Tom Degun: Only in America does the London 2012 build-up look like this
Wednesday, 16 May 2012
The gathering organised by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is basically a chance for the media to meet with the country's top Olympic and Paralympic athletes ahead of London 2012, but, America being America, there was unsurprisingly glitz, glamour and effortless razzmatazz out in force.
The first evidence of the above was the venue, the Hilton Anatole, which is quite simply so outrageously huge that it could rather easily be converted into a large airport.
After getting lost about three times in the giant hotel before eventually finding the registration desk, I was given a bag full of merchandise that included the schedule for the event.
The headline acts were no less than swimming icon Michael Phelps (pictured above) – the greatest Olympian ever with an astonishing collection featuring 14 gold medals – along with, for some reason, the First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama.
Only in America.
An evening reception at Media Bar and Grill kicked off proceedings before day one proved highly eventful.
First, a press conference featuring America's top athletes including Allyson Felix (pictured below), triple Olympic sprint medallist, who only 24 hours earlier at the Samsung Diamond League in Doha had defeated the combined Jamaican power of Olympic 100 metre champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown in a meet record and personal best of 10.92sec.
After discussing her schedule, which will see her prioritise the 200m but maybe do the 100m after her remarkable triumph, the USOC leadership, headed by chairman Larry Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun, took to the stage.
Nothing particularly new here, the duo reiterated the party line: America will not bid for the Olympics and Paralympics until their revenue-sharing agreement with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is completed.
The USOC currently receives a 20 per cent share of global sponsorship revenue and a 12.75 per cent share of US broadcast rights deals but many international officials, including the IOC, think it is too big a portion.
"I am hopeful, in the not too distant future, that we will have some positive news," Blackmun said, although I don't think anyone will be holding their breath after hearing those words for well over a year.
Shortly after, pandemonium hit as Phelps strolled onto the stage with seemingly every single camera in America on him.
Luckily, Phelps has "found his passion again" just in time for London 2012 after there were times when he "just wouldn't come to practice".
"It didn't excite me, it wasn't interesting and I was just going through the motions," Phelps told us.
But now that he is back, he will be one of the biggest stars at London 2012 and the stage is set for him to face great rival and fellow American Ryan Lochte, the pair reportedly having a great dislike for each other.
"Ryan and I are going to have our hands full with each other this summer," Phelps said in perhaps the understatement of the century.
A delightful Team USA barbecue closed the day but there was no joking around the next morning when seemingly half the secret service was in place for the visit of the First Lady.
It took several security checks to get in, but before Obama, came a press conference from the delightfully engaging Mike Krzyzewski, the USA men's basketball head coach.
The 65-year-old from Chicago, who led his side to gold at Beijing 2008, told us that London 2012 will be his last Olympics, where he hopes the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James will give him the perfect send off.
A long break to build anticipation and Obama (pictured above, centre) took to the stage, announcing a nationwide commitment to get over 1.7 million American children active as part of her Let's Move! initiative which aims to wage a war on childhood obesity.
"This summer, together with our children, we can support Team USA not just by cheering them on but by striving to live up to the example they set," said the First Lady, who will lead the Presidential Delegation to the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony on July 27.
The highlight of the final day was a less glamorous but no less interesting press conference with some of America's top Paralympians, including Jerome Singleton, the man who handed Oscar Pistorius of South Africa his first defeat in Paralympic sport for seven years at the World Championships last year.
"Whether Oscar has all the fanfare and all the media, that doesn't really bother me all that much," Singleton (pictured below, left with Pistorius) said. "Hard work and dedication; that is what will bring you the gold medal, not media attention."
So there you have a snap-shot of the events. Fast-paced, breathless, showbiz but ultimately one of the most useful three days you can get as a journalist covering London 2012.
"This is a great event because it has 500 journalists from around the world," I was told by USOC chief communications and public affairs officer Patrick Sandusky.
"It is not just US journalists; it is BBC, AFP, insidethegames and many others.
"We have almost every major newspaper and broadcaster here and some very high profile guys like Piers Morgan with CNN.
"One spot, one weekend, some of our highest profile athletes, like Michael Phelps, so it has been a great event.
"This is a great opportunity for the world's media to get to know our athletes."
It would also be great to have something like this everywhere, certainly in Britain where it would be invaluable.
But it would be impossible to replicate this size, scale, calibre and glamour of this.
So perhaps it works here.
Only in America.
Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames