Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Dresden Experience

What it Feels Like...
To Recruit Chess Players in Dresden Germany
By Cory Chandler as told to Cory Chandler

Cory Chandler, a senior editor in the Office of Communications and Marketing, accompanied Texas Tech University’s Susan Polgar and Paul Truong to the 2008 Chess Olympiad in Dresden, Germany. His mission: to recruit chess players from more than 140 countries to Texas Tech.

It’s 9:30 a.m. in Frankfurt and the airport is bustling with mid-morning vitality.

I’m yawning through an hour-old coffee buzz.

I spent the night with my legs pretzeled under me as a phalanx of babies fired off sporadic screams. Somehow, I couldn’t make myself go to sleep.

Now I’m staggering past duty-free shops, buffeted along on the currents of an unfamiliar language, feeling like I should be turning in for bed rather than starting my day. It is, after all, 2:30 a.m. in Lubbock.

And I still have another plane to catch.

But even through my daze, I can already see the signs of excitement. Waiting in the terminal to board, I notice two guys dissecting chess moves over a laptop. On the plane, I sit next to members of the Colombia team who are not only familiar with Susan Polgar, but know about Texas Tech because of the SPICE Cup tournament she’s hosted on campus the last two years.

In Dresden, I see billboards advertising the Olympiad to pedestrians, posters with pieces arrayed in everything from gnome outfits to Playboy bunny costumes, chess displays in store windows and even special tram lines boasting knights and bishops in their windshields.
There’s even a welcome booth at the airport.

These Germans are ready for some chess.

Name Dropping

Have no doubt that Susan is a celebrity in the chess world.

It’s half an hour before the Olympiad’s opening ceremony and the organizers have asked Susan to light the torch. I’m supposed to be inside, but thanks to a translation flub, my entry pass is sitting back at the airport. The volunteers who were supposed to give it to me when I landed mistook me for a reporter and sent me on to my hotel.

Until now, I’ve been relying on big hand gestures and significantly raised eyebrows to get my point across when communication breaks down. Apparently, this isn’t enough to describe my esoteric role – I’m not a player, volunteer or journalist, merely a university employee who has come to Germany to help Susan handle media relations for the Olympiad and help recruit students.

I can’t figure out an easy way to convey this.

But once the organizers hear I’m with Susan, ears perk up. I gain my own stature, and before I know it, I’m in a van with a bunch of Germans who are working phones trying to figure out how to get me past the security, which will be tight because of the German ministry officials expected at the event.

As we’re en route, one of the event volunteers turns to me and asks: “So, does Susan travel with bodyguards?”

Here is the full article.
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