THERE is nothing like the exhilarating experience that the Olympic Games bring, an experience that every athlete, coach, sports official and even casual fans shouldn’t miss in their lifetime.
For more than two weeks now, London has basked in the glittering limelight as it plays host to thousands of athletes from some 200 countries around the world who took part in this 30th edition of the Olympiad.
Any moment now, the Olympic flame will be extinguished, only for its glow to flicker again four years hence in the exotic city of Rio de Janeiro.
As a sports medicine practitioner, I’m blessed enough to be part of this spectacular event they often referred to as `The Biggest Show On Earth,’ not just once but four times – counting this year, as well as the inaugural edition of the Youth Olympic Games in 2009 which Singapore hosted.
The past eight years, I’ve done basketball tournaments for the International Basketball Federation (Fiba) as head of its medical staff in Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008), a job others may find at the onset interesting and desirable, but for someone who’s been there and done that, it’s a task that’s too stressful to handle.
Even for a basketball junkie like me, watching 88 games in a single tournament is too strenuous, having to be at the venue by the time the first game is played in the morning, until the final match is over late in the evening. Of course, nobody forces you to do it, but if you want to be very professional about everything, then you have to show up there.
And that’s not to mention that it was the same job I performed at the World Basketball Championships in Indianapolis (2002), Saitama (2006), and partly in Turkey (2010).
And so for London, I let go of Fiba.
But I remained very much a part of the Games, since my work now involved overseeing the athletes from the Oceania for the very first time, specifically the Southern Pacific Islands, as a medical officer. Oceania (region) is basically composed of Australia, New Zealand and the Islands, but considering that both Australia and New Zealand are pretty strong by themselves, I’m more focused on doing administrative and clinical work for the Islands.
In a sense, the job is more manageable, the stress not too much, unlike in the two previous Olympics – or World Championships for that matter – when you have to oversee more than 200 medical officers from different countries and local organizer.
Not that I’m complaining.
While work may be too taxing, it also comes with a lot of perks, if I may say so.
During the Beijing Olympics, US men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski would normally have his regular coffee break in my working area. Kobe Bryant also used to hang around there too, since nobody would ever bother them, even my volunteers, because I’m really very, very strict about it.
It was even Bryant who personally introduced me to George Bush Jr. and George Bush Sr. when they came over to watch the Games. I’ve also met Russian President Vladimir Putin and yes, had a personal encounter with global football star David Beckham, whom I shook hands with and exchanged some pleasantries, Beckham being part of the British delegation then that promoted the London Games in the Chinese capital.
That Beijing experience was perhaps the best I ever had. Not because of the many personalities I’ve met, but owing to the way things were run back there.
In retrospect, I considered Sydney (2000) as the most fun Olympics. The most cultural were Athens (2004) and Barcelona (1992), both cities being nice places.
But I don’t think any Olympics will even approximate how Beijing was run. Beijing was as much money as they spent.
For me, Beijing was `The Olympics.’
Yet, the most memorable, albeit most embarrassing, Olympic experience I had took place in Athens.
For someone like me who had worked with Fiba for a long time, meeting basketball players no longer gives me the high because I see them almost on a regular basis. It’s the athletes that you don’t see more often, that leaves a mark on you.
Take tennis star Venus Williams, for example.
The other half of the celebrated Williams sisters was the defending women’s tennis champion in the 2004 Games when I bumped into her inside the Athletes Village while she was with fellow American Andy Roddick.
Roddick, you see, is a friend of popular women’s softball player Jennie Finch, who became close to some of the Filipino personnel and athletes during the Games.
Venus was then collecting souvenir pins from different countries, and Roddick, aware that I was part of the Filipino delegation, could have told her to ask one from me.
She did. And smiling, I readily obliged.
Then came my blunder. I asked Venus what her sport was because frankly, I didn’t recognize her.
I could sense how the popular tennis champion felt that very moment, because she readily gave me a glare. I quickly took at glance at her ID card before finally realizing my gaffe.
And I could see Roddick laughing hard behind the back of Venus. Me? I wanted to totally disappear from where I was standing at that very moment.
I tried to save the embarrassing situation by saying, 'Oh, you’re Venus Williams. You’re a God in my country.' But it was all too late. She just stared at me for a long time then without saying a word walked away.
And the pin? At least she kept it nonetheless.