Monday, August 25, 2008

Thanks, Tak and Xie Xie

Well, as they say in the cartoons...That's All Folks. This post ends our Olympic WNT Blog. It's been a long, exciting journey to the gold medal. It started in China in January at the Four Nations Tournament and ended in China on Aug. 21 at Beijing Workers Stadium. In between, the U.S. won 26 games, lost one (coming in the Olympics of all places, but that was part of the magical story) and tied one (which they later won in PKs over Canada in the CONCACAF Qualifying Final). The run in the Olympics featured dramatic turns in every match. From the worst first four minutes in Olympic women's soccer history against Norway in the opener, to the must-win 1-0 victory over Japan on spectacular goal from Carli Lloyd in the second match, to the combination of results on the final match day that won Group G for the USA, to Natasha Kai's overtime game-winner against Canada in the semifinal and the USA's come-from-behind shellacking of Japan in the semifinal. And of course, the tremendous overall team effort to beat a talented Brazilian side in the gold medal match.
What a year, what a tournament, what a team.
We must highlight the absolutely fantastic job by Pia Sundhage and her coaching staff as well as the U.S. support staff that works behind the scenes to make sure the team has everything it needs to win. So, to all those who helped get the team to the top of the mountain, thank you. To all the fans that cheered the team on during the wee hours of the morning, thank you. And to all the fans who will be coming to watch the Olympic champions on their 10-game post-Olympic Tour -- SEE YOU THERE!

Home Sweet Home

The team flew home from Beijing on the morning of Aug. 25, arriving in the USA (after crossing the international date line) on the morning of Aug. 25. Is a 10-hour flight a lot easier after you've won a gold medal? You betcha. The plane was packed with athletes and officials from the U.S. delegation, including gold medal men's volleyball players (a great group of guys), swimmers, rowers, runners and others. The players snapped pics in the Beijing airport with fans (like Shannon Boxx above) and while the team arrived in all different cities on their domestic legs, we know they got some wonderful hometown greetings. Amy Rodriguez got balloons at the airport (see below), brought by her friends/teammates at USC. And oh yeah, it's the first day of school for A-R0d. She has a 6 p.m. class. Welcome back down from Cloud 9. And stay awake Amy! Or if you do fall asleep, just tell your professor that your gold medal was so heavy that it pulled your head down onto the desk.

Thanks Jay!

Another very special thanks goes out to Jay Warwick, the WNT's USOC Liaison who was with the U.S. team every step of the way in China. Jay did a fantastic job in helping the team in so many ways, we can't begin to list them here, but his experience with the Olympics and the USOC and how the whole Olympic Games functions proved invaluable. Jay was a bronze medalist in taekwondo in the 1988 Seoul Olympic games, so needless to say, he knows a bit about kicking, only with him it was people, not soccer balls. But after this month, and six amazing games, he is now an official Soccer Guy. Like Natasha Kai, Jay has Hawaiian roots so the we snapped this photo of the duo hangin' loose after training one day.

Thanks Sherry!

The U.S. team, as did all teams, had a Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games liaison with them the entire tournament to serve as well -- a liaison -- between all the hundreds of local organizers involved in staging and games. The USA's liaison was Sherry, shown above with U.S. asst. coach Helena Andersson and Pia Sundhage. Sherry is a student at Beijing Normal University and is from a small city in Western/Central China. Her English was excellent and got better throughout the tournament as the team taught her more words and western phrases. We just want to send a special thanks to Sherry as the amount of work she put in during the entire month the U.S. team was in China was amazing. Translating Chinese to English and vice-versa with the different cultures was an arduous task, but she handled it with aplomb, patience and grace. And of course, it's not easy dealing with us crazy Americans, but Sherry did a fantastic job and played a big part in the team's success! So, thanks to Sherry as well as the thousands of volunteers, all of whom always had a smile for you and were seemingly falling over themselves to help you out. Well done China, well done!

Flame Extinguished

The U.S. team had a fun last day of the Olympics on Aug. 24. Yes, they were exhausted after three days of media and celebration, but that didn't mean they weren't going to squeeze the last few drops out of their Olympic experience. Quite a few players went to the men's basketball gold medal game or the men's water polo gold medal game, before rushing back to the Olympic Village to get ready for the Closing Ceremonies. The Closing Ceremonies were predictably spectacular but unpredictable in the amazing show the Chinese out together. The show definitely put a perfect capper on what was a phenomenal Olympic Games. After the Ceremonies, the team had a final meeting back at the dorm in the village in which Pia Sundhage spoke to the team about the amazing journey that the team had taken this year and thanked everyone who was a part of it. Most of the team staff spoke as well and it was a great last bonding event before the players left the following morning on four different flights. But they will see each other soon. The post-Olympic tour starts on Sept. 13!

Carli Lloyd and Nicole Barnhart, outfitted in their official U.S. Olympic Team marching gear, get ready for the Closing Ceremonies.