Anne Abernathy More Than Gold Diary

Closing Thoughts
Monday
February 25, 2002

Well, the Closing Ceremony is over and another Winter Olympic Games is over. This one had real highs and lows over the course 17 Days.

Unfortunately our bobsled team after doing extremely well in training had a rough transition onto curve 12 during the first race run. The sled flipped back and forth through the remaining curves and they slid through the finish on their sides. A few heads were banged and some stitches had to be taken, but they were all right, except that it was a rough way to end their Olympic competition.

The festivities and Olympic atmosphere around Salt Lake and Park City are amazing. Everyone is extremely friendly and helpful. It's easy to walk down the street and pick up a conversation with just about anyone and you never know if they are from Utah or some exotic far off land like Mongolia or next door like Canada. The problem is that there is too much to do and not enough time to do it all. There are fireworks in both cities every night and of course the medal presentations and concerts every night down in Salt Lake with bands playing nightly in outside in Park City as well.

The Virgin Islands had a special tourism van/truck here at the games with a 6 panel TV screen on the side flashing scenes of the beaches and sun. On the front is a view of the beach with the words "This is our winter games." It seemed to be a big hit. Downtown Salt Lake is really dressed for the Games with huge banners draping the complete sides of sky scrapers depicting the various sports. One building is used as a giant 20 story screen for evening slide shows of the Games events. Billboards are inventive as well. One of my favorites is one that just says "Even we have to admit it is better than the movies." Signed Hollywood Box Office Rentals.

But now it's over. The Closing was spectacular, although as a flag bearer I missed most of it. For some reason, they had us wait until the program was almost completed before we marched in. At least it gave us a chance to take pictures with one another and yes, I did get my picture taken with the Canadian figure skating doubles Jamie and Dave. It is always something special to be one of the closing flag bearers. As a whole they are the cream of the each nation. The top athletes selected by their country. Not necessarily gold medal winners. For example, Brian Shimer was the US Flag Bearer. He is a bobsledder that has been in 5 Olympics and just got his first medal - a bronze. Brian and I started out together in Calgary in 1988. He finally has his medal; I guess I'll have to go to one more Olympics to get mine!

Most of the athletes left today, but the electric fences are still up and the security is as tight as ever. It almost became natural to have to stop the car, pop the hood and wait while a swarm of military personnel inspected the vehicle with mirrors and hands, then walk through a security check scanner which meant emptying pockets of all the new pins you just received. Then we would have to walk through yet another of many gates and barbwire fences just to get to the dorm. Even when I was waiting with the flag bearers at Closing Ceremonies to walk into the stadium a security person came through and padded down each of the volunteers that walked next to the us. But as tight as the security is, it is also very smooth and the waits minimal.

For more than two weeks the athletes were treated to first class meals, top notch attention from the volunteers, and world class competition venues. The complaints are few and far between. Mainly that there were no washcloths, hand towels or soap provided and unlike previous Olympics, there were far too few TVs to watch the competitions.

Aside from that I can only say that Utah opened it's arms to the world when we really needed it, and I for one feel like I'm leaving only after receiving a great big hug. Thank you Salt Lake City and as your youth sang at the closing ceremonies - "Happy trails to you, until we meet again" - again in Torino, Italy 2006.

Anne Abernathy
Grandma Luge
1988, 92, 94, 98, 02 Olympian



Bits and Pieces
February 21, 2002

First the good news. Our Chef de Mission, Larry Heikkila has been checked out of the hospital and is staying with his son in Salt Lake. He stopped by today to pick up his gear and looks great. He is recovering remarkably well from his heart attack.

We have two dining halls here in the Athletes' Village, but by far the most popular one is the one for athletes' and officials' only. Fondly known as the Big Tent or Big Top. It is also the one with both a McDonalds and big screen TVs that show the live feed of the competitions. So you can eat and not miss a moment of the action. Usually two separate competitions from different venues are playing at the same time.

This dining hall is open round the clock. As athletes come in from all directions it is interesting to see what is checked in at the coat room. One day after lunch I saw a set of big fat ski jumping skis right next to the tiny aerial skis. An athlete in front of me claimed his bike, while someone else picked up his scooter. Backpacks abound along with speed skating racks, figure skating bags and hanging bags of costumes. Athletes come in straight from training with race suits rolled up to the knees and helmets hanging on their arms. While others walk in with their medals tucked in their pockets.

The Village is a special place for the athletes because as you walk down the streets you are always bound to run into someone you know from your sport. However, you are always meeting new athletes from other sports. It really is a small town.

Downtown the Olympic Medals Plaza is the place to be. Every night it is a big party. Even though every one has to go through a security screen before entering the plaza area the mood if festive, friendly and fun. Included in this area are the figure skating venue, the concert and medal presentation venue as well as several exhibits from various sponsors. With places to trade pins, try sports, buy souvenirs as well as listen to the concert, watch the awards and enjoy the fireworks. It's fun to visit, but I've had just about enough of the lines and crowds. Today I've just hung out at the Olympic Village, turned my phone off and tried to catch up on sleep. Tomorrow I'll hit the ground running again and go up to watch the Men's four-man bob competition.

Hopefully I'll get a chance to check out the other Olympic hotspot, Park City, tomorrow as well. The only chance I got to see it was last Sunday night when I taped a piece for the Tonight Show. But that was all work; I'm ready for a little bit of play now.




Aftermath
Whirlwind Schedule

Feb 19, 2002

The race is over as of last Wednesday but the pace of action has only increased. This is literally the first chance I've had to check my emails and sit at the computer. Since my final run I've only had 8 hours of sleep. The crowds, fans, cheers, signs and support only increased on the last day of competition. There is a media maze that the athletes walk through after each run. I had to keep walking through it several times as more and more reporters and international TV crews wanted to interview me. There was a group of school students that adopted me and stood at the finish yelling "Grandma Luge" along with the rest of the crowd. It literally blew me away. I've been in four previous Olympics and thought I had seen it all, but I've never had the support, cheers and attention like this. It was so overwhelming that I didn't even know for 30-40 minutes how I actually placed in the competition. To the crowd it didn't seem to matter - they were just pleased to see me finish and I was thrilled to see them.

After heading back up to the start to change, I tried to walk down to see the rest of the field finish thinking erroneously that no one would recognize me without my bright green race suit on. Between the photos and autographs I got to the line just as the final two passed through the finish. I met up with some family and friends to go out for celebration dinner, but it took almost 2 hours just to navigate my way down to the parking lot with the crowd stopping me every few feet for handshakes, congratulations, autographs and photos ops.

After a very late dinner I finally made it back to the Olympic Village and headed straight to the inter-faith center to give a prayer of thanks with some of the Chaplains that had been supporting me with prayer throughout the week. Little did I know that it would be the last time I would see them for several days.

Thinking that it was just the excitement of the crowd for one night, I thought things would settle down the next day. That was a very wrong assumption. I've been on 7 live radio shows, Voice of America, another interview taping for 240 radio stations, 5 TV talk shows, an NBC interview taping on the Olympic Spirit for broadcast later this week on late night Olympic Coverage, and a Tonight Show taping with Dave Chappell from Main Street in Park City which will also be shown later this week.

REAL LIFE HITS HARD

Not all is fun and games at the Olympics, the Olympic Village tried to simulate a real town with Post Office, shops, beauty shop, coffee shop, etc. We try to make it a home without any of the downside of real life. However, Friday morning the president of my luge association and the Chef de Mission of our delegation here in Salt Lake suffered a heart attack and is now using the one facility that everyone wants to avoid, the hospital. Fortunately he is doing well and is good spirits, we are all hoping that he will be discharged soon.



First Competition Run
February 12, 2002

It is hard to describe the feelings on race day. It's finally here. The air is electric. We arrived at the track several hours early and I had a chance to walk the course and get a feel for the large number of people at the venue. Over 14,000 were in attendance. As I walked down, I noticed Virgin Islands flags as well as Grandma Luge posters and banners. What an encouragement.

My first run was really good. The start was slow as expected, but the run itself was very good. Getting off the sled at the finish and hearing the roar of the crowd was great. Unfortunately, there was a small nick in my steels after the run and my coach had to do some quick steel work in-between runs. In addition, the sun had gone down and the temperature changed dramatically. The combination of the two resulted in less grip on the ice so on my second run I had a tough skid up at the top of the track which slowed my over all time down by 3 tenths of a second. And again I had a painfully slow start.

However, I was not at all prepared for the overwhelming support of the crowd, nor the number of "Grandma Luge" fans. After the race I arranged to meet several people at the nearby McDonalds before heading back to the Athletes Village. I arrived first and was immediately recognized by several people. I was signing autographs as my friends walked in. One of the people there was a photographer for the International Olympic Committee. He said that in the VIP tent at the track, everyone was sitting around watching the race on the indoor TV screen, but when they announced my name, everyone over 40 rushed out to cheer me on. He added that those under 20 didn't seem to understand what was going on.

I am just happy to be here, that fact that other people are enjoying my competition as well just adds to fun and helps make it all worthwhile. What a journey and what a thrill that others want to share the rewards.


Last Training Session
February 11, 2002

Sitting in the start house looking around at the 29 women wearing the Olympic rings on their training bibs is a huge thrill. We made it here. Each of us had a different and unique journey with our own obstacles, but yet here we are.

My training has not gone that well, but fortunately I finished my last run with a PB (personal best). I am the slowest athlete on the start and there is not much I can do about that. After my injuries I've just not had enough time to put on the necessary muscle in my shoulders and back for the critical start. However, my speed on the track is up there with the rest of them. I have to be content with what I have at the moment.

Perhaps one of the most critical things I do each day is to head over to the inter-faith center before training and have one of the resident pastors pray with me. When I leave and depart for the luge track I find that I am much more relaxed and at peace.

Fortunately there are a large number of prayer warriors all over the world checking in with me daily via the internet. It is very comforting and reassuring.


Opening Ceremony and a Crash
Feb 10

Wow - Opening Ceremonies at the Olympics is always a thrill, but this one seemed to top them all. I don't know how it came across on TV, but as one of the last nations to enter we were seated just 4 rows up from all the action. We did not get a birds eye view of all the action, but we were an arms length away from many of the performers as they entered and exited. The enthusiasm on all of their faces was infectious and the athletes as always loved it and grooved with the music and dancing.

President Bush came in and sat just behind us in the midst of the US Team. The athletes were calling home and handing their phones to him to say hi. It was really special and struck a chord with all of the athletes. That's just typical of the Olympics though. The other day one of our Virgin Islands Bobsledders was on the cell phone to his Mom when Prince Albert of Monaco, who is also competing in bobsled, walked by. He was asked if he would talk to her and the phone was handed over - needless to say that mother had her day made.

Thursday the Today Show came over to interview me for a segment to be aired on Tuesday, February 12th. It is a big honor to be selected, however interviews such as this tend to take on a life of their own. What was suppose to be a one hour chunk out of my day turned into a 5 hour affair as the NBC crew tried to get through the tough security of the Olympic Village. Then the crew wanted to film my first training session on the track yesterday (Saturday, Feb 9th). Normally that is not a problem, but the Olympics is anything but normal.

This is a time when as an athlete I have to be extremely focused. Unfortunately, there were too many distractions and it did impact my training. We only have two training runs a day for three days. My first training run I had my personal best time on this track despite a major mistake. However, the second run as I tried to correct the mistake from the first run, I hit a curve too early and rolled over. Cruising through two curves on my stomach with my sled beside me is not necessarily the ideal training run. The toughest part though was climbing up on the finish deck after the crash knowing that I had to put my best face on for the awaiting press.

Today was the second training day and after late training last night we had to get up at six to make an early training session this morning. Fortunately I made it through the two runs unscathed, slower than yesterday, but unscathed nonetheless.

Still wish I had about 10 more training runs on this track, but I'll have to make do with just two tomorrow. Time to turn off the cell phone, shut down the email, lock the doors, work on the sled and focus.


Welcoming Ceremony
Tuesday February 5, 2002

Since we were one of the first to arrive last Friday the Olympic Village was pretty much deserted except for officials and volunteers. However, this morning walking into the dining hall it was elbow-to-elbow athletes. It's so exciting to see everyone wearing their new uniforms with their country and the Olympic rings emblazed on them. Last night I ate with Figi, this morning Mongolia, India and Bermuda were at my table.

There are two dining halls each seating 650 people. One is open for guests, but the other and larger one is just for athletes and officials and includes a full service McDonalds. Not many takers for McDonalds at the moment. The food here is great. You can get steak, fish or chicken grilled to order. There are 5 or 6 entrees not including the pasta bar, salad bar, desert bar, fresh fruit bar and daily soups. It is gourmet food, but it loses a little because it is all served on paper plates. No complaints though, not a single athlete wants to risk catching a bug from anyone or anything.

Today was our Welcoming and Flag Raising Ceremony. Each nation is officially welcomed and presented with token gifts. There were four nations in our ceremony Slovenia, Chile, Venezuela and my own Virgin Islands. After the gifts were presented the flag was raised for each nation while their anthem was played.

I stood next to my teammate Dinah Browne who is the first black woman to compete in luge in the Olympics. This is her first Olympics and my fifth. But the flag raising was still as poignant for me as it was for my first Olympics in 1988. It brought tears to my eyes, but I think it was because of the difficult journey that I had to take to get here. I think both of us are still pinching ourselves - it takes a while for it to sink in that we are actually competing in the Olympics.



First Impressions
Arrival in Salt Lake City
Feb 1, 2002


There is a certain excitement when you get on a plane and realize that when you get off you will be actually begin the Olympic Experience. After competing in four previous Olympics I was prepared for long lines and delays for accreditation and checking into the Olympic Village. I was amazed at how fast and smooth the whole process was.

As soon as we stepped off the plane we were greeted by Olympic Volunteers and got our first glimpse of the cool uniforms that they have been issued. We walked straight through accreditation and got our credential ID card. This
laminated photo card will hang around our necks and become an integral part of our life for the next month. The only time we will take it off is for showers and competition. We literally cannot go or do anything without it. Meals, transportation, venues, Olympic Village, this card is the magic key that lets us in and if it is lost it will take a minimum of 24 hours to replace it.

We were one of the first to arrive in Salt Lake City. The Olympic Village was full of people but they were 90% volunteers. The Village itself is a maze of fences and checkpoints, but surprisingly checking in was relatively pain free.

Our accommodations are smack in the middle of the German Delegation. The German team takes up an entire building with a little oasis of Virgin Islands tucked away on the first floor. We are right across from one of the dining halls and since we have to trek outside to get to it that is really convenient.

The athletes all receive a welcome gift pack and other goodies after arrival and check-in. This includes our Olympic participation medal. However, by far the coolest item is a miniature Coca-Cola bottle on a keying. You press the cap and it makes a sound like opening and pouring a coke, but if you wave it in front of a Coke machine you get a free beverage of your choice.


PRELUDE TO THE GAMES
By Anne Abernathy

Winterberg, Germany,
World Cup Finale - Luge

The last race before the Olympics, the last chance to tune up the sled and get all the nuts and bolts together. Only five runs left before hitting the ice in Salt Lake. Sliders are still making last minute changes to their sleds trying to guess what the ice conditions will be in Salt Lake and squeeze out another thousandth of a second.

Until the introduction of short track speed skating, luge was the only Olympic sport measured to a thousandth of a second. In the Olympics we have four runs down the track and each one counts. Yet after almost 4 miles on the ice the difference between the first and second place finisher in the last Olympics was only two thousandths of a second!

Last night we had the traditional Winterberg Banquet with all of the other teams. It was perhaps the final time to see everyone together. Once we enter the Olympic Village everything changes, we are Olympic team members and will be with our own respective national teams. We won't see as much of each other. Even the training program will be much different from the traditional World Cup race. Normally men, women and doubles teams all train together. Not so in the Olympics.

Busy, busy time. We have TV interviews on Friday, one radio, and three newspapers. Plus trying to round up new helmets, race booties and race suits which are supposed to arrive this week from various suppliers. Race gear is different in the Olympics, the primary reason is that no advertising or
sponsors logos are allowed.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of a severe crash in the Altenberg World Cup race. I was knocked unconscious and suffered blackouts as well as memory loss. It looked like the end of my sports career, but after three and a half months of innovative brain biofeedback therapy as well as other treatments I was given the go ahead to try and make a comeback.

It has been slow and arduous. My physical training was limited by doctors orders so that my strength is not where it should be. But yet, here I am, just happy to be on the verge of my fifth Olympic competition. What a blessing!

Sigulda, Latvia

Three weeks before Opening Ceremony in Salt Lake City. But oh what a jammed packed 21 days! There is the next to last luge World Cup Race in Latvia, followed by the World Cup Finale in Winterberg, Germany. Then, my luge team of two athletes heads stateside and splits up for a four day run of press interviews and hopefully rest on the east coast of the US. It is too expensive and time consuming for us to even think about trying to head home to Virgin Islands during this brief break. Although, after all this snow a couple of days on the beach sounds really good right now!

What most people don't realize is that for the athletes, particularly those that compete during the first week of the Games, the Olympics actually start much earlier than the Opening Ceremony. We will arrive in Salt Lake City on February 1st. The Olympic Village (OV or Village as the athletes call it) where the athletes are housed is open for business, and official training on the Olympic Venues begins for many of the sports in the week prior to the Games. The Village then remains open to the athletes for a full month.

Fortunately, I have already qualified for the Olympics. However, these next two races are critical for those athletes still trying to win a cherished berth on their respective National Olympic Teams. In my sport, there are two and in some cases three athletes vying for that one final spot. Even on my National Olympic Team, we are waiting for the final international qualification and selection for two athletes in two separate sports. We may not hear the final word until two or three days before we are supposed to check into the Village. Arrrgh!

It is a nerve-racking time to say the least. It is also a bittersweet time. As each World Cup race brings us closer to the Olympics some athletes qualify and some don't. At the last race before Christmas in Oberhof, Germany quite a few tears were shed as many sliders failed to qualify. In Luge World Cup races four women, five men, and three Men's doubles sleds per nation are allowed to compete. However in the Olympics only three men and three women and two doubles per nation can go. Friends and colleagues that have spent years preparing and with whom we have shared the starthouse for race after race are suddenly missing. After four Olympics, I still find this to be one of the hardest aspects of the Games.

The Countdown continues….