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Berry Tramel


Bill Hancock's Olympic adventure: Singing in the rain, Star-Spangled Banner style

by Berry Tramel Modified: February 19, 2014 at 10:55 am •  Published: February 19, 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.

Tuesday, February 18

(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, hot ham and cheese sandwich, pork cutlet, carrot salad, toast with tasty strawberry preserves, orange juice, plump sausage, mullet J porridge, cheese, and yummy strawberry yogurt drink.

“More bloody porridge?” said a growly Brit at breakfast.  I LIKE the bloody porridge.

Commute from Chistye Prudy to the Main Press Center:  20 minutes by bus.  Low clouds; the mountains definitely were hiding.

Volunteer du jour:  Masha, 19, green eyes.  Lives in Moscow.  Could have passed for a 19-year-old from  Broken Arrow.  She works for Olympic Broadcast Service here.  Has never been to America, but would like to.  “Everyone in Russia would like to,” she said with a giggle.

Lunch:  P.B.& J. sandwich (creamy, unfortunately.). Twix.  Raisins.

Uh-oh.  An American reporter was on a bus that collided with a car today.  Nobody was hurt, but traffic was tied up for a few hours.  The reporters got off the bus and walked the rest of the way to the Main Press Center.  The driver was in a panic.

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

(Good grief.  I’ve been here several days and have yet to hear Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-Sharp Minor. But people don’t just stand on street corners whistling great Russian music. Just like a Russian visitor might be might be bummed after being in Oklahoma for a week without hearing “The Farmer and the Cowman.”)

Doubleheader in ticketing today: ladies figure skating and men’s ice hockey quarterfinals, The events are tomorrow, but we started distributing tickets today.  Many visitors to the office.  “I’m getting my second wind,” one writer said with a smile.  “It’s amazing what six hours of sleep will do.”

Olympic reporters are tough and resourceful.  Every American journalist should attend the Olympics.  It would make them appreciate life.  For inventive Olympic journalists, there’s no free food, maybe no Internet, no bus comes to their door.  No ESPN, no free beer.  It’s more than just living with unfinished hotel rooms.  There’s a spirit of cooperation here, a foxhole-buddy mentality that you don’t see back home.  Reporters learn to work it out, smile, pitch a small fit only when necessary and stick together.

Weather: Cloudy, rainy.  High 52 here at the coastal cluster, low 43.  Rain mixed with snow up at the gorgeous Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center; high there 38, low 32.

Five graphs of notes from Nicki — “We’re losing Valery the Small.  Today is his last day because he has to go to Moscow to have surgery on his tooth.  He said, ‘Sochi doctor, no good.’  Our new driver won’t be named Valery, so we won’t be able to say we’re “taking a Valery” when we mean going by car.  We’ll really miss him.

“I’ve become the contact with the drivers for our office.  The two cars are Volkswagens (something like a Jetta hatchback, I think).  We can park them in a parking lot just outside the Main Press Center and get to them really fast.  I understand that’s unusual for the Olympics.  The drivers sit outside our office in some comfy chairs and wait until we need them to drive.  We did have a sofa until a couple of days ago, but it disappeared to some other area.  :-)

“Bill has definitely overstated my Russian language skills.  The drivers do speak some English and understand a lot more.  Mostly I speak slowly (in English!) and write things down.  We’ve developed a good communication system (also involving lots of gestures).

“We use the drivers mostly to transport athletes from venues to press conferences or to a few places that have been set up for athletes to spend time with their families.  I usually go along to direct the athletes and make sure the drivers understand where we’re going.  We often transport the hockey players and the other night after the men’s game I thought we’d lost some.  Peggy and I thought that they were coming out of the big Bolshoy Arena at the Athletes’ Entrance, but they came out the Media Entrance, which is halfway around the building.  We ran all the way back to the cars, only to see them pull out of the parking lot just before we got there.  Luckily, the players found the cars and the drivers took them right to the press conference.  Not late and not lost!

“I’ve become a fan of ice hockey because the players, men and women, are the most polite, pleasant young people you could imagine.  They’re really cute and just nice! I’ve now met players from the Winnipeg Jets, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Colorado Avalanche, and the Anaheim Ducks.  I didn’t tell them that I had never watched a couple of those teams!  But now I will.  Our women are in the gold medal game, too!  I’m a fan.”

End of great stuff from Nicki.  She’s awesome. Everyone loves her.

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.

Russia Fact that surely must be true because somebody told me:  Russian border is world’s longest at 35,910 miles, compared to the US border of 10,900 miles (both including water borders)

Dinner:  Salad.  Cadbury chocolate.

Umbrellas all day. Jugglers, mimes and singers are gone from the park. Then it became a rainy night near Georgia.

Nicki and I took the bus to the Ice Cub and walked to Olympic Park tonight to watch the medals ceremony.  I felt sorry for the Russians because of this silly rain.  Maybe 1,000 people stood in the rain to watch the dignified ceremony.  The podium is on a giant stage.  Tonight it had been pushed back under a large canopy, so the athletes and their presenters could stay reasonably dry.

A grandstand across the way had a roof and was full of people.  I assume they’re VIPs.

The medal winners were as excited as Christmas.  They fist-bumped and did the Tiger Woods arm pump and grinned and hugged each other. The women were beautiful and the men, happy.

Nicki left early for going-away ceremony for Valeriy the Small, the driver who is leaving us.  He worked until 10 p.m. and then got on a train to Moscow where he will have surgery for a tumor.  He and Nicki were pals.

Anyway, I stood there in the rain, alone among those 1,000 people and heard the Belarus National anthem twice and got to see Jean-Claude Killy present medals.  What a hero he was!  He’s now 70 but looks like he could still win gold.

Then the announcers—one in Russian, one in French, one in English—said “and now the medal ceremony for the ice dance.”

And here came Charlie and Meryl and I got to hear the greatest National Anthem, officially completing my Olympic experience.  (It ain’t the Olympics if you don’t hear The Banner at least once).  I took off my hat under my umbrella.  The emotion, the rain, the Russian fans also under their umbrellas, the Stars and Stripes rising slowly in the night….well, it was awesome.  I think the drops of water running down my cheeks were from the rain.  Or not.

To have attended the Olympics and have sung along with our National Anthem is to have exited I-35 at  Heaven on earth.  Singing in the rain never was so much fun.  Even Gene Kelly would agree, if he were here.

Olympic Park really wasn’t constructed for drainage.  There were puddles galore and my running shoes got soaked.  I walked for a while under the overhang of the cauldron platform, and dashed to the Iceberg arena to catch the media shuttle.  A Russian lady had plastic bags over her shoes.  A couple fiddled with a camera under one too-small umbrella.  Three little girls danced in a small lake near Fisht Stadium.  Everyone was wet.  But no one was as happy as I.

We had arranged for Valeriy the Small to attend the Russian hockey game today.  He was thrilled beyond believe.  They gave him a USA jacket and hat and you’d have thought HE was in Heaven on earth.  There were hugs all around and a few tears.  Valeriy will think very highly of America for the rest of his life.

Nicki, Peggy and I visited the Krasnador wine bar in Chistye Prudy.  The wine was decent, but nothing to write home about.  The place was packed with AP reporters when we left.  A man from Toronto gave us hints about shopping in Sochi.

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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