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Student-Athlete Summer Blog: Kasey Colander #3

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Hello all,

Sorry for the delay in this latest update. The internet access has been spotty and I have not had much free time since arriving in Russia. We all made it to Kazan safely and have been having a great experience thus far! We landed in Moscow at around local time, which felt like DC time. We all ordered burgers and bottled water in the terminal as we waited out our seven-hour layover. During training in Boston we had become accustom to our bedtime so felt late, but our coaches were convinced that staying up the entire day was the best way to quickly adjust to the time difference. Staying awake for that long while just sitting in the Moscow terminal was almost as hard as some of our training. We finally arrived in Kazan at about local time. Although we were close to a zombie state by this time, we were all amazed once we reached the athlete village.

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We de-boarded the plane through a jet way lined with cheering volunteers. The airport in Kazan was brand new, which seemed to be a trend of the games. On the bus we met our attaché for the trip, Olga, who was from two hours south of Kazan and had been one of the 20,000 volunteers that had been brought to Kazan to help with the games. Needless to say, the World University Games had already amazed us with the mere size of the games. On the 30-minute bus ride to the village, Olga answered our questions and gave us information about the games.

Russia has dubbed Kazan as "the sports capital of Russia" and is hoping to make a bid for the 2024 Olympic Games. But in order to do so, they must host Olympic caliber events here to show that they have the resources and organizational capacity to do so.

Olga said that Kazan has invested several billion US dollars into the World University Games in hopes of proving to the International Olympic Committee that they are suited to host the Olympic Games. Olga explained that everything for the games had been built specifically for the games and everything had been built to Olympic standards. Even after being up for 30 hours you could tell we were all super excited to experience what we were hearing about. Just before pulling up to the village Olga gave each of us our credentials, which we had to keep with us 24/7.

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We arrived at the village at one of the security checkpoints that everyone has to go through to enter the athlete village. The security checkpoint was incredibly strict, even more so than the JFK airport or Russian customs. It took roughly half an hour for all eleven of us to get through security where we were met with one of the heads of the US delegation. He led us right to the Team USA dorm where we would all be staying for the games.

After dropping all of our luggage in the dorm, we made our way over to the dining hall. The catering company that Kazan brought in is the same one that fed the London 2012 Olympics and is just as amazing as you could imagine. In order to enter the dining hall we have to scan our credentials into a terminal, over which a large monitor displays our picture and information that must be approved by an officer before we are allowed to enter. Inside, the dining hall is truly amazing. It is in a large bubble dome but has four different levels, each of which have a number of different all-you-can-eat buffets on. Each buffet features food selections from a different part of the world so that each visiting country can have the food they are used to before competition. In addition to the buffets, there are literally hundreds of full size coolers stocked with thousands of bottles of any kind of drink you could think of. All of this is available to the athletes 24 hours a day. Despite our amazement, our tiredness took over and we grabbed a quick meal and headed back to the dorms for some much needed sleep.

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Although the temperature in Kazan is similar to Boston, the daylight is much different. The sun doesn't really set here until around 
and rises around. Despite the light, we slept very well and woke up around the next morning. After grabbing some granola and coffee from the dining hall we got on one of the busses that drives between the village and the rowing course.
 
Once we got through security we saw the incredible rowing development that was not exaggerated by the computer model we had seen online. There were seven separate buildings that made up the rowing center, each of them brand new and top of the line. There were 16 boat bays, each lined with brand new rowing shells. To put this in perspective, the US Olympic training center in Princeton, NJ has 6 boat bays.

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Instead of shipping our 70-foot long boat and oars over to Russia for the games, we arranged to use a boat that was here for our racing. This was a wild card since we weren't sure what kind of equipment we would be racing in. Our attaché talked with the officials and then brought us over to the boat bay that was full of brand new eight-man boats. The Russian government has purchased seven new eight-man boats to be used during the games (each of these boats cost somewhere around $40,000 US). The boat that we were using was perfect, except for one thing. There was no wiring in the boat for the microphone and speakers that our coxswain uses to talk to the rowers. Every boat in the US is wired but apparently in Russia they don't use any sort of wiring or speakers. Our coaches said they would search for something that would work but we wouldn't have any sound in the boat for the first couple days.

It was a world-class course, better than any I have been on in the US. They had a manmade island at the finish line for the grandstands and officials' buildings. They also had small, manned buildings that had been built sticking out of the water at every 500m meter mark going down the course. The starting line was also top of the line, they had a permanent dock and glass enclosed officials' building in the water. There was also a gas powered starting system that they usually only have at the Olympics.

After a couple spins on the course we got off the water and carried our boat back up to the boat bay. During practice, our coaches had gotten some cans of spray paint to paint our white oars with the Team USA blade design. We used rulers and painter's tape to make sure each blade was perfect. It may have been a small thing but painting the blades is a strangely ceremonial thing that every national team gets to do. It was a simple task, but it really brought us together as a boat and forced us to reflect on what those colors represented on the end of our oars.

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Within the village there are endless things to keep the 13,000 athletes busy during their free time. There is a "village" within the athlete village where they have live bands, TV rooms, ping pong, games and snacks. They also have courts for basketball, volleyball, soccer and badminton for anyone to use. Since the village is so large, they have electric golf carts that make loops around the village paths that athletes can hop on and off as they want. Before we knew it, it was already close to 9 pm and time to head back to the dorms to go to bed. The sun was still up and it looked like about 5 pm in the US, but we decided to hang our comforters over the dorm's windows to make it dark enough to sleep. We are all very excited to be there and want to explore everything here, but we know we have to stay focused on why we're here before we can have fun.

Friday
 was another day of practice rowing on the course. We had already begun tapering down the workload from the month of training we had done in Boston, and were now focused on shorter length rowing pieces that were lower volume but higher intensity. The boat still did not have any speakers installed yet, so our coxswain would shout commands that then we would each shout as the word travelled up the boat to the bow.

Saturday
 was race day. Our race was at 12:20 pm, so we all got up around 8 am and grabbed some light breakfast food before catching a bus at 9 am over to the course. On the bus ride, we could see the streets lined with people as they waited to gain entrance for the opening ceremonies later that night.

We had only raced once as a boat, but never without speakers. It was an interesting experience, since we knew we wouldn't be able to hear one another during the race, we went over our race plan more times than normal before getting on the water. We warmed up as we headed to the starting line for the first heat of the regatta. We lined up next to Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. It was only the boat that came in first in the heat that advanced straight to the grand final; all of the rest would race in the repechages the next day. That meant that our strategy was a little different than any other race. We decided to go as fast as we could to the 1000m mark, halfway, and see where we were on the other boats.

By the thousand-meter mark we were a length down on Poland and Ukraine and half a length down on Belarus. We decided to not sprint and to save ourselves a little bit for the repechage the following day.

While we were getting off the water, we docked next to the Russian eight that was in the heat following ours. We saw one of the rowers in their boat wearing a shirt from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  We decided to look him up at when we returned to the dorm. Our coxswain found the rosters from each of the boats. We found that the average age in the other eights was between 26 and 28 and many of them had started rowing around 2001 and have been competing internationally for many years. There was also a two time Olympian, in Beijing and London in the Russian eight.

The opening ceremonies were Saturday night. We couldn't go because our race was the next morning but we heard from the other athletes that it was quite a spectacle. It was a sold out event, with over 50,000 in attendance. Vladimir Putin was introduced and the entire event took over 5 hours. Again, Kazan had brought in the same director for the opening ceremonies as was for the London Olympics. Here is a picture of the ceremony I got from a friend.

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Sunday morning our repechage was at 10:16 am. There were five crews lining up and one of them was going to be eliminated and not make it to the Grand Final the next day. We had only raced two of the other crews and all we knew is that they were fast. We didn't really know anything about the other three boats, other than that they were older and more experienced than us.

We lined up in lane five and Belarus was again to our starboard side, with the rest of the boats to their right. Our coaches had worked with a cameraman for ESPN to develop a speaker system for our coxswain and it had been working well enough during our practice laps.

The countdown started and as the starting system deployed we took off. The start of an eights race is incredibly loud, as 46 athletes are all next to one another pulling as hard as they can. It is also very wet, as a lot of water splashes up during our first couple strokes. Some of this water inevitably splashes in the boat but on the fifth stroke of the race a drop of water hit the wrong spot of the speaker and must have shorted out the battery wires because the speaker system went dead.

A race usually takes somewhere around 225 strokes and this was the 5th stroke. I'm sure everyone was wondering why our coxswain was silent even when they thought he had a working microphone but we had to keep racing regardless. We were down on every other boat by the first 500m mark. It was around the 750m mark when we all decided that we could not travel this far to be eliminated from the Grand Final. We all found a little bit more strength to walk through the Norwegian crew and we passed the 1000m mark with a two-seat advantage over Norway.

By the 1500m mark we had three quarters of a length over Norway and were moving on the Ukrainian boat. The last 500 meters of a race is the sprint, it's when you increase your strokes per minute and make the final push of the race. We brought the rate up to a 42 and we finished walking through the Norwegian boat. We finished just one second off of the Ukraine boat but we had qualified for the final and knocked Norway out. The repechage was probably our best race as a group.

The Grand Final was the following day and our cameraman friend had created an even more elaborate splash guard from empty shampoo bottles. The boats that had qualified lined up for a 12:20 p.m. start time.

Everyone got off the line cleanly. The extra day of rest for Russia and Poland proved helpful as they moved out on the field by the 500m mark. By the 1000m mark we were one second off Belarus and three seconds off the rest of the field. We knew that in order to medal we would need to sprint really early so we decided to bring the rate up around the 1250 meter mark and see if we could get into contention for a medal. That move ultimately cost us around 1750 meters in where we were all gasping for air with an eighth of the race still to go. We finished sixth to a very strong field. It was not where we were hoping to finish but our coaches felt we did better than they expected given the experience in the other boats.

After we carried in our boat from the water, we were bombarded by reporters who interviewed us as a boat and individually. That night we all ate dinner together and hung out in the village. It was a cool experience to meet up with eight other athletes who you have never met before, and spend every day training together for a month. In rowing the team dynamic is incredibly important, and I feel like we have become a very close group of friends.

The next day, four of the guys left very early for the airport. That left five of us with six days to explore Kazan. When we were rowing it was a cool to see everything that was here but we knew we couldn't explore or appreciate it because we had to be 100% focused on rowing.

The first day we spent watching other US teams compete. The Team USA office has free tickets to every event for the US athletes and since most other teams are busy competing it means the five of us can see almost any sport we want. The first day we saw a water polo game of USA vs. Montenegro, and beach volleyball against Brazil. It is a lot of fun to see the top athletes from other sports compete on the international stage. One difference I realize now that I didn't appreciate when I was younger is that watching someone compete is simple and most people don't think about the hours of training put into each minute of competition. It really does highlight the importance of preparation and practice necessary in sport.

This past Wednesday we decided to take an "excursion" into the city of Kazan. There are buses each day that take anyone from the village on tours around Kazan. There are three and five-hour tours. We decided to take a three-hour tour to the Kremlin of Kazan. The tour was very interesting and drove us through the city with a tour guide talking about the 1000+ year history of the city. The bus stopped at the Kremlin for an hour for us to explore on foot. Minutes after stepping off the bus a camera crew saw our USA shirts and asked me for an interview for their local TV station. I was happy to, and they asked a couple questions about how I liked Kazan and what I thought about the culture.

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We have tickets to see badminton and weightlifting tomorrow and are looking forward to it!

That's all from Kazan,
Raise High!
Kasey

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