I’ve just arrived in San Diego, California, for a two week training trip with the GB Women’s Hockey team. As well as lots of hockey and gym-based sessions, we will also play a number of both official and unofficial matches against the USA and New Zealand teams at the US Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. I will try to give a bit of a flavour of what it’s like being on tour in my subsequent entries, but to begin with I am actually going to stay away from the hockey pitch.
We don’t always have much time to explore the places we visit on training tours and at tournaments, but I’ve actually been fortunate enough to visit this part of the world before (in December 2011 as part of our preparations for the Olympics in London), so things are a little more familiar than usual. The last time we were here, a team mate and I went on a guided bike tour in downtown San Diego during an afternoon off. We were obviously far too tired to actually cycle ourselves, so sat in a trailer while Holmes the bike man did all the hard work. He seemed like a nice guy and told us some good stories about the place, although as it turned out I got totally duped by my favourite one! So I have decided to find out some real facts about the place, although I should say that I am partly relying on my good friend Google to be feeding me trustworthy information here…
The story I referred to above is about the San Diego Padres, the local baseball team. According to our tour guide, a home run was hit out of the park and landed in the carriage of a freight train bound for San Francisco. The ball then travelled over 500 miles to its destination, making it the ‘longest home run’ in history. ‘What a great story,’ I thought, and spent the next week looking for a San Diego Padres t-shirt as I pledged myself to be a fan. Countless fruitless Google searches later, I’ve decided it’s definitely not true and I feel a bit foolish that I was taken in so easily. What I did learn is that the San Diego sports teams supposedly suffer from a curse, as none have ever claimed a modern North American major league professional sports championship. Perhaps this even extends to USA teams competing here, as this was where the Great Britain tennis team secured a Davis Cup victory over the US team for the first time since 1935 last weekend. There are a few famous sporting faces from these parts. Five-time golf major winner Phil Mickelson, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, and Winter Olympic champion snowboarder Shaun White are all from San Diego. Slightly more obscurely, Irish rugby’s record point scorer Ronan O’Gara was also born here.
Hollywood stars Cameron Diaz, Robert Duvall and Adam Brody also hail from San Diego. Lots of blockbuster movies have been set here too. It’s fair to say a range of genres are covered! ‘Top Gun’, ‘Anchorman’, ‘Paranormal Activity’, ‘Traffic’ and ‘Jurassic Park: The Lost World’ are all based in or around the city. As well as some cruder references (if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know what I’m talking about!), Will Ferrell’s anchorman character always signs off from his news shows with the brilliant line, “Stay classy San Diego”.
Tenuous link here, but speaking of ‘traffic’, there’s a few interesting facts about transport in and out of the city. San Diego’s airport is the busiest one-runway airport in the USA and second in the world behind our very own London Gatwick. The most visually striking piece of road is the Coronado Bridge, a two mile structure that curves out of San Diego city over to Coronado Island. The first person to drive over the bridge upon its opening in 1969 was Ronald Reagan. It may be spectacular, but it also has the unfortunate tag of being the third deadliest suicide bridge in the USA.
Coronado itself is the site of a large naval amphibious base, one of only two in the USA. Around 5000 military personnel are housed on site, including the famous US Navy SEALs (the acronym refers to their capacity to work at sea, in air, and on land). The SEALs have also had a major impact on the film industry and popular literature, providing characters in films such as G.I. Joe, the Tom Clancy novels and ‘Captain Phillips’. ‘SEAL Team Six’ was apparently responsible for the death of Osama Bin Laden in 2011 as part of Operation Neptune Spear.
There is a unique colony of harbour seals on San Diego’s Casa Beach. Captive seals can also be seen at the famous San Diego zoo, one of the major local tourist attractions. The zoo houses over 650 species from a wide range of habitats and will celebrate its centenary year in 2016. It has been the most successful American zoo in panda breeding programmes, with four of the six cubs born here having been sent back to China to participate in breeding programmes there. The first ever YouTube video, ‘Me at the zoo’, was filmed in San Diego Zoo and uploaded in 2005 by the site’s co-creator.
It’s always nice to have a sense of any place you travel to and it’s clear to me that there is a lot going on in San Diego. Hopefully we might have a chance to explore away from the hockey pitch! Stay classy San Diego….