I cannot vouch for the authenticity of all I am about to tell you. The incredible ordeal I endured, combined with the heat and a foolishly chosen mayonnaise-and-shrimp sandwich from a street vendor, addled my mind to a state from which I am only now recovering. But I remember that it began with my walking into the boss's office, asking to go to the Olympics and walking out with the worst assignment in the history of journalism.
I was to see if it was possible to go to every single sport at the Olympics without a ticket, for under $2,000—hotel, meals, scalped tickets and bail money included. No reservations, no press credentials, no press buses. I was to see at least one competition in all 28 full-medal sports: archery, badminton, baseball, basketball, boxing, canoeing, cycling, diving, equestrian, fencing, held hockey, gymnastics, handball, judo, modern pentathlon, rowing, shooting, soccer, swimming, synchronized swimming, table tennis, tennis, track and field (counts as one, dammit), volleyball, water polo, weightlifting, wrestling and yachting; plus the three demonstration sports: roller hockey, taekwondo and pelota. I was to do it in 13 days. I was to keep a diary as I went along, and take my own photographs to prove I did it. I was to go out of my mind.
And yet, after a while, I actually started looking forward to the adventure, mostly because it was going to give me a chance to visit the one European sight I had always wanted to see—the Sagrada Família, the spectacular, unfinished modernist cathedral by Gaudí.
This might not be so bad after all.
This is going to be very bad after all. Everything in Barcelona is twice as expensive as I had figured. A ham sandwich is $8. The only hotel rooms for under $50 are so cramped you have to go outside to sweat. I rented a tiny room off the Ramblas, the wildest, loudest street in the city, and I am sweating now. This is the room the feds should have given Leona Helmsley. It is no bigger than a Volkswagen and has one tiny bed with a mattress that is nearly two inches thick and one window the size of a toaster oven in the corner. It makes up for that, though, with a lack of amenities, including no TV, no phone, no air-conditioning and no French-milled soap. And this is the best deal I could find.
The lady running the place, a fire hydrant of a woman named Rosa, wanted 5,000 pesetas a night (about $53, U.S.) but we settled on 4,100. I asked her if I would be automatically enrolled in the hotel's honored-guest program. She did not seem amused.
I have mapped out exactly what day and what time I will go to each sport by using the Official Olympic Schedule. Today I was supposed to see volleyball, weightlifting, basketball, roller hockey and soccer. Of course, that was before I found out about the Official Olympic Bar Closing Time, which is 5:30 a.m. So I slept right through volleyball. Then weightlifting was misprinted on the schedule ("It is wrong, no problem," said the man at the gate, after I had walked a half hour to find the venue), and roller hockey looked like it was halfway to Portugal, so I rescheduled it. One man's opinion: This is not possible.
I did make it to basketball. It was the Dream Team's opener, and I wanted to be there for the greatest upset in the history of sport—Angola stuns the U.S. team. After a 30-minute subway ride out to the Palau d'Esports de Badalona, I found $38 tickets going for $300.
I finally found a ticket for $200 and made it inside just in time to see Angola come out and blow kisses to the crowd. Then they took basketballs and started hoisting up treys. No layup drill, no weave, just every man for himself. My kind of team. They gave the Yanks all they wanted, too, tying the score 7-7. Then the Americans went on a little 46-1 run. Any coach will tell you: Anytime you get a 46-1 run against you, it can be a difficult mental thing.