Travel

Scotts Valley’s Murai’s Olympic wish coming true

By JULIE JAG

jjag@santacruzsentinel.com

 

LONDON – On a typical London day, in which the rain and the sun took turns controlling the skies, Erick Murai took refuge in the close confines of an arena seat. There, with his father on one side, his brother behind him, and people from all reaches of the world and speaking dozens of languages around him, the Scotts Valley student settled in to watch a women’s basketball game between Canada and Brazil.

It’s been a long trip, but Murai’s wish to attend the Olympics is coming true.

“Oh yeah,” said Murai, 18. “I’m really enjoying it for the most part.”

For two years, Murai has been battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia. To fight the disease, he has to take daily chemotherapy pills and receive monthly spinal punctures to help the medicine reach his brain – a schedule he’ll have to keep up for at least a year. While he was receiving treatment at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital late in 2011, someone from the Bay Area chapter of Make-a-Wish approached Murai about granting him a wish.

Murai, who played basketball his freshman year and football his sophomore year at Scotts Valley, wanted it to involve sports. So, after his first choice of meeting NFL player Maurice Jones-Drew didn’t pan out, he decided to dream bigger, picking the biggest sporting event he could think of – the Olympics.

To his surprise, the group gave that wish the go-ahead. In all, Make-a-Wish America expected to send 43 Americans and 11 others to the Games, which run through Aug. 12.

Murai, who is traveling with his father, Gerrod, and brother, Christian, left Tuesday and will return Monday. He had only flown once – with the Falcons football team to Oregon – and he had never been out of the time zone, so just being in London has been a new experience.

“It’s pretty nice when it’s not raining,” Murai said. “That latest downpour wasn’t that great. We didn’t come prepared, we only have one umbrella.”

Murai said the trip has also involved more walking than he expected. Of course, that included extra miles spent trying to navigate the city, which has been turned into even more of a maze with the barriers erected around Olympic venues.

“Dad has us walking in circles just to cross the street,” Christian Murai, 15, joked.

Erick Murai specifically requested the chance to see basketball. Within hours of landing Wednesday, he was sitting almost courtside, watching the Team USA women romp over Turkey, 89-58. He also was treated to a session of three women’s basketball games on Friday, including the Canada-Brazil game. In between, the trio headed to Horse Guards Parade on Thursday night, where they watched four beach volleyball matches.

“I think that was more enjoyable than basketball,” Murai said.

That sport a big hit with the Brits as well, mostly because it involves women in bikinis playing close to the center of the city.

“It doesn’t hurt,” Murai said. He quickly added, “They were pretty good matches.”

The Murais likely won’t get to see Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony. The Dream Team plays Lithuania in the early men’s basketball session today, and they have tickets to the late session, their final Olympic event.

The Olympics may be the centerpiece of this trip, but the Murai men are making the most of all London has to offer. Today they will see a performance of Phantom of the Opera at the historic Her Majesty’s Theatre and on Sunday they will take in The Taming of the Shrew at the replica of Shakespeare’s The Globe.

They’re even tasting the local fare when they can. They haven’t been able to sample any bangers and mash or fish and chips yet, though, because Erick must finish eating at least three hours before he takes his nightly chemotherapy pills.

Still, he says the jet lag has slowed him as much as the leukemia treatments. Both make it hard to wake up when his dad tries to roust him at 7:30 each morning. But, Gerrod Murai doesn’t want this wish to be wasted in a hotel room.

“This is not a sort of relaxation trip,” he said. “It’s a lot of running around and getting things done.”

Categories: Beach Volleyball, Events, Olympics, Travel, Your neighbors | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Americans denied Olympic tickets

By JULIE JAG
jjag@santacruzsentinel.com

LONDON — Pete and Leslie Haddad’s Olympic event, the ticket mad dash, began as soon as they stepped off the train in London.
Carting their 4-year-old son Jackson along in a stroller Monday afternoon, they raced past such historical landmarks as Big Ben, Westminster Abby and Trafalgar Square and headed straight for Horse Guards Parade, just steps from Buckingham Palace. They had less interest in seeing her majesty the Queen than the queens and kings of the court in an Olympic session of beach volleyball, which both Haddads play regularly at Main Beach.
They reached the finish line – a box office near the venue entrance – only to discover that, as Americans, they were disqualified before they even started. No Olympic tickets, at any price point, not even to events with unsold seats, have been made available for foreigners to purchase in London.
“It sucks,” said Leslie Haddad, summing up the feeling of a growing number of Americans and other tourists who have been left feeling stranded.
On Monday night, the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, or LOCOG, released more than 3,000 tickets to the public in response to criticism that too many seats in the “sold out” venues went unoccupied. Jackie Brock-Doyle, the LOCOG communications director, said 3,800 tickets across 30 sessions in 15 sports were released .
However, all were distributed through the london2012.com website, which Americans and many other foreigners cannot access. They can’t stroll around the Olympic Park, either. Access is restricted to ticket holders of events held inside the park – which excludes those attending off-site events such as gymnastics, equestrian, judo, archery, fencing, boxing, soccer and volleyball – and to holders of Olympic Park tickets, which are also only available for sale to British residents.
“I feel really handcuffed, I can’t go anywhere,” said Kyle Dixon, who flew from Philadelphia to London with the hope of distributing T-shirts from his Aradii Wardrobe line — some of which feature the slogan “We Are Freedom” — to multi-national Olympics fans. “We really thought it would be easy. We thought getting into the park would be free. We didn’t expect what we got here.”
The policy of prohibiting access to the park strays from that of previous Olympics, according to Patti Mascetti of Bristol, Conn. This is Mascetti’s third Olympics — she attended the 1984 games in L.A. and ’96 in Atlanta — and she said she never has felt so shut out, nor had such a difficult time purchasing tickets during the Games.
“We still tried into 1:30 last night and got nothing,” Mascetti wrote in an email. “My group here wants to go to Olympic Park and ask for tickets [and] ask [to] put the response in YouTube [because] the stories are never the same… and we are obviously not in the right place or time to get any of the 3,000 tickets!”
Part of the problem is that the IOC distributes a limited number of tickets to each country’s National Organizing Committee. The NOCs then distributed them to their country’s residents, typically through third-party agencies. The agency for the United States and six other countries is CoSport, which has a London office but is only selling tickets online – where they have been sold out for months.
LOCOG’s Brock-Doyle said residents of the UK had been promised priority for these Games.
“We made a promise, as you know, at the very beginning [that] 75 percent of tickets would go to the British public. We also said, after we saw the demand, that if people had tickets they wanted to return, we would try to make sure British public had access to them. The box offices we have are primarily there to pick up tickets that have been bought online,” Brock-Doyle said. “We always said we wanted the British public to be in there and the demand from the British public has been so enormous that we will continue to drive any tickets that we get — any contingencies, any returns — directly to British public.”
When asked what course of action non-British tourists hoping to get into the Games should take, Brock-Doyle replied: “My suggestion would be to enjoy some of the great live sites that are out there, but we’re going to continue selling tickets to the British online.”
That’s just what the Haddads ended up doing. They had just a couple days in London after spending most of their time abroad in Bristol, where Pete, who works for Hewlett Packard, had been sent on a business trip he learned about three months ago, long after U.S. tickets sold out. So they took in the sights they’d rushed by in their hurry to find the box office, and they watched some of the Games on a jumbo screen set up at the Tower Bridge. If they wanted a live performance, they needed only to look over at little Jackson, who was practicing his pommel horse and floor routines and judo on the grass.
But Brock-Doyle’s advice didn’t sit well with many others who traveled thousands of miles and are paying beyond peak prices for lodging and foot to be here during the Olympics.
“There are empty seats and we have money and we want to pay, we want to get in. Instead we have to stand outside with our flags,” said Catherine Arnprister, 23, of Los Angeles, who arrived at one gate to the park with three Australian and American friends, their faces painted with their country’s flag.
“Only letting the English in with the extra tickets isn’t in the spirit of the Olympics,” Arnprister added. “Everyone should have a chance to enjoy them.”

Categories: Behind the Scenes, Olympics, Travel, Your neighbors | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

My first day without Julie

Julie and I were going to do a little shopping today and pretend we had money, but work got in the way. Julie was able to go to the media center, but alas, I’m on the outside looking in again. Julie was able to check out the White Water Centre today with a rafting trip so I wandered the streets of London alone, which is what I’ll be doing a lot of in the coming weeks. It’s OK. Except for the blister I got on my foot, everything worked out great. I first went to a mural commissioned by a man who lives in Watsonville (photo to come when Julie has her story ready), then I just wandered. I tried getting some video around the Tower Bridge, so that’s why you don’t have any photos today. I’ll keep getting more video over the next few days and try my hand at editing something together. My computer is slow and I’m limited on what I can film because of NBC’s exclusive rights but I’ll get you something. Tomorrow I get to shoot a boxing practice for a story Julie has cooking, so I’m very excited about that. Until then.

Cheers.

Categories: Behind the Scenes, Olympic Preparation, Olympics, Travel | Leave a comment

Light on the Olympics today

We visited the Tower of London today and I thought there would be more of an Olympic presence there. We missed yesterday’s River of Music Festival there, so maybe that had something to do with it.

The other thing we missed was a major snag in the transit system. The evening paper said the Tube line that we usually take was out of service from 6am until 10am. Good thing that we didn’t get moving until 10 this morning. Every train is warning passengers to avoid lines that go to The Games’ various venues around the city unless they are attending the games themselves. Things have still worked out pretty well for us though.

So here’s the only Olympics-related shot I got today. I already showed you a shot of this, but this one is from dry land and not a rocking boat. Plus, the light is better. In fact, comment on this blog your favorite moment from a previous Olympics and I’ll pick my favorite comment and send you a copy of this photo when the games are done.

Tower Bridge with Olympic Rings

Categories: Contest, Olympics, Photos, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

First full day in Amsterdam

THIS WAS YESTERDAY’S BLOG. IT HAS FINALLY BEEN POSTED.

Today was a nice vacation day for the two of us. We only thought about work and the Olympics about a dozen times or so. It was a day full of walking and doing tourisy things, but we enjoyed ourselves quite a bit.

We hit the flower market where Julie fell in love with all the tulips and really wanted to bring some home. Then we walked to the Van Gough museum where I had a revelation … I don’t really like museums. I noticed all the people just listening to their audio tour and spending about a minute with each painting and are usually standing about 1-2 feet away. It made me sad that they painting weren’t being enjoyed or appreciated like they were probably ment to be. It seems like they should be hung in someone’s home and really looked at for a long time. I sat down about halfway through and fell in love with a painting of the ocean that I really didn’t like when I saw it from so close. I guess it’s good for so many people to be enjoying them, but it just made me a little sad to think about it.

What didn’t make me sad was the Heineken museum. Beer tasting and two beers at the end. Can’t go wrong with that. Plus, I was selected for a marketing survey (where I told them marketing isn’t important, quality is) and was given a personalized glass for it. Had a canal ride back near the hotel (as part of the Heineken tour) and walked around for a while more before dinner, more walking and back to the hotel for night. Had some coffee and visited a cheese shop somewhere in there also.

I know you are here for the Olympics stuff, just just bare with us for another day or two.

Our free internet isn’t letting me post photos, so hopefully I can get them up once we make it to London.

Categories: Behind the Scenes, Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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