Like all Olympic events, race walking shows no favoritism as to who will be a winner, who will be a survivor, and who will be left to pick up the pieces once the gun goes off and the race is won. The Games are infamous for turning things upside down on world record holders, world champions, first time contenders, and returning Olympic champions. As Joanne Dow waits for her long-sought opportunity to compete in the Women's 20K Walk, she contemplates just that. "Watching the outcomes of many of the track and field events is just a reminder that anything can happen at the Olympic Games. The favorites don't always pull through and then the newcomers sometimes shine," she said. "It's just been fun to see it all unfold," she continued.
Waiting for Her Race--Nearly Two Weeks After Opening Ceremonies
Dow is more than ready and very excited to compete, but along with that excitement and anticipation comes one of the most difficult aspects of her Olympic experience; waiting for the event to take place. Although she has participated in many international events, in traveling she has never had this length of time prior to the actual race taking place. The Women's 20K Walk is one of the last track and field events, so it has been hard to watch others go off to their races knowing that there is more waiting on the horizon. The extreme anticipation has often made her feel that her race had already happened or that it was at least the next day. On the positive side, Dow acknowledges that she has "enjoyed and appreciated the time to really let my body and training adjust."
One fortunate situation that has made the waiting easier was having her family finally arrive in Beijing a few days ago, a week prior to her event. Just having husband, Tim, and children, Hannah and Tim, with her in Beijing gave her a sense of relief and the feeling that "everything was fine again." Although, she is careful not to overdo it by seeing them everyday before the race, they are meeting up when they can. In the meantime, her family has been making connections with friends at the Bank of America Friends and Family Center, where the families of U.S. athletes can spend time together.
A Day in the Life of an Olympian
She has spent a good deal of time away from the Olympic Village, where she shares a suite with Kim Kreiner, javelin specialist, along with four members of the field hockey team (one of them is 19, only one year older than Dow's daughter).
As for Dow, she is spending most of her time training with an occasional side trip to the silk market or a water polo match. She has remarked that she "can't imagine that there would be nicer hosts than the Chinese people. We are never without help or interpreters if needed." She has also found the food to be excellent at each facility.
Despite new surroundings, new or changing training facilities, and the Olympic fervor that permeates her daily existence, life does has a way of going on; which means training continues in much the same way as it does at home for Dow. She gets up at 5:30, eats breakfast and hits the roads between seven and eight. From there it is on to a couple of hours of training sessions which may be followed by ice baths, physical therapy or massages. Coaches are available if need be and there is never any lack of support, according to Dow, at 44 the oldest member of the US track and field team. But as one might imagine, she is self sufficient and has not required much support.
Dow has had several options for training and has utilized all of them. The Beijing Normal University is the main facility where the track and field athletes train and practice, about a 30 minute bus ride from the Olympic Village. Athletes in other sports use this center as well. Many of the coaches are staying there along with the medical staff. The facilities consists of a track, weight room, dining area, and athlete's lounge, so most of the athletes who come here make a day of it because it such a complete facility.
Dow spent four days training in Dalian, which is the USA Track and Field training center. It is located 500 hundred miles from Beijing and is a one hour flight. It has been reported that the air quality is generally better there, but according to Dow that is difficult to evaluate. When she arrived there many of the athletes were already heading to Beijing the following day. Comings and goings are part of the Olympic experience given that athletes train in different places and compete over the course of many weeks.
The local Olympic training areas usually take approximately 15 to 30 minutes to get to by bus and away from the main venues. Dow favors a facility that has a 1200m plus loop for walking and running and has done a good portion of her training there, a facility open to athletes from many countries.
Dow was the 2008 Olympic Trials champion in the 20K Walk with a time of 1:35:11. Will her finish in Beijing be as sweet? Will she have the day on the road that she has been dreaming of? One thing is for certain: not only does she have the legs and lungs for it, but she also has the heart for it. This day has been a long time coming, narrowly missing out on Olympics in Atlanta, Sydney, and Athens. Not only has she worked hard, trained diligently, and is well prepared, but she also has a good sense and the experience to know what awaits her. Her desire and dedication have carried her to Beijing and have served as an inspiration to many.
Regardless if she medals or is able to set a personal best, she has set a spark. It is just this kind of spark that will manifest itself as an Olympic dream for someone else; the type of dream that is transformed into an Olympic goal. And perhaps that goal will someday be a reality for a younger athlete, just as it has become a reality for Dow.