by Michael Rukavina
August 24, 2008
Stuczynski Family Talks About Their Olympic Experience
It was surely a trip to remember for Mark and Sue Stuczynski, who returned from Beijing Thursday after watching their daughter Jenn earn the silver medal for the USA in pole vaulting.
The Stuczynskis left for Beijing the week before for the experience of a lifetime.
"We got off the plane and it was probably more panic than anything, because you're in a strange place," Sue said. "You get in the taxi with a driver who can't speak your language and you give him a piece of paper, and hopefully he drops you off where you're supposed to be. You're kind of going on faith that you are where you're supposed to be."
After getting their bearings and adjusting to the 12-hour time difference, Mark and Sue took in what they could and braced for the culture shock.
"We were fortunate because Jenn's coach Rick Suhr, his sister-in-law came down and she's a little more savvy as far as traveling goes," Mark said.
"She helped us get going and out of our comfort zone near the hotel. We got to see the Great Wall of China, the Beijing Zoo and we went to the Silk and Pearl Market; floors and floors of merchants where you kind of name your own price."
"Our hotel was near a square and at night it was just packed with hundreds of people out, dancing in the square. Ribbon dancing, salsa dancing, ballroom dancing," Sue added. "There were dance lessons, kids were playing and everyone was out. It was very interesting to see."
After a short while it was time to see what they had been waiting for - Jenn's qualifying competition for the Olympics.
"Our first seats for the qualifier were really poor; we couldn't even see Jenny jumping on the field," Mark said. "We knew she was jumping because her name would come up on the screen."
Because of Jenn's training, Mark and Sue were not able to see Jenn until after her medal competition. Jenn helped though by bringing a conversation starter with her, for when they did meet.
"We knew that at that point she had either the gold, silver or the bronze. When we realized she had won the silver we were just elated, and everyone around us, all the Chinese people were just as happy," Sue said. "They were taking pictures of us and they wanted their picture taken with us because we were the parents. They were very supportive with us, and we were just screaming, had some tears, but we were just very excited. We all had our Jenn Stuczynski T-shirts on so they knew who we were. I guess we didn't realize what a proud people they are, their country."
Before Mark and Sue were able to watch Jenn run around the track with the American flag in hand, knowing she had earned the silver medal, one thing did occur however, behind the scenes, that may not have been translated well during the broadcast.
"They get a two-minute start after their jump, before they have to jump again. When they get down to two athletes it's supposed to go up to three minutes. She didn't realize it was at two, went over to talk to her coach, and the German coach was yelling for her to get ready because there was only a minute left on the clock. Jenny couldn't hear what Rick was trying to say because she was walking back to get set up, she ran down and took her attempt and it was a failed attempt," Mark explained. "They had to argue it out with the six officials ... and they did determine they were wrong and it was only set for two minutes, so they said she could jump again. But, that's like asking a wrestler, after you've wrestled a meet, wrestle again because we mis-scored that last one. We're not taking anything away with that, but her coach was upset about that."
Proud of Jenn's accomplishments, Mark and Sue were eager to meet up with her to congratulate her finally. They almost didn't get the chance to until the next day.
"We got out of the stadium, and we had not seen that area at night yet, and daytime did not do it justice. At night time it was just incredible, all around the stadium, you could see the watercube and it's lit up at night with different colors," Sue explained. "So we were taking this all in, walking around looking and before we knew it all the people were gone and there weren't any taxis left. It took us an hour and a half to get a taxi and then it started raining. By the time we got back to the hotel we were getting ready for bed and Jenn texted us and said they were coming up. They visited for about an hour."
"She was real excited to see us," Mark added. "It was a real good get-together. She was fired up about the medal and she was excited she won silver, and she knew she had a big day ahead of her, because after she had won the silver, she had a bunch of press things she had to do the next day with her agent."
Because Jenn's event was the last track and field competition of the day, her medal ceremony did not take place until the following day. The Stuczynskis did not have tickets for the event, but Jenn's agent was able to get them nice seats right in front of the podium. As Jenn received her medal, and the American flag rose, it was an emotional moment.
"If you want to know what it was like you'll have to take a look at my personal recording. I was shaking so bad with tears in my eyes. I had to stand because it was that bad," Mark said.
"The way they did the flags, when they reached a certain point they must have had air in there because they started waving, and to see that with the American flag, that was really special," Sue added. "I don't think I even recognized the other flags up there. I just stared at ours."
Afterward, Mark and Sue were able to visit more with Jenn, in a medalist area only for athletes and their families and coaches.
"We were able to go to the USA track and field house for the medalists. There was a store there we were invited to go in. The guy who designed it, our whole wall, was a big mural of the opening ceremony of the athletes there. There were a couple of murals of athletes, maybe three, and there was one of Jenny on the wall so they were excited to have her there because they wanted her to sign it," Sue said.
"It was neat when we first went down there because it's all VIP stuff. It's not even for U.S. athletes; it's for U.S. athletes that medal, with agents and the big-wigs from Nike and Adidas and the other sponsors. Athletes that medal were given the privilege to go there and they could bring family and coaches," Mark added. "To go down there you had to show credentials, and Jenny had left hers back upstairs, and she said she was an athlete. The attendant said you really should have your credentials, so Jenny offered to run back up and get them, but he just let us in when he realized right behind him was a 10 foot poster of Jenn. He made the contact and said he felt so sorry. It was cute because we didn't want to point that out."
While many Americans back home were watching the Olympics, they could see a U.S. team versus another country in a certain event, or maybe even two international teams competing against each other. Sometimes the USA won, sometimes they lost, but no matter what the outcome, Americans could hear about it. Things were a bit different across the globe, the Stuczynkis said.
"Some of the negative things of being in China was the television. It's all controlled media and I remember making the comment to Sue one night that you would think the only people participating in the Olympics this year were the Chinese," Mark said. "It's not like American television. We were watching the Chinese women play against the American women in indoor volleyball. It was 2 sets to 2. It was the final round and it was 21-18 U.S. China put in a girl that was very good and she got a couple of points, but all of a sudden it went to the rowing competition with only one or two more points to go. They said the next day it was because China had lost, it was tape delayed, and they didn't want to show China losing so they went to another event. They don't want the image of loss or defeat."
"We had no clue of what anyone else did," Sue added. "We'd ask, did Michael Phelps get his medal?"
After returning home from all the events, the photos, the celebration and the Olympic buzz, Mark and Sue were ready to return to normalcy in Fredonia.
"We are very thankful. ... A lot of people don't know the sacrifices (Jenn's) had to make ... (not) spending time with family and being able to come home for the Farm Festival and just enjoy the quiet life in Dunkirk/Fredonia that she's known. She misses that stuff. There's a lot of sacrifice that comes with the ranks of being an elite athlete," Mark said. "We're thankful as parents to see that success has happened because that's her job. She's worked hard at her job and now she's reaping some of the benefits of hard work, just like any job. You hope your children surpass even the expectations that they have. She's working hard and she's going to continue to work hard and we're thankful for that."
"I'm not sure if I feel any different," Sue said. "I feel extremely proud of her, and just coming home on the plane we were happy to talk about her and to share it. She's still just Jenn, our daughter."
According to Mark and Sue, Jenn is looking to compete in the European circuit - competitions that would go toward her International rankings - before returning to the states.
"Track and field can be a short-lived career sometimes. One injury and you don't make any money for a year so she has to make hay when the sun's shining, basically," Mark said. "It's very difficult for us. It's not like college basketball where she'd be home on the weekends. It was an eye-opener to me when we were at the track and field house, how much money and how prestigious these things get to be. There's a lot of influential people there, making sure you have their contacts. When you get into that professionalism you have obligations and it's not like you're very accessible."
The 2012 Olympic games are set for London. Although its still four years away, when asked if they're already planning their next trip, Mark responded by saying, "They say London is fun. That would be a trip worth starting to save for now."