Marching in the Olympic opening ceremonies can be the greatest moment of an athlete's career. It can also be the longest line you've ever stood in, a line so long it makes the queue for Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean ride seem like the 15-items-and-under checkout at the grocery store.
Especially when your country is low down in the alphabet, such as the United States.
"They line you up in the athletes' village and then they parade you out into the staging area and then when they actually have the opening ceremonies, every country goes through, A to Z. It's a process," said U.S. beach volleyball player Todd Rogers. "Once you leave that staging area, like 10,000 athletes have to walk from there through all the way and it's a slow walk. You're talking about a couple hours of standing. You walk a little and then you stand and then you walk a little."
They might be Olympians, but standing in line so long can be taxing for even the world's greatest athletes, particularly when many have to compete in the biggest event of their lives the next day. Which is why some athletes, such as Rogers and partner Phil Dalhausser, will take advantage of an unpublicized rear exit that allows them to leave the stadium right after the teams march in, rather than wait until after the long and elaborate festivities.
Others, meanwhile, will opt out of the opening ceremonies entirely. The women's gymnastics team, for instance, will watch the ceremonies on their TVs in the village.
"We don't want to tire out the girls," U.S. coach Marta Karolyi said. "We walked one single time in the opening ceremonies -- and I'm in the Olympics for 40 years -- and it was exhausting. It was the whole time standing on your feet. Some girls were fainting from the heat. So when the competition is so close to the opening ceremonies, more and more sports are choosing not to march.
"But the girls are looking forward to experience the Olympics after the competition and we are planning to march in the closing ceremonies."