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Berry Tramel  


Bill Hancock's Olympic adventure: Finally, some Russian vodka

by Berry Tramel Modified: February 22, 2014 at 9:50 am •  Published: February 22, 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.

Friday, February 21

(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, apple chunk, “millet gruel” (that’s what the sign said), toast with tasty apricot preserves, peach juice, fried egg, liver cake (tasted better than it sounds), bean salad kidney beans, plump sausage, cheese, and yogurt drink.

Light rain this morning, but nice and warm. The mountains were not out. But I think I could hear the newly planted grass growing.

Commute from Chistye Prudy to the Main Press Center:  20 minutes by bus. Wow, extremely long line at the security entrance by the Azimut hotel.  Glad we didn’t have to stand in it.  The two hotels’ front drives were full of people who were leaving; we saw fans full of luggage that made me happy we had loaded our suitcase like backpackers.

Our Canadian friends were happy and respectful this morning.  That hockey game meant more to them than it did to America.

And everyone enjoys defeating the USA.  At the Olympics, we’re the Yankees.  We’re Alabama and Michigan and Oklahoma.  Defeating us makes the Olympics complete for some other country.

One reporter’s connecting flight goes through Kiev.  “I do have a nine-hour layover but don’t think I will try to visit the city.”  Right.

Other reporters are taking three or four extra days to visit Moscow.  Another is doing the same in Istanbul.  One writer’s wife will meet him in Rome for a week.  Smart people!

Volunteer du jour:  Evgenny.  Burly and bullish and about 40.  Not refined, but speaks decent English.  Doing heavy work with TV equipment and cables.  Talker.  A little strange.  Talked and talked.  Did I say he talked?

Golly, the Russians have recruited a sensational group of volunteers, most of whom speak English.

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

(Good grief.  I’ve been here several days and have yet to hear Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.  But people don’t just stand on street corners whistling great Russian music. Just like a Russian visitor might be bummed after being in Oklahoma for a week without hearing “All Er Nuthin’.”)

Susan, the lawyer and figure skating photographer from Toronto, brought awesome truffles to Nicki.  She gave me a pink one.

Lunch: Snacks followed by that truffle, followed by Cadbury chocolate provided by our friends from the Canadian press office who did not gloat.  Much.

Correction from Chicago about our spelling of “borsch.”  We went with the spelling on the menu, even though we thought it was “borscht.”  Like every word translated from Russian into English, it’s a made-up spelling since the alphabets are different.

Weather:  Here at the coastal cluster, high 54, low 48.  Up at the incredible Laura cross-country skiing and biathlon center, high 41, low 32.  Rainy this morning, then sorta sunny.

You can’t even begin to imagine how hard this USOC staff works during these games.  It’s 18 hours days—day after day after day.  I try to get them to smell the roses.

The Main Press Center is a little village all its own.  It includes a large common media workroom lovingly known as the bullpen.  The MPC also many private offices for media agencies such as Agence France-Presse, Chicago Tribune/Los Angeles Times, Corriere della Sera, Getty Images, Jiji Press, Kyodo News, La Gazzetta del Sport, Nikkei, Nordic News Agencies, PyeongChang 2018, Russian Olympic Committee, Sports Illustrated, Asahi Shimbun, Chunichi  Shimbun, Hocki Shimbun, Hokkaido Shimbun Press, Mainichi Shimbun, Sports Nippon, Yomiuri Shimbun, USA Today, Xinhua News Agency and Yahoo  Sports.

NPR (it’s no longer “National Public Radio”) shares an office with Around the Rings magazine.  We have worked closely with Tamara Keith and Robert Smith almost every day.  Sadly, Sylvia Poggioli stayed in Italy.

The massive Main Press Center has a bank, beauty salon, general store, gym, Internet café, laundry and dry cleaners, massage chairs, bar, medical center, souvenir shop with very few souvenirs, pharmacy and parcel post center.

The food court has basic hot, healthy food and almost no customers.  The McDonald’s next door has stuff just like home and is almost always packed.

The MPC is one-half of the huge Main Media Center.  The building feels like a convention center that, according to rumor, may become a shopping mall some day.  It’s really beautiful.  The other half of the building is devoted to the International Broadcast Center (IBC).  The IBC is a mystery Never-Never Land to all print journalists and still photographers.  Our credentials—which are valid almost everywhere in Olympic Park—do not allow access into the IBC.

NBC’s mammoth studios are in the IBC.  NBC also operates a commissary where its massive number of employees can get more massive by enjoying food just like back home.  There’s also a Starbucks.  People with IBC credentials can visit the MPC.  For a while, we’d see folks with Starbucks cups in our area and know that the person had come from the NBC compound.  Later we heard that someone got nervous about the perceived elitism and instructed people not to carry those Starbucks cups out of the restaurant.


We have been to every venue except ski jumping.

A reporter found an excellent enchilada in a small restaurant in the Ekaterinaski housing complex.

Russia Fact that surely must be true because somebody told me:  Borscht  is beet soup.  Or it can be cabbage soup instead.  Or spinach soup.

Dinner:  Margherita pizza and also penne pasta with red sauce, from the food court in the MPC.  Just the same as home.  And Baltika 7 Beer.

The news conference rooms in the MPC are named Dostoyevsky, Pushkin and Tolstoy.

Question from Oklahoma – Do you think those Americans distributing religious material in Sochi were really from New York, Oklahoma and Los Angeles?

Answer – Of course, I don’t know.  But Vasilly said it twice.  To him, Oklahoma was an equal of New York and LA as far as American religious passion is concerned.

Two young boys—maybe 10 and 8 years old—visited the MPC today.  Nick saw them looking at our ticketing sign-up sheets and said, “where are you from?”

They said, “USA.”

It turned out that their father works for a big US newspaper.  They were as cute as they could be, and clearly on their best behavior.  They were also frightened and intimidated.  Nicki showed them the office, including the medal wall where our staff posts the names of every USA medal winner.  When the athletes visit the office, they autograph the little signs

The boys were lucky to have stumbled onto Nicki. And vice-versa.

We ran out of tickets for the USA-Canada men’s game tonight, so Nicki and I had a two-person watching party at the office.  Everyone else went to the game.  It felt like a date night back home, except every now and then Canadian cheers reverberated through the MPC.  (For those keeping score, Nicki and I had our first date January 14, 1967.)

We have enjoyed the Russians’ attempts at English SO much.  They have tried very hard, and no doubt have done better than we would have, had the tables been turned.

One cute saying is “Something is Done” to mean “there’s no more..”  Like “porridge is done” or “cheese is done” or “media guides are done.”  I wanted to put out a sign today saying “tickets are done” when we ran out.

A reporter offered to share a sip of vodka in his office in the MPC between the second and third periods of the hockey game tonight.  So we each poured one finger into a mouthwash cups and drank the motor oil.  I was dizzy after two sips.  He was, too.  “You’re the only person in the MPC more goodie two-shoes than I am,” he said.  I was too dizzy after my two sips to respond.  I took the rest to Nicki, who took a half-sip and got similarly wobbly.

Now we have had our vodka. One finger is plenty.

The night was gorgeous and almost foggy.  The brilliant lights of the Olympic Park and surrounding buildings turned air pink, blue and green.

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