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Stephanie Neppl … Reporting from Beijing

By Staff | Aug 16, 2008

Former Estherville High School graduate Stephanie Neppl watched Serena and Venus Williams’ doubles match at 1 a.m. on Friday. Neppl said she was close enough to the action that Venus looked at her when she shouted “Go USA!” Photo submitted

Friday, Aug. 15, 2008

Last night I was part of one of those great sporting atmospheres that most fans strive to witness.

Thus far, I have to say that it’s been a wee bit hard to feel the Olympic spirit in the tennis centre. It’s miles away from the main Olympic venues so it feels like a separate event, and there have been so many empty seats that the event has lacked a bit of character.

Last night changed everything. The quarterfinal tennis action was meant to start at 4 p.m., but rains delayed Roger Federer versus James Blake for over three hours. Yes, three hours in which thousands of us stayed in our covered seats, doing the stadium wave and cheering simple progress like the athletes’ drinks being brought out on court. By the time dozens of Chinese workers dried the courts, the centre court was really buzzing.

More than six hours after the tennis started, they were still starting matches even though it was after 1 a.m.

There were still thousands of us left in the tennis centre. I left Rafael Nadal’s match to see the Williams sisters’ doubles action, and I was so close to them Venus looked right at me when I shouted “Go USA!” Sadly, the rains came again and the night came to an end.

There has been a lot of talk about the empty seats for all the events, and it is very sad to see. Olympic officials said all tickets were sold, but if that is the case why was I in the sixth row on centre court with no one seated near me? It’s clear many corporate tickets were given out, and I likely bought a (albeit much pricier) corporate ticket myself. Many people from all over the world wanted to attend the Olympics and tickets were very hard to get for those people out of China. It’s been puzzling to figure out what really happened.

One interesting Olympic tidbit is the food available at the venues. I’ve been to events such as the Australian Open and U.S. Open, and you expect to pay exorbitant amounts of money to eat and drink; it’s actually part of the whole experience. At the Olympics however, there are very cheap food and drinks available, if you can call it food.

Chinese food is amazing. I have been joyfully eating foods from provinces like Yunnan and Sichuan, and it’s just as fantastic as I remember.

Chinese snack food, however, is not that joyful. The only ‘food’ available for all the tennis fans are spring onion flavored saltine crackers, marshmallow chocolate pies, beef flavored potato chips and some strange bread combinations. In a word, it’s all junk food at the Olympics. The other venues at least have a McDonalds, one of the major sponsors. Again, junk food.

I haven’t read a word about this in the press, presumably because the media centre has chefs from the U.S. preparing wonderful foods for them so they may not be bothered about what the spectators are eating, but we are bothered!

The best part is that not only can you not bring in any food and drinks (the security actually tried to take away my breath mints and gum), the food options once you get inside are pretty shocking for an international event).

I’m resting today, and tomorrow night will see the women’s tennis bronze and gold medal matches, and Sunday night it’s off to gymnastics to see four finals for the individual events. I better fill up on decent food before I head to the Olympic venues.

Zai jian.