An American in Sydney

"Shipley, back from Olympics, recalls his third try for gold"

“POULSBO – Scott Shipley didn’t win any medals from the Summer Olympics in Sydney. But he came home to Poulsbo this month with enough memories for a lifetime. Shipley was one of the five members of America’s kayaking team. He competed on a slalom course outside of Sydney and finished fifth. It was the third Olympic competition for Shipley, who also kayaked in Barcelona and Atlanta. This week, as Scott’s father, Dick, walked across the lawn to the family’s home near Keyport, he eyed the kayaks strewn in the yard like discarded toys and told a visitor, Whenever Scott’s here, the boat population grows. Inside, Shipley had arrived home. He had come straight from Sydney, through Los Angeles. Every day we think of things to do, he said, and we just end up sleeping. Shipley can probably be forgiven if he needs some time to rest. He had been training for years for the games in Sydney, kayaking the course for months. The course was a man-made channel. It wound through a natural stadium, Shipley said, and was unique because an observer could watch an entire run – Usually kayaking begins around the corner and ends around the next corner, he said. Shipley was in Australia early to train. He arrived before any of the other Americans. The purpose was to learn the course, and after he had kayaked it a few times he knew that learning it would be important. If (the river) doesn’t favor your style, Shipley said, you have to get to where it does. And the river on which he would compete for a gold medal, Shipley said, did not favor his style. It was kind of a unique river, Shipley said. I didn’t like it much. My big rival was this British guy (Paul Radcliffe). He paddled it real well and I never did. Shipley added, I like to glide a lot, but this was real powerful water. You have to push over that. So Shipley trained. He ran. He lifted weights. When he and the other teammates went to Sydney to stay through the games, they would run the course 16 or 17 times a week, Shipley said. He worked with coach Sylven Poderjai. He got ready for the Games. Let the Games begin Shipley and his teammates met in Sydney about six or seven weeks before the games began. They arrived early, along with the work crews who were charged with making the 2000 games a success. The training intensified. Shipley was staying with an Australian friend, sleeping on his floor, and at times the floor would be covered with athletes, six or seven of them. It was all a part of Sydney’s getting ready for the Olympics. He was not exposed to much of that transformation, Shipley said. We were insulated from that, he said. Even when the Olympics started, we stayed in our cabin. We went to the competition site through the back way. But he got a taste of the power of the games, Shipley said, when he watched the torch pass through a nearby town. There was so much energy in the people watching the flame go by, he said. It really symbolizes something. Its a fantastic, powerful thing. The athletes trained so hard, Shipley said, that the knowledge that the Games were approaching came in quantum leaps. We would say, ‘Wow, this is it, you know?’ Shipley said. When he went into Sydney, the bulging crowds would tell him the games were approaching. It’s like going to the Seattle Center and being shoulder-to-shoulder the whole time, he said. It really came alive at the opening ceremonies, Shipley said. The hundreds of athletes were packed into a small stadium, waiting to be introduced. They were divided by country, and even before the games began there was competition. We were chanting back and forth, ‘USA! USA! USA!’ and AUSSIE! AUSSIE! AUSSIE!’ Shipley recalls. One group started the wave, Shipley remembers, but as it rolled into the Americans’ part of the stadium, they refused to continue it. We weren’t doing that. There were like four guys who did it, Shipley said. We thought it was great. We thought it was funny. They would start booing when the wave got to us, and it got to where they would boo the whole time we were supposed to be doing (the wave). The competition before the opening ceremonies didn’t end there. Australia broke out with a patriotic song. Some African and New Zealand teams broke out in dances. America countered, Shipley remembers, by breaking into verses of the Oscar-nominated song from South Park. The song was Blame Canada. Starting the Games All joking ended when the ceremonies began, Shipley remembers. Walking into that stadium, he said: It’s louder than you can ever imagine. It’s so loud. And it’s focused right on you. After the opening ceremonies, Shipley and his teammates had several days to wait before kayaking began. So they went to see other sports. Shipley went to see fencing (They should add shields and hacking swords, he suggested), beach volleyball, and track and field. The speed of the track athletes, he said, was driven home by a feature in the athlete’s village. The feature was a television screen that was 50 feet long. Athletes could stand at one end of it, and then, at the sound of the gun, could run against the image of Jackie-Joyner Kersee. You just can’t imagine going that fast, Shipley said. By the time you stood up she was just about to finish. It was impressive. Shipley walked around the village and met other athletes. A water polo team member from the northwest. A windsailing Olympian he had met before. Several track athletes. He even met athletes in the most unlikely of ways. While he walked to the opening ceremonies with other Americans, Shipley said, nature called. So he hopped a chain-link fence to go answer it. When he returned, Shipley said, the Americans had vanished and been replaced with the athletes from Slovenia. One of them was a female basketball player. One of them asked, gone to pee, huh? Shipley said. She said it in broken English. I said, ‘Yeah.’ It’s interesting how you run into people.. A few days later, it was Shipley’s turn to compete. He ran two races, a qualifying trial and a second run. Neither run was very good, Shipley said. The first time, I hit a gate. That surprised me. I lost two seconds because of that. But it was a solid run that put me in the game. When it comes to describing the second run, Shipley is even more brief. I left a lot of time on the course. And that was the end of it for me, he said. Leaving time on the course, Shipley later explained, was having things happen during the race that caused him to lose time, like the kayak landing in a way that would require him to straighten it. You know, he said. A quarter-second here. A half-second there. Back in Poulsbo Now that Shipley has returned to Poulsbo, he will take a vacation. He said he plans to travel through the northwest with his parents and girlfriend. He is not sure if he will continue to compete professionally at kayaking, but he is sure about one thing: he will return to Georgia Tech to get his degree in engineering. Shipley has already shown his engineering skill, having designed the kayak he used in the Olympics. He has sold the design to several other athletes, but it is not a money-making venture, he said, and not one he will continue for too long. He wants to go into patent law, something that will fit nicely with the engineering degree he will earn at Georgia Tech. To do that, Shipley said, he will earn a law degree from the University of Washington. Shipley went to three Olympics. Of his last competition he said, I was disappointed with the whole thing. It would haven’t have been hard to medal. It would have been hard to take first, but not to medal. But the experience was worth all the work and effort, he said. He even got to enjoy it more than some. The final night, while the closing ceremonies were being held, Shipley said, he stayed on the stadium floor, milling around with the athletes. I just wanted to be a part of that, he said. “