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Hughes' Olympics blog: Keeping up with Jenner

'Hurricane Sarah' continues her whirlwind tour of the London Games

A couple legends of the Olympic Games: Sarah Hughes and Bruce Jenner.
A couple legends of the Olympic Games: Sarah Hughes and Bruce Jenner. (courtesy of Sarah Hughes)

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By Sarah Hughes, special to icenetwork.com
(08/03/2012) - The last few days have been a blur -- one person even nicknamed me "Hurricane Sarah." But can you blame me? You have to make the most of your time at the Games to experience everything on your list -- and I had a lot on my list.

In order to do this, I had to stay on the move. My youngest sister, Taylor, proved to be the best traveling partner one could wish for -- I think she dropped from the heavens during one of the daily sprinkles to deliver sunshine as we walked, talked and cheered.

Tuesday, July 31

The first thing on today's agenda was seeing good friends and Olympic ice dancers John Kerr and Sinead Kerr. Although they were primarily Emily's Olympic teammates in 2006, they retired after the 2010 Vancouver Games and have since been coaching, skating and performing in shows. Scotland natives, the Kerrs competed for Great Britain and are on the Athletes Commission for Team GB here in London.

We connected at the British Olympian Reunion Centre (BORC). The studious University College London, where the BORC is situated, sets the mood for this warm abode. There is a lot of comfortable seating and large screens alongside a café. Bob Beamon, the 1968 Olympic long jump champion, was one of the few other people relaxing there.

It is a quieter atmosphere than the USA House and offers a different vibe -- one that compliments the U.S.-based "Art of The Olympians" display surrounding the room. The Art of The Olympians foundation, established by the late Al Oerter and now run by his widow Cathy, has built a beautiful showcase of artwork by Olympians here in London. Skating's own Peggy Fleming has two works -- one Olympic themed, one wine bottle themed -- here. I've included photos of her work in the accompanying gallery.

The next stop was the International Broadcast Centre/Main Press Center (IBC/MPC). The venues in London are spaced quite far from each other. Traveling from one venue to another can easily take 45 minutes -- and that's without running into heavy traffic, so you can imagine what it's like when you do. The IBC is a 24-hour media hub that houses around 20,000 Olympic broadcasters. With 170,000-plus square feet of studio space, the configuration is just massive. However, it is NBC that has, by far, the largest presence in the maze-like atmosphere. Visiting the IBC was on the top of my Olympic list, right next to Wimbledon.

One of the stops on my tour of the studios, where a nice chunk of 30 Rock has relocated for the month, was the main production booth. Although I've been in production trucks before, the arrangement NBC assembles to broadcast the Games -- especially now that they cover an increasing number of platforms -- is mind blowing. Seeing the multitudes of televisions, directors, assistants, elaborate equipment and different sports being broadcast as Taylor and I stood there was awe inspiring. No surprise that television, especially when producing a mammoth creation like NBC's Olympic coverage, benefits and takes advantage of the latest high-tech novelties. One of the newer machines has a complex slow-motion/live feed option that allowed us to watch a few tumbling passes and tennis points as they were occurring.

The IBC is in the heart of Olympic Park. The Olympic Park area houses venues such as the hockey centre, basketball arena, handball arena, aquatics centre, water polo arena, Athletes' Village -- and lots of food and drink bars. There are also two superstores and a megastore to buy souvenirs. As anyone who has been to a Games before knows, the real currency here is pins. Because of this, many were sold out at the first superstore Taylor and I went to, which led us to the megastore.

For those who only have a ticket to one event, or just want to continue watching the Games in the fresh air, there is an actual Olympic Park -- centrally spaced between the aquatics center and the stadium. The Park offers a picturesque environment (that is, when it's not raining) to watch the coverage on a big lawn. Evening is a great time to be at Olympic Park because the venues are illuminated in the dusk, offering an unbeatable atmosphere, especially when coupled with the excitement of the surrounding competition.

The last stop of the day was going back to the IBC to grab a bite at the NBC commissary. You never know who you will cross paths with at this makeshift cafeteria (where everything is free). In between the NBC Starbucks and Peacock Grill, we ran into Bruce Jenner. The best way to describe our encounter is in bullet points:

• He is friendly to his fans ... and happy to take pictures.
     -- "Snap away ladies!" he exclaimed as he struck a few poses next to Taylor.

• He loves to golf.
     -- This month's European trip is the longest he's been away from the golf course since he started to play. In fact, it was on the golf course where he received the call from his wife, Kris, about taking part in FOX's Skating with Celebrities in 2005.

• ... But also he loves to talk about figure skating.
     -- Scott Hamilton had a house right next to where Jenner was playing golf. Minutes after receiving the call from Kris, he walked up to Scott's door and rang the doorbell. "Scott said, 'I know why you're here,' the second he answered the door," Jenner tells us. Hamilton told Jenner skating was "really, really hard," and that Jenner should just be aware of that before agreeing. "You received a lot of discouragement," Taylor said after hearing how one of his coaches warned him of the difficulty in another meeting. It was then that Jenner decided he had to do it.
     -- Jenner's respect for figure skating grew immensely the second he stepped on the ice. "I was practicing five hours a day," he says, but still struggled. The camel spin, he tells me, became his new obsession. He was determined to learn how to do it.
     -- He proudly tells us he was "the only man to make it to the top three." He loved having Tai Babilonia as a partner. "She can make anyone look good."

• He only mentioned the Kardashian show once -- and not by name
     -- When I asked what he was doing here, he said he was doing a daily 30-minute show with the E! network. "You know, they've been good to my family."

• He knows more about the Olympic Games and their history than you could ever know from watching an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
     -- Having only seen a handful of clips from the show, I had no idea Jenner was so knowledgeable about the Games -- or had so much respect for them.

• Prior to this, he was in Marburg, Germany, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the decathlon being competed in the Olympic Games. On July 13, 1912, at the Summer Games in Stockholm, Sweden, 29 athletes took part in the decathlon -- an event that has the same composition 100 years later.
     -- "It was probably the best three days of my life," Jenner said. He spent three whole days with Nikolai Avilov, a man Jenner "thought of every single day" when he was training. After watching Avilov win the decathlon at the 1972 Munich Games, where Jenner placed 10th, Jenner was so inspired to win the 1976 Montreal Games, "I started training at midnight the night we finished," he said.
     -- That competitive edge hasn't left Jenner. With the Soviet athletes having limited contact with the American athletes during the Cold War period, Jenner had never gotten a chance to really speak with Avilov. The Marburg celebration, one that brought together the largest group of Olympic decathlon medalists in history, gave Jenner that chance. Remarking how he himself has stayed in prime shape, he told us, "I won that war, too," punctuating his words with a nudge and a wink.
     -- All kidding aside, Jenner was on such a high from his trip to Marburg, he wants to bring Avilov to California and have him appear on Keeping Up with the Kardashians and meet his family.
     -- The track and field events commence today, so be sure to tune in to check out the incredible displays of athleticism.

On our way out of the IBC, we ran into the women's gymnastic team, fresh off its team gold. Inspirational and incredible can only begin to describe the "Fab Five" -- the first American team to win the team gold since the "Magnificent Seven" at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Fab Five's triumph was the most-watched first Tuesday of any Summer Games since the first American telecast of the Games in 1960. The ladies are adorable, spritely and friendly, even at 11:00 p.m. They received a hero's welcome in the NBC halls, with a proud Bela Karolyi trailing the group.

As we took a picture together with her gold medal, McKayla Maroney told me her mom was a figure skater -- just when I thought I couldn't even be happier for them.

Check back for more updates from my whirlwind trip!