Berry Tramel

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Bill Hancock's Olympic adventure: A trip to the magic mountains

by Berry Tramel Modified: February 17, 2014 at 1:30 pm •  Published: February 17, 2014
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Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, is an Oklahoman and a man for all seasons. He routinely volunteers at every Olympics and gives friends and colleagues a peek at his adventures with daily email dispatches. Everyone looks forward to them, which is why I post them on the blog, so everyone can get a feel for what’s going on around the Olympics.

Sunday, February 16

(Please excuse the typos and bad writing in this friendly message to family members. They are sweethearts and so will not object to sloppiness. Will hurry.  There’s too much Olympics to explore.)

Breakfast:  Pear chunk, oatmeal, toast with tasty strawberry preserves, orange juice, corn, “caned” peas, plump sausage, cheese, and yogurt drink.

Commute from Chistye Prudy to the Main Press Center:  20 minutes by bus, then caught the TM-10 bus for the 45-minute ride to the mountains.

The highway is beautiful.  And new, as I’m sure you know.  It runs alongside the beautiful and new railroad line, along the gurgling Mzymta River.  The name comes from the word for frantic and it was a bit—probably because of snowmelt.  (The railroad line is protected on both sides by a high fence with concertina wire at the top.)

Some houses in the hills near town.  Many of those boxy temporary-seeming housing units like the ones near Chistye Prudy.  Much traffic, but none of it seems to be Joe Public.  He has to ride the train.  Which would be more fun anyway.  Highway is two-lane. We were in a long line of buses, trucks and other Sochi official vehicles.  Lone security people were stationed along the way.  How do they get to their posts?   Must be rookie duty.

Our bus seems be in a race with the train, like outlaws’ horses in old west movies.  The train is winning.  We see people standing inside. Glad we have seats on the bus.

Two or three magnificent tunnels. A few billboards, mostly supporting Olympics.  Loved looking at the scenery.  Didn’t want the ride to end.

The Gorki Media Center in the mountain valley is a miniature version of the Main Press Center.  Newspapers and national Olympic committees—including the USOC—have small offices—including the USOC.  There’s a general store and a service center and a coffee shop and massage center, just like the big ones down below.

The TM-10 bus dropped us off at the Gorki Hub.  From there, different buses went to each venue.

The transportation system here is brilliant.  If you miss a bus, another one comes along in a few minutes.  If you pay attention, you can go anywhere, and quite easily.  Lessons are to be learned.  The Olympics has come a long way since the yellow school buses in Los Angeles in 1984.  Those were fine for their time. But…

We took five awesome gondola rides and rode on six different buses.  I could have ridden the rest of my life on those gondolas and never returned to the Main Press Center, a contented Charlie and the MTA.  We missed the one chairlift.

It was awesome—a whole mountain full of magnificent gondolas at our disposal free of charge.  (Someone said the gondolas were constructed by an Austrian company.  So we were to trust them.  Trusting your gondola is important. Like trusting your tap water.)

This was our itinerary today:

MT-10 bus from MPC to Gorki Media Center in the mountain valley.

Took the MT-16 bus from Gorki Media Center to the skiing venue. Up, up, up.  Switchbacks.  Thicker snow as we climbed.

Walked up from the skiing bus terminal to the venue.  Huffed and puffed.  Failed to notice that there was a shuttle—the MT-24 shuttle carrying media up.  We enjoyed the walk in the sunshine and mountain air.

This time, hopped on the MT-24 shuttle bus down to skiing bus terminal.

Enjoyed the excellent gondola down to Gorki city.  Passed right over Rosa Kuhtor Extreme Park.  We looked down on the beautiful half pipe and other venues.

Took the well-used T-4 spectator shuttle to the Gorki train station. A Russian couple gave Nicki a souvenir cardboard hand on a stick from Bosco.  She stuck with the Olympic protocol, which is never refuse a gift.

Walked to gondola station, rode up to Sanki, the sliding center with its beautiful bobsleigh-luge track.  (Yes, it’s “bobsleigh” in Olympic parlance.)  Stayed on the gondola and rode back down, but not before the attendant showed us how to open the window for better photos.  These people are SO helpful.   This gondola had heated seats, like fancy cars back home.

Walked around in same building to another gondola for the spectacular ride up to Laura, site of the biathlon and cross-country skiing venues.  Oh, my goodness, it was awesome. We had a full view of valley; looked down at ski hills.  I was disappointed when we got to the snowy top.  We ran into Paul, a USA photographer, at the gondola station. He showed us the ropes.

After soaking up the scenery from the top and nearly falling on black ice, we took a smaller gondola down a little way to lovely biathlon venue.  Plenty of snow up here.  Two or three feet, it seemed.

Walked from biathlon up to cross-country venue.  Cute little signs along shoveled brick pathway encouraged old folks, “just a little farther; you’re doing great.”   It was a great walk in the woods.  Pathway ended after a while and then we stomped through snow.

Took the T-2 shuttle partway down the hill.  Got off at the wrong stop—met Mikhail, a round-faced 60-something volunteer who wanted to talk. His English was as bad as my Russian.  But his countenance said, “I love the Olympics. In fact, I love life and I’m so glad to be here in this very moment with you two Americans.”  He did fail to tell us that we were at the mountain cluster athletes village instead of the gondola stop.  But it was a small price to pay in order to get to stand with him for a few more minutes.  After a while, we got on the right shuttle.

(I thought a lot about Mikhail, whose life paralleled mine.  Did he have once have a Davy Crocket hat and listen to the Beatles and love Yuri Gagarin?  Did Nikita Khrushchev frighten him?  Was he in love with Donna Reed?  Did he once wear his hair down to his shoulders and wear tie-dyed shirts?   Did he marry his sweetheart and have two wonderful boys and the best three grandchildren?  Does he have a fake hip and enjoy milk and cookies?  How else were we alike?)

Gondola back down to the Laura Transportation hub.  Love those gondola rides?

MT-18 bus back to Gorki media center.

MT-10 bus back to Main Press Center at the coastal cluster.

A full stadium of people showed up to watch the Super G.  The stands form a “C” around the bottom of the hill; I’d guess they seat 6,000 or so.  The PA announcer was clever.  The music was rock.  We walked to the “mixed zone” in front of the bleachers and waited with reporters for athletes to finish.  Fans—and reporters—can only see the last steep hill, and watch the rest of the race like you do at home—on television.  We saw Bode Miller in the Super G and were delighted to learn later than he had won a medal.  We also ran into friend Chris Dufresne, who gave us good directions on what to see.  The skiing venue is perfect.

I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of television video of the mountains.  In person, they are stunning, craggy, almost unbelievably beautiful.  Maria von Trapp would have been at home here.  It’s the Maroon Bells times 20.

I sat on a gondola peering down into the valley and saw plainly why the IOC awarded these Olympics to Sochi.  The cross-country skiing venue was a winter wonderland, snow on snow on snow like the Alps or Rockies or  your favorite Christmas card with the Clydesdales.

In contrast with our beloved Rockies, 99.9 percent of the trees here are deciduous.  Which means the hillsides are brown, rather than green. (Guess if the pine beetle doesn’t stop, our mountains will be brown some day, too.)

The Russians have built a little Vail, with big hotels (including a Marriott) and quaint other places.  There’s shopping and strolling and bars and a creek and good-looking ski hills.  (I’m pretending I know a good-looking hill from a bad-looking one.)  Anyway, the village is cute.  It’s a shame that some of the hotels were not finished when reporters arrived a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve talked to dozens of people who are delighted to be staying up there, and rightly so.

The town is in the valley, and the venues are up in the surrounding hills.  Some great golf course architect did a great job of laying out this place.

Laura, the cross-country and biathlon site, is the highest and gorgeous.  It’s on a plateau above way above the valley.  From the gondola, we looked down on the other venues.  We met a photographer friend on the tram and he saved us an hour by showing us how to avoid the Olympic four-blocks-out-of-the-way walking paths.  His guidance spilled us out into a beautiful forest and much glistening white snow.

We watched the cross-country skiers warm up.  It was poetic.  The sounds of their skies pierced the snowy silence like a pencil tapping on a church pew.  (I remember everyone’s delight when the Hobart UMC finally got cushions for the pews in about 1960.)

Volunteer du jour:  Tat’yana, 30-ish—older than most volunteers.  She was standing on a gondola platform to help people like Nicki and me figure out where to go.  From St. Petersburg.  “We are having a very mild winter there,” she said.  “Everyone not know what is happening.”

Daily reminder:  it’s 10 hours different from Central time.  So when it’s 10 a.m. in Fargo, it’s 8 p.m. in Sochi.

Lunch:  Croissant with yogurt filling.  Excellent.

Weather: Nice this morning, then cloudy and drizzly the rest of the day.  The Hound of the Baskervilles would have been quite at home tonight.  High 54, low 41 here at the coastal cluster.  High 43, low 39 at the Laura cross-country ski and biathlon center.

Russia Fact that surely must be true because somebody told me:  A kremlin originally was the fortified center of a town.  Many communities had kremlins.

Dinner: Okay, really bad: three whole Pringles and a pile of broken ones.  Plus two Twix. But I DID eat a sound breakfast.

What a privilege to be here!  Every day is an adventure.  Sochi. Hot. Cool. Yours. Da Svidanya for now.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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