Olympic families find solace and bond far from Tokyo

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Christina Dressel started organizing the venue long before NBC cameras started rolling.

The mother of swim superstar Caeleb Dressel pulled out a makeshift seating plan for the sofa, showed anyone who wanted to be on the TV where to hang out, and even walked around the posh hotel for full-sized cardboard cutouts. nature of his son. She found four and lined them up behind the Dressel troop of 40 people.

She then asked if the coffee table was too crowded with wine glasses and empty water bottles. No. After all, it was an accurate representation of that party scene.

The Dressels were among hundreds who accepted an offer to spend part of the Tokyo Olympics at Universal Orlando with other friends and families of equally disappointed American athletes, all banned from traveling to Japan due to the pandemic of coronavirus.

They gathered nearly 12,000 miles from Tokyo in a crowded ballroom of a resort with hundreds of foreigners – at least initially – and created a red, white and blue themed blast that rivaled everything they would have known abroad.

It turned out to be a support system like no other.

“These people are great,” said Venus Jewett, whose son Isaiah failed to advance to the 800-meter final after tangling her feet with another runner. in the semi-finals. ” They understand. … Being here is not like being there, but it’s a good consolation prize. You can’t do better than this.

Parents, siblings, friends and former teammates flock to the ballroom at Lowes Sapphire Falls Resort daily to watch the Summer Games and bond with others in a similar situation, all unable to be on site. to support loved ones competing for gold.

They spend mornings and evenings together, smiling and laughing, eating and drinking, shouting and cheering. They generally celebrate and sometimes console themselves.

The Dressel team was the main event at the swim competition, with Christina Dressel and Caeleb’s photogenic wife Meghan taking center stage for an entire week.

Universal Orlando and NBC invited The Associated Press inside for a preview of the night Dressel set a world record in the 100-meter butterfly and won her third of five gold at the Tokyo Games. Most of his team wore red Speedo t-shirts with the Team Dressel print on the back.

They posed for photos on stage, huddled shoulder to shoulder under a Team USA banner, and led the “USA, USA” cheers that became a nighttime introduction to NBC television coverage.

Christina Dressel calmed the boisterous crowd as soon as her son stepped into the pool on the other side of the world, eager to hear everything the commentators had to say about her son.

Dressel’s inner circle – his mother, father, wife, sister and brother – stood directly in front of one of the two dashboard-sized projection screens inside the bathroom. ball. Christina and Meghan got up from the start of the race. His sister joins them. Her father and brother reluctantly followed.

The roars came to a head when Dressel took first place, able to break the world record. Her mother hid behind her father for a few seconds, too nervous to watch. But she quickly emerged and started jumping up and down when it became clear that Dressel was about to make history.

Christina and Meghan collapsed on the couch as Dressel hit the wall first. The party had only just begun. Mom finally hugged everyone around her, including Orlando-based Dressel’s agent who was filming the rowdy scene for a documentary on her pandemic altered path to Olympic glory.

Dressel raced two more times that night, finishing first in a 50-meter freestyle semi-final and anchoring the 4×100-meter mixed medley relay team that came home with a disappointing fifth. The Dressel team was in full effect for both.

Dressel’s family members rented a house in Orlando and regularly took advantage of the Hospitality Lounge, which was open for breakfast each morning and for dinner, as well as an open bar in the evenings. The moving video of them trying to chat with Dressel after his second gold medal went viral, drawing special attention to family and place.

Universal Orlando, NBC, the United States Olympic Committee and two sponsors, including Japanese automaker Toyota, provided each American team athlete with airline tickets and four days of accommodation at the resort and three theme parks. Universal for two family members or friends. They had the option of buying more passes.

The living room serves as its own entertainment district, a full bar in the middle of the ballroom, and TVs and tables in all directions. Toyota exhibited several cars, including one that could be given a virtual test drive and another with colorful paint inspired by Dressel’s tattoos. There are also games galore; table tennis, cornhole, a giant “four to score” board and a very large Jenga setup.

But these other games are getting a lot more attention.

Jewett took his 17-year-old daughter, 82-year-old mother and 79-year-old father to the hotel for several days. A former varsity sprinter and current fifth-grade teacher in Inglewood, Calif., Jewett had been saving for years in anticipation of her trip to Tokyo with her son.

Even after a year of delay and a seemingly endless period of uncertainty, she was as devastated as any Olympic parent when Japan decided to ban spectators. She moved to Orlando and ended up making new friends and creating memories for life.

She was in the living room when Katie Plum’s daughter Kelsey led the United States to a 3v3 basketball gold medal.

“It’s sad not to be there,” said Katie Plum, who has moved from San Diego to Las Vegas to be closer to her WNBA daughter. “But it made it a lot of fun and I learned a lot. But, of course, I would love to be at USA House in Tokyo. I’m just thankful they were able to leave.

Plum and her family spent two days at Universal Orlando and proudly offered to show a voicemail message from Jill Biden congratulating them on Kelsey Gold. How did she miss a call from the first lady?

“We were standing in line at Harry Potter,” she said, laughing and shaking her head.

She didn’t miss so many things when she attended the show, having taken an interest in rugby, rowing, track and field and other sports.

“We’ve been on all kinds of (emotional) trains,” she said. “You end up trying to support everyone you meet. And you enjoy it when people get involved in your child and want to watch. So you want to give back and sit by someone’s couch. I watched some amazing games, things that I might not have been able to see otherwise.

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More AP: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



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