Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dragon (Fly) Slayer

Almost every U.S. practice here at the Olympics had been inundated by large dragon flies. We're not sure if they like the grass, the players, or they are just checking out the action. They don't really bug the players (bug! get it?), but at times, there have been what we might even call a swarm. Needless to say, those suckers are darting and quick insects. One unsuspecting U.S. staff member offered 100 yuan (about $15) to anyone who could actually catch one. And you know what? Natasha Kai did. The Dragon Fly Hunter took off her shoe and showing remarkable reflexes and hand-eye coordination, snared one in her Nike. It was buzzing around in there something fierce before she released it back into the wild...100 yuan richer.

Note: This is the most expensive Blog post of the trip. Darn it.

International Library Card

The U.S. players often bring the normal pastimes on long road trips: music, DVDs and books. But no one brings more books that Hope Solo and Stephanie Cox. The pair often has between 5-10 books each during extended time on the road. As you can see above, they are stocked for the Olympics. Cox is currently working on "Searching for God Knows What" by Donald Miller and "The Last Battle" by C.S. Lewis. Solo is into "All Things Must Fight to Live - Stories of War and Deliverance in the Congo" by Bryan Mealer as well as "Buddha - A Story of Enlightenment" by Deepak Chopra. Hopefully, the selections for the USA's two bookworms will last a while as the selection of books in English in China is often quite limited.

Pump It Up

The U.S. WNT coaching staff uses numerous different aspects of sports science to maximize and improve the players training and on-field performance. In this WNT Video Blog, which is Part 1 of 3 in our series on Sports Science and the WNT, we look at the use of heart rate monitors during training.

Say Cheese!

There is no shortage of helpful volunteers here in China for the 2008 Olympics. They are everywhere, smiling, friendly and dying to help you do something, anything. It seems that every one of them also wants an autograph from the U.S. players and a picture with them. Today at practice, the team obliged everyone working at the training site all in one pop (see above). By the way, today was the most beautiful day yet in China for the U.S. team. Blue skies, a nice ocean breeze and lots of sun. It was once again really hot, though. In the mid-80s at least, but since the USA's games are in the evening and later afternoon, it should be that bad for the matches. The team had an excellent training session and will have tomorrow (Sunday) off. The team is planning a trip to the part of the Great Wall that is just 20 minutes away from the team hotel. The excursion was cancelled a few days ago due to rain, but tomorrow she be perfect for another visit to (a much smaller part) of the Great Wall of China.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Her Hands Are Full

In going through our files for some photos of Christie Rampone for a soon-to-be posted feature on, we noticed a whole bunch of photos of her holding things. We then surmised that part of the job as U.S. captain, and a mom, must be that you have to hold stuff. Trophies, kids, flowers, pennants, even Natasha Kai. See below...

Four Days, Three Trainings

The U.S. team trained this morning next to the Qinhuangdao Olympic Stadium. Pia Sundhage watches her charges above. The weather has cooled off a bit due to the rain, which is nice, considering the dripping heat that has engulfed the team so far during its time in China. The U.S. team has training tomorrow morning, then will have Sunday off, before training on Monday night at the stadium and Tuesday morning in the final two sessions before beginning the Olympics next Wednesday. Let the Games Begin! Darn...We should have waited to use that closer to the start of the Olympics. We'll probably re-use it anyway.

WNT Olympic Home Page is Online

In case you haven't been able to catch all the Olympic content so far on, or miss something down the road, you can find it all on the Olympic Home Page. You can also get bios on all the U.S. players and follow the group standings once the tournament starts. If you haven't done so already, check out this feature on U.S. defender Stephanie Cox as she talks about her bumpy road to the Olympic Team.

The Bus Wave Back Game

When you spend as much time on buses as the U.S. players, sometimes wackiness ensues. Take for instance what transpired when the squad was returning to the hotel from a shopping trip the other day. As often happens with the WNT, friendly competition turns intense, even when it involves the warm and welcoming people of China. And keep in mind, with a police escort wherever the team goes, there is no shortage of people watching the bus roll by...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Eights are Wild for Hucles

You've read on the WNT Blog about the specialness of the number 8 in Chinese culture. After this Blog post, perhaps Angela Hucles will be signing a few more autographs for the locals. Hucles heads into the Olympic, which will start on 8-8-08 at 8 p.m., with 88 caps and 8 career goals. She also wears number 16, which is 8 x 2. Not only that, but she was born in 1978 (which is the year of the Snake by the way). Long story short, don't play a game of Crazy Eights with Hucles this week. You're bound to lose.

Rain Drops are fallin' on my head...

It rained almost all day today in Qinhuangdao, which shouldn't be a surprise if you saw the amount of dragon flies that were out yesterday. That's right. According to the USA's team liaison officer, Sheri, if the dragon flies come out, it means rain is coming. Them's some smart insects. It rained quite hard in the morning and evening. The ocean was churning up a bit too and there were actually some waves crashing on the shore. It's supposed to drizzle through the night and into the next morning, so the U.S. team could be in for a wet practice on Friday. The fields are in excellent shape here, although a bit soft, and the screw-in cleats could be called up. Interesting WNT Note: Goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart is the only WNT Player who almost exclusively wears screw-ins. But we digress...Hopefully the rain will pass and the weather for the USA's first match on Aug. 6 will be nice.

Chef Tash

You read about Natasha Kai cooking some eggs for her teammates? Now see it happen, with a WNT Video Blog. You will also get an explanation of why Kai is so comfortable with the spatula and frying pan. But can she make a Frittata?

Heather and the Azzurri

The team hotels at the satellite venues for soccer in the Olympics serve as a sort of Athlete Olympic Village in those cities. The hotels are secured and only the soccer teams and support staffs playing at those venues stay there. That means that there are, or will be, four women's teams and four men's teams at the team hotel. The USA, Norway and New Zealand women's teams have been here for a few days and Japan we believe arrives today. For the U-23 men, the Italians were the first here, followed by Honduras, but we have yet to see South Korea (short trip for them) or the Cameroonians. Above Heather O'Reilly snaps a pic with a few members of the Italian National Team, including Giuseppe Rossi (far right) who like Heather grew up in New Jersey.

Qinhuangdao Mall

Today is a day off for the U.S. team. No training, no weights, no meetings. Just our luck, on the day off, it's starts raining pretty hard. The team was supposed to go on an excursion this morning to the very beginning of the Great Wall of China, which has a small section here in Qinhuangdao that actually goes into the sea. They call it the Head of the Dragon, which is pretty cool. But it was raining so the trip was cancelled. Instead, a little over half the team went shopping at a local mall. The pickings were somewhat slim, but U.S. asst. coach Erica Walsh bought a Dancing Cow and Natasha Kai bought a Dancing Donkey. We're not even going to try to explain, but maybe we'll have some video later on. The U.S. players were asked to take quite a few pictures with the locals, and certainly obliged. It was raining lightly during shopping as well, to the trip was cut a bit short. At least it was a good chance to get out of the hotel and stretch the legs in what was certainly cooler weather.

Happy Birthday Hope!

Yesterday was Hope Solo's 27th birthday. Hard to believe the kid who started in goal for the USA at the U-16 and U-18 levels is 27, but that's just entering the prime for a goalkeeper. Hope got a big cake at dinner and in a unique twist, Happy Birthday sung in four languages: English (teammates), Chinese (team liaison), Swedish (Pia Sundhage) and her teammates even took a crack at Spanish, courtesy of Stephanie (Lopez) Cox and Heather Mitts (who really didn't know the words, but kept singing really loudly anyway).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Life's a Beach

If you've been reading the WNT Blog, you know that the USA is staying right on the beach in Qinhuangdao. While it's way too hot for any of the U.S. players to spend time frolicking in the sand, it hasn't stopped the Chinese from packing the beach for some fun in the On the weekend, there were so many beach-goers that it was likely difficult to find a place to lay a towel. Still, if there's one thing we've learned it's that that no matter where you are in the world, everyone loves a beach. The hotel and the Olympic organizers have cordoned off a section of the beach behind the hotel reserved just for the Olympic athletes and support staff. It also has nets out in the ocean to keep out any fish with bad attitudes. While it's sort of odd being on a fenced in beach, we surely appreciate the thought and effort going into making this VIP Beach Club.

You want cheese on that?

This morning at breakfast, an omelet bar was set up in the team's meal room. When the chef momentarily left his post, Natasha Kai stepped in and cooked up some scrambled eggs for more than a few of her teammates. You see, after high school Kai took a year off from school before starting at the University of Hawaii, during which time she worked 9-5 at a cafeteria. Needless so say, she's cooked some eggs before. Kai got high marks from her teammates for her eggs' consistency and scrambility.

Walsh Sets the Pace

Erica Walsh and her Chinese security entourage.
U.S. asst. coach Erica Walsh is pretty dedicated to staying fit. (She says the time she spends running is a direct correlation to the time she spends at the team buffet). Walsh often goes for a jog in the mornings, either at the hotel gym or around the team hotel. A few days ago after the USA arrived in Qinhuangdao, she decided to explore the area. She strolled out of the hotel and began walking. After about 10 minutes, she noticed a well-dressed, fit man following her from a distance. At first she thought it was odd, then she saw his walkie-talkie. Olympic Security. It goes without saying that security is tight at the Olympics and around the U.S. team so apparently the Chinese didn't want her wandering around alone. After an hour of walking, the guy was still behind her. She then decided she wanted to jog back to the hotel. She gave the security man a thumbs up and started running. In an amazing dedication to his job, so did the security man. For 30 minutes Walsh ran. For 30 minutes he followed. As they arrived back at the hotel, both were dripping with sweat from the humidity, except the the security guy wearing a nice sweater, nice slacks and dress shoes. As both walked through the security check, he got a standing ovation from the other security guards and volunteers. He got a thumbs up from Walsh who then saw him pointing to his shoes. His scuffed loafers pretty much told the story. Two days later, Walsh went out for another run. This time, the Chinese were ready. They followed her in a police car. This morning when she went out for her run, she saw the same security guard. He was again wearing a sweater and slacks, but he then pointed to his feet. On them, were running shoes! But he wasn't up for the job. This time, it was an unmarked car that followed her. Moral of the story: Don't try to keep up with a Walsh run in dress shoes. It can't be done.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lucky Number 8

In Chinese culture, certain numbers are believed to be lucky (or unlucky) based on how the word sounds when spoken as compared to other words (good or bad) that sound similar. Of course, the number 8 is one of the most revered and it's no coincidence that the 2008 Olympics will begin on 8-8-08 at 8 p.m. Beijing time. The word for eight in Chinese (Pinyin: bā) sounds similar to the word which means "prosper" or "wealth" (Pinyin: fā). Why do we bring this up? The floor on which the USA is based at the team hotel? 8.

Decisions, Decisions

U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo was wearing two different soccer cleats at training today. She's not doing it for the same reason as Natasha Kai, who wears two different color shoes because, well, she's Natasha Kai. Solo is trying to decide which ones to wear in the matches. Should it be the Nike Legends (left) or the Nike Total 90 Lasers (right)? Hmmm....

You are HERE

There is a huge wooden globe in the middle of the lobby of the team hotel and Christie Rampone took a few seconds before practice to show the fans out there exactly where the U.S. team is based for its first two matches. (Editor's Note: It's once of the nicest globes we've ever seen). Qinhuangdao is in the northeastern part of the Hebei Province, almost directly east of Beijing, and according to local tourist information, it has been honorably awarded for titles in China for "the Hygienic City, the Best Investment Environment City, the Superior City for Tourism, the State-leveled Garden City, the National Model City of Greening, one of the top 50 Cities of Best Urban Life Quality" and of course has been honored with hosting 12 soccer matches of the 2008 Olympics. It's also a vacation destination for many Chinese as it offers beaches and warm water. There were quite a few Chinese out on the beach this weekend. It's not Ipanema, but it is pretty nice.

Forest Park

The team trained today at the aptly named Forest Park, which featured lots of grass, lots of trees and a big lake. (As it is China, there were big apartment buildings around as well as you can see above). The small soccer stadium there was excellent as well. The field was a bit wet from a morning rain (some players said they were woken up in the wee hours of the morning due to lightning and thunder), so we tore the pitch up a bit. Sorry! All the training facilities for the Olympics have been first-rate so far and the team had an excellent practice as the jet lag is almost gone from their legs.

One of these things is not like the others things.
One of these things just doesn't belong.
Can you guess which thing is not like the other thing?
Before I finish my song.

Congrats to the U.S. U-17s!

We want to make sure that the historic achievement of the U.S. U-17 Women's National Team was not lost amid all the Olympic prep. The young U.S. team won the first-ever CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament on July 27 in Trinidad & Tobago. The U.S. had earned its berth to the 2008 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, which will be held later this year in New Zealand, with a 1-0 victory over Mexico in the semifinal, but won the regional title with a 4-1 victory over Costa Rica in the championship game on two goals from Hawaiian Tani Costa and one each from Kristen Mewis and Courtney Verlo. The Ticas had upset Canada in the other semifinal. Congrats to head coach Kazbek Tambi and his girls for their achievements. Now they can relax, catch a breath and start the important preparation for the first-ever Women's World Cup at the U-17 level. Hopefully, the full WNT can give these young ladies some inspiration with a rousing run in the Olympics.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Buehler the Transformer

Funny story that happened to Rachel Buehler in the run-up to the Olympics. She was in a gym in San Diego (which will go unnamed for reasons that will soon become clear) and getting her workout on an elliptical machine. The U.S. players are required to get their heart rates to a certain level during their workouts, so Buehler was pumping her arms and legs pretty hard on the machine. Apparently too hard. A gym employee approached her and asked her to stop. Stop working out at a gym? "That's not good for the machine and it's not good for your body," said the guy. "Well, I have to get my heart rate up," said Buehler. "Well, you'll have to find another way or get off." Not being able to get her heart rate to the appropriate levels by adding more resistance, Buehler sheepishly got off and found a treadmill in a corner, hopefully away from the watchful eye, and finished her workout. "I have to admit, I am pretty crazy on that machine," said Buehler.

Train Time

The U.S. players enjoyed their two-hour train ride from Beijing to Qinhuangdao and its rousing welcome at the team hotel here. For a WNT Blog look at the USA's journey, see below.

First Training in Qinhuangdao

Thankfully, it wasn't nearly as hot for the USA's first training in Qinhuangdao as it was for the first practice in Beijing. That's not to say it wasn't hot, it was, but with clearer skies and ocean breezes, the 85-minute session was much more bearable. Qinhuangdao, a city of just 3 million, which makes it a small city by Chinese standards, sits right on the eastern coast of China on the Yellow Sea. (Natasha Kai was wondering if there would be some tasty waves here, but the surf is about as flat as it comes). The team practiced on a perfect training field outside the 32,350-seat Qinhuangdao Olympic Center Stadium, where the USA's first two games will be played. There was a smattering of media at practice as well as the usual throngs of volunteers, and if there is one thing we can say about China, it is definitely organized and ready for the Olympics. The team is really starting to shake off the jet lag and will go again tomorrow morning before getting the afternoon off.

Aly Wagner and Lori Chalupny recline in the shadows of the Qinhuangdao Olympic Stadium after a hot practice.

Unique Time for Soccer Moms

U.S. defenders Kate Markgraf and Christie Rampone, the two Soccer Moms on the team, do not have their kids with them during the Olympics. While the kids travel with the U.S. team on almost every trip, when it comes to world championships, the kids stay with their dads for numerous reasons, most notably the restricted access during world championship tournaments and to give the moms time to rest and focus on the task at hand. While both the moms (and certainly the rest of the players!) really miss having the kids around, it does give Kate and Christie some time to do things they don't normally get to do while the road. We asked our Soccer Moms to give us some things they get a chance to do when little Keegan Markgraf and Rylie Rampone are not with them. They pretty much agree that:

1) They can watch movies that aren't Disney movies, grown-up TV shows, and even some movies that are not G-Rated.
2) Spend longer times at team meals enjoying the company of her teammates.
3) Control their own sleep patterns.
4) Read books.
5) Not pack nearly as much. Less clothes, toys and diapers!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

2,447 ACROSS

Needless to say, during world championships, the players have a lot of down time as outside of training, rest is key. The players fill that time with many different activities (remember Lori Chalupny and Heather O'Reilly are knitting), but keeping in line with a favorite pastime of many of the U.S. players -- crossword puzzles -- U.S. General Manager Cheryl Bailey brought a special gift to China: The World's Largest Crossword Puzzle! The list of clues fills a small book. While it's seemingly impossible to fill out this whole thing before the end of the Olympics, don't doubt the wordsmith's on the team. Without crossword devotee Abby Wambach, it will be a bit more difficult, but the players already have a few of the words filled in. Below Stephanie Cox contributes a few words to the mission.

Best Hotel Greeting EVER

For many Olympics now, venues outside the main host city have hosted soccer matches. Needless to day, the folks in those cities get super excited to be a part of the games and nowhere was that better demonstrated than during the USA's arrival at the team hotel this evening. Literally hundreds of staff filled the lobby in a gauntlet of Olympic spirit and cheered loudly as the players walked into the hotel, presenting several huge bouquets of flowers and as well as gifts bags to each of the players. The U.S. team has received some rousing greetings before, but this was without a doubt the best ever. We didn't need this greeting to see that China is going nuts about this Olympics, but who doesn't like to be clapped into a hotel lobby? Kate Markgraf got perhaps the biggest ovation as she ran down the line of hotel staff, high-fiving each one as flashbulbs popped.
Pia Sundhage is escorted into the hotel

The players were given flags by the hotel staff

Welcome to Qinhuangdao!

The Train Gang

The U.S. team left Beijing this afternoon via train for Qinhuangdao, venue for its first two matches of the 2008 Olympics. Not just any train, though, one of those super fast bullet-type trains. The trip only took two hours and was uneventful until the very end, when the team was told they had one minute to de-board the train in Qinhuangdao. Given a challenge, as usual, the players responded, pouring off the train in just over the prescribed 60 ticks. We wonder what would have happened if someone hadn't made it? Would Pia Sundhage be in Mongolia right now? The players were met by a large group of volunteers and security, which ushered the team to the bus, then to the Qinhuangdao Olympic Stadium complex to get their accreditations activated.

U.S. players engage in a mean game of Phase 10 while waiting for the train

Thanks BNU

The U.S. team left Beijing Normal University for Qinhuangdao this afternoon after a great three-day stay. Special thanks to all the USOC folks and Chinese organizers who helped make the arrival in Beijing super smooth and provided the team with everything they needed to prepare for competition. Special WNT Blog props go out to the chefs and staff in the meal room. The food, presentation, service and friendliness just could not have been better. These are people -- who like the U.S. players -- love and appreciate good food. If the Food Network execs are reading the WNT Blog, get some cameras over here as you have the making of an excellent special: "Breakfast in Beijing - Feeding Team USA." Hopefully, the U.S. will advance in the tournament and be back in Beijing to play for a medal...and enjoy some more excellent American cuisine.

First Training in China

After two days of rest, relaxation and sight-seeing, the U.S. team got to work this morning, running through about a 100-minute session at Beijing Normal University, the home base for the USOC during the 2008 Olympics. The operative word for this training: Humidity. It was hotter than a plate of extra spicy Szechuan Kung Pao Chicken out there and the players were bathed in sweat from the moment they hit the field. The hazy weather at least blocked out the sun, but it wasn't the crispest of sessions due to the heat and jet lag. Still, the team was excited to play and get its final Olympic preparation started. More than a few players jumped into big tubs of ice after practice to help their legs recover, which was in turn refreshing, remarkably painful, numbing, and then refreshing.

Lori Chalupny does her best impression of a polar bear