I laughed the first time Gazette publisher Simon Grieve said he wanted to send me and co-sports editor Mike Guardabascio to London, England to cover Long Beach athletes and coaches in the 2012 Olympics.
At first it seemed like a flight of fancy because I didn’t realize how many moving pieces were ready to be put into place. And the timing was perfect.
Grieve, originally from London, used his hometown knowledge to find a room for us in beautiful Blackheath after the LaBounty Group, the Aquatic Capital of America and the Long Beach Century Club all provided vital sponsorship.
We were far past the deadline to start the odyssey that is getting USOC press credentials, so instead we took our own business plan across the pond. With a lot of help, Mike and I started covering sports in Long Beach by doing exactly that. We went to every local sporting event we could find ready to work hard bringing fresh local sports coverage.
Or, as Casey McCall says on the television show “Sports Night,” “It’s Napoleon’s plan. First you just show up, and then you see what happens.”
For three weeks in London, Mike and I jumped from event to event, moving from the local bus line, to another security line, to the tube (while minding the gap) and then back again. Meanwhile, 32 athletes and coaches with ties to Long Beach finished with a total of 15 medals: seven gold, six silver and two bronze. If Long Beach were one of the 204 countries competing, it would’ve been tied for 10th most gold medals, and 17th in total count.
Mike and I scoured the internet and visited foreign embassies for event tickets after pre-dawn trips to USA basketball and volleyball practices.
Among the incredible feats we witnessed, Misty May-Treanor ended her stellar career with another gold, Jessica Hardy began hers with a gold and a bronze and Carmelita Jeter hit for the cycle with a medal of each color.
Bryshon Nellum, the Poly athlete who overcame multiple gunshot wounds to his legs, carried the American flag into the closing ceremonies following his silver medal run in the 4x400 relay. He and gymnast McKayla Maroney were both mentioned by president Barack Obama in his Weekly Address on the second Sunday of the Olympics as inspirational American athletes.
Plus, two Long Beach athletes and one Long Beach coach helped the USA women’s water polo team win its first-ever gold.
Although Mike and I didn’t sleep much while producing the feature articles, columns, video highlights, photo galleries, travel journals and event recaps it was more than worth the experience because we embraced the madness. And it was perfect.
We didn’t have a classic support system in place for an international assignment at one of the biggest sporting events in the world, but we made it work with a lot of help and a little bit of luck.
After being anxious about the trip for months, it felt good to get on the London streets and find the stories.
I imagine many Olympians will have similar emotions this month in Brazil. After all of the controversy and horror stories surrounding the Rio Olympics, I’m sure it will feel good for them to finally compete.
From abject poverty in Brazil to the Zika virus, I think we can all agree Rio De Janeiro is a dangerous place right now. Brazilian-born professional skateboarder Tiago Lemos told me last week that he’s not excited for the Olympics because “a lot of people are mad at our government right now.”
So obviously countries are taking precautions to protect their Olympians, and the athletes know they can’t be affected by extenuating circumstances. Now it’s time for everyone else to embrace the madness like Mike and I did four years ago.
Journalists and fans need to work with what we have. The international sports community can’t dwell on the negatives in Rio. There will be plenty of people doing that already.
In other words, Tony Azevedo deserves to compete in a record fifth Olympics without having to answer a question about water quality every day.
All of this makes me wish the Olympics were back in London again, but nothing will ever be that perfect again.