American Heav(il)y Vegan Weekend

I’m not quite sure I’d consider a trip to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games a worthwhile endeavor. In fact, if I was about to win my country’s Olympic Trials road race, I’d be tempted to do a track stand about 5 feet in front of the finish line and wait for some other unsuspecting suckers to roll across in front of me. Sure…there’s the honor of representing one’s country on the world stage, the theoretical ideal of athletic purity and integrity, the brotherhood of man, the opportunity to meet a hot handball player and toss your current wife and kids to the scrap heap, the collective abstract elements of the Olympics. Then there’s the concrete reality of Beijing itself where it seems that

1) You can’t breathe the air…
2) You can’t eat the food…
3) You can’t talk smack about the host nation’s stellar record of innumerable human rights violations…
4) The “the internets” will likely be filtered if not out and out blocked to stifle non-sanctioned, non-goverment constructed Pravda-esque puff pieces of journalism from escaping the borders.

There’s a very good possibility that those ascending the podium of the Olympic road race, having sucked down the best that Beijing’s smokestacks can belch forth during 245.2 gruelling kilometers of competition, will all leave Beijing with a Superund site for lungs or even worse…transform into Toxic Avengers live on NBC or be seen fending off C.H.U.D.s emerging from the netherworld to assault the unsuspecting peloton out on the open road. I don’t think anything some old-school Belgian or Spanish soigneurs can concoct from amphetamines, heroin, cocaine, HGH, EPO, and bovine hemoglobin tossed into a blender and dosed out via syringe can compete with good ol’ fashioned, epically scaled industrial pollution for damage to the human body. Seriously…years will be removed from the lives of all endurance athletes who dare compete this summer from the benign (and rather necessary) act of breathing air.

The last time the Summer Games rolled into a sprawling mass of pollution, urban blight, and rampant human rights violations was forty years ago in Mexico City. Athough I think the Beijing Olympiad will be hard pressed to outdo the freak-out factor endured by the 1968 American TTT squad (consisting of John Howard, John Allis, Butch Martin, and Jim Van Boven)…

Any hopes for an impressive ride, however, were shattered in a bizarre incident only minutes before the team was to start their ride. They were standing together, making final checks of their tire pressure and equipment, when a Mexican man committed suicide with a pistol within five feet of the team. Howard and Martin were splattered with blood.

‘About 20 soldiers rushed over to the body, which was lying in a pool of blood’, Martin said. ‘An officer took charge and put sheets of newspaper over the body. The soldiers kept the crowd away. I had to get a towel and wipe the blood and brains off my arms and bike. Later, we learned the guy had committed suicide because he couldn’t find a job to support his wife and kids.’

Howard said, ‘Had the gory suicide not occurred, the U.S. press would not have not have reported the race at all. In fact, the coverage ommitted the results, and no other cycling events were even mentioned.’

John Howard and Peter Nye. Pushing the Limits (Waco: WRS Publishing, 1993), 29. 

…one can never underestimate communist China for lowering the bar to unanticipated lows in the manner of the Mexican authorities in 1968…

The vast sums the Mexican government had spent on building facilities for the Olympics prompted some 300,000 Mexican university students around the country to protest. The students felt a country with so much poverty was misguided in spending money on the Olympic Games. With the Olympics drawing international media attention, the students decided to use the Olympic Games as the forum for their protests. On the night of October 2, 10 days before the Olympic Games were to open, a crowd of 10,000 students held a protest in the Square of the Three Cultures in Mexico City.

‘Mexican police flew over in helicopters, dropped flares, and fired heavy machine guns down on the students,’ recalled Butch Martin. ‘We saw the flares and heard the shooting from the Olympic Village, about two miles away.’

The deaths that resulted were largely overlooked in the U.S. press, but John Rodda, an English journalist covering the Olympics for the Guardian, reported that more than 260 were killed and 1,200 injured from the shooting.

John Howard and Peter Nye. Pushing the Limits (Waco: WRS Publishing, 1993), 27.

On a lighter note, the article in the New York Times about how all of the food consumed by American athletes will be flown into China and guarded as closely as a Senator in the Green Zone jarred loose a lost weekend from my teenage years. Except my story had the opposite scenario–I needed to transport crappy food into an oasis of purity. My tale of dietary woe is a long, July 4th weekend spent racing criteriums in Connecticut chaperoned by a couple of militantly vegan hippie cyclists about 10-15 years my senior. A weekend spent sleeping in tents, athletic endeavors fuelled by lord knows what kind of bulk food bin roughage cornucopia, campfire conversations about their perpetually never finished Ph.ds in theoretical mathematics, and talk of cycling esoterica such as purging the grease from hub bearings and replacing it with kerosene for the absolute minimal rolling resistance in time trials.

Realizing the company I would be keeping for 3 nights and four days, my dad filled a cooler chock full of food and beverages more to the liking of the teenager that I was…copious deli-meat sandwiches, cookies, candy-bars, bags of corn chips, generic label soft drinks…not a fruit or vegetable in sight. It was to be my non-vegan bubble of dietary normalcy, left lovingly out on our side porch for me to bring to CT for the weekend. To this day, when reminded of this particular weekend, my dad still shakes his head in wonderment about just how I managed to leave our house and get in the hippie-mobile without noticing the rather portly cooler in my path. It was positioned at the top of a pretty narrow set of porch stairs, and I’d either have to exercise some yogi guru flexibility in my gait to step over it and not fall down the stairs, or I had to exercise some concerted upper body strength to slide it out of my path. Either way the result was the same…I left for CT without my food. And I, all of 16 or 17, had to live like a vegan for maybe 80+ consecutive hours.

Probably the only item of nutrition in common between my palate and theirs was water. That’s it. Of course, they brought shitloads of their grub along and made every effort to gently convert me to their healthy ways. But my teenage palate just could not stomach what they offered me. Even their pasta (the pasta and sauce both made from scratch) was nasty. I would take a portion size insufficiently nutritious for a flyweight supermodel downed by about a gallon of water per bite.

My only respite was the time I spent warming up for each of my three crits that weekend. I made sure I was suited up and on the bike wellllllll in advance of my events.

“Yeah, I’m a freak like that. Really…I need about 2+ hours on the bike before I roll up to a start line. I’ve got a diesel engine like you couldn’t believe. And my ritual must, MUST, be performed alone.”

I nonchalantly slipped a wad of cash into my jersey pocket each day and would ride off in search of a grocery store during my extended “warm-up”. I left my bike inside by the cash registers and waddled around on treacherously waxed floors in my Dettos scooping up Pop Tarts and Coke which I dutifully consumed on site. I didn’t dare bring my booty back to the car for fear that I be brandished a junk-food heretic, have a scarlet “J” burned into my flesh, and be cast off and left to ride my bike home from CT.

Needless to say, this wasn’t exactly the formula for athletic excellence. Never mind vanquishing foes in competition, all I could think about each race were the smells of hamburgers grilling outdoors in backyards near the race venues. Perhaps sensing the culinary calamity I endured that weekend, my elder, wiser cycling chaperones stopped for pizza during our drive back to upstate NY and offered to by me a personal sized pizza topped with anything my heart desired. Those guys really were alright and would be my partners in cycling crime for many, many weekends to come through my teenage years. And it’s probably their doing that the lightbulb ultimately clicked in my head about the efficacy of natural, non-chemical nutrition.

Comments (6) to “American Heav(il)y Vegan Weekend”

  1. Heh - imagine even just going as a turista. There’s all that Team Darfur stuff that China kind of swatted away. That makes a little sense to me anyway. Where is Team Tianenmen Square? It would be awesome if foreign athletes took a stand against the bad guys. What can China do? Start a war over some dumb field hockey team or skeet shooter? Somehow I don’t think anyone will have the guts to do it. I don’t think I would.

    The road race sounds interesting though. At least the part where it’s so hilly it wouldn’t come down to a sprint. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bettini win again, but I hope DiLuca doesn’t. I can’t remember, was the trial that they did last summer the same length?

  2. These Olympics will be no different than Hitlers Olympics in Berlin. Nothing but a propoganda machine to pump up China;s BS.

  3. …good post, pietro…i read it last weekend, was influenced enough to type up several paragraphs, realized how pissed the subjects of china & the subterfuge that surrounded the mexico city olympics were making me & erased the whole thing…
    …i had to step away for a few days…

    …i did enjoy your food story…quite funny…glad to see ya cleaned up your eating habits…

    …anyway, beyond the human rights violations, china seems to be a country trying to make up for lost time, & despite the lip service paid to concerns like the environment, i remain skeptical regarding so many of her issues…

  4. I bet if the Chinese government fell and the country was truly open to outsiders, we’ed find a worse enviornmental mess than East Germany was. Just what the world needs.

  5. It’s alway sad to realise that a pressumably intelligent blogger turns out to be just another prefab. Obviously, you have no independent based knowledge of China. Being a Northwest European diplomat on his fifth year in Beijing, I can assure you:

    1 - The food is the best in the world (even US expat-pats in the city will agree).
    2 - As of March 2nd, Beijing has had seven weeks of uninterupted blue sky. We’re no longer in 2001 and China does actually improve when it comes to pollution, contrary to what is the case in many Atlantic states.
    3 - The net is lousy, yes, but that’s merely a question of traffic capacity. Remember, China is now the world’s largest net-consumer. And they all know how to come about the firewalls.

    But to be more serious: The Chinese are smarter than you think, and they are not afraid of criticism. I am convinced, that OG will show us all that there is another way of handling complex politic issues than the simple minded present US approach.

    And contrary to what you get to know from so called un-biased Western media, Chinese actually support the Chinese Government to a larger extend than is the case in let’s say Europe. The Government is not a bunch of bad guys, it’s actually an assembly of highly educated people with strong and well-developed visions on how to ensure that a population of 1.3 billion can get a better life.

    Unfortunately for the West, the majority of yes, the West will be unprepared to meet the challenges when China becomes more than the factory for the rest of the world.

    The reason: Too many uncurious and wise persons who believe uncritically in their own media and lack a full scope of reality.

    And no, I’m not communist - far from that. And yes, a number of hum rights violations do occur like in UK, France, Sweden, Russia, Saudi, Denmark, Korea aso. And US.

    I have, however, come to realise, that China is indeed more than a predudice founded on longgone fear. In 21st century, she will what US was in the 20th century - for good and bad. And noone is arguing about that. Because it’s already a fact.

  6. …sorry ‘chopstick’ but no less than jacques rogge himself stated today, mar 08, that despite attempts at improvement, he was still very concerned about the quality of the air during the upcoming games & the opportunity to cancel certain endurance events has been provided for, if air quality standards are not met……

    …that concern has been mirrored by several top world class endurance athletes who have stated publicly that they may not compete & also by the fact that a good number of national teams are basing training camps outside china during the olympics w/ the intent to import athletes to the games one day before their respective events…

    …rogge wishes to not get into a political pissing contest regarding human rights issues via the games but read his statements & it’s clear where his heart lies…

    …& chinese authorities in their infinite wisdom have once again attacked the dalai lama for “sabotaging the event & spreading rumors” despite the fact that his holiness has personally offered his support to china’s right to host the games…
    …while supporters have expressed a need to boycott the games the dalai lama himself finds that to be too radical an approach…
    …if you understand anything of the nature of this man, you will know his concern is w/ people, not politics & posturing…

    …as for your concern about incurious, uncritical people not paying attention to world media & not having a clear picture of reality, perhaps you’ve mistaken this blog for some others you may subscribe to…
    …the dragon is not hiding anymore…we’re seeing her smoke & fire…we just wonder the source & direction…

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