It has been nearly 24 hours since the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic Games. I can still sense my heart racing by the mere thought of the night. It was unbelievable on many different levels.
The USA athletes boarded a bus around 5:30pm and headed to the fencing hall for a private USA gathering. All the athletes had a 2 hour block to meet and greet each other and also mingle with both President Bush’s (past and present) as well as Mrs. Barbara Bush.
The atmosphere was filled with anticipation and excitement. We were
excited to meet and talk with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Candace Parker, Lindsay Davenport, and many many others. It is not everyday that you get a chance to just hangout with these people as if you have known them since grade school. Everyone was especially anxious to meet the men’s basketball team. A teammate of mine knows Chris Paul from college, so he brought all the guys to our area. We had a few laughs, and of course many pictures. It was nice to see how humble and considerate they are in real life!
For those two hours, it didn’t seem to matter if you were male or female, rich or poor, old or young, every athlete in the room knew that we were all about to step foot on the international stage together.
The USA delegation left the gathering and headed to the gymnastics hall where we would meet the rest of the countries. All athletes were housed in this enormous, yet terribly hot, structure until our country was called to walk over to the National Stadium. We sat in our section and watched many countries depart until our number 140 was called to finally exit. I say “exit,” but we didn’t make it too far.
Like all good things, it usually comes with a wait. We stood in line, just like you might for the roller coaster at Six Flags, for approximately 45 minutes. That hour allowed the anticipation to build in my stomach.
We picked up the flag bearer and before I knew it, we had entered the tunnel and could see the lights beaming down on center stage. We had almost made it in! The tunnel began to shack as we all started chatting U-S-A over and over again. Then, we heard it called over the speakers “The United States of America.” We had made it!!
We finished the 400 meter march and I swear, I forgot to breathe. The feeling was so surreal and we all just wanted one more lap around the field. Probably the first time ever that we wished for “just one more lap”
We finished the evening on the infield with all the athletes. Just watching what many of you probably saw on television. The Olympic Anthem, the speeches, and finally the lighting of the torch. I am not sure what it looked like from the couch as the man was raised to the top of the stadium with the flame in his hand? But, the moment he began to “run” with the torch will forever live in my memory. That was one of the most incredible things I have seen to date!
The excitement of that night will always be a part of me, but for right now our focus has changed to nothing but business. Today marks our first game of the Olympics against Argentina. The team is excited and ready to take the field!
Keli Smith Puzo is a two-time Olympic Field Hockey player, Wife to Inako Puzo, head coach at Miami University, Mother of two young boys and your everyday kind of gal trying to keep it all together.