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Blog: Ali Riley

August 11, 2008

Ali Riley, Nicole Barnhart, Rachel Buehler in China

August 8, 2008

When we first arrived in Qinhuangdao, we had two days off to get some well deserved rest and relaxation. The first day we lounged around the beautiful hotel (a Holiday Inn!), checking out the pool and the gym. Some of the girls headed out to the markets, while some of us headed out to the beach and caught some rays. It is scorching here, although the sun is a rare sight. Before bed we had some coffees out on the patio and listened to the great live band. At 9:30pm there were still hundreds of people on the beach and in the water- the water is so warm.

We got to sleep in the next day, but after a delicious breakfast we all headed out to the First Pass Under Heaven, a section of the Great Wall. We had a hilarious tour guide named Cherry, and a couple of us rented these tiny little cars and drove around the wall, honking and terrorizing the rest of the team. (The cars go as fast as a brisk walk and are smaller than golf carts). We battled each other with the swords sold by vendors all along the wall and took hundreds of pictures. It was a great day! Then it was back to the hotel to pack- we left for the Olympic Village the next afternoon.

July 30, 2008

We took the 2 hour bullet train from Qinhuangdao to Beijing, which was an experience in itself. The train gives you 2 minutes max to get on and off, so you can imagine how hectic it was to get all twenty-five of us along with our bags, gear, and equipment on and off the train! We were greeted by Sarah Ulmer, the kiwi cyclist who won gold in Athens! She is just one of the many amazing and inspirational support staff who are hosting the NZ athletes at the village.

We took a bus to the village where we went through tons of security before walking to our apartment block. There we were greeted by the athletes and staff who were waiting for us outside the apartment, including the men's football team. They performed a Haka for us (a traditional Maori greeting) to which we responded with our own Haka. It was the most powerful moment I have ever experienced. Our Haka, which celebrates our country and challenges our opposition, was written especially for our team, and we had been practicing it throughout the tour. It all came together when we performed it that evening, and the effect was indescribable.

We were then greeted by everyone and led into the apartment building to be officially welcomed. One by one we were given our greenstone necklaces, which were given to all of the NZ Olympians, connecting and protecting us. We also received our Opening Ceremony shirts. The rest of the day was spent exploring the "Dream World 2008" as the village is called. We hit up the dining hall of course, which took ages because there were so many foods to chose from! We found the arcade and the internet café, the gym and the pool. There was so much to take in, but we headed back to sing around the guitar, play cards, and get ready for our early training the next morning.