LONDON — “Seeing the carnage, my heart sank,” said javelin thrower Kara Patterson.
She was standing in baggage claim at the San Jose International Airport, staring at the jagged ends of two nearly demolished PVC pipes. Headed to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Patterson had packed her most precious cargo in those pipes, her favorite pair of javelins. She peered inside the pipes to assess the damage.
To her astonishment, the javelins were unscathed. With new PVC pipes from a nearby Home Depot, she continued to Beijing without further incident, just questions from airline workers and curious stares.
“I’ve been traveling with javelins for 10 years, since high school,” said Patterson, a two-time Olympian and American record-holder in her event. “I understand the reservations people have about checking an implement. I try to approach it with a smile, to let them know that I know this is weird and that I’ve been here before. I promise they’ll fit on the plane. But you always have to be ready for anything and just be OK with surprises.”
That’s a common mind-set for athletes traveling to the London Games with javelins, rifles, archery bows, horses, bicycles, sailboats, fencing swords, vaulting poles, canoes, rowing shells, and pistols. On the busiest, pre-Olympic days at Heathrow Airport, organizers expect 15 percent of all baggage to be oversized packages filled with sports equipment, including a total of about 1,000 guns. So, participants with hard-to-pack equipment know travel nightmares sometimes precede Olympic triumphs.
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