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|| News Item: Posted 2004-09-08

Olympic Memories: Eileen Blass
'After finding photographers sleeping in seats to hold positions at 5:30 am ... he quickly put his foot down.'

By Eileen Blass, USA TODAY

Photo by Eileen Blass / USA TODAY

Photo by Eileen Blass / USA TODAY

McLain Ward of the USA on "Sapphire" during showjumping competition at the Markopoulo Olympic Equestrian Center in Markopoulo, Greece.
The 2004 Athens Olympic games are finished. Now that I'm back home reflecting on the experience, I realize that covering the Olympics is a lot like pregnancy and childbirth. Athens was my fifth Olympic experience and I've had two bouts with pregnancy. So, for those of you who have neither covered an Olympics nor birthed a child, well this is for you. And if you've done one or both, then you're probably nodding your head right now.

1. There's a lot of waiting, forever kind of waiting.
2. The only thing that works in the long run is ... PUSH!
3. There's a whole lot of swearing.
4. "I am never doing this again" is repeated over and over. This mantra is frequently accompanied by swearing.
5. Hunger is with you all the time. You crave foods you never thought you'd care about.
6. There is a marked change in your weight.
7. Your body hurts, everywhere. You're carrying too much.
8. You don't stress about the way you look because no matter what you do, it's not going to improve.
9. You learn to deal with fatigue. Stupid shit happens. You accept this.
10. You appreciate naps. REM sleep is not possible.
11. Your swearing gets worse.
12. You vow never to even think about doing this again. But then when it's all over, you look at the most amazing thing that just occurred and you say "let's do that again". Pain is temporary. Memories are forever.

So that being said, I'd like to share a few memories, silly, ugly and otherwise of these 2004 Olympic games.

I had the privilege of covering swimming for the duration of competition. The pool gig was beyond exciting. I was there for the most incredible race. Dare I say the swimming race of the century. Michael Phelps vs. Ian Thorpe. Unbelievable! We had a great photo venue manager at swimming. Peter Charles is a quick-witted Aussie (sorry, that's a redundant statement) who is as fair as they come, but runs a mighty tight ship.

After finding photographers sleeping in seats to hold positions at 5:30 am on the first day of competition, he quickly put his foot down. Photographers now had to sign up for position and be escorted en masse at a certain time. No exceptions. It was restrictive, but it worked out just fine. Near the end of the swimming, things lightened up a little. Instead of being escorted, I was told I could stand in line to get into photo position C, a large riser for photographers on the pool deck.

Sounded orderly to me, but there are those who follow the rules, and those who ignore them. Imagine the rage I felt as I stood for an hour in line only to watch a half dozen photographers blow by us and plop gear on the seat of their choice. What the hell is that? (refer to item #3, 4 above).

Photo by Eileen Blass / USA TODAY

Photo by Eileen Blass / USA TODAY

Softball GOLD Medal game USA vs AUSTRALIA: USA pitcher Lisa Fernandez (rt) hugs teammate #3, Lovieanne Jung (left) at the end of USA's 5-1 win over Australia Monday in Athens, Greece.
There was a funny moment while standing on line for food in the pressroom at swimming (refer to #5 and #6 above). A Scottish journalist approached me, pointed to my shirt and said in his charming accent. "Madam, was that deliberrrrrrate?"

I quickly looked down at my shirt, realized that I had gotten dressed in the dark and put the damned shirt on inside out! (refer to item #8 and 9 above) I immediately said to him, "Yes, I did that on purpose ... it's for good luck". LIAR!!! I found the ladies room and fixed that.

When swimming competition concluded, it was off to other venues...softball for the women's gold medal game, water polo and synchro swim. Four days up at the equestrian venue shooting dressage and show jumping was a great time.

My editor, Michael Madrid, got a "blimp" for a remote camera to keep it quiet. Michael's wife, Margaret, sewed a cammo cover for it so it would be stealth. This allowed me to place my camera at close range during competition, inside the wings of a jump, actually. It made for an interesting angle and it was great fun to do.

My last assignment was closing ceremonies. I was sitting up in the top row of the stadium with Bill Frakes. A photographer working between us wiggled around so much that he was hearing grumblings in stereo from both of us.

Then his 300 2.8, balancing precariously on the railing in front of him, came crashing to the floor, much to the surprise of the folks in the seats in front of us. I felt sorry for the guy. He was like a juggler with two many batons. But, I had too much gear myself. Trying to manage it all in a small space reminded me to keep it simple rather than try to do everything.

So, it was over. I had one day left before returning home. Some colleagues and I spent that day off enjoying the beautiful island of Hydra. Back in Athens later that night, the USA TODAY photo team gathered for a final dinner followed by intense packing and an hour of sleep.

It was time to go. We mustered at 3:30am to catch the bus from media housing to the airport. And now for the best part... 23 hours after leaving our media housing in Athens, I walked into my house, and into the arms of my husband and those two wonderful children I birthed. What I heard was music to my ears.

"We love you mom, we're happy you're home. Whaddya bring us?"

Related Links:
Eileen Blass' member page

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