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.
Thursday, February 20
(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.)
The mountains were out and the sun turned the snow silver. My Lord, what a morning.
* Breakfast: Pear chunk, apple chunk, (the buffet has no more veggies), toast with tasty raspberry preserves, pineapple juice, plump sausage, delicious mullet porridge, cheese, and yogurt drink. There was bacon but it looked like large pink-and-white worms swimming in a glaze of milk. So I passed.
Nice breakfast with old friend Tim from AP and his colleague Peter. They are photo editors. Their process is pretty dang cool.
Photographers’ cameras are connected by wire to the editor’s computer. (The editor is sitting in the media seating area.) When the photographer takes a picture, he makes a voice recording—the cameras have microphones—saying “Lucy Jones, fourth race, 1000 meters.” The photographer attaches the voice recording to the electronic file with the picture. (It’s called meta-data, but you already knew that.) The photographer sends the file to the editor. The editor then fiddles with it and drops it into a place on the Internet. The clients (newspapers all over the world) go to that file and grab the photo.
Well, it’s a little more scientific than that, but you get the idea.
* Commute from Chistye Prudy to the Main Press Center: 20 minutes by bus. Something must be happening; security boarded the bus at the Azimut Hotel and checked credentials.
* Volunteer du jour: Lilya, young, dark and pretty. Working at security checkpoint at entrance to media center. Glasses. Friends call her Lilly. “You have this name in America, no?” she asked? Yes, but not often Lilya.
* Lunch: Croissant. Crackers.
* Daily reminder: it’s 10 hours different from Central time. So when it’s 10 a.m. in Hobart, it’s 8 p.m. in Sochi.
* Weather: Here at the coastal cluster, high 59, low 39. The park was hopping. Up at the best place at the Olympics, the Laura cross-country skiing and biathlon venue, high 46, low 28.
* There’s a cemetery in Olympic Park. The view is blocked by a fence, a tarp and some trees. It’s a secret that is not a secret. Apparently it has the remains of folks who used to live in this vicinity. It adds a little more humanity.
* The volunteers stream into the office looking for pins. Nicki or Beverly nicely send them away. I remember the sign we put up in Barcelona. I don’t know how to say “No Hay Pins” in Russian.
* Russia Fact that surely must be true because somebody told me: Nicholas II’s son Alexei (born 1904) had hemophilia B, carried by his mother, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Grigori Rasputin, an illiterate Siberian and mystic, gained power over Alexandra (and somewhat over Nicholas) by seeming to help Alexei’s health.
* Question from Hobart – Why do you boycott McDonald’s at the Olympics?
Response – I really like McDonald’s and go there often at home. But I decided it’s silly to go halfway around the world to get stuff you can get in Prairie Village or Claremore or Irving.
* A guy found out this is my 11th Olympics. And Olympics is like dog years, so 11 is a lot—sort of like my streak of 35 consecutive Final Fours.
The guy asked which was my favorite. For me, everything is really second-favorite because Sydney was so perfect. My roommate was Will Hancock. It was September, 2000. We had a blast sharing a two-bedroom apartment in Bankstown. We had a giant living room and full kitchen and the best father-son time you can imagine. He took the smaller bedroom. We climbed the Sydney Harbour bridge together. He threw a 50th birthday dinner for me. We rode the train to the Olympic Green together. He tuned-up my pager and I did his laundry. We talked late into the night, and ran in the morning.
He had to go home early after Karen got DVT and I took his job as press officer for fencing, but all the fencing people liked him much more. He agonized about leaving his Team USA responsibilities, and about letting down his dad. Of course, he absolutely did the right thing because Karen needed him. The best news was that Andie Hancock, now the World’s Greatest Seventh-Grader, was born two months later.
Will had to leave too early.
* Nicki and the new driver, Alexander, got in trouble today for parking in the same place near USA House where they have parked every day since the dawn of time. It’s Alexander’s first day on the job and he had to endure a chewing-out. Sigh.
* Question from Atlanta — Which is tougher to deal with: A well-known media member trying to get into figure skating when he really hasn’t covered the sport OR a well-known national columnist who is upset about his seat location at the Final Four when he hasn’t covered college basketball all year?
Response – It’s a tie.
* Comment from Los Angeles – Your email about the train made me wonder whether you are in Russia or in Fox’s back lot.
* Dinner: Borsch, cabbage roll, meat pie stuffed with egg. At the Kazachy Kitchen restaurant near the Tulip Hotel. It serves delicious Kazach food. Oh, and okay wine. My family members have been on edge about the borsch because they know I really don’t like beets. And borsch is beet soup. But somehow the magical Russian chefs cooked all the beet flavor out of this borsch.
We could look through windows and watch the chefs working.
* Walked through the rockin’ happy Olympic Park to the USA-Canada women’s gold medal hockey game. On the way, two young Russians stopped us. Vasilly spoke better English and he said, “USA? I have a question.” I was proud and thought he was going to ask about American staples like Democracy or barbeque or March Madness. Instead he pulled a large circular pin out of pocket. I couldn’t see it clearly in the darkness but did catch a fish and the word Jesus.
“The Americans are passing out these pins in Sochi,” Vasilly said. “Why they do this? Why all Americans this crazy about religion? They very crazy. We have good Russian Orthodox religion. Why all Americans want us to change?”
Huh? I tried to steer the conversation to baseball, apple pie or motherhood. He drove it right back.
“These people are stereotype Americans. Why religion so important to you Americans?”
I tried again: “Tell me about this land where the Olympic Park now sits. What was here before?”
“It was a forest,” he said. “Nothing was here, then they built these beautiful new buildings for the Olympics. But why you Americans so crazy for religion? These Americans come here from New York, Oklahoma and Los Angeles to make us take their religion. Why?”
I really didn’t like the conversation and tried wanted to change the subject and said something like “did you see the Auburn-Alabama game on CBS?” Then I thought of a topic that would be comfortable to him—vodka.
“I do not drink wodka,” he said. “Only one percent of Russians drink this. Americans think we all drink wodka and act silly.”
He wasn’t menacing or unpleasant at all. Just puzzled. And opinionated. And only one Russian person, of course.
“I saw Pussy Riot in Sochi. I hate them. They against our Russian Orthodox Church.”
I told him the “wodka” stereotype is as inaccurate as his about all Americans and religion. And that we can’t really break down the mysteries until we have many more random conversations in the night, with each side doing more listening than talking.
He nodded, but I don’t think he got it.
* Took a dare and smuggled a can of beer into the USA-Canada women’s hockey game tonight. Was pretty darn nervous. I was prepared to explain to the police that I needed the hops for medicinal purposes. But nobody said a word. I was too embarrassed to actually drink the beer because we were visible in the media seating section and I wanted to act professional. Later I would be in the minority in that regard.
* Big crowd at the game—10,600. I’d guess 60 percent Canadians, 8 percent USA, rest fascinated by whole scene and amazing North American athleticism. Huge game. Great game. Regulation ended at 11:23 p.m., way past our bedtime but it wouldn’t matter because nobody who was in the arena would be able to sleep for hours anyway….for days, in some cases.
Our team had the game won. The Canadian fans were silent. But Canada’s team came alive and so did the fans.
“No cheering in the press box” went completely out the door when the North women rallied and won. In fact, when Canada tied it at 2-2, an off-duty Canadian television crew member sitting behind me in the non-tabled media section whacked me on the head with his elbow or fist or left foot. It was an accident and he apologized.
Foreigners cheering in the press box is an Olympic tradition. So is Americans complaining about it.
The drama and emotion of that game was almost overwhelming. One team was deliriously joyful; the other grieved. Sports is amazing. We sure felt sorry for our players and coaches. It was just a brutal event for them.
* Music sample at hockey venue: Y-M-C-A. Then the chicken dance.
I came to Russia for Rachmaninoff and instead I got the chicken dance?!
When the Americans were in control of the hockey game, we watched Gracie Gold on Nicki’s IPad. What a world!
And what a privilege to be here! Every day is an adventure. Sochi. Hot. Cool. Yours. Da Svidanya for now.