Coach's Diary: Caryl Smith Gilbert at the Summer Olympics

GO KNIGHTS Caryl Smith Gilbert at Westminster Abbey
Caryl Smith Gilbert at Westminster Abbey

Aug. 4, 2012

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UCF track and field head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert has trained two of this year's participants in the Olympic Games: Three-time US Olympian DeeDee Trotter and current Knight/Antiguan Olympian Afia Charles. The pair competed in the 400 meters on Aug. 3 in the first round of competition. Smith Gilbert traveled to London and what follows is the second entry of her account of the sites and sounds she has experienced so far at the Olympic Village, the practice facilities and around town. If you missed the first diary entry, please click this link.

By Caryl Smith Gilbert

Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Today my Nike Fuel Band darn near maxed out from all of the walking! We started out the day at the Nike hospitality suite in Tavistock Square. We took a taxi to the suite because we did not know the exact location. Riding in the taxi was interesting because the taxi drivers are trained rigorously to know absolutely EVERY corner of London and that is no easy task. The Nike hospitality suite is a place where Nike athletes, families and friends can go to relax and socialize while at the Games. So any Nike sponsored track and field athlete from any country is welcome at the suite. Since UCF is sponsored by Nike, I am welcome too! Go Knights!! Nike had all of their new running and athletic shoes on display as well as apparel and running uniforms from countries such as Kenya, Russia, Brazil and, of course, USA. Nike also had a huge indoor game room that features interactive TV screens that sync up to their new athletic shoes that give you workout information on a Nike app. Anyway, there were a few USA Olympians in there playing games and kicking back. We watched a little "Telly" and chatted a bit before we left.

We headed back over to Mile End Stadium to practice with DeeDee because I still had no access to Afia or the practice track in Olympic Park. Practice was smooth and DeeDee did a speed workout. At this point, for Afia and Deedee, all of the hard work is done for the year. This part of the game is now "fine tuning" and mental warfare.

Later in the evening DeeDee got us all tickets to Team USA Men's Basketball vs Tunisia. The game started at 10:15 p.m.! We decided to take the special train called the "Javelin" to Olympic Park. The Javelin (as in the implement that is thrown... I LOVE IT! A track coach's life can't get much better than this!) is an overground train that takes only 5 minutes to travel from the center of London to Olympic Park. It was designed solely for the London Games and it is quite plush and SUPER FAST! The Javelin landed us right in the entrance of Olympic Park. I must say that Olympic Park is absolutely the best!!! It is was about a 30-40 min walk from the Olympic Park entrance to the Basketball Arena.

The basketball game was a blast and we ate Caribbean food from the concession stand. Team USA won by an impressive margin. I really don't even remember how much! We were very tired after the game that ended at midnight and we had to walk 45 minutes out of the park to the train, ride 30 minutes on the train to our stop at Westminster and then walk another 15 minutes back to our hotel.

Wednesday, August 1
No practice for Afia or DeeDee today so I finally had some free time for sightseeing and visiting some of the hospitality houses set up for Team USA. We started out the day by taking a taxi to Kensington to visit the USA HOUSE! This house is for Team USA athletes, families and friends. They had a lot of historical pictures and mementos on the walls plus food, unlimited drinks and pastries. Side Note: I have fallen in love with the pastries here in London and I only hope all of the walking is burning off the calories! The good thing is that the pastries only come in small bites so maybe the damage won't be too bad. I digress.... At the USA house we saw Olympic torches from various Olympic Games. All of the Ralph Lauren Opening Ceremony apparel was for sale as well as Limited Edition London 2012 Oakley sunglasses (my fav so I grabbed a pair) and all of the Team USA Nike apparel and various London 2012 souvenirs.

After that we went to the Proctor & Gamble House on the Jubilee line and exited at London Bridge. This was a cool place because they gave us so many P&G products like Gillette, Oil of Olay, Crest and Duracell. My husband Greg and I agreed, jokingly, that if we would have known P&G was going to give us all of those products we wouldn't have brought any toiletry items to London with us! It was interesting to sit and talk to athletes and families from various US teams such as cycling, water polo, swimming and diving, boxing, volleyball, women's basketball and dressage. Every athlete has a different story to tell and an interesting road to London 2012. It opened my eyes to the fact the Olympic Games are actually about more than just sports. Actually the Games are about people, culture and universal acceptance of one another through sport.

After P&G we went sightseeing and saw the London Bridge. There are several huge Olympic rings placed strategically around the city and along the Thames River. The London Bridge has beautiful Olympic rings hanging down so we walked along the Thames River bank and across the bridge and back around to the Oyster station in time to catch the train so we could make it to Westminster in time to eat cucumber sandwiches and tea! I really didn't like the sandwiches but I wanted a taste just for experience sake. LOL

Thursday, August 2
Today we went to do a pre-competition workout with DeeDee at Mile End Stadium. Turns out I needed a shuttle bus pass to get a ticket to get into Olympic Park to practice with Afia so I was not able to attend. I hate the fact that I cannot go with her to practice but I understand the complexity of accreditation and security at the Olympics. Plus, I don't want to make too big a deal of it to Afia because I want her to remain as calm as possible before she runs. Anyway, DeeDee looked quite elastic today so I expect her to run three solid rounds.

After practice we took the Piccadilly line to Green Park and walked over to Buckingham Palace. Due to the Games, it was very crowed so the gates were closed. After staring at the guard who was totally frozen for at least 5 minutes, we walked over to Victoria Station to catch the bus to Sloane Park. After about six stops on the bus, we ended up on Sloane Street and began a designer boutique walk down Sloane Street to Knightsbridge to go to HARROD's!!! Now, I have never seen, imagined or witnessed ANYTHING like Harrod's. I really don't know where to begin so I will just say it is ABSOULETLY AMAZING!!!!! Of course, Harrod's was only a "visual shopping" experience because the English pound is currently about $1.57 in exchange for the US dollar. Plus if you spend over 50 pounds then a 20% TAX is added to your bill! After walking around Harrod's with our jaws dropped full of envy, we decided to head back to the hotel because Friday would bring early morning action and the real purpose of my trip was about to get underway....

Friday, August 3
You would not believe the drama I had to undergo to get a pass to get to the warm-up track at Olympic Stadium. I left my hotel at 7:30 a.m. and walked to the train station, got on the Jubilee line to the Canning Town stop, transferred to the DLR (overground) train to Stratford High street, got off the train and walked 20 minutes to a designated gate at Olympic Park, went into a security booth and was issued photo accreditation, went through security screening before walking 7 minutes into Olympic Park to catch a shuttle bus that took me to the practice track! I arrived at the practice track at around 10 a.m... Whew! And guess what? I have to do that EVERY DAY that my athletes run. I am actually not complaining because this is the first time that personal coaches were allowed access to the warm up track at all so all of the red tape is really worth. The people at USATF and USOC did a great job with helping us personal coaches out.

If you are not privy to international level track and field then it would be hard to understand how the warm up process at an Olympic Games or World Championship works. There are three "call rooms" for the check -in process at the Games. The first call is made 50 minutes before exact race time. On the first call the athletes report to call room #1 and are taken step by step through two more call rooms until race time. They still have the opportunity to finish their warm up or stay moving underneath the stadium while they are in the second and third call rooms because there is track surface underneath that allows them to do accelerations, strides or whatever they need to do to stay warm.

So, I stayed at the warm up track until Afia and DeeDee went into call room #1 and I went into the stadium to watch them run! The first thing I noticed was the Olympic Cauldron. It is quite interesting and I happen to like it. Many people are angry because this is the first time in Olympic history that the Olympic Torch is not viewable to everyone in Olympic Park. The London 2012 Games Committee decided to put the Cauldron inside of Olympic Stadium instead of on top of the stadium. It is a very beautiful torch that signifies "the coming together of nations" but I would guess it is too large to put anywhere up high.

Afia was in heat 2 lane 6. She ran the first 100m well but fell asleep from 100m to 200m which put her out of contention to finish in the required top 3 automatic qualifying positions to make the semi-final. She ran 54.25, which is not bad for having only trained for three weeks after taking almost a month off but I was hoping for her to run a personal best.

I think this experience will be very beneficial for Afia and the UCF team because she learned about international level competition and she will now have more intensity in her training and everyday preparation. DeeDee ran well in that she won her heat from lane 8 and qualified for the semi-final on Saturday night. She still has to get to the 200m mark faster and it started raining just as she was called to her "mark." I thought that was a sign from God for her to run with confidence no matter the circumstances.

Saturday night's semi-final will be very important in terms of qualifying for the final on Sunday and earning a good lane. The top 2 in each heat plus the next 2 fastest qualifying times from all three heats will advance to the final on Sunday night. I feel very confident about today and I think this trip is turning out to be one of the best things that has happened so far for UCF Track & Field. Being here is motivating me to push even harder to be the best because only 100% is good enough. I love being among rubs off.



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