Sunday, August 24, 2008

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Olympic team of gold medal

As you may have heard, Oprah's season premiere episode will feature 150 Olympic medalists and help promote Chicago for the 2016 Olympics. The show will air next Monday (September 8), but they are taping it in Millennium Park this morning, right across from my office. Since I have to work, I didn't get tickets, but I did stop by this morning to check out the scene. I'll post some pictures later, but here were my impressions. -It certainly seems that Chicago loves the Olympics (or at least loves Oprah). The line at 8:00 a.m. stretched as far as the eye could see. I walked past at least 5 blocks of people waiting in line down Michigan Avenue... and these were just the people waiting to get lawn seats. That doesn't account for the additional 2,000 people who waited in long lines last Saturday to get pavilion seats. -Perhaps I was being naive, but I kind of thought I would be able to walk through the park and at least get a look at the stage. That was not the case. They had that place locked up tight, with police barricades stretching the length of the park on all sides and lots of police (not to mention Oprah's security folks, who dress like secret service and talk into their sleeves). I quickly realized I would have to get creative if I wanted my visit to be worthwhile. I saw a group of folks with blue wristbands (different than those given to the people in line), so I decided to see where they were headed. I followed them around to a back door, which was by the press entrance. There were tons of press lined up, so I figured that this is where the athletes were arriving. There were remarkably few "civilians" back there (probably scared off by the cops), so I shimmied right up the barricade. -The first athletes I spotted were Chris Bosh and Tayshaun Prince, sporting gold medals and Team USA warm-ups. They were actually inside already. Rumor was that everyone on the Redeem Team was able to make it except LeBron. I guess Oprah has some pull. I came to find out that most of the athletes arrived about 10 minutes before I got there aboard double decker buses (wish I had seen that), but the star of the show was yet to arrive: Michael Phelps was still on his way. -Next up was the women's gymnastics team, led by Nastia Liukin. I didn't see Shawn Johnson, but it looked like the rest of them were there. Of course, it was hard to see from my vantage point because all the girls were shorter than the railing... which was a stark contrast to the men's and women's hoops players. -Other Olympians I saw: Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Carmello Anthony, Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer, Candace Parker, Lisa Leslie, a couple other members of the women's basketball team (sorry ladies!), a couple guys who I am pretty sure were swimmers, and a few indoor volleyball players. -For the Mizzou fans in the crowd, I'm also pretty sure I spotted Ben Askren. The hair and the chin are, of course, pretty distinctive. The only thing that gave me pause was the fact that Ben didn't actually win a medal (he'll get'em in London, though... just you wait). I yelled out an "M-I-Z" but got no response. Either he didn't hear me or it wasn't him. -Now, the moment you've all been waiting for: Yes, I saw him. Michael Phelps was the last athlete to arrive, along with his mother and his sisters. Now, I'm not going to say he's a prima dona, but his entourage seemed a bit excessive. When three black Escalades and two unmarked police cars pulled up, the folks around me started to speculate that perhaps Barack Obama was showing up... or (GASP) it was finally Oprah!!!!! I was intrigued by the possibility of Obama, but couldn't care less about Oprah, so I was happy to see it was Phelps. He took a reasonable amount of time with the media before heading up to the staging area. But if you need to know how famous Phelps is, here's an example: As he was working his way down media row, two double decker buses and a trolley filled with the Olympians' families arrived. These people are all related in some way or another to Olympic medalists... and some of them were practically falling off the bus trying to get a shot of Phelps. I managed to get a pretty good one, which I hope to post later. -After Phelps, I had to get going (sorry ladies, no Oprah photos here), but I could tell she was coming because the media was all still in place. All in all, an interesting morning. It's not very often you see that many world class athletes in one place. It's also the closest I've ever been to an Olympic gold medal (that is, until Lee wins gold in the Modern Pentathlon).

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