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Berry Tramel


Bill Hancock's Olympic adventure: Finally, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1

by Berry Tramel Modified: February 24, 2014 at 9:15 am •  Published: February 24, 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.

Sunday, February 23

(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.)

Nicki’s phone rang about 1:15 a.m.  We had planned an early walk and both thought, “how can it be time for the alarm already?”

Well, it wasn’t the alarm. No sir, it was members of a USA team looking for a ride from the Olympic Village to somewhere undetermined.  Nicki said our drivers had gone home at midnight.

Breakfast:  Fried egg, toast dipped in Eagle Brand milk, peach juice, kidney beans, “caned” peas, plump sausage, “mullet” porridge (that’s what the sign said today), cheese, and yogurt drink.

Wonderful adventure after breakfast.  Walked over to the Black Sea and along the beautiful pathway toward the sunrise.  Three- or four-foot waves were crashing against the stone shelf.  The spray glowed in the sun.  More than a dozen fishermen cast on long poles for breakfast.  No doubt they caught peace, as we did while watching them.

The pathway is half made of paving stones.  The other half is soft and bouncy like a running track.  Plenty of joggers took advantage.  The gorgeous—and unoccupied—waterside houses were quite inviting.  We hoped families would enjoy them this summer—and hoped they would not sit derelict.  There were also older beach resorts, obviously well-used and loved.

We cut back through the old neighborhood adjacent to Chistye Prudy and the Olympic bubble.  Kids rode bicycles, parents pushed strollers.  We saw a half-dozen small stores, a bar and a couple of restaurants.  And a school and a tennis stadium and beautiful trees.

We joined the reporters in thinking we had been living in the sterile—and wonderful—Olympic world.  And yet a quaint neighborhood had been there all along, right under our noses.  Maybe we thought we were forbidden from looking beyond that fence next to Chistye Prudy.  Maybe we were too busy to peek over it.  Or too focused on our jobs to walk around it.

Whatever reason, the lesson is clear:  open your eyes, look around, ask questions.  Go!  Before it’s time to go home.

Commute:   20 minutes by bus from Chistye Prudy to the Main Press Center.

We have seen the transition from winter to early spring here on the  Black Sea.  Trees are beginning to bud out.  Grass is growing.  Soon the rocky beaches will be crowded.

At the Main Press Center, people are packing to go home.  One major magazine’s person told me he would 17 pallets.  They will go by truck from here to Frankfurt, a seven-day trip, then on an airplane from there to New York City. Goodness knows how much stuff NBC will send home.

I left my camera battery at Chistye Purdy this morning and had to take the bus to retrieve it. Decided I HAD to have a photo with a police officer.  Two guys said no.

Volunteer du jour:  Marta, 19, square mouth and pretty skin.  OBS worker.  Lives in Moscow.  The Olympics was a dream for her.  “It is everything I wanted,” she said, smiling.  What about after the Olympics?  “I will think about that tomorrow.”  (Which reminds me that I am working with a male reporter named Ashley.)

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

Comment from Oklahoma City – I didn’t know that everyone wants to beat the USA. Wow.  Is it a jealously thing?  Are we still thought of as ‘the ugly American?’

Response – Everyone wants to beat the best: the Yankees, Alabama, etc.  We’re the best in most things.

Lunch:  Yes, a hamburger from McDonald’s provided as a gift from the ticket lady.  I followed the first rule of the Olympics: never turn down a gift.  Besides, the games are over.

Weather:  Perfectly beautiful day here at the Coastal Cluster:  High 54, low 41.  Up at the glorious Laura cross-country skiing and biathlon center, high 48, low 39.  Several cross-country athletes skied in short sleeves.

Russia Fact that surely must be true because somebody told me:  Russian Orthodox Christianity is the largest religion, with 75 percent of the population.  Islam has five percent.  Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism and Buddhism each count about one percent.

Golly, 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.

Dinner:  Delicious goulash, pretty dry turkey sandwich and decent meat choulibiac at Fisht Stadium before closing.

The volunteers really did make the sun shine every day.  Whoever trained them earned a gold medal. All the Russian people we met—both inside and outside the grid—were just like people at home.

I tried and failed to get a policeman to pose for photos again tonight..  They did their job.  We’re safe. We’re all safe.

Last night Nicki and I asked a Russian man to take our photo in front of the Iceberg. He had the hands of a plumber and the body of a fire plug.  And he was delighted to do take the photo.  Just then, his cell phone rang.  We waved him of and started to walk away.  But he would have nothing of it.  He held up his hand, surely saying, “one minute.”

He WANTED to take our photo. It was his little connection with America.  And his little connection with the Olympics.  We waited a while.  When he finished the call and then posed us like Ansel Adams with the Iceberg as Halfdome.

You saw the awesome closing ceremony. We arrived two hours early to get a good seat.  It snowed inside again.  The music and dancing were terrific.  Everybody got a little three-inch flashlight/medallion.  They had little computer chips that were controlled by God or someone, because they changed colors and we could watch waves of color go around the stadium.  Amazing.

It wasn’t as cold in the stadium as for the opening ceremony.  Still, I wore two pairs of socks and four layers on top.  I tweeted for a while but then quit to enjoy the evening.

Oh, my goodness!  The Russians did it!  Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 was the very last piece of music in the Olympics.  Fireworks went off.  Outside the stadium and inside me.  It was an absolutely perfect moment.

I’ll be off the grid Monday. Intend to walk to the Georgia-Russia border in the morning, then help pack up the office and then ride the train to the city of Sochi for a nice meal and another look around.

Our trip home Tuesday will begin with a bus departure for the Sochi airport at 1 a.m.  (Yes, an hour after midnight.)  Then a flight to Moscow, then to Zurich, then to Chicago, then to Kansas City, arriving at 9-something p.m., some 30 hours after the bus leaves Chistye Prudy.

What a privilege to have been here!  Every day has been an adventure.  We are extremely lucky.  Sochi. Hot. Cool. Yours.

Spasibo for listening.  Da Svidanya until Rio 2016.  Can’t wait!


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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