Visiting Asia without a voice

Performing at the highest level in a large international sport like cycling usually means intense activity levels in both on and off season periods. It entails many exciting challenges, it develops you and gives you many unforgettable memories - of both the good and not so good variety. This time I'm in Asia without a voice.

As I write, I'm sitting on the airplane from Tokyo to Taipei. I'm flying China Airlines this time and boarded the flight with about 100 Japanese students who are between 16 and 18 years old. We had a noisy take-off with lots of screaming and clapping, so I'm really wondering what touchdown is going to be like in Taipei in one hour from now.

I've managed to get a glass of water for myself by the use of sign language and a bit of whispering, but it's best to just be quiet because the noises coming from my throat do more to scare people than anything else. My ear-ache hasn't subsided much over the past 24 hours and I can sense now that the pressure in the cabin isn't helping things - quite the opposite.

Exciting days in Tokyo

I've had three days in Tokyo with Miyata Merida Japan, and the days have been packed. I left Norway on Thursday evening with the beginnings of a sore throat, most likely because of Bjørnar and Kenneth who were sick for a whole week before my departure (as usual, we share both good and bad things in our family). After a warm welcome in Tokyo from friends in the Merida family, we drove for a good four hours, from the airport to Shizuoka, a small coastal town southeast of Tokyo.

After 11 hours in the airplane from Copenhagen (without sleeping at all - I never manage to sleep on planes), I was feeling anything but well when I landed, but was very glad to be there. My throat situation had deteriorated, but taking into consideration the time difference, the long travel, and little or no sleep for the past 24 hours, I was at least on my two feet - and most challenges get easier if you focus on the positive side of things.

Miyata Merida Cup

On Saturday, the Miyata Merida Cup was to take place (a race held for the 26th time) - a family event without any focus on elite athletic classes. It's in this sort of setting that I enjoy myself best, because this is the actual core of our sport. Mountain biking started a good 30 years ago, founded on the philosophy that everybody can take part in this sport at their own level and with their own goals.

The opening ceremony was at 7:30, and many people had already turned up when we arrived at the start and finish area a bit past 7:00. From experience, I know it's a special experience being an athlete and promotion leader in Asia. One is quite simply a big star for both young and old, and many unbelievable situations arise that both please and fascinate at the same time. My trip so far has been no exception, and as I sit here, I have so many fantastic memories from these days in Japan.

What I enjoyed most was probably the Saturday when I played the role of "hare" for the children's classes, first for the 5-8 year olds, and then the 1-5 year olds on normal bicycles, and finally for the 1-5 year olds on scooters or two-wheelers with training wheels. My home-sickness for Bjørnar was extra strong when meeting so many smiling and happy children on their bikes. I couldn't take part in the race I was supposed to have done because of my painful throat and the fever in my body, but I naturally took part in everything else.

The day was rounded off with a dinner for about 40 Merida dealers. I was served a fantastic meal of raw fish and various other sea foods in true Japanese style. There was a lot of media and press around us for the whole day, so my final performance on the Saturday evening was done with a very rusty and hoarse voice. I was in bed before 20:00, but with a happy glow within from all the wonderful experiences of the day.

"Lousy" communication

After only a few hours of sleep, many hours of reading, and having consumed a vast amount of coughing tablets, I got up before 6:00 on Sunday morning to go for a little walk. After that I had a long and good stretching and massage session, hoping to get a bit of circulation and a more well-being in my body. It actually helped a lot, from top to toe, apart from my voice which was practically completely gone. It didn't help to sing in the shower this morning either.

The program for Sunday was basically being transported back to Tokyo, with only one hour set aside for autographing at a large sports shop on the way in to the centre of Tokyo. This kind of activity is quite easy to do without talking too much. Since I don't speak any Japanese at all, not all that many people noticed my condition. A long, long queue of smiling Japanese fans all received my autograph and my picture.

I had to pull out of the Sunday dinner that was booked at a fine Thai restaurant together with a small group from Miyata Merida. It takes a lot for me to say no to good food, but I really felt awful. When I crawled into my bed at 21:00 that evening, I was seriously worried as to whether I would be able to do the press conference at the Norwegian Embassy the next day!

Press Conference - Norwegian Embassy

I slept dreadfully on Sunday night too - fever, lots of coughing, and jetlag will have to take the blame. I was fetched at my hotel at 8:30, and by then I had tested my voice a bit in the hotel room and it had at least regained a little bit of sound. I was still very hoarse, but I was optimistic and was sure it would work out.

It turned out to be a really nice press conference with lots of visitors and a great setting around the whole séance. Media from both bicycle mags and newspapers turned up. It was very nice to speak to Norwegians who live and work at the Norwegian Embassy in Tokyo. Well, my voice stood up to it more or less, far from being beautiful, but I was able to say what I had on my mind and answered most of the questions satisfactorily. It is a bit unusual to sit right next to a translator translating everything directly as you speak, but it went alright. The woman who translated for us yesterday had studied Norwegian for two years in Oslo and was very good.

After the press conference, it was time for some sightseeing in downtown Tokyo for me and only me. It was my new friend, Yoko (the woman who met me when I first set foot on Japanese soil three days ago, who has faithfully followed me from early morning to evening, and who today was the last person I gave a hug before passing through security at the airport), who once again afforded me a new set of experiences. First, we had sushi for lunch (absolutely delicious), and then a real Japanese dessert which I don't remember the name of right now. It was at least a sort of waffle shaped like a fish, which was filled with sweetened bean stew. It tasted very good.

After that we took a taxi to the temple site where we first had a trip with a JIN-RIKI-SHA, or rickshaw, a cart drawn by a running man. I felt like asking our runner whether I could do the running for him, since I hadn't done any exercise for the past days, but I didn't. We had a very nice little trip where we were introduced to Japanese customs and history. After the trip was over, we strolled quietly through the temple to experience as much of the sounds, scents and sights as possible from this very special place.

Arrival in Taiwan

I guess I have to close off for this time. I have to pack my things up now, since we're coming in for landing. I'll post a summary in photograph form including Korea, Japan and Taiwan, as soon as I'm back on Norwegian soil again. I expect my "communication skills" to improve in the coming days, as I have many activities on my schedule in Taiwan which demand that I have a voice.

I wish you all great working and training days, and great health.

Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita
Multivan Merida Biking Team

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