My first three competitions had begun, starting in the Czech Republic. The first stop was Ostrava, a small town. Arriving at the airport early in the morning, I was greeted by a local driver. Thankfully he had been holding a card bearing my name, since I soon realized that he did not speak much English. The driver took my bags and loaded them into the car before we headed to the hotel.
As soon as we arrived, I went to have a look at the competition facility. I only had two spare days to get ready, and the facility was unfamiliar to me. It was actually a hockey rink. The track that I would be using had actually been laid over the ice. It was quite a nice setup, but far colder than I was used to. The competition went rather well, keeping in mind that I had been injured during the last few months. I placed third, with a jump of 7’3”. I accepted my award, posed for a few pictures, signed some autographs and then headed back to the hotel room afterwards. Immediately, I began preparing for my departure to the next city.
The next morning, I was greeted by my Czech driver. In his best English, he said, “We go now!” It sounded like something from a James Bond film. I laughed to myself and headed towards a very small car with my escort. I am 6’8”, and am used to large, American cars. The car we entered resembled a clown car more than a Cadillac. I squeezed in and prepared for the two to three-hour ride. I soon realized that my trip was to be much shorter. My driver took off in our tiny car as if he were driving a Ferrari. He must have watched one too many NASCAR races since he drove like Jeff Gordon during the entire trip! Although I was petrified the whole time, the upside was that we did arrive at our destination very early. I had never been to the town of Hustopece, but I was extremely excited to have made it in one piece.
After checking in at the hotel, I went to find something to eat. In America, we are used to receiving our orders at once. In Czechoslovakia, food is served in portions that can be a bit of a hassle if you are hungry. I finished my long drawn-out meal and went to the competition. This time I was in more familiar territory, since the location for the competition was a basketball arena. The track was laid over the hardwood. Although it was not overly large, the venue was still fairly nice. At least I wasn’t freezing!
The arena was crowded with local townspeople on the day of the competition. In fact, it was filled with all types of interesting people: past Olympians, World Champions and even a few Russians in attendance. The Russian jumpers had perfected the high jump and had nearly broken the world record. Their superior abilities were clearly on display that day. I managed to jump a very good 7’ 4.25”, but they all cleared 7’7” easily. This meet was a very good yardstick. The Olympics would resemble the competition in this meet more than any other I was to be in. My jump was good enough to earn me ninth place. I was pleased with my jump, but knew that I would have to improve in order to compete with the world’s best jumpers.
After the track and field meet, I was invited to a hockey game in a town called Brno. It was my very first hockey game and I came away impressed. The fans were incredibly supportive of their team, and the atmosphere was great. Watching hockey in person is far different from watching it on television.
The next day, we traveled to the town of Trinec. The hotel and competition facility were connected to each other and had very pleasant surroundings. Additionally, the hotel staff treated us like royalty, a welcome surprise! Competing in so many events in such a short time span started to take a toll on my body. It takes a toll on every competitor. This was especially apparent in the results of the meet. I only managed to clear 7’1” during the entire meet. I placed ninth, but I was not pleased with my performance. That said, even the Russian jumpers were well under the records they set the previous day.
After three days of competition and traveling, I was ready to go home. When I arrived at the airport, I found that my flight had been delayed by two hours. As a result, I would miss my connecting flight and was forced to spend another day in Czechoslovakia. I stayed in a hotel next to the airport, and spent the rest of the day sleeping, eating and watching Czech television..
My flight the next day went without a hitch, and I had a layover in Paris for a few hours. I managed to fit in a little shopping before boarding my connecting flight. If you ever fly through Paris, be forewarned that the local airport is so big that you may even miss your flight if you spend too much time shopping.
I arrived in the U.S. on Thursday, and had to work the next day. The six-hour time difference was very hard to overcome. I woke up at 3 AM and remained awake until I had to leave for work. Thankfully, I managed through the rest of the day, and then went directly home. I slept for the entire weekend!
My next competition will be in Madison Square Garden in New York City this weekend. I’ve never competed there before so it should be exciting.