Berry Tramel

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Bill Hancock's Olympic adventure: Leaving the Sochi bubble

by Berry Tramel Modified: February 4, 2014 at 11:55 am •  Published: February 4, 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 Olympic site:

Monday, February 3
“(Please excuse the typos and bad writing in this friendly message to family who won’t object to sloppiness. Will hurry.  There’s too much Olympics to explore.)

“The mountains were out again this morning.  And we got a spectacular sunrise, to boot.  Orange, purple sky.  White mountaintops.  This is a beautiful place.

“Got up at 5:30 to watch the Super Bowl online.  It was halftime, as anticipated. Unfortunately the Fox online broadcast page read, ‘We’re sorry. The Super Bowl Live Stream is only available in the United States and U.S. Territories.  To get the full FOX Sports Super Bowl XLVIII experience, visit foxsports.com/super-bowl.

“What? Do you mean Sochi is not a USA territory?  Maybe that’s why all these folks are speaking a strange language.

“Fox’s web site gave a pretty good accounting of the game and related activities.  I did ‘watch’ most of the third quarter on ESPN’s game tracker.  Ouch.  Nobody on the bus or in the press center said a word to me about the Super Bowl until 11 a.m.

“One woman watched a telecast with Russian commentators.  A couple of others said they watched on slingbait.  (sling-something anyway.  Memo to self: get one of those.)

“Breakfast:  Pear, two cucumber chunks, muesli with warm milk (there’s no cold milk), toast with great raspberry preserves, pear, small hard cinnamon roll.  The dining hall was nearly full  when I got there at 6:45 a.m.

“Commute from Chistye Prudy to the Main Press Center:  20 minutes by bus.  There was actually Monday-morning traffic.  We also got behind a front-end loader.

“The bus route passes a residential area.  Some houses remind me of Peru and Ecuador, waiting  for another story or another wing.  I’ve been watching one wooden shack, half-painted.

“The language barrier is huge.  Like staging the BCS championship game at the Rose Bowl stadium, and all of the fans, teams, coaches and journalists speak only Kiowa.  And you want to be nice to them.  And you have searched the world to find everyone who speaks Kiowa and given them the out-front jobs and told them to smile and do their best.

“Skeleton athlete Noelle Pikus-Pace brought her two cute children to the news conference in the MPC at 8 a.m. today.  Noelle is really cute herself. She retired after Torino, but then un-retired and is happy to be here.  Pull for her.

“I love the pre-games news conferences. Almost every USA team comes to the MPC to meet with reporters.  Bobsled went after skeleton this morning.  Wow, these athletes enhance m faith in American. They’re bright, articulate, focused and thrilled to be Olympians.  Four of the men’s bobsled guys are in the U.S. Army.  LoLo Jones and the other women were impressive, too.

“Volunteer du jour: Victoria, round-cheeked and pretty.  Actually she is a paid staff member who has the thankless job of working the front desk at Chistye Prudy.  When I asked for some fresh towels, she asked me to slow down and repeat myself, then said, ‘you don’t have to come to get towels; the housekeeper will bring them.’

“‘Do you have housekeepers?’ I said.  I was serious.

“‘Yes, of course we do.’

“‘We have been here three days.  No housekeepers have come to our room.’

“She was stunned.  ’Oh, I think my head is going to explode!  I think the housekeepers have not come to your room because they do not have a key.  Could we keep your key today and make a copy for them?’

“I am happy not to be Victoria.

“Turning over that key was as gut-wrenching as when I  let a junior high kid hold my clarinet 0 years ago.  There is a nagging feeling that we would never see the key again and have to sleep in the lobby and wear the same socks and take spit baths in the MPC for the rest of the Olympics.

“But the alternative—using the same towels for three weeks—was unacceptable.  So Victoria’s hardware store has our key and I intend to worry about it all day.

“Then I asked if it would be possible to get a shower curtain and electricity for the built-in hair dryer with the plug to nowhere.  She said, ‘do you have a….you know….a (she put her little white fists together and pulled them apart, doing a wonderful impersonation of a curtain rod)….one of these?’

“I said we did not.  ’Oh, then I do not think it will be possible to get the shower curtain.’

“She wrote a note about the shower curtain and the electricity on a tattered piece of paper in a fat, worn three-ring binder. We were in line with several others.  We’ll live with it.  Besides, I am learning to live without the shower curtain.  A reporter today said the windows of his apartment have no curtains.  His predicament is worse.

“Lunch:  I forgot.  Really.

“Weather: Gorgeous day.  Not a cloud in the sky.  Low 30, High 46.  A little breezy. But it’s like March, and you’re so happy baseball is back that you want to attend a doubleheader, and then you realize it’s only 46 degrees.  But you don’t care.

“I walked to a huge store outside the bubble today.  You have two choices at the Olympics: stay in the antiseptic but wonderful tent where we work and where athletes live and compete.  Or occasionally pop out to see the city.  As much as I love the people and excitement inside, there’s nothing like being with real people.  This sunny day was perfect for a walk.

“The store was a little over a mile away.  I walked outside the security checkpoint.  Past about 101,000 buses in a lot the size of Tennessee.  Past a cluster of white apartments where Olympic volunteers and workers live.  Past a utility company truck, its side doors open to reveal two giant photos of nude women.  (I had to take a photo….of the truck, of course, to, uh, compare it with USA trucks.)

“I walked beside the train tracks, on narrow sidewalk along a busy street.  A sidewalk meandered beside a small stream under fir trees.  Plenty of other people were also walking. I overheard no conversation in English.

“The two-story store could best be described as Target, Walmart and the Food King all blasted together.  It had the most bottles of alcohol—mostly vodka but also brown alcohol—I have ever seen in one place.  (Someone said a famous NBC person said he couldn’t find any food here.  Good grief!  This store had enough food to feed 97 countries.)

“I did wear my parka that has a sorta inconspicuous Team USA logo on the left chest.  And a blue generic cap.

“Nobody paid any attention to me.  A slender bottle-brunette mother even picked up my grocery list when I dropped it.  I bought extension cords, coffee mugs, candy, coat hangers and a banana.  I looked for an iron for our clothes but they seemed too expensive.  I could have purchased toys and undergarments and a bicycle and wiggly cut chicken if I had needed them.

“Did I say nobody paid any attention to me?

“Oh, the store did have USA food.  We are exporting sugar: Coke, Pepsi, 7 Up, Kit-Kat, M and M’s, Snickers.  Russian folks were plucking them off the shelves.

“I loaded my backpack and walked back to the MPC, dreaming of baseball.  I saw one police officer, standing at a busy corner.  I understand Olympic security is an obsession at home, in Washington and in Waurika.  Here, we don’t give much thought to it  The police are our friends.

“The mountains turned absolutely gorgeous pink late this afternoon. Like white San Gabriels.  People were frantically working here in the office.  I said, ‘everyone, you may think I’m nuts, but you will regret it if you don’t go to the windows right now and check out the mountains.’ Some rolled their eyes, some kept their heads in their laptops—grinding out work—but some stepped around the corner to the windows and were transfixed like me.

“Dinner:  Peanut butter crackers.  Yogurt.  Almonds.  A bunch of ‘em.

“When it’s 10 a.m. in Irving, it’s 8 p.m. in Sochi.

“(Good grief.  I’ve been here a couple of 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 ‘Pore Jud is Daid.’)

“Hooray!  I am so happy that a whole bunch of you remembered Yuri Gagarin. Of course, he was the first person in space.  A real hero.  Had a little difficulty later in life after being the most famous person on earth (and beyond) for a while.

“I knew I was dating myself by mentioning him.  (But nobody else would date me.  Ba-dump-bump.)

“I have yet to see the Black Sea.  It’s 100 yards from Chistye Purdy.  It’s like living at Grant Park and never having seen Lake Michigan, for crying out loud.

“Note from friend in Stillwater — Yuri Gagarin was the first man the Soviets launched into space after several others were shot up there and died but we weren’t told about.

“Note from friend in Arkansas — Yes, I remember Yuri.  He was Boris and Natasha’s sidekick who kept Moose’n'Squirrel in line!  Actually, I hope your readers know who John Glenn was (other than a Senator from Ohio). I guess I’d be ok if they just knew the latter.

“Note from friend in Plano — Yes I know who Yuri Gagarin is and without looking it up on the Internet…he’s no relation to Vahe and did a great job on the NBC baseball game of the week.

“Note from friend in Bainbridge Island — Everyone knows Yuri Gagarin; the real question is whether anyone remembers Gherman Titov, and isn’t that always the way? (By the way, I understand the Ghermans are expected to do well in the luge and bobsled events).

“Note from friend in Overland Park — I do know who Yuri Gagarin is, but more important I want a picture of Nicki chasing cars.

“Note from friend in Washington, D.C. — I still think of Dr. Zhavago, or better yet Julie Christie. I am still in love with her.

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

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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