Ashland is approximately 5,600 miles from Beijing, but that isn't stopping Ashlanders from preparing for the Olympics with gusto.




The Ashland YMCA has an Olympic-themed day camp planned the week of Aug. 18, where campers design their own competitions &

which can stray far from official Olympic events &

and have a camp-wide miniature Olympics at the end of the week.




Olympic fever also attracts more budding athletes to their programs.




"Gymnastics is such a popular Summer Olympics event, we prepare for an influx of new gymnasts," said Associate Director Laurie Schaaf. During the games, young gymnasts learn about the qualities Olympians possess besides technical skills, such as perseverance and goal-setting, she said.




Official Olympic gear went quickly at Rogue Valley Runners downtown. Two days before the opening ceremonies, the store had only two Olympic T-shirts left in stock.




"We're all pretty excited," said Ixel Sanchez, who has worked at the store for two years. "Since it's a running store, pretty much everybody is into it."




Even those whose favorite sports are often overlooked in Olympics hoopla are looking forward to the games.




Gail Patton, the women's head tennis coach at Southern Oregon University, said the Olympics are a minor event in the world of tennis, but she enjoys watching all the games.




"I like to come home and get off the tennis courts and see the other sports," she said. "Even though I don't necessarily know other sports &

I never competed in track or gymnastics &

I know the dedication that it takes. I know the hard work and I definitely can appreciate that."




Patton attended the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and vividly remembers watching the severely dehydrated Swiss marathon runner Gabriela Anderson-Schiess drag herself to the finish line in 37th place.




"That kind of stuff you can see on TV, but unless you're there, you don't really understand how incredible it is," she said.




For Ashlanders who won't be traveling across the Pacific to watch Olympic history, plenty of area restaurants are offering the next best thing.




Oak Tree Northwest Bar Grill has eight televisions, so they can air all the cable station coverage at once, co-owner Gary Allen said.




"We generally get a good amount of people for any sporting event, so I'm expecting a good turnout," he said. "Personally I'm kind of looking forward to the basketball. Track and field's always cool too."




Soccer fans can catch the games at The Black Sheep Pub Restaurant, and Paddy Brannan's Irish Pub will take a break from exclusively airing the Celtic sports channel Setanta and show the Olympics on two of the pub's three TV sets, said Manager Jon-Erik Hegstad.




And are they excited for the Olympics?




"Oh, yeah, we're jonesing for them," Hegsted said.




Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .