Paul's Mythical Athens Trip, 2004

As many of you know, I left my pregnant wife at home alone for a month to go work at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Many thought the Dodgers drove me off, but the opportunity to work for NBC, see (a tiny bit) of Greece, experience the Olympics and work a swing shift for the first time in my life was too much to turn down. And I got to eat all the baklava I wanted, so I had that going for me.

I worked in the research room at NBC, a group of about 30-40 strong that worked with broadcasters, producers and all other sorts of NBC's efforts to telecast the Games. I worked particularly with swimming and various other aquatic sports, and thus take no credit for anything Al Trautwig said. (And yes, I watched EVERY SECOND OF SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING). Our group was part what had to be some 1,000 NBC employees on site, a large fraction of the international media covering the event.

We worked out of the IBC (International Broadcast Centre), a MASSIVE outpost adjacent to Olympic Park (and a short walk from the Olympic doobie, errrr, torch. I mean, really. Did you see it? Click the link and check it out for yourself.) ANYWAY. The complex was a couple football fields long, about four LARGE stories tall and housed various originating broadcasts from all over the globe. NBC had a large chunk of it and we worked near the studios, where the likes of Bob Costas, Jim Lampley and Pat O'Brien roamed and we made sure their coffee was hot.

The first couple of weeks there, we got the lay of the land, learned the computer systems, figured out what the heck we were supposed to do and slowly got used to our work hours. I started out with normal hours for a few days, then day-by-day, we moved toward the night shift, which went into full blast the first day of the Games. 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. baby. Thank god my little room at our media village site had some black out shutters for those 7:30 a.m. bed times.

Ahhhhhh, the media village. One of many, many, many, though ours was all NBC. Many poor souls had to share rooms, but the blessed souls that made up the research room had rooms to ourselves because of our brutal hours (which, actually, weren't that uncommon among the NBCers. People worked their arses off.). Spartan, but new rooms, color TV with all Olympic events piped in, hot showers and maid service. A cross between a Super 8 and a Marriott.

Once the Games started, we'd put in our shift, get on a bus back to our village, usually go to bed, occasionally grab an after-work (and 7 a.m.) beer, and hit the sack (after a call to the pregnant wife of course!). Some days, we'd get ambitious, sleep 4-6 hours and trek out to an event, catch an hour or two and then head on into work. I saw bits and pieces of swimming, decathlon, handball, beach volleyball, indoor cycling, track, hoops, badminton, archery and water polo.

We had one day before the Games started where a handful of us visited a local island to get a taste of the place. I also ventured to the Acropolis toward the end of the trip after a 12-hour shift. Those two ventures and a couple walks into the small town next to our media village constituted my sight seeing. I was asked often how I liked the local food. Hard to say. I had about 4 or 5 locally prepared meals. The rest were either prepared in the media village or at the NBC commissary. The baklava was always good. Everything else was hit or miss.

The last 12 hours were amazing. I got to work closing ceremonies, experience the scene of the staging area where all the delegations congregated before entering the Olympic Stadium, did a bit of pin trading with eager athletes and had the opportunity to see some of the closing ceremonies. Then we spent the rest of the night partying and drinking and participating in various antics until we had to make our 8 a.m. bus back to the airport.

Acropolis just after sunrise
Opposite Acropolis, where I saw some folks grabbing a smoke.
Monument across from the Acropolis. My apartment in the back on the left.
Yet a different angle of the Acropolis.
(Did he shoot anything else?)
Me 2 hours after working 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift

One last look.
The bed was less comfortable than it appears.
Hallway to the bathroom and outside world. That is NOT a Hustler on the other bed, mind you.
Entrance to the IBC. Note the security at the bottom. The security at LAX was more severe, but not nearly as attractive.
A view from the top of the IBC with Olympic Stadium in the background (and yes, since returning, I've bought a much better digital camera.)
My office for a month. Workmate Martin in the foreground. He spoke Russian and various other Eastern bloc languages and hates Rocky IV (I made that up).

Things got a little sketchy at 5 a.m., an hour before going home. Friend Michael Berger showing the effects of sleep deprivation.
The office during a shift change. We bet on which one would arrive first or last, or in what order. Again, the last couple hours went slow.
A hallway through the NBC compound.
The bowels of the IBC complex. If you can make it out through my shoddy camera, AOB stands for Athens Olympic Broadcasting, which was the main feed for most countries.
The NBC commisary, where I had most of my meals the last 2 weeks of the trip. Baklava GOOD. Greek salad GOOD. Most everything else, in the words of Phil Hartman's Frankstein, "BAAAAAAAD"
The main press conference room at the MPC (Media Press Centre) across the street from the IBC.

The Today Show set in Olympic Park. You can kind of make out Katie and Matt seated middle-right in in the frame.
Not sure what this was called, but it was hundreds of yards long and probably 3-4 stories tall. It provided shade for those walking through Olympic Park, had feeds of competitions projected on it and, as seen here, did this funky twirly thing, too.
A semi-covered walkway on one side of the Park, near the main Olympic store (and a huge McDonald's -- royale with cheese anyone?).
Beneath spiraling walkway.
The Olympic Stadium behind me, the torch aflame (is that a word?) to the right of my shoulder.
Olympic Park again and the aforementioned horizontal white monolith at my back.

The entrance to the old Olympic Stadium, built for the original Games in 1896. In 2004, it hosted archery, among other things, and provided the finish for the women's marathon.
You can see the targets in the middle while a big video board provided a close up of the archer.
Walking toward the main competition area. Except for a couple days, it was generally 90 degrees or hotter and the heat baked the concrete stadium thoroughly.
The guy on the right (from Japan, I think) won.
At the main arena, where we scored some prime seats to see the Dream Team win a rare game. We had all-access passes that got us most everywhere, but we needed tickets to actually sit anywhere at a Dream Team game.
After this game, we watched China and Yao Ming get their butts kicked before heading to work for a 12-hour shift.

The final points of the gold medal badminton match. I caught the very end of this after oversleeping and considerably undestimating the walking time. Felt like being in First Blood in the makeshift arena.
One of the most popular events at the Games was beach volleyball. We spent an hour here and almost quit our jobs instead of going back to work.
A highlight, for sure, seeing the famous beach volleyball dancers at a timeout. The action of the competition was the only thing that stopped the music from playing on the loudspeakers.
As I was told, handball was a pretty cool sport. France plays Germany here, too powerhouses in the sport (take my word for it).
The "indoor" velodrome that was clearly open air. A really cool venue for a fun sport. It was on the far end of Olympic Park, a solid 20-minute walk from work.
One of the first things we saw was this water polo match. This was also the venue for diving (the boards are on the right of the picture) and, again, was in Olympic Park, adjacent to the main arena.

Inside the Olympic Stadium for pole vault heats in the decathlon. Not the most exciting, but it was worth it to see the stadium.
Like I said, lots of pole vaulting going on here. I think this was a good attempt.
More proof for everyone that I was actually at the Games.
The synchronized swimming pool. The sport's as crooked as ice skating, but with nose plugs.
Last day at work and (obviously) on one of the studio sets.
For the previous month, this area was a large cafeteria. It was turned into a huge (open-bar) club after closing ceremonies, the DJ playing everything from techno to the Beatles. A few beers here kickstarted the final night.

One of the cool people I worked with, Jess, a gymnastics expert who can tell you way more than you'd ever, EVER, ever want to know about the Hamm brothers. This was at about 4 or 5 a.m. after closing ceremonies at the hotel where people NBC cared about stayed.
Toward the end of our one day off with (to my right), Aussie Steve, Jess, Olympic vet Andy and Nicole and the Acropolis glowing in the background.
The entire research team.