"Ain't doing all these stairs," Byers insisted. Give the man a pass. In 4,000 miles of slopes, valleys, cuts and edges, there are too many to count on the Great Wall of China, much less climb.
The U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team scaled, joshed and at times even grappled on the Great Wall here on Thursday. Even lifts and bumps and chest bumps against its belly couldn't shake its foundations. All day, the Great Wall got the better of the great athletes, whether they were in mid-workout or just snapping photos like other tourists. As one set of inclines revealed another, Byers created a mini-faucet by scrunching the bottom roll of his shirt to wring it out.
"How many people had to build this thing?" he asked. Teammates jumped in with guesses.
"A hundred thousand?" asked
"More than a million," asserted
From the sixth century B.C., more than two million men were said to have died building the Wall and more than one million patrolled its interior at once to fend off northern invaders. It has become a sort of group bonding tradition for many of the Olympic teams to break the training monotony with a day of sightseeing. If it has some sort of practical connection to the sport, so much the better.
"I used to think if we'd keep these guys isolated, they'd be better able to keep their focus," says
Fraser's team has been on a roll these last few years, winning the world team title in '07. It's hard to argue with his formula. Other bonding sites have included Dracula's Castle in Romania, the Coliseum in Rome and the Parthenon in Athens, but the snapshots from Thursday's trip were especially memorable.
As the wrestlers left their bus, they began passing the gauntlet of souvenir-hawkers at the base of one entrance, shouting their greetings. A large donkey trailed part of the group, staring up at
On one end of a walkway,
The wrestlers were clearly better suited for mats. Training partner
It was a first trip for all of the squad's members, including coach
Start with this: It is steep. Wrestlers climb stairs at the end of workouts all the time. Coaches regularly try to faze their athletes by sending them to the tops of high school gyms and even university stadiums. This was different. Stairs on the wall alternate from steep and frequent to narrow and long. The terrain is sometimes straight, sometimes twisting.
Wrestlers who were accustomed to jogging up and down with a certain detached ease had to look at their feet and grab the wall's sides as they increased the pace.
Some wrestlers started grappling, mostly to snap photos, others to release energy. Gardner and Byers, longtime rivals and still friends, traded moves. Madison later one upped Mango and roared, "a reverse lift on the Great Wall" somewhere into Manchurian wilderness.
"The thing that gets me in a place like this is not just the warrior mind set, but the history," Vering said. "It's majestic. I think there could have been these great battles where we were standing today. Think about how this place broke men down and built them up. We're trying to do the same thing."