Tuesday, August 19
Flag faces.The Event: Women’s Volleyball Quarterfinal
The Competitors: China vs. Russia, USA vs. Italy
The Venue: Capital Gymnasium, an older stadium very close to where we’re staying, which has been nicely remodeled for the Olympics.

What we knew: We had cheered on as the US Women’s team came from behind to beat China in the preliminaries, so we already knew the names of some players on both teams, and had nicknames for several others.

How we prepared:  We were really looking forward to rooting for both the US and China, so when we got off the bus we immediately purchased a small Chinese flag to go with our American one.  Getting the Chinese flag painted on my cheek.Then we saw people painting faces outside the venue, so we each got a Chinese flag on one cheek, and I got a US flag on the other.  Supporting both countries got us lots of good attention, and we made some new friends for the US in the process.

What happened: It’s almost 2 a.m. here, and at 6:30 a.m. we leave for a day at the Great Wall, so not much time for all the details.  Both games were amazing in their own way.  Even though China won the first game three sets to none, each set was incredibly close, and the tension and quality of play were constantly high: monster spikes and blocks were parried over and over again with unlikely digs and saves.  Although we sat near a crew of screaming Russians, the Chinese fans gave us the biggest thrill, as their team kept finding ways to win each set and the packed auditorium went more and more nuts.  The last point was deafening.  It was exactly what a world-class sporting event should be!

The court below.In the second game, the US started slow and didn’t seem to have it together, dropping two of the first three sets and never really finding a rhythm.  But in the fourth set, led by Logan Tom, Kim Willoughby, Kim Glass (who we nicknamed “Naomi Campbell”), and vicious server Lindsey Berg,  our team built a big lead and held onto it, to the screaming delight of the US fans who now seemed to make up over half the people remaining in the two-thirds empty auditorium.  Our own flag was waving for most of the fourth set, and in the fifth we almost never dropped it into our laps, jubilant as the US came out even stronger and roared to victory.  It was an incredible night for both our teams!

Also of note: Some women’s volleyball players are HUGE.  I mean really, really gigantic.  Especially the Russians.  Also, volleyball is way more fun to watch than I ever could have imagined.  And I can’t wait to get home and find some people to play with.

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