The Tolopka's Meet the Olympics

Volleyball & Men's Trampoline:  23 September 2000

Evidently, they started the Olympics in earnest while we were gone and the crowds at the train station have grown accordingly.  Our path through Central Station to the train has typically been about a 50 meter walk.  Today, we went in the usual way but found ourselves routed through a looong exit tunnel that eventually took us outdoors on the rear side of the station.  Then (with cheerful Official Volunteers urging us on every step of the way) we walked around the whole building, came back in another door, and finally made our way to the platform with the trains to Olympic Park.  At one point as we schlepped along the back side of the building, a volunteer was cheerfully calling "Smile, only 200 meters to go!"  There was even a band  playing along the way to entertain the crowd as it filed past.  Had to have been over 600m altogether.  But despite the long walk and the crowds, everyone seemed to be in a pretty good mood.
Out at the Park, we made our way into Pavillion 4 for men's volleyball.  Some Things You Never Wanted to Know:  752 volleyballs will be used for volleyball matches in these Olympics, and it's estimated that players will hit the ball 111,200 times during the tournament. 

The first match featured defending Olympic champion Netherlands (orange) vs Egypt (white).  Egypt jumped out to an early 8-6 lead, but Netherlands came back to put them away 25-21, then easily won the second set 25-11. 

"Wait," I can hear you asking, "what's the deal with 25 point games?"  Well, FIVB (the international volleyball federation) recently changed to rally scoring (a point scored on every rally regardless of who serves) and the 25 point winning score came with the change.   And because White Is Stodgy, the game also now uses a tri-colored ball (white, yellow, blue).

. During timeouts and other stoppages of play, we enjoyed the artful broomwork of the kids from South Adelaide High School who tried to make synchronized mopping into an Olympic event (left) and admired the stylized tulips on the warm-up jackets of the Netherlands subs (right).
While some players hit "floater" (knuckleball) serves, others launched powerful jump serves at speeds up to 114 km/h or 69 mph (left) -- which we knew because the speed of each serve was posted immediately after it happened.  Egypt fought back despite being pretty outclassed and won a hard-fought third set 33-31. At right, you can see one of the other recent changes in international volleyball:  the libero player, who wears a different color jersey and can substitute at will in the back row.  Egypt also threatened in the fourth set, trailing only 16-15, but Netherlands finally closed them out at 25-20.
The second match featured Argentina (bronze medalists from the Atlanta Games in 1996) and Yugoslavia.  Argentina (in the light blue and white on left side of net) took the opening set 25-21 as expected, but then folded as Yugoslavia (red jerseys) went on to win the next three sets and the match in a bit of an upset 25-15, 25-23, 25-22.
The evening's entertainment was the first-ever gymnastics competition in Men's Trampoline.  We had great seats for this one:  Front row, right behind the area where the gymnasts awaited their turn to compete.
A few minutes later, the stirring Fanfare broke out that heralds the beginning of each competition and medals ceremony, and the athletes came into the arena.  It's actually a terrific fanfare; we've taken to singing along with it; my self-assigned part is the horn rips (BRRR-UP!  BRRR-AAAHHHH!)
And then they were off (or rather, up!).  These photos don't show the full height that the gymnasts soared to because they were shot in the middle of various tricks, but believe me they caught some big air!  The colorful costumes made guys like Markus Wiesner (Switzerland, left) and Daisuke Nakata (Japan, right) look like superheroes.  (Nakata unfortunately came down to earth in the finals, getting too near the edge during his routine and wiping out.) 

To root on favorite son (and eventual bronze medalist) Mathieu Turgeon, the Canadian contingent picked up on the "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie -- Oi, Oi, Oi" cheer with a twist, yelling "Canada, Canada, Canada -- Eh, Eh, Eh!" 

The first round was used to weed the field down from twelve competitors to eight.  Scoring is the usual gymnastics-style "drop the high and low execution scores" combined with a "degree of difficulty" score determined jointly by two separate judges.  Degree of difficulty for most routines ranged from 12.5 to 13.5.

Unsurprisingly, the crowd favorite was native son Ji Wallace from Australia.  While most of the competitors had their Serious Game Faces on, Wallace was ear-to-ear grins all night long from the time he walked into the arena.  We've seen the look before -- it's basically the same I-can't-believe-they're-letting-me-do-this look that most of the One More Time Around Again Marching Band gets on parade days.

Order of competition in the preliminaries was randomly determined, but the finals were contested in reverse order of the standings after the prelims.  Mathieu Turgeon of Canada, who finished fifth in the prelims, led after completing his routine in the finals.  Ji Wallace, who had finished fourth, then did a great routine (left) with a difficulty in the high 13's that left him in the lead.  Now he had to sweat out the three remaining competitors, two of whom (best friends Dmitri Polyarush of Belarus and Alexandre Moskalenko of Russian Federation) had unretired just to be in this competition when trampolining became an Olympic medal sport.

Polyarush did a nice routine ... but with lower degree of difficulty.  Not enough to get past Turgeon or Wallace, whose grin threatened to meet in the back of his head as he embraced his coach knowing he had won a medal (right).  The question now:  Which color?

David Martin (France) followed with another fine effort that didn't hit medal territory.  Wallace is now guaranteed at least a silver medal, and "Oi Oi Oi"s are raising the rafters in the Superdome.  Only Moskalenko is left ... and he comes through like a true Olympic champion under pressure, scoring 9.4's with an incredible 14.0 degree of difficulty (left).  A clear winner, he took a well-deserved victory lap (right).  Wallace gets the silver, and Turgeon nabs the bronze.
We were kept occupied while they set up for the medal ceremony but an exhibition of women's synchronized trampolining.  I had two reactions:  (1) the precision of these athletes overcoming the implacable pull of gravity is really impressive; (2) please God don't let them make this a medal sport.  Sorry -- difficulty does not an Olympic sport make.  (Although to be fair, it's a much better idea than ballroom dancing, which is also angling for Olympic inclusion and starts making you long nostalgically for the croquet medals bestowed in the 1904 Games.)
Eventually, they hauled out the medal podiums, blared out the fanfare (Janet:  "Duh-duh-dat-dat-dat-daaaaah!"  Steve:  "BRRR-UP!  BRRR-AAAHHHH!"), awarded the medals, and raised the flags of the winners.
A highly satisfactory inauguration to Olympic Trampolining, especially since all three winners seemed pretty darned pleased with their showing.
We joined the rest of the crowd pouring down Olympic Promenade.  News reports estimated that half a million people moved through the park today, and from the crush of the crowd we had no trouble believing it.  Still, everyone is in a pretty good mood, so even the long shuffle back to the train station isn't unbearable.  We even collected a new variant on the "Aussie" cheer -- three happy fellows wrapped in their national flag chanting "Kozzie, Kozzie, Kozzie -- Kazakhstan!"

Finally back at the hotel around midnight, we headed for our separate rooms and opted for room service for a long-delayed dinner.  We actually tried stopping into the pub across the street, but they had given up on food for the evening.  Besides, room service had two other attractions going for it.  First, it was basically free.  As part of the hotel package, Cartan Tours evidently arranged for a food credit with the hotel of AU$20 per person per day.  This would have been a better idea if we were ever actually at the hotel at mealtime (most days we were at the Park), but this was one opportunity to whittle away at the credit.  (Besides, we got to see the disgusted look on Ken's face the next day when he described his surprise at discovering that his hamburger came plastered not only with six slices of tomato, but a fried egg to boot!)

Room service also gave us the chance to watch this evening's edition of The Dream while we waited for food and then ate.  Roy (Slaven) and H.G. (Nelson) host The Dream each night starting around 11PM on Channel Seven (the Australian Olympics broadcaster).  The show is part daily recap, part Jay Leno, part Saturday Night Live, and part Monty Python's Flying Circus -- and the best thing we've seen on Australian television.  Most of it is highly irreverent: Bantering interviews with actual Games athletes ("So how exactly did you get to be interested in jumping over tall things?"); footage of Lowlights (tonight's included both a weightlifter dropping a weight back over his head and poor Daisuke Nakata from the trampolining); hushed but twisted commentary of events (a long table tennis rally described “Ping -- Pong -- Ping -- Pong”, completely made-up names like "Crazy Day" for gymnastics moves); and lots of Other Stuff You Don't Usually See on Television like: full-frontal footage (un)coverage of a male streaker, underwater shots of waterpolo players gaining an advantage by grabbing each other's trunks and Delicate Parts ("I believe that's the Squirrel Grip, H.G."), two wrestlers on the floor sweating and riding each other to Barry White singing "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe".  Our cuppa tea!