Goodbye to Beijing
BEIJING, China - Sarah Whipple, in her first year as an assistant coach for the California women's crew, wrote a blog for CalBears.com while in Beijing to watch her twin sister compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Mary Whipple was the coxswain for the gold-medal winning U.S. women's Olympic 8+.
Monday, Aug. 18, 2008
Last Day in China
What a day yesterday and what a night! Having a gold medal around your neck gets you a lot of attention and it gets you the VIP treatment everywhere you go. I was gladly part of my sister's entourage as we went out. It was great that we got to hang out with Mary. We had planned on hanging out again tonight, but the team is going to be on "The Today Show" and they shoot that here at 8:30 pm. over at the Bird's Nest. Unfortunately, you have to have a ticket to a venue in order to get into the Olympic Green, so we won't be able to see her on "The Today Show."
We got up pretty late today as we planned to fit in one more day of sightseeing. Today we went to see the Summer Palace. This is a must see in Beijing. Honestly, I enjoyed the Summer Palace better than the Forbidden City. As we walked into the gate I saw a lake, trees and paddle boats, which were a sight to see after being in this big city for so long. The Summer Palace was where the empress would go to enjoy her summers. It was magnificent as we walked around all the tree-lined courtyards and huge buildings. After our long walk we decided to take a boat that looked like a dragon back across to get us back to our starting point.
Well, this will be my last post from Beijing. All in all a fantastic trip! The 10 days went by super fast and I am thrilled that it ended with a gold medal! Oh and yes, they are as big as they look on TV. The medals are huge and heavy! We saw a total of six events and venues. Rowing, men's volleyball, baseball, women's water polo and track and field and fencing. Our hostel was clean and very cute! The volunteers have been very helpful and navigating around hasn't been too bad.
Oddly enough, I am looking forward to the long plane ride home. We have been walking all over this big city probably averaging 10k a day. I am looking forward to sitting still for a while; too bad a while literally means 13 hours.
Alright, that's all for now!
Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008
Finals! Finals! Finals!
Wow. I am going to skip ahead and not give you the play-by-play of the day because I am just too excited. USA women's 8+ won gold! And the USA men's 8+ won the bronze! A fantastic day at the rowing venue.
Leading up to the race the stands were filled with spectators, friends and family. You could feel the nervous/exciting energy in the air. At first I couldn't handle being in the stands with all the nervous energy, but I soon settled down in my seat and felt the good vibes from Mary. I do not claim twin vibes very often, but today I am claiming them. I had a wonderfully calm feeling once I sat down in my seat. The water was flat, the weather was cool, I knew good things were to come!
The race started and the 8+ was off. They had a great start as they pushed hard to the first 500. As I watched through my binoculars I saw Erin Cafaro (bow seat) sitting on bow ball of the field! As they pushed through the second 500, they pushed their lead to a length. I swear by the half way mark I saw Mary look around at everyone's bow ball.
Through the third 500 the field pressed into the USA 8+ by two seats, but that is when we knew that they were going to WIN! Honestly I don't remember the last 500 very much. I was looking at the jumbotron and then at the race and back and forth until the last 10 strokes, and then I was just jumping up and down with the family. USA WON GOLD!
An amazing day! It's not over yet. We are all celebrating right now at the Bank of America house and I'll get back to you tomorrow. Check out some of my pictures in the gallery.
Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008
Today we decided to take a break from events as we are getting ready to see my sister race for gold tomorrow. Instead of seeing events we went to check out Tiananmen Square, but it was closed to the public; we do not know why. We did see a lot of security and many cameras all over the place. We walked through the Forbidden City and were amazed at how vast it was, just for one person. The buildings and furnishings were very ornate and oh so Chinese looking. Just like in all the pictures. It was just beautiful and something you just have to do...once.
The day was just another hot, humid day but these last two days it had been sunny with lots of blue sky. We went down to the Pearl (Honggiao) Market and shopped around. It is about four stories of tiny shops, all selling the same types of things that all shops sell over the world. Lots of fabric, jewelry, paintings and electronics. We could have gotten a Folex watch for a very good price, as all the vendors say. The name of the game at the pearl market is barter! You can start out at about one third of their asking price and pretty much stick to that figure. As long as you just keep smiling and say to them, "That is what I will pay," they will eventually do it.
Our day is now done and we are relaxing at the B of A. We just watched on the TV that Michelle Gurret, the single sculler for the USA, won a silver so we are excited for her. Mary just emailed us that there might be a change in the rowing schedule due to a concern over the weather. They are scheduled to race at 5:10, but it might be moved up. She does not know when or if. We will just have to wait. It makes more sense to race in the morning anyway with the water and weather being perfect. Oh well, we'll just have to wait and see. Hopefully my next entry will be filled with gold-medal stories!
Friday, Aug. 15, 2008
Temple of Heaven, Lucky No. 9 and women's water polo
We are having a good time running around Beijing. and we do mean running around. It takes forever to get around this huge city, whether by bus or subway. The roads are still packed with cars and it is nearly gridlock at times. The subways are always packed but at the same time fun to use as we get to travel like the people of Beijing do every day. We had a very full day today. We went to the Temple of Heaven in Tiatan Park in the southern part of the city. This is where the emperor would go every year to pray for a good harvest.
The centerpiece of the park is that famous round house shaped temple that is a feature on all their money and we are sure on every NBC broadcast. The park was crowded with people doing tai chi, step aerobics, ballroom dancing and playing their version of hacky sack. While we were walking down the main path, we heard singing, and there must have been two hundred people having a sing along. They were singing at the top of their lungs and they sounded very good. We could have joined in if we could have read the Chinese characters on the music sheets that they were handing out to whoever wanted to join in.
We next went to the Temple of Sacrifice with the famous circular echo wall that surrounds it. You can speak softly directly into the wall and be heard anywhere around the circle. We tried it and it works, although many people were shouting and clapping, and it made it hard to hear at times. We figured out that the softer your speak the better it is.
The last major sight was the circular temple that is all based on the number 9, one of the Chinese numbers for luck. Two sets of three gates, three levels to the top, which equals nine. Nine rings of paving stones with 81 stones around the last ring. You get the picture. There is a small stone in the middle and it is said that if you stand on that circular stone you will always have luck and have a heavenly voice.
After our sightseeing we went to see some Olympics events. We first saw women's water polo matches between Australia/Netherlands and USA/Russia. We dominated with a 12-7 win over Russia. We then saw China/Italy and Hungary/Greece. The play was fast and there were only about five minutes between matches. They kept the teams moving.
The venues are very nice and we had great seats. The only complaint we have is the lack of good food. At the venues they have a hot dog on a stick (just the dog), potato chips. And drinks. Pretty slim pickings.
Our next event that we got to see was athletics (track and field). We had nosebleed seats thanks to the Bank of America House for friends and family (saved us 33 dollars each!) right in line with the start for the 100-meter race. We saw the heats of that event as well as women's steeplechase, discus, shot put and the 1500 heats. We even got to see the finals for the men's shot put and the awards ceremony where USA got the silver.
After we saw USA get the silver, we walked around the entire Bird's Nest to see the flame and after our global circumference realized that the flame was actually inside the stadium, and we were under the dome part and never could see it. We ended our long and eventful day in true American style by going to good old McDonald's; the only food around the Olympics Village, believe it or not. More to come tomorrow!
Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008
Sarah walks the Great Wall
We conquered the Great Wall today! Our day started bright and early at 5:15 a.m. We were to meet our English-speaking guide, so we thought. What actually happened was we were picked up by a driver at 5:40 and driven to a bus that picked up several hiking groups on the way. We finally departed for the Wall at 7:00 am and traveled the two and a half hour drive to Jingshanling. We started our 10k hike at Jingshanling at 10:30 a.m. to Simaiti. The three and a half hour hike was AMAZING! The day started off partly cloudy with spots of blue sky. The light was great for photos. I believe we would have completed the hike faster; however we went picture crazy in the first 30 minutes. It seemed like every five minutes the view and the light changed and it was just absolutely fabulous.
As we were enjoying our hike we started to see dark clouds on the horizon. Soon we heard thunder and then the lightning and then the rain. Luckily we were about 30 minutes from Simaiti and we didn't get soaked too much. We did almost get struck by lightning and I almost fell off the Wall when the loudest thunder crack alive went off. I literally jumped out of my skin when this thunder cracked. We heard later that at a different portion of the Wall three Americans got struck by lightning pretty bad, so looking back now we were lucky.
When we finished with our three and a half hour hike we chose to take the fast way back to the bus and that was by zip line. Mark and I got to ride down the zip line at the same time, so we zipped down so fast it was pretty cool. After the zip line we were shuttled to the bus by way of a slow-going boat that looked like a typical Chinese boat traveling down the river.
All in all a great day in China! I am now enjoying myself at the Bank of America House watching some Olympic events on TV and preparing for our jam packed day of events tomorrow. Mark and I are going to see women's water polo - USA vs. Russia. This is a must win for the Americans as it will put us into first place going into the medal prelims. After water polo we will meet our family at the National Stadium, a.k.a. the "Birds Nest," to watch some athletics events. We met a parent of a heptathlete tonight in the B of A house and she told us that her daughter is competing tomorrow night, so again we lucked out in that we got tickets.
Go USA! and....
Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008
7th-inning stretch and BMX
Another day of exploring. Today we started off by having breakfast across the street from our hostel. This cafe is very cute and again cheap! I had a non-traditional breakfast for China and opted for crepes. For 18 RBM (renminbi or "People's Money," about 3 U.S. dollars) I got two crepes with strawberry sauce and two slices of watermelon. Yum!
After breakfast we got going to a baseball game. Unfortunately, today was not as nice as yesterday in terms of weather. It was HOT; however the game was FUN! We saw China vs. Canada. We sat in the bleachers in right field. It felt as it we were at an American baseball game yet with one major difference. There weren't any aisle concessions. We had to walk out to buy our food and drinks.
We saw some great plays with some incredible catches, double plays and a home run! We left after the seventh-inning stretch and, yes, we represented American baseball by singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" very loud and off pitch. It wasn't until towards the end of the song that I realized that we were the only ones singing. I guess the Chinese do not normally sing that song in the middle of the seventh inning.
After the baseball game we decided to check out the BMX venue as it was only two subway stops away from baseball. We couldn't see the track; however we did get to see the starting drop-in ramp because it is HUGE! This ramp is so steep I can't wait to see the event. We won't get to see it here in Beijing because it starts the 20th and that is the day after we come home to America.
We are going to call it an early evening because we are getting ready to hike the Great Wall tomorrow. I will write more about our hiking adventure. Yes, we are hiking a 10k portion of the wall. Stay tuned!
Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008
Pandas, McDonad's and fencing
I am starting to acclimate to Beijing. Today was a very nice day where towards the evening I saw blue sky! I can't believe it has only been a few days here. Since my sister Mary won her heat that advanced them directly to finals, the family and I got some exploration time. We started off today going to a local pastry shop where we bought delicious bread roll-type things. Everything was so delicious and so cheep! My husband, Mark, and I bought two pastries and a six pack of sweet rolls for about 14 RMB, which is less than three U.S. dollars. After the pastry shop we went to the Beijing Zoo to see the panda bears. The pandas were awesome and quite active compared to the ones I saw at the San Francisco Zoo. Also, there were so many! There were about 12 or more bears in the exhibit.
After the Beijing Zoo we went to a men's volleyball match where USA played Italy. It was a fantastic game where USA won 3-1. During the match the stadium erupted into the wave and it went around the stadium three to four times around. The Chinese fans are very enthusiastic!
Once we were done watching the volleyball match, the family and I came back to the Bank of America hospitality house to have dinner with some of the other rowing families. While we were there four fencing ticket became available for anyone who wanted them and we jumped on them. My two brothers and my husband and I got to watch the bronze and gold-medal matches of the men's single sabre. We were super excited to score those tickets because they were medal round tickets, but also it got us into the Olympic park where the Bird's Nest (Beijing National Stadium) is as well as the Water Cube (Beijing National Aquatics Center)! Both structures were amazing and I am excited because we get to go back there on Friday because we got athletics tickets.
Back to the fencing...the bronze-medal match with France (Julien Pillet) vs. Romania (Mihai Covaliu). Romania won the bronze. The next match was for the gold medal. Again it was France (Nicolas Lopez) but this time against China (Zhong Man). The venue was small and I knew nothing about fencing, but, absorbing the energy and watching closely, I got into the match! It was a great match and China ended up winning the gold. The venue exploded when China won, 15-9. We soon found out that this was the first gold medal that China has won in this fencing class.
After the fencing match we walked around the Olympic Park and took a million pictures. When we wanted to leave we started to follow the crowd to the subway, we thought. We soon discovered that the subway was right next to a McDonald's. Talk about a mad house. Mark and my brothers stood in line to get food, which I thought would take forever to get, but I was wrong. They had so many people working that by the time they ordered and paid for their food it was waiting for them. Amazing!
Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008
The rain is gone and the heat and humidity have returned. Getting around Beijing is much easier when it is not raining down on you. My family and I made our way to the rowing center to watch the races that were postponed from yesterday. The women's 8 started racing off today so many family members were there early so that we could stake out a USA area. The 8 looked great as they won their heat with a length over Great Britain advancing them directly to the grand final. Unfortunately, Romania (the defending gold medalist from Athens) won their heat as well so it will be a fast and a fantastic race on Sunday. The U.S. men's 8, coached by new Cal men's head coach Mike Teti, finished second in their heat and they will have to race tomorrow to advance to the finals.
On a more selfish note, I am very glad that my sister and her team won their race because that means we get to go off and see the Olympics because the finals for the women's 8 is on Sunday. We scored free tickets to tomorrow's men's volleyball game with USA vs. Italy so I am excited to see a new venue and different part of Beijing.
Talk to you all tomorrow.
Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008
Day two in Beijing started out wet and stayed that way all day long. Before heading out to the rowing center my family and I went to the home town hopefuls center sponsored by bank of America. By having a family member in the Olympics we get to sign up for the Bank of America center, which is a great hospitality house. We are thankful for the center as they provided us with one free ticket to any event. We decided to get an athletics ticket so we can check out the Bird's Nest stadium.
Traveling out to the rowing center was easy yet long journey. So far all the volunteers have been very helpful and speak pretty good English. As we got to the rowing center and found our seats we were surrounded by many of the rowing families. One of the families we sat with was Cal alum Erin Cafaro. Her brother who is also a Cal alum was there supporting her. Well, as the excitement was building so did the rain. It started to rain so much that the 8's were postponed for tomorrow. So until then...
Aug. 8, 2008
Traveling to Beijing
Hi, everyone. My name is Sarah Whipple and I am here in Beijing watching my sister race for gold in the U.S. women's 8. So far my travels have been pretty easy. I had a direct flight into Beijing from San Francisco and then hopped right on the subway to my hostel. My family and I are getting ready to go out to the rowing venue tomorrow!