Food bad, Russians awesome

August 2, 1996

Our correspondent and Olympic competitor Jon Wyatt survives a Korean onslaught and Atlanta's traffic gridlock.

Sunday July 14

We finally arrive at our Olympic destination - nine months and 38 games after the start of our Olympic challenge. At 4.30am I am woken by the hotel alarm call. Somehow five hours of sleep seems enough as the excitement of going to the Olympic village mounts.

We are due to fly to Atlanta, via Miami, at 8am, but an incredibly disorganised queuing system at the airport prevents the plane from taking off until 9.30am. Tired and frustrated about the inefficient bureaucracy. Finally we are on our way, arriving at Atlanta at a reasonable hour despite missing the connection at Miami.

Everywhere people smile at us: "Hi, welcome to Atlanta", "Good luck!" - and they all appear so genuine. We are rushed through the airport to the accreditation centre, where we get our Olympic passes in a magnificent five minutes - photo, fingerprinting and all. Then we taste our first free Olympic privileges - snacks and Powerade - a Coco-Cola energy drink in three flavours, Mountain Blast, Lemon-Lime and Tidal Burst.

We arrive in the Olympic village at about 10pm amid hundreds of security men, cameras, metal detectors and dogs. The village seems huge - 10,000 athletes and 5,000 officials are housed here, together with all the necessary facilities for eating, training and relaxing. The fact that I have been selected for the Olympic games finally sinks in.

Monday July 15

We make our first trip to the main eating area, a 3,500-seater tent supposedly catering for all tastes. What at first appears a highly efficient system turns out to be a disappointingly bland selection of foods. As an athlete at this level eating is very much a necessary means of refuelling. But even if enjoyment is not the priority it helps if the food is varied and tasty. Here the emphasis seems to have been placed on quantity rather than quality.

But at least there's a lot to distract me at mealtimes. At six foot four inches I have never felt as short as when the Russian female basketball team walked past, and all looked down on me.

It's very easy to gawp with awe at all the other athletes and hard to remember that, despite the lack of publicity for men's hockey, we are on an equal athletic footing. In the words of Russell Garcia, the only remaining gold medallist from the winning team of 1988 in today's squad, "The look that all the other athletes gave me when I walked into the dining hall with the gold medal round my neck - that was true respect." Perhaps only by emulating that feat will we gain the respect of other higher-profile athletes.

Friday July 29

The opening ceremony, watched by two thirds of the world's population is awesome. Running into the stadium behind the British flag to be greeted by thunderous applause and camera flashes makes a tingle run down my spine. Then Muhammad Ali holds the torch to light the Olympic flame. I experience an overwhelming surge of emotion - the show can begin, I've made it, welcome to the Centennial Olympic Games.

Saturday July 20 Team meetings and video sessions in preparation for tomorrow's match against South Korea. They are ranked seventh in the world to our sixth, but are an emerging nation in world hockey. For the first time I feel nervous. Tomorrow is judgement day - tomorrow there are no excuses, no second chances. I can't wait.

Sunday July 21 We play well - yet fail to deliver. Arguably we deserved to win, but two defensive errors and some dodgy umpiring mean we draw 2-2. The most important thing is we didn't lose. I am quite pleased with my performance, and don't suffer too badly from the heat. We feel confident of reaching the semi-finals and performing to our potential for the first time since the qualifying tournament in January. I am determined to succeed as never before.

Jon Wyatt is a fourth year chemistry student at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and a member of the British men's hockey team at the Olympics.

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