Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Retirement community makes Olympic connections

While one Riderwood resident watches as her grandson coaches the U.S. field hockey team, an employee updates fans from her native China

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As the U.S. women's field hockey team slammed another goal into the net of No. 8-ranked New Zealand in the Olympics on Friday to win the game, Nancy Silva cheered on the team from her Falls Church City, Va., home.

Silva's mother, 90-year-old Katheryn Silva, was doing the same at her home at the Riderwood retirement community in Silver Spring. That's because her grandson - Nancy Silva's son - Steve Jennings, is guiding 30 young women on Beijing's field hockey turf as the assistant coach for the U.S. women's Olympic field hockey team.

"This is really exciting for him to have an honor like this," Katheryn Silva said.

Jennings is the head women's field hockey coach at American University in Washington, D.C. His team's Olympic appearance is the first for the women since 1996, when they got an automatic bid as the home team.

He was given a send-off party in July at Riderwood, complete with Chinese cuisine and an American-flag cake.

Katheryn Silva said he didn't seem nervous at all before he left.

"I'm the one who's nervous," she said.

And the competition is fierce — although the Americans won the silver medal in 2007 at the Pan American games in Rio de Janeiro, it still wasn't good enough to qualify for the Olympics.

Jennings' team squeaked into the games after a last-minute tournament in Kazan, Russia, and two spots were added to the number of teams competing. But the No. 11-ranked Americans (out of 12) have used their luck well: Last week, they tied No. 2 Argentina and No. 5 Japan.

Although the team was eliminated Monday in a draw with Great Britain, Katheryn Silva said she's proud of her grandson.

"I'm glad he found something he's interested in," she said.

While field hockey hasn't been the most popular sport in an Olympics dominated by superstar swimmer Michael Phelps and gymnasts in leotards, NBC did air U.S.'s game with New Zealand live on Friday.

Katheryn Silva said she hasn't talked to Jennings since he's been on the other side of the world, but her daughter, Nancy Silva, said her son e-mails the family. One of the more exciting messages was a photo of Jennings with President Bush during the opening ceremonies, which Katheryn Silva has on her mantle.

"It's pretty amazing they've done so well," Nancy Silva said.

Another local connection to the worldwide games is Riderwood employee Jacquelyn Kung. Kung decided to return to her native homeland for the Olympics, where she keeps a blog of her experiences.

On it, she marvels at the transformation Beijing has undergone for the games as she explores modern Beijing and watches the events.

"… I am not at all surprised by the grandeur unveiled this past week for the Olympics," she writes. "But I must say that I am just as impressed by the show as much of the world seems to be."

From expanding Beijing's subway system to hiring cheerleaders in the crowd, Kung reflects on her government's power to almost entirely change the culture of a people for the games.

"When the government wants to get something done – well, things get done. Fast," she writes.

Kung is referring to the city's subway system, which she remarks is uncharacteristically clean and the people unusually calm. An entire city has abandoned the tradition of spitting on the ground and the "dog-eat-dog" manner of boarding the subway, she notes.

Kung said overall she has been impressed with the organization of the games. She said in an e-mail the city has "cleaned itself up," especially concerning pollution, and added it is always changing, "for better or worse."

Through their participation in the games, Kung and Jennings have demonstrated a key element of the Olympic creed — not to win but to take part, said Dan Dunne, Riderwood's media relations director.

"They not only advance the Olympic spirit but also create memories for themselves and others that will last a lifetime," he said.