3:20 a.m. February 15, 2002: Let the Games Begin

You know that feeling you get when you think you’ve overslept. Well I felt that … and then some. I had to meet my friends at 3:30 a.m. before we made the trek down to LAX to catch our flight to Salt Lake City that was leaving at 7:20 a.m. This wasn’t any ordinary trip. It was going to be our own Olympics Adventure in Salt Lake City, Utah, home of the 29th Winter Olympic Games. Since I was a child, I have wanted to go to the Olympics, and when Max, Brian and Andy discussed the idea with me, I was all for it.

So we jump in the car: We peel out of Isla Vista and head down the 101 at breakneck speeds while listening to two songs that would typify our pilgrimage to Utah; Shakira’s “Whenever, Wherever” and Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to be an American.” We figured what better way to kick off a weekend of cheering for the U.S. of A, than by singing our patriotism. We stopped at my house in Agoura Hills, had some breakfast, grabbed my long johns and made our way to the Park One parking lot at LAX.

10:15 a.m.: The Landing

We land at Salt Lake City International Airport. As we get off the plane we wade our way through National Guard troops, Mormons in short, white-collared dress shirts with nametags and other enthusiastic Olympic “spectators.” We grab our luggage and head out to the curb to meet Brian’s uncle, our host for the weekend. While we’re waiting we notice one major difference between Santa Barbara and Utah: In Utah we can see our breath. Oh yes. It’s cold.

We head out to Uncle Dan’s home of South Salt Lake City. Our living quarter for the weekend is Brian’s younger cousin Hannah’s room, decked out with ladybug comforters. After getting to know Daniel, Brian’s 2-year-old cousin, we head out in Uncle Dan’s Mitsubishi Diamante for the first stop on our Winter Olympic Adventure: Women’s curling at the Ice Sheet at Ogden.

2:00 p.m.: The Art of Curling

After lunch at Crowne Burger, Utah’s answer to In-N-Out, we grabbed American flags at the local 7-Eleven and continued on our way. On the way to the “venue” we hear an intriguing version of “I Will Survive.” We duck into Spectator Central and join the Donerow Sisters, three blonde bombshells, in their own singing act. As we gaze at their beauty, one of them begins to say something about how proud she is to be an American. “Is she serious? No way! Could it be?” we think. Oh yes, the three of them begin to sing “I’m Proud to be an American,” and we immediately whip out our American flags and sing along. I think we stunned the crowd with our patriotism.

If that wasn’t great enough to call it a day, we entered the Ice Sheet at Ogden. Four ice sheets, tons of “stones” and plenty of friendly volunteers to teach us the rules of curling were before us. Curling originated in Scotland in the 16th century where games were played on frozen ponds, lochs and marshes. The sport premiered at the last Winter Games in Nagano, Japan and has been a hit ever since. After we learned the terminology, we began shouting, “Hack it up CANADA” or “Take it to the House Russia.” At the curling match, we met Canadians, Australians, Swiss and fellow Americans sitting around us. I thought to myself that beyond different athletes convening together in a city across the globe, this is what the Olympics is all about. The camaraderie and interactions people have with each other from different countries and what we learn from those relationships we develop enrich the experience. The Swiss family we were sitting near taught us that “GO SWISS!” translates to something like “HOWS SWISS. ”

At the end of the day, the British beat out the Swiss, Japan lost to Sweden, Canada beat Germany and Norway edged out the Russians in the “Women’s Prelim: Draw 7.” After such a great day, we decided we are going to start our own curling team here at UCSB and will put together an ice sheet at our house. So … anyone wanna join?

7:00 p.m.: Corporate America and Watered down Beer

We head Downtown. Now, by downtown I don’t mean downtown like Santa Barbara or Los Angeles. This is Salt Lake City 2002, where drunken people weave in and out of old Mormon couples. The night begins with a ridiculously long line to get into Olympic Square. At this point, we’re standing in line with other half-frozen spectators.

Olympic Square is a sea of spectators, promotional gimmicks by big-time Olympic sponsors like Coca-Cola, Samsung, and Hallmark. One promotional gimmick I was interested in was to get one of the Team USA berets. However, we were told by one of our newfound friends that to get one, we had to wait in line at the Roots store early in the morning and put our names on a waiting list to remotely have a chance at getting one. I decided I’d stick to my 7-Eleven-purchased American flag.

So we walk through the square and headed toward downtown. We find the Budweiser Pavilion, where they sell Bud, showcase local bands and play Olympic highlights on a big screen. Beer in Utah is watered down and has an alcohol percentage of 3.2 as opposed to the 3.5-5 range we’re used to. We have a good time, meet some more friends and, after a great night, head home.

12:00 a.m.: Almost to the Car

As we head back to the car, we run into Los Angeles broadcaster, Fred Roggin. For the past 20-plus years he has been the sports director at KNBC in Los Angeles and can be seen weekdays at 11 p.m. on the Channel 4 News. I went into shock, partly cold and partly star-struck; I mean this is Fred Roggin. We talked to Fred for a while. He invited us to be in his live shot and just like that, we made our Los Angeles television debut.

6:15 p.m. February 16, 2002: ‘Fall Heard ‘Round the World’

After a great afternoon of relaxation, we headed out to the Ice Center, actually the Delta Center, just temporarily renamed. We were spectators, sitting in on the Men’s 1,000 Meter, Women’s 500 meter and Women’s Relay of Short Track speed skating. Many soon called it the ‘Fall Heard ‘Round the World,’ it would become one of the more memorable nights of the Winter Olympics, alongside the Pairs Skating controversy, Jimmy Shea winning the gold in skeleton and Sarah Hughes’ gold medal.

The most significant event of the night was when Apolo Ohno won the silver medal in the 1000 meter event. Ohno was leading, heading into the final lap of the race but got caught in a crash involving three other skaters. Ohno got up and made it across the finish line and secured the silver. Australia’s Steven Bradbury won the gold – the first gold medal for Australia in the Olympic Winter Games. Yet we were all bitter and joined the rest of the crowd in booing him because the only reason he made it to the finals was because another skater was disqualified in the semifinals. I have to admit though, I was impressed by how gracious Bradbury was. He knew he didn’t have a chance at the gold and remained pretty humble during the medal ceremony.

9:30 p.m.: The Medals

It was electrifying to be at the medal ceremony. It was hard to see Apolo Ohno work his way to the medal stand to claim his silver because the agony of defeat on his face was strikingly apparent. Once John William’s “Call of the Champions” came on the loudspeakers, I got chills. It sums up the victory, the defeat and the glory of being an Olympic athlete.

I’ll always remember how the excitement would pick up in the crowd every time an American athlete was competing. Whether the athlete was winning or losing, it didn’t really matter. American flags were waving proudly and it was great to be a part of that excitement.

10:15 p.m.: NBC Groupies

As we are waiting outside Z’Tejas, our collective favorite restaurant in the greater Salt Lake area, Andy pulls over a young woman wearing an NBC jacket and asked if he could take a picture with her. I start “shoptalking” with her about the world of broadcast journalism. Andy calls it “NBC lingo.” She asked if I wanted to see NBC’s broadcast facilities. Like a kid that’s been offered the chance to go to Disneyland, my jaw dropped and soon enough we were signing in with security to get credentialed.

We saw the headquarters for every NBC affiliate in the country, where they put together their newscasts, where they get their video and how they provide it for millions and millions of people. We saw the newsroom, the edit bays, master control and most of all, the offices of Katie Couric and Matt Lauer.

1:30 a.m.: An Actual Olympian

Later that night we met Brazilian luger Ricardo Raschini, who got 45th in the Men’s Single luge. He was a nice guy and told us that if he could, he would show us the Olympic Village but since security was so tight, he wouldn’t be able to. It was awesome meeting an Olympian. I can barely fathom what he had to endure to get to the games and represent his country.

8:30 a.m.: Pat Downs and Cross-country

We made our way to Soldier’s Hollow where the cross-country relay took place. Due to security measures, we had to park several miles from the venue, go through metal detectors and then board busses to the venue. If there’s one thing that I learned after my trip, it’s that I know exactly what not to forget to take off in order to prevent getting one of those mutually uncomfortable pat downs.

Norway won the gold, Italy won the Silver and Germany won the bronze in the Men’s 4 x 10 km relay. During the medal ceremony, I hear the Olympic theme as an ordinary spectator and even I got the chills. It’s a great feeling, though, and the silver medallist that Brian and Andy got to take a picture with must have undoubtedly felt the same. We decide to move on and head out back to Salt Lake City.

2:30 p.m.: The Flame

After a long nap, we are awoken by Brian’s cousins Hannah and Daniel, and later get dressed up and head out to take a tour of the University of Utah. We get to check out the Olympic flame at Rice-Eccles Stadium, which is being used for the opening and closing ceremonies. It’s pretty amazing to see the Olympic flame and the stadium.

9:45 a.m. February 18, 2002: Shopping

On Monday morning, we wake up early to go to the Olympic Superstore. It’s a haven for everything Olympic. Boxers, key chains and those collectible pins amongst anything else you could possibly think of are available. I drop quite a lot of cash there, but it’s okay, most of it was planning ahead for Christmas and birthday presents.

5:00 p.m.: Back Home

After arriving at LAX, Brian notices we can’t see our breath anymore, so we must be home. Following a short drive, a dinner at my house and the rest of our drive to Santa Barbara, we reflected on the good times we had in Salt Lake and how exciting our Olympic Adventure was, undoubtedly one of the best weekends of our entire lives. How amazing is it that we can live in a world where despite our occasional conflicts, we can come together and unite to compete in the spirit of the Olympic games? I’ll see you in Athens for the Summer Olympic Games in 2004.