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Berry Tramel  


Bill Hancock's Olympic adventure: A visit to the city of Sochi

by Berry Tramel Modified: February 11, 2014 at 9:50 am •  Published: February 11, 2014

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.

Monday, February 10

“(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 chuck, green pepper chunk, cucumber chunk, pork chop, peas and corn, ‘toast’ with tasty raspberry preserves, orange juice, plump sausage, not-very-sweet chocolate cake.  Yes, pork chop.

“Crisis!  The industrial-strength toaster at Chistye Prudy was balky.  Even after two passes, we got merely warm bread.  “Life is too short,” said one reporter after trying twice for toast.

Commute from Chistye Prudy to the Main Press Center: 18 minutes by bus. The route is now familiar and established:.  And fun.  Stop at the Radisson Blu Hotel with its own mag-and-bag in front and beach view in back.  Stop at the swanky Azimut Hotel.  Past the inactive amusement park and its cute castle-hotel with the spectacular blue lighting.  (The Russians have absolutely nailed lighting.  The venues and almost every other new building are spectacularly illuminated.  As snowboarder Sage would say, it’s sick.).  By the cauldron. Past the massive train station for Olympic Park.  Past the beautiful old church, past the Milano Pizzeria Restaurant that has no parking lot. Almost constantly in view of the cauldron, on to the freeway for a quarter-mile, through the parking lot.  Then past my favorite part—the little old houses with laundry hanging from the balconies. Alongside the muddy canal. Past the smaller Olympic Village train station.  Then a U-turn to the bright and welcoming MPC that is our home away from home.

“As in real life back home, everything here gets better every day.  Strangely in light of our having visited the Magic Tablecloth crepe stand last night, the dining hall at Chistye Prudy had real cloth tablecloths this morning.  We may be in the Twilight Zone, with Rod Serling presenting medals.

“The dining hall also had televisions that showed Olympic highlights.  Plus, the lights on the Christmas tree in the lobby were working.  (Must learn about that tree.  In Russia, does Christmas last until March?)

“The  buses—there are millions of ‘em—are white and sparkly clean.  I’ve seen the bus wash.

“Got up at 6 a.m. and rode the beautiful train from the Olympic Village station west to the city of Sochi this morning.  Train right on time and quite spacious and modern.  I don’t know for sure, but maybe it’s maybe 15 miles.

“We had been told to expect stringent security at the train station, but it was almost identical to the scanners at the Main Press Center.

“Such a wide variety of houses and apartments.  Love riding the train in any city; here is no different.  Nicki says the train sounds like a dragon breathing.

“The announcements on the train were in Russian and English.  ’Dear passengers, to open your carriage’s door, wait until the train is completely stopped, then press the green button.’

“Then ‘boarding of the train has ended.  The train is about to set off.’

“Adler is a real town, with 8- and 10-story buildings and pretty evergreen trees.

“The train route went along the Black Sea.  Every so often, there were small docks, some with lounge chairs like at the pool back home.  What a sight this must be on a summer day!  Also many small huts—clearly shops that sold snacks and sunglasses and stuff during the summer.  I think I saw Gidget in an overcoat.

“We saw a lone man all bundled up and fishing from a concrete pier.  There were many sea birds and always the boats.  The beach was rocky. There were maybe a few small motels on the beach, and some houses.  One had a water slide down into the water.

“The shore felt old and worn, like Cuba’s.  The many concrete piers—in some places they were only 20 yards apart, and sort of jabbed into the ambiance.  But the water was azure blue, the ships dreamy and the ride comfortable.

“Two more Gidgets in pink ski jackets threw gray rocks into the water.  Spaced at comforting intervals, security persons stood near the tracks.  Adler is a mini-San Francisco because the town slopes down the hills to the water.  We passed a track-and-field stadium with old concrete bleachers.  There was a long tunnel under some hills just before Sochi—a metaphor for something Olympian.

“The variety of building styles that we saw from the train was fascinating.  We saw everything from shacks to fancy tall apartment buildings

“We passed a skate park, basketball courts and a junkyard.  Always ships were in view.

“The city of Sochi is a bustling place in a different world from Olympic Park, the MPC and Chistye Prudy.  There’s horn-honking traffic and hundreds of little shops.  Rather than one giant mega-outfit containing everything your little heart desires, one store sells only sausages, another only bread, another only high-end jewelry, another only cell phones, another only candy.

“The Olympic signs pointed us to the Sochi Media Center, where we washed up and took photos of Russian television trucks.  Back on the sidewalk, two elderly women in the bright Olympics volunteer uniforms offered Sochi maps to us.  We already had beaucoup maps, but in the Olympic spirit, we accepted and smiled and bowed. They smiled and bowed, too.

“The City of Sochi felt like a combination of Miami Beach and Santa Monica and August Duluth.

“The train station is beautiful, with a glistening white clock tower straight out of Main Street America.  We didn’t see anyone else who spoke English.  We found our map and explored.  We passed a kindergarten with children happily scurrying around like Main Street American children.  We walked along a promenade lined with palm trees and pines.  It’s a beautiful, lively city.

“We stumbled onto the Pittsburgh bar and took photos. It was morning so the bar was not open.  We found the walkway along the sea and saw big cruise ships docked and delivering an Olympic experience a world apart from ours, but still Olympian.

“We saw a street musician playing random notes on a trumpet.  We did see policemen and police women but nothing obtrusive.  Nicki is learning to read Russian and was able to make out ‘Second Hand’ on the front of one store.  She’s awesome.

“A man in a dark suite tried to sell us something.  I think he was a limo driver but I kept my head down so I don’t know for sure.

“The morning was almost balmy and we wore too many clothes.

“We resisted the urge to buy anything until we found the ubiquitous dolls-within-dolls.  At the security entrance for the train station, the guard wanted to see what we had inside our shopping bag.  So we took doll out of doll out of doll out of doll until the security guy finally threw up his hands and said something like, ‘no mas!’  He almost smiled.

“The Olympic Village-to-Sochi train had been virtually empty.  The return trip was the opposite—every seat was filled.  Train rides are free for everyone who has an Olympic credential or ticket.  We rode with workers and families and one high-society dude and his trophy wife who looked aghast at the riff-raff.

“Smoking is not allowed on the train.  That didn’t apply to the sweater of the woman sitting next to me.  Yuck.

“Two people sat beside a campfire on the river that flows into the Red Sea.  Can’t explain.

“We both fell asleep in the sunshine on the way back and darn near missed the stop for Olympic Village.  Thank goodness Nicki woke up in time.

Volunteer du jour:  Angelina from England.  Checking credentials at the entrance to the news conference room.  Friendly.  Seems to be enjoying her colleagues.

“Yes, some areas near the Olympic Park are still under construction.  Seems like all the necessary meat is ready, but the gravy is not.

“Forgot to say that President Putin was at the figure skating team event with us last night.  Well, not exactly WITH us. But he was there. And so were we.

Lunch:  Peanut butter and crackers.  Raisins.  Chocolate from a Swiss friend.  Oh, my goodness—such chocolate!

“Michelle Kwan came to get a ticket from me today.

“A student writer—a foundation sent her here—left her expensive camera on the bus.  I assured her that someone would turn it in to lost and found.  (Update: a kind soul did indeed return the camera.)

Weather:  Spring-like.  Great sunrise followed by cloudless day perfect for a doubleheader at Wrigley Field.  Actually I’m pretty sure the London Olympics had cooler weather a day or two  High 59, low 39 here at the Coastal Cluster. High 51, low 28 at the Rosa Kuhtor Alpine Center.

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

“Russia Fact that surely must be true because somebody told me: On November 18, 1956, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev struck terror into me and most other Americans by telling westerners, ‘we will bury you.’   His actual comment was, ‘Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will dig you in’ (“Нравится вам или нет, но история на нашей стороне. Мы вас закопаем”).  He was talking about capitalism, not each of us in the Davy Crockett set individually.  But it didn’t matter.

“Of course, things turned out differently!

Dinner:  Peanut butter, crackers, Nutri-grain, awesome chocolate from a Swiss friend.  Mmmmmm.  Delicious.

“Nicki is the greeter when folks walk into the office.  She makes copies, makes coffee and smiles.  Every morning, she writes the full day’s USA schedule on two big white boards, then updates it during the day.  Reporters check the board and make their daily plans.  Everyone brags on Nicki’s handwriting.

“Email from Missouri:  ’Just for my information, what is the “MPC?  Media? Center,” I am guessing.’

Response:  Darn, sorry to have fallen into jargon.  It’s ‘Main Press Center.’  Basically a convention center where reporters work.  Next door is the IBC—International Broadcast Center.

“Someone was drilling and hammering in our building at Chistye Prudy until 11 p.m. last night.  I hoped it might be a harbinger of a shower curtain, or electricity in the bathroom.

“One writer told me he is embarrassed about his hotel in the mountains.  ‘It’s the best place I’ve ever stayed.  They opened the swimming pool today.  And my view is awesome.  It’s fantastic.’

“Another writer said, ‘I opened the door to my room in the hotel and it was at least 100 degrees.  I told the front desk and they sent someone up.  He beat on the pipes and said, “is that a little better?”  Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you: that happened in Philadelphia last year.’

“Walked to see speedskating at Adler Arena tonight.  It’s ballet, poetry and rock music.  The orange-clad Dutch fans were out in force as always, although not as vocal as in Torino.  I got a comfortable seat at the turn, put on my gloves and hat, and enjoyed the beautiful arena and beautiful racing.

“I took a short cut to the arena.  Went out the back door of the MPC, fell down a small hill (don’t tell Nicki) where the new green sod was soft and walked across a sorta muddy field in the dark.  It saved at least 10 minutes.  The fall gave me a grass stain for the first time in 47 years  And no injuries.

“Light rain fell as we returned to Chistye Prudy about 11 p.m.

“What a privilege to be here!  Every day is an adventure.  Sochi. Hot. Cool. Yours.

Note from America:  Kansas City:  Cold. Snow. Home

“Da Svidanya for now.”


by Berry Tramel
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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