There are a lot of grueling tests Olympic athletes put their bodies through in their quest for gold.
But here's a crazy workout that doesn't make most lists: walking, then standing and waiting, then walking some more, then waiting again. For six straight hours.
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That's exactly what the athletes in the U.S. delegation did during Opening Ceremonies in London last month.
Because the United States is always one of the last countries to march into Olympic Stadium, there's a lot of dead time before Team USA has its spotlight moment. That waiting turns even the most muscular and sculpted arms and legs into dead weight.
This is all part of an interesting behind-the-scenes story Chicago Sky center Sylvia Fowles shared with me this week. Fowles is back from London after an incredible ride with the U.S. women's basketball team and has more than just her stories to share. She was also planning to share a glimpse of her gold medal with fans at Friday's home game at Allstate Arena, the Sky's first game since the WNBA's monthlong Olympic break started on July 13.
"For the Opening Ceremonies, we walked from the apartments (in the Olympic Village) to the stadium and that took forever," Fowles said with an exasperated laugh. "Then we were just standing around (in the bowels of) the stadium for a long, long time. The whole thing took about six hours before we made it inside. Feet were hurting. People were complaining that their backs hurt. It was crazy."
Just as crazy was the fact that, according to Fowles, there were no televisions in the staging areas for the athletes in waiting to enjoy the Opening Ceremonies.
"We didn't get to see any of that stuff," said Fowles, sounding bummed. "You basically wait until you get back to America and watch it with someone who recorded it for you. We missed everything."
Well, not absolutely everything, of course. Team USA did get a little bit of time inside Olympic Stadium and also got to see the torch being lit.
"We were inside the stadium for like 15 minutes. They did two or three more things after we got in there, lit the torch and that was it," Fowles said. "But those 15 minutes are so worth all the waiting and walking. When you see all those people in there rooting you on, and you see the torch, it's so cool. It's emotional."
The emotional roller coaster was just getting started for Fowles and her Team USA teammates, which included Sky forward Swin Cash.
The U.S. women rolled through the Olympic tournament, crushing opponents by an average of 34 points per game. When the march to gold was complete and the Americans, who defeated France in the title game, were presented with their medals, emotion took over. Cash had tears in her eyes.
"There were a lot of different emotions going through me," Cash said. "It's been a struggle for me the last four years. It's been a real humble journey to get back to that podium."
Cash made the Olympic team in 2004, winning gold in Athens. But a chronic back injury forced Cash into a surgery that kept her off the 2008 Olympic team that won gold in Beijing.
At age 32, she was determined to make the team for one last Olympic go-round.
"Knowing this was the last time for me with the team, and knowing what it took to get back, it just meant so much to me to be on that podium," Cash said. "I remember looking over and seeing my Mom's face. To see the joy and to be able to have her share in that moment was so emotional. For me, it was all about just taking that all in."
Despite coming home with a gold medal, the Olympics didn't go exactly as Sylvia Fowles had hoped. She tweaked her left foot during a practice and was forced to miss two games and play limited minutes in the rest while she completed her rehab.
Trainers didn't call it a sprain, but an irritated tendon.
"It drove me crazy not to be playing," Fowles said. "There were a couple of times the trainer had to say, 'You have to slow down. You're trying to get back too fast.'
"I had to make a grown-woman move. The young me would have said, 'Just play through the pain.' But I'm at a point in my career now where I have to be smart, and knowing that I had to come back to the Sky, the coaches and trainers agreed that I needed to sit out for a bit and work back slow."
Fowles says getting more time off than expected during the Olympic break might have been a blessing. She says she feels good and is ready to hit the second half of the WNBA season hard.
"I haven't hit that wall yet and I don't expect to any time soon," Fowles said. "If I can continue to take care of my body, I think I'll be OK. I'm disappointed I didn't get to play much in London, but at the same time, I'm happy that I actually got to rest a little bit. It was much needed."
The Sky headed into Olympic break back on July 13 with a four-game losing streak that included losses in eight of its final nine games.
But there is reason for optimism that a playoff berth, the first in franchise history, is well within reach.
Epiphanny Prince is back.
The sharpshooting guard was leading the WNBA in scoring at nearly 24 points per game when she went down with a broken foot against Indiana June 16. That's when the trouble started for the Sky, which was 7-1 when Prince got hurt and slipped to 8-9.
"I'm very, very excited to have Piph back," Sylvia Fowles said. "She'll make a huge difference."
So will having a healthy team from top to bottom. The Sky will have its full 11-woman roster in place for the first time this season. Beside Prince, other players missed games during the first half.
"Piph is definitely a threat. To have her back is going to open up a lot of stuff," forward Swin Cash said.
"While she was out, it was good to see some of the confidence that players like Shay (Murphy) and Sonja (Petrovic) and Tamera (Young) played with. Now it's just putting it all together. Everybody is ready to go and no one is really thinking about the first half. It's all about making that (playoff) push."
Patricia Babcock McGraw has been covering the Sky since its inaugural season in 2006. She is also the color analyst for all Sky television games, which are broadcast on Comcast CN100.