Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Spanish Assault on the Russian Language Barrier

доброе утро,

I guess I should probably have embellished a little more on my time in Linz, Austria and Moscow, Russia. 

So let's see... the trip across the pond was pretty extensive. I think the direct flight from Seattle to Frankfurt, and then Frankfurt to Vienna, and then the 1 1/2 drive from Vienna to Austria kept me up for 26 hours? Anyway... not bad, took me a couple days to get adjusted and got into the swing of things.

Team USA stayed in Hotel Schillerpark which was apart of a modest square pretty much in the heart of Linz, Austria. They had a TV lounge area with a Wii (the intense mario/sonic track & field was constantly being played and Batman [Bershawn Jackson] relentlessly challenged anyone to a race). The room also had a snack bar, tables for card games (Spades apparently is the USA unofficial playing card game), and a ping pong table (I had a couple of intense wimbledon-like matches with Wallace Spearmon). Across the hall was a dream for any athlete that wasn't a stranger to injuries.... that would be me. They had 4 pairs of Normatec recovery boots, massage table everywhere, and sheets of time slots where you could schedule 30 minute flush/massage/muscle recovery specific sessions with any of the incredibly talented USA training staff. It was always an inviting area (usually 830am-10pm) and they were some of the most accommodating and hardest working people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. 

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner was served right next to the casino inside the hotel on the 2nd floor. The rooms were very modern and super green (this made me as a Seattleite quite proud). 

Transportation to and from the track gave me a taste of some of my first paparazzi-celebrity experience. Outside the front entrance to the hotel there were journalists, photographers and fans were waiting, almost every day, with pictures of athletes and pen-pads ready to make impromptu interviews and/or attain an array of autographs from the USA team. After the drivers scooted most of the journos off, we piled into these vans (they were the typical Taken or Bourne Identity European vans from the movies) and we were catapulted to the track no more than 5 minutes away. 

This track was beautiful. Blue track. Grass infield. The stands were enormous, maybe it was also just the atmosphere of showing up with the rest of the American athletes and seeing everyone go HAM at practice that made this track look exceptionally incredible. We had a snack bar, access to the stadium weight room, and trainers with massage tables ready to get us ramped up for practice or help stretch us out after a cool-down. At first it was kinda awkward for me being this spoiled. I have never been pampered like that, but the trainers were so insistent on helping you in anyway that they could that I eventually felt a little more comfortable using their services. 

As departure to the World Championships neared, the political climate and culture of Russia was explained to us by our USA coaches. They illustrated it as a culture that would not be friendly nor inviting to USA athletes that looked like us. Naturally our minds gravitated towards "Taken" and the threat of the red scare hahaha, but I thought to myself, it's not like we are only going to be around just Russians.


I guess flying from training camp in Linz to Moscow was made easier by USAtf renting out an entire plane. Luckily, no one had to sit in a middle seat as they planned for all of them to be unoccupied (it was a blessing for the people who might not have been as enormous as Rubeus Hagrid but greatly appreciate the extra legroom).

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Moscow. I just pictured an 1950-90s city full of Red flags emblazoned with the hammer and sickle, and mostly destitute and dilapidated houses from war torn areas. YES... I AM AN IGNORANT WORLD WAR 2 MOVIE JUNKIE (Schindler's list is actually my 3rd favorite movie).  Thank you grandma for helping me assume that the entire Russian country would look like this in the 21st century. I will admit that the ride from Domodedovo airport was somewhat suspect in a few areas of the country side, but when we arrived at the ritzy city center, with the Crown Plaza Hotel smugly cozied up onto the edge of the Moscow River, I realized that the athletes of the World Championships were as warmly invited to the country as capitalism was.

I felt like the original threat of an unwelcoming culture was dispelled immediately as we greeted our diplomats and Russian translator/team leaders assigned to the USA. We went through the certification and credential process and it seemed like a dream.

We had the same bus/shuttle options to the track and we shared these with the Canadians, Aussies, Czech, and the UK. The breakfasts, lunches and dinners were buffet style and one night we discovered the hilarity of the Aussie team when they dressed up for dinner in costume attire with a tad amount of cross dressing from the males.

So the championships for me were kinda short lived. It felt like the twilight zone where I was completely aware of my body and had heightened senses but at the same time felt out of my body. I did my whole routine and after the 100m, long jump, and shot put I felt a little sap in energy from the huge breaks that happen between events during World/olympic competition. I was ready to go off in the high jump and get some huge jumps in, but during my first run through my leg buckled and I barely got off the ground. Went over to my coach to check-in and discuss my approach when I realized how much pain and immobility I had in my knee. I tried doing some more running and skipping but it kept feeling worse and I realized that I must have done something internally (it ended up being a tear in the meniscus of my jumping leg). Long story short, I had my first language barrier experience where I couldn't communicate with the Russian officials that I needed to see my American trainers, and I was told I only had the option of scratching from the event or trying to high jump and seeing them later. whatever dudes. So I left and navigated the cold-war corridors of the stadium to the training area to here some more unintelligible information.

I then realized that I would now only become a spectator. So i guess i'll fast forward to some highlights of the meet and make some sense of the title of this post.

The fierce men's high jump competition was won at 2.41 m (7'10 3/4") by Bondarenko. He was a freak. The stands went off because he was also UKRAINIAN!!! He was skipping heights that were so ridiculously high that he actually passed 2.44 (which was attempted by Qatar's Barshim who placed second place and needed to beat 2.41m) and was jumping at 2.46m which was  a centimeter over the world record. 8+ feet. WHOA. A near miss for the New World Record

USAIN BOLT is even more impressive in person. I'm sorry for those of you who think he's cocky and a showboater, but all I can say is that he's an entertainer. Apart from the reason that the world championships were in the Russian's home country, half of the Russians at the meet were there to see him. Yes, more Russians than I could explain were wearing Jamaican colors.  I don't even want to know if Bolt has hand-eye coordination because he makes Megatron look like a normal sized dude, and would make A.J. Green and Dez Bryant look like two of the slowest kids at a middle school track meet. Anyway, he's unreal fast and basically looks like he's floating when he's running. Jedi Status.

THE TRIPLE JUMP. The event that I love to watch because I loved to do it and my dad was an Olympian in the event. I got seats an hour early and right in front of the pit and was sitting next to the coaches, and French team because there were 3 French finalists, including the 24 year old monster Teddy Tamgho. The USA had two incredible jumpers Christian Taylor and Will Claye in the final, and I honestly thought Taylor would take the title because of his success in London last year. As I was watching these incredible jumpers with the French and Cuban coaches right next to me I saw the cuban Pichardo take the lead with an incredible jump at 17.68m (58 feet). I noticed that the Cuban coaches were exchanging words and jokes with Tamgho's Afro-French coach in perfect Spanish. I thought to myself wow, here's one of those awesome people that can speak both French and Spanish perfectly (I'm jealous because I know Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, so i'm dying to learn French soon). I then thought to myself, why am I not filming these jumpers so i could show my Dad/teammates when i get back to the States? The first jump I recorded was the furthest jump in 17 years Tamgho's 18.04m jump (i'm actually wearing a white shirt behind his coach in the stands.... if you look closely). Teddy Tamgho went completely beastmode and jumped 18.04 (59 feet 2 inches). The relief and the jubilation of overcoming the adversity of his injury last year was palpable. He had been sitting in second for a good part of the competition and had only 2 legal jumps measured before his last attempt. Before the jump was measured and he raced out of the pit, held his hands up, and close to tears he motioned to his French coach and teammates knowing that he just made history.

Immediately the stream of excitement started coursing through the crowd. Photographers ran towards the pit, cameras flashed, thumbs whirred over keyboards to shoot texts, phones buzzed and journalists blitzed Tamgho's coach who was sitting right in front of me. His coach was assaulted by rapid French and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. I thought to myself, is he so focused on taking in this moment that he's choosing not to respond? why are his words caught up? He hasn't said a thing to the interviewers. He finally he held up his hands in surrender and motioned that he couldn't respond, and it dawned on me that I actually never heard him speak French, that he hadn't even said something in any other language besides Spanish. Nervous and agitated, the journalists were looking around for help, and  anything that could help them appear less ignorant from their obvious assumption that the man wearing a Team France t-shirt could speak their native tongue. For some reason, I figured that this was one of those things were I needed to step up and enjoy this perfect moment, so I leaned in and said, "hey, do you need a translator? I speak spanish." A little incredulous at first the man asked me, "you speak Spanish and English?". As soon as I confirmed, he asked Tamgho's coach in English if it was okay that this person (a random unqualified 23 year old American) would help translate the interview. I think Tamgho's coach understood a little, and I rapidly asked him in Spanish if it was okay to help and he said "si". Before we began I apologized to the coach in advance and said that it had been a while since I spoke in spanish. But soon I started to roll into the interview, I heard the questions from the French journalists in English, translated them in Spanish, heard his Spanish response, translated in English, and heard them confer with one another in French about my answers. It was beautiful, it was harmony, It was at that moment  that I understood why language is a beautiful thing, why spanish is considered a romance language. While translating, I also felt the emotion of his words and understood through his eyes and body movement what he REALLY was saying. There was a point during the interview where he answered the journalists' question of the Spanish-French language barrier between him and Tamgho. He explained that him and his athlete were like one person, that their trust went further than Coach and Athlete, and that they knew and understood each other as people, so words of a different language didn't present a significant nor divisive illusion between them. I didn't know this at the time, but I realized after the interview was over that his coach was the sensational Ivan Pedroso (winner of the Summer Olympics in Sydney and also one of the most successful long jumpers of all time hailing from Havana, Cuba). I felt silly :P... i guess it explained the Spanish thing.. Ha!!

I can't wait for more surreal experiences like that, finding a way to understand what the people on the planet have in common, and celebrate these connections rather than focus on our differences. Check me out going all Dumbledore on this blog right now...

Until next time....

Je t'embrasse


Neil Baunsgard said...

That is an amazing update Jeremy! I was intimidated by the long post but it was too exciting to stop reading.

Jeremy Taiwo said...

I was worried that it would look intimidating, but thank you so much for your feedback!!

Anonymous said...

I went to Moscow with T&FN. It was an interesting trip for certain and the meet was generally excellent. Big language barriers everywhere. I hope the overall experience was positive for you.

Dr. Marco Belizaire said...

Your blog Brought back memories...great job..Indeed it was a great experience. Felicidades Jeremy

Jeremy Taiwo said...

@ Dr. Marco BeliZaire, thank you, it was an incredible experience that I am very grateful for