USA Water Polo's guide to Opening Ceremony

Heather Petri, a former California water polo player.

By Ann Killion

LONDON - It is one of the most powerful moments our modern world offers: the parade of athletes at the Olympics opening ceremonies. Strong young people from around the globe stand side by side in the largest peacetime gathering of nations.
 
"Personally, it's my favorite moment," said Heather Petri, a former California water polo player who is leading the U.S. water polo team into her fourth Olympics.  "It is an overwhelming feeling of joy and happiness, to be around that many athletes, and to walk out wearing your country's uniform, seeing your flag.
 
"I'm getting chills just talking about it."
 
But not every athlete can participate in this breathtaking, celebratory moment. The U.S. women's soccer team is spending the early days of the Olympics in Glasgow. Washington's Hope Solo promised they would break out their opening ceremonies outfits, and on Friday night they did, dressing in their Ralph Lauren-designed clothes and marching into their hotel lounge to watch the spectacle on television.
 
Athletes don't have to be out of the country to miss the kickoff to the Olympics. Athletes who compete on the first day of the Olympics - and even on Sunday - are barred from participating. Which is why you didn't see swimmers Michael Phelps or Natalie Coughlin or British cyclist Michael Cavendish marching around the stadium.
 
"What?" you might be wondering. How hard is it to walk in a circle for a bit behind your flag? The truth is the opening ceremonies involve hours and hours of commitment: transport, lining up, waiting, marching, exiting. Think of your wedding or graduation ceremonies and multiply them by 9,000. It's usually hot, there's not a lot of food, and the standing is hard on the legs. It isn't activity exactly conducive to high performance athletics.
 
Which is why the cagey veterans have a plan. And the women's water polo team - with veterans like Petri and Stanford's Brenda Villa who have played in every Olympic women's water polo tournament ever held - has experience on their side.
 
"I don't know if it's just our team or if everyone has a game plan," said Petri. "But we do."
 
At the first Olympics that included women's water polo - Sydney in 2000 - the U.S. team had a game the day after opening ceremonies. Some players opted not to march, others watched from the stands, and some took part. Since then, they've had a more forgiving schedule. This year they start competition on Monday, with a match against formidable Hungary.
 
But care and plotting are still required.
 
"We talk about it," Petri said. "We get held in an arena for a long time. Make sure you sit for as long as you can. Sure, you want to run around and take photos and meet other athletes, but do the smart thing."
 
The U.S. is frequently one of the last teams in (the exception is when the host's alphabet is different, such as in Greece and China) and it can be a long, long wait. And there's no sitting once you get into the stadium, unless you want to ruin your uniform plopping on the ground. Petri and the other vets encourage the youngsters to rest their legs, eat and hydrate.
 
They also plot their exit. They spot the exits, pay attention to when it's clear the ceremonies are about to end and head out to try to get on one of the first buses back to the village.
 
"In Beijing we used all our water polo skills to bust past everyone to get to the bus," said Petri, who added the water polo women don't share their strategy with all the other athletes.  And they also make sure they schedule massages for the following day to make sure their legs are fresh.
 
Plenty of Pac-12 athletes participated, including the U.S. basketball players - "I can't wait," said UCLA's Russell Westbrook a few hours before - and their ranks included two country's flag bearers: Austria's Markus Rogan and Kenya's Jason Dunford, both from Stanford.
It was a party. A moment in time. Petri said she feels sorry for the athletes who can't participate.
 
"The energy you get is so awesome," she said. "It's an experience that you can carry through the hard moments of the tournament. You think about where you started and how far you've come."

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