Old pal Bill Hancock, executive director of the BCS, on his 18th day in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics, where he is a media volunteer:
“Breakfast: Banana. Peanut butter crackers. Factoid from Olympic historian extraordinaire Jim Constandt who ably staffs the help desk: Albert Spaulding, 1900 shooting Olympian, founded the sporting goods company.
“I have traded books with my friend Jim, a volunteer for the USOC. Jim wrote a report about the Olympic trees—oak seedlings that were given to the gold medalists at Hitler’s 1936 games. I love the idea of the trees. Jim exhaustively researched what happened to each of those saplings. Several are still living. The whereabouts of most is unknown. Several were thrown away by athletes who didn’t quite understand that trees are lovelier than poems. Others were confiscated by customs officials who were worried about strange diseases like oak-steoporosis. One tree, won by wrestler Frank Lewis, lived many years in Stillwater. Here’s what Jim wrote about the Oklahoma oak, which was in bad shape when Lewis got home: ‘(Lewis) turned it over to the (OSU) college of forestry to see if the tree could be nursed back to health. A year or two later, it had grown so tall that it was too big for the greenhouse. Frank decided to have it transplanted in front of his fraternity, Sigma Chi, on the OSU campus, where a plaque identified the tree. The Olympic Oak grew to be tall, healthy and beautiful. However, it died in 1990 after being struck by lightning several times.’ How about that!
“Lunch: cookie, M&M’s, Triscuit. Still no McDonald’s. Will make it. The big McDonald’s in the Main Press Center is pretty comfortable; there’s even an electric-log fireplace surrounded by comfortable chairs where folks can pretend they’re in a warm ski lodge. There’s also a fireplace in Hudson’s Pub, the watering hole near our hotel where writers have begun to meet and greet nightly.
“I did an Uncle Billy this morning: walked to the USA Today office with tickets and left the tickets on a desk. Fortunately Mister Potter was not the attendant and I got my tickets back without the help of Clarence. Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!
“Weather: Rained all day. ‘It’s pouring out there,’ a British woman said as we looked at the bay. Pouring? This was a gentle shower. Clearly they don’t have good ol’ Kansas-Oklahoma thunderstorms in England. Our rain is like castor oil: nasty, but over quickly. This rain brought out the smell of piney woods and ocean, like Cripple Creek meets Coney Island. High 48, low 44. No seagull. No mountains. A few bits of Angel hair in the valleys. If I lived here, I would get a balcony and sit there and look at these mountains 24 hours a day, with an hour or two out for college football in season.
“Took two nice little walks downtown in the rain, which doesn’t seem to bother the local folks. They get by just fine with umbrellas and parkas. I guess they’ve grown accustomed to this place. And to wet feet.
“They say queue; we say line. Watched a double queue a block long today, people waiting in the rain to touch an Olympic medal. I can’t think of anything I’d wait in line three hours to touch. Actually they brought three medals to the Main Press Center this morning and I rushed down for the photo op. Only two guys were in line in front of me; one of them got a photo made of himself grinning with a gold medal, then the guards said, ‘sorry, no more’ and I was shut out. Bronze medal. Rats.
“Went into the Roots store near Commerce and Akard, er, Robson and Granville. Cute stuff, hordes of people. I touched a $500 windbreaker. Walked in the rain to the cauldron. People continue to flock there. It’s a steady, happy, respectful procession.
“Tough decision tonight: medals ceremony (oh, excuse me, ‘victory ceremony’) or Apollo Ono. Chose the medals. Every night there’s a ceremony in the domed stadium where yesterday’s winners get their hardware. Basically they’ve curtained off the stadium, Final Four style. Fans sat on three sides of a big stage. I guess 15,000 people were there. The announcers in the big ol’ dome kept the crowd posted as to the score of the Canada hockey game.
“Two of us were on the bus: me and a photographer from Belarus who spoke about as much English as I speak Martian. ‘Medals,’ he sort of kept saying as we walked through the back hallways of the stadium looking for our place. The volunteers thought he was saying ‘media’ and kept pushing us up, up, up. ‘You cannot get near the athletes,’ they said. My pal was sweating mightily and I’m pretty sure he was cussing in severe Belarusian. I had a feeling we were walking away from where we needed to be. You know, like some dream where you’re in Texas driving to New Mexico and find yourself in New Hampshire? I grabbed a smart-looking volunteer and said, ‘this guy needs help; his countryman won the gold medal in freestyle skiing and he wants to take a photo. It may be the most important moment in both of their lives. Can you help him?’ She nodded gamely and whisked him away. I spotted him later in the front row of the teeming photo bay while I watched happily from the press seating area upstairs. Sometimes everything comes together.
“I didn’t know who would be receiving medals. Like at the NCAA Tournament where I always cheered inside for the team with the best fight song, I was pulling for some country with a singable anthem, like England or Canada, or best yet, the USA. No luck. The Belarus aerialist appeared confused by his, but the Finns in Whistler belted theirs out like actors in a Gilbert and Sullivan production.
“The splendid German anthem made me cry because I am so glad that young people can ski together and raise glasses together and what would our grandparents think about that? It’s pretty slick: there’s a ceremony in Whistler every day and one at Vancouver and they’re choreographed together. They gave the aerials medals in Vancouver, then the big TV screen on the domed stadium showed the biathlon ceremony from Whistler. The ceremony really is terrific. After the medalists leave, the dignity is loaded up on a truck, a rock band comes out and the audience goes nuts. Never having been to a rock concert, I stayed a while while Great Big Sea performed. The bass made my socks quake but the singing was excellent and I could actually hear myself think and, my goodness, the crowd loved the whole thing. My favorite part was the accordion player. I wish I could have understood the words; they could have been singing in Belarusian for all I know. To get more into my comfort zone, I tried to find hockey on the TV at my seat in the press area, but Great Big Sea was on every channel. I think a domed stadium is the best place to listen to loud music.
“The door broke and I couldn’t get out of the dome for a while, which gave me a chance to meet Lakshmi, a pretty and polite security guard at the domed stadium. She came here from India 22 years ago. She said they’re going to get rid of the air-supported roof on the stadium and stick on a retractable one in a couple of years.
“My Belarus photographer friend was waiting for the bus when I finally escaped the stadium. He didn’t recognize me. I had committed a perfect RAK, because the recipient was unaware. There was no traffic on the ride back to the press center — pedestrian nor vehicular. After all, it’s hockey night in Canada.
“Dinner: Molson, nacho, Molson, chicken wing, potato skin. I missed seeing Apollo get disqualified. Dang.
“That explosion at 9 p.m. every day? It’s a Vancouver tradition, a cannon fired in Stanley Park. Volunteer du jour: Tiffany, 20, transportation coordinator at the curling venue. Not exactly a volunteer; she’s paid by the hour. Works from Feb.17 to Feb. 27. Graduated from college in November, looking for real work now. She counts the people getting on the bus and tells the bus driver. ‘I will always remember that I worked at the Olympics,’ she said. ‘The people I work with are great. The days go quickly.’
“These people are SO friendly. What a privilege to be here! Every day is an adventure. With glowing hearts, eh?”