the Bund (high-end waterfront area) to walk around and take pictures of the Shanghai skyline. It started to rain, and was already chilly outside, so the day around Shanghai ended there to reduce any chance of the guys from getting sick before their competition this weekend. I waved down four taxis and sent them on their way back to their hotel.

Throughout the entire day I think there was a mutual level of awe and appreciation between the guys on the team and me. Although what I did with them in Shanghai was rather “touristy” and regular for me as I reside here in China studying abroad, they don’t generally have the opportunities to get these kind of experiences during travel for the world circuit. For me, spending a day showing around my Olympic athlete friends on the other side of the world who are at the top of my sport is likely an once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget. The World Championships are this weekend at the Oriental Sports Center and you can bet on who will be cheering the loudest for our guys in the red, white and blue.

Original Author: Nat Green