Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Of Podiums and Punches

So this whole UCI thing is a curious accident that I enjoy and fully appreciate.
This has been an amazing roller coaster ride I truly wish to stay on. And you should join me. It is way better than the Tour de France with a lot less traffic and a lot more access to cycling legends.

For me this started in Tabor, Czech Republic, where I announced the cyclo-cross worlds in 2010. I arrived in the frigid but fantastic town thrilled but intimidated by the formality of the UCI. Let’s face it, announcing in the states is a back woods affair where the announcer sort of wings it. 

This would be a formal event with exact protocol. So they had me attend a rehearsal for the awards ceremony. This came with a chart and a diagram that had all sorts of dotted lines and arrows and exact instructions. 

I responded much like I had when I first sat in high school chemistry with Mr. Terlinksy and stared at a diagram about logarithms. I glazed over.

There I stood in the cold Soviet athletic facility next to my colleague, Heinrich, a smoking, bearded, heavier version of the Dos Equis world’s most interesting man, looking at this chart. The delightful UCI woman spoke mostly French. Heinrich spoke Czech. I spoke English. And just to help us all out, they assigned us another delightful woman who spoke Czech and German….


I figured it out as I have now on six occasions. Be nice, smile, show up on time, and then use the one American universal mechanism to make people like you: slapstick. 

I stumble, I trip, I pretend to have my eye poked out…all with great effect. I have done so in German, Danish, Czech, Flemish, French and Dutch. It works with security, police, children, racers, officials and timing crew. Just about everybody likes it....except old ladies; but they’ve been on to me for years, regardless of culture. I almost married such a woman who was 30 going on 69.

So I sauntered into this year’s awards ceremony rehearsal with a little swagger. And I brought along 9-year-old Ryjder Hessenfeld along with his dad, Ted. We hung around a bit and then we met the Dutch announcer, a legendary man, Cees Maas…or Kees Maas, depending on the translation. I will write about him later on, but let us just say, I am out of my league with him.
But all we have to do is the awards rehearsal. It is all about the podium girls, the sound guys, and presenters, and not about the experienced professional announcers, right?
We knocked out the individual awards rehearsal without problem. 

Then we had to think. For the first time in recent memory we would be hosting a team time trial awards ceremony with six riders racing for trade teams. Think about it….

The presenter needs six bronze medals…..

Then the next presenter needs six bouquets of flowers….

On to silver….

Then to gold…

 And how big of a podium do we need for 18 athletes plus three directors?  (We even had 18 stand ins, including Theodore Essenfeld and his son, Ryjder.)

Do we hand out six rainbow jerseys? A trophy?  Belt buckles?

Oh yeah, it is trade teams…with riders from several different countries. So what national anthem do we play? We decide to play the anthem from the country where the team is registered…which is curious should Radio Shack win, given this team from Luxembourg does not have one rider on its team from Luxembourg riding. 

I do not in any way mean to ridicule this process. This is why we hold rehearsals for such seemingly trivial affairs. If we sweat the details now, you folks on Sunday will inhale in awe at our pomp and ceremony. 

So figure that all out. On to race day.....
We pound through the ceremony for team time trial without incident, fortunate that Radio Shack did not win. 

Mind you I am stumbling a bit through some of the protocol changes from prior years. And there is always some confusion with the flag guys (think about it, we need flags for more than 70 countries and what would happen if Morocco swept the podium?), and the sound guy who needs to have access to the national anthems of 76 nations including Andorra (…..who has the national anthem of Andorra?) and the podium girls and the medal guy and the flower guy.  Am I getting to you?

And it is all on global television. Mind you the sound guy is frantic when the Russian wins….Because in scrolling down the CD of national anthems, given to him by the French woman, he cannot find “Russia.” 

This is a holy shit moment…..
We are back stage reading, and re-reading this CD label and I am thinking about how China and Japan are about to go to war over an island I did not know existed two weeks ago…Or that four fine Americans were killed in Libya over a movie no American I know has ever seen. Then I thought about the Czech uprising in 1968 which was sparked by what? A hockey game in which the Czechs beat the Russians.

If we could not find the Russian national anthem, I envisioned all the progress of the last 20 years dissolving….. and tanks rolling back into Eastern Europe.

….Then I found it…..”Federation of Russia” is under “F” not “R.” Crisis avoided, no? 

Sort of. 

During the ceremony, and you may see this on TV to the left of your screen, a television camera operator follows the presenter on stage with the camera hand held for the bronze medal. The UCI staff, some of the nicest guys I know, intervene. And they hold the cable to ensure the camera will not go back out center stage.  

“You don’t  go out there.”

“Let go of my equipment”

“You don’t go out there.”  

“Let go of my equipment.”

Enter security.

Voices were raised. 

Announcers tried to conduct awards ceremony.

Fists were clenched. 

Day glow vests shoved.

Orange jackets converged.

Cameras turned away from ceremony to controversy.

Athletes looked confused. 

Announcers tried to conduct awards ceremony.

……We endured a serious moment of d├ętente. 

And then….
"Ladies and Gentlemen," I said. "May we have your attention for the playing of the national anthem The Federation of Russia"


Thanks for reading.

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