You try to interview Ian Thorpe. Sorry, he's in massage. You try to get time with Marion Jones. Sorry, she's in training. You try to get an audience with anybody from anywhere down to and including a Bhutanese archer. Sony, he's in bloodletting.
You scream. You sigh. You bang your head against the computer. Then, it hits you: e-mail!
By way of the Sydney Olympics' internal computer system, any jock, scribe or suit can reach out to any other jock, scribe or suit. They do, constantly. At the athletes' village, the IBM Surf Shack is by far the most popular hangout. Which means the greatest athletes in die world were at my fingertips.
So I e-mail 3,000 of them, 60 at a time, and ask them: What single thing has happened to you at these Olympics that you will never forget? This is an excellent idea for two very important reasons: 1) It cuts through all the media bias, spin doctors and shoe reps to get to the unfiltered essence of the Games; and 2) it's a very easy column.
I e-mail Albanians and Zambians. I spam Samoans. I have a Burundi buddy list. I write Dream Team multimillionaires and Yemeni rowing nobodies. I e-mail every Tom, Dick and Svetiana. Guess what? In die middle of the most important three weeks of their lives, they answer!
What won't they forget? "Getting up on the morning after the opening ceremony, yawning, scratching my back, pulling back die curtains and seeing the Olympic flame," writes David Luckes, a British field hockey player.
"Walking to the swim start for the triathlon," Australian silver medalist Michellie Jones writes, "and looking into die stands to see my husband crying."
"The expression on the kids' faces," writes middle-distance runner Milton Browne of Barbados, "when they know you are an Olympian."
They answer in capitals: "TO FINALLY GET THE GOLD MEDAL AND BEING ON THE PODIUM WITH 17,000 PEOPLE CHEERING YOU ON, HEARING THE ANTHEM AND REALIZING THAT ALL THE HARD WORK PAID OFF!!! I FEEL LIKE A GOLDEN BUTTERFLY! BEST REGARDS, [signed] HAPPY INKY!!!!!!" writes Dutch swimmer Inge de Bruijn, winner of three golds and a silver.
They answer in lower case: "after the 100 butterfly, the medalists were marching around the pool deck, there was a dutch family cheering in the front row. their little son was in a wheelchair, they were so proud of inge de bruijn. she didn't see them, but dara torres did. she grabbed a shirt she had with her and threw it to the little boy. i was moved by that," wrote Shannon Shakespeare, Canadian swimmer.