George in LeuvenI left Leuven, Belgium this morning, having spent the past three days sharing a hotel with my good friend Georgina Clarke from Australia.  Leuven is a special place for me, with lots of great memories from previous European trips.  It tends to be a base (or at least a fall-back) for many athletes between competitions, and it was fun to revisit all my favorite spots and see what’s changed in the last three years.

The moment I stepped on the plane, I felt ready for business.  I’m finding it easier and easier to focus with each racing opportunity, making me so grateful I decided to come to Europe despite not being in world-beater shape.  The experience will serve me well.

I must have missed the welcoming committee so I found my own way to the meet hotel using public transportation and my piecemeal knowledge of Stockholm from my two previous races here.  As I rolled my bag through the clean streets of the city toward the Nordic Sea Hotel, I thought about how much I’ve grown up since my last trip here.  Three years ago I would have waited in a panic at the airport for someone to escort me, fearful of venturing out alone.  It made me smile in appreciation for the way  humans ripen with time.

HotelIt was kind of refreshing to arrive alone, without a car full of herded athletes.  Dressed in business attire rather than athletic wear, I slipped through the crowd of autograph seekers standing outside the front door due to my non-sporty disguise (or at least that’s what I told myself when nobody asked for my autograph!)  Once inside, I fancied myself an outsider viewing the meet hotel through unfamiliar eyes.  I decided to take my camera out and capture the experience.

The Ice Machine

Oh Glory! I love you ice!

I checked in, got my room key and a fancy food card that I swipe to get into the dining area, and took my goodie bag back to my room for further examination.  On the way there, I saw an endangered european species: an ice machine!  I couldn’t believe it!  The first I’ve seen in four countries in four weeks!  I’m gonna own you, ice bath.  My aching legs tingled in anticipation.

Welcome bagMy welcome bag was supremely unexciting.  The meet T-shirt PLUS nivea cream sample was a mico-step above the Monaco muscle tank.  The reading material, on the other hand, was fascinating.

I learned that every athlete who breaks a stadium record receives a 1-carat diamond valued at $10,000, in addition to prize money.  The race is “televised globally, both live and delayed, in 120 countries and will have approximately 15 million actual viewers world wide.”  Seriously?!  Is that normal for a Diamond League Meet, or is this one especially high?  I also learned that this stadium has produced more world records (83) than any other stadium.  Maybe Defar will be 84!