I was not raised among the well-to-do.  Growing up, my idea of an amazing buffet dinner was a family trip to Sizzler.  And like anyone born into the middle class before it shrunk to about 225 people, my parents were able to provide a pretty great childhood for us in sunny southern California.  And since we were well fed and had clean culdesacs to ride our bikes in, we could look up at the mansions of Beverly Hills and not feel as though we were missing anything.  “Mo money, mo problems” was how I had always felt about wealth.  So throw me in an opulent principality on the Mediterranean Sea famous for 100,000 dollar bets on the roulette wheel in the notorious Casino Monte Carlo, and my eyes are likely to pop out of my head.

Goofing off before the race

Goofing off before the race.

These trips that we go on for races…they are all fairly similar when it comes to the basics of how to treat the athletes.  Generally it goes something like this:  They book your flight for you to arrive 1-2 days before the meet, and within baggage claim, there is a table set up with signage and volunteers who spot the athletes and gather them together.  In small groups, we are transported in vans to the meet hotel, where we are taken to a special room with more tables and volunteers.  The cars, the wait time, and the attitude of the volunteers are the only real variables for this part of the trip.

This check-in room is the atheltes’ base for all important information.  You get your information packet in the appropriate translation, your credential for the stadium, your race number, and sometimes a special gift ranging from an extra large T-shirt covered in sponsors’ names (whoopie!) to a box of decorated Swiss Chocolates if you are in Zurich (thank you Jesus).  As the days pass, you go here to beg your name from the waiting list to the start line, or to find out the bus schedule for race day, or to see the posted splits that will be run by the rabbit, and finally to find out what ungodly hour they are putting you on a bus the morning-after to go to the airport.

Now that all the big races in Europe are under one big umbrella, (the newly minted “Diamond League,”) the prize monies are identical, so unlike the past, athletes chose which races they want to compete in by the local geography and culture more than anything.  When it comes to culture and geography, nothing is going to top Monaco.

Prince Albert II

Hello hottie!

Its the second smallest principality in the world (only Vatican City is tinier) and even an athlete trying to save her legs for tomorrow’s race can easily witness all of its visual grandeur on her own two feet in a matter of an hour or two.  It is also the second smallest constitutional Monarchy in the world, with a genial Prince who attends the race, as well as the after-party.  I’ve already written a grievance to Disney for false advertising; there was no velvet robe, no crown, no ball with overly-choreographed dancing. The only thing they got right was the inability for your average chick to waltz on over to his highness and introduce herself (which I tried to do :).  Secret service met me with the French’s favorite saying “eees not posseebil.”

Jemma and I wandered around our neighborhood, known as Monte Carlo, checking out the landmarks and sweating through our shirts.  Then we strutted through the harbor in our best flip flops, trying to get invited onto a zillionaire’s yacht.
We enjoyed both sips of our $5 espresso shots while watching couples walk by in their matching Lacoste-stumes.

The Fairmont Monte Carlo and race course

The Fairmont Monte Carlo and race course

As athletes, you can’t ask for a better place to compete.  Without an expenses paid track meet as my “in,” I’d never get to lounge in this robe in a 650 Euro/night hotel, sandwiched between the glittering Mediterranean Sea and one of the tightest bends of the world-famous Formula 1 race course.

One of the biggest variables between meets besides geography is food, and Monaco has to win first prize for this too.  Since Monaco is surrounded on three sides by France, you can’t really go wrong, but  where this meeting has blown me away is with the presentation.  food

Athletes get a booklet of free meal coupons at all major races, with time windows for each buffet meal.  This is the most fun part besides the race, as its where we all get to meet one another and shoot the shit.  Relationships are built over food across multiple events and nationalities.

dessert

We named this forbidden pre-race cake "torture"

This trip I got to know pole vaulter Steven Hooker and high jumper Jesse Williams a bit better, hung out with the Lagat family, spent QT with high school teammate Alysia Johnson and current teammate Jemma Simpson, and reunited with fellow Stanford Alum and shot-putter Jillian Camarena.  Meals carry on for hours, since they are by far the most fun and entertaining part of all trips.  That is, aside from the race!

Pre-race day, we travel to the stadium and test out the track, tune in to our race-vibe, and get the wiggles out.  After I did all my bits this afternoon, I lay on the track and watch the sprinters fluidly hopping over high hurdles, the endurance athletes jogging in small groups around the infield, the throwers getting into their zone.  Its imposible to be nervous when there are so many of us in the same boat.  What we do suddenly seems more beautiful than stressful.  More poetic than methodical.

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