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.
Saturday, February 8
“(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.)
“Craig Bohnert stitched together a panoramic photo as people began to fill the stadium for the opening ceremony. Will attach it. That’s me on the left.
“You know how, in the USA, people exit an airplane by rows: people in the first row get off first, etc. It’s an orderly arrangement that works. This morning at 2 a.m. I stepped into the aisle to disembark the bus. Two women, age 25 or 13 or so, behind me crashed from behind in an effort to cut in front of me and get off quickly.
“I figured they had to throw up or talk to their boyfriends on the phone or write a news flash. So I sat back down and said, ‘goodness gracious, you are obviously in a hurry, so go ahead.’ It had been a 10-minute bus ride. I could easily wait another 30 seconds.
“One of the girls said, ‘Bleep you.’
“After they stormed past, I watched as they leaped off the bus, fired up cigarettes and stood by the bus smoking and talking to each other in some language that I could not recognize in the darkness—neither Russian nor French nor Okie. Oh, my.
“Must confess I did not see the sunrise today. After getting to bed late post-ceremony, I got up to let Nicki out at 7:30 and then worked in the room until 9. Yesterday’s sunset counts for two. Or maybe 50.
“Breakfast: Pear chunk, apple chunk, cucumber chunk, green pepper chunk, toast with tasty raspberry preserves, peas, orange juice, delicious porridge.
“The breakfast buffet at Chistye Prudy is like Sam’s Club: they have what they have. No plump sausage today, no butter. But great porridge and nice ‘caned’ peas. No complaints. Several mountain people say their hotel also serves mighty fine breakfast. All in all, I’m quite happy with the grub.
“The Russians seem sincerely happy with the opening ceremony, and they should be. Yes, one of the snowflakes didn’t burst into an Olympic ring. I know folks were disappointed. But we got to see something special. Maybe it wasn’t as intriguing as a wardrobe malfunction, but….
“Note from friend in Oklahoma: ’NBC news not painting the rosy picture of Sochi you are reporting. Only 19 percent of Americans think it’s safe over there according to NBC. Richard Engle unwrapped a new computer and had a techy person turn it on. Immediately hacked, again according to NBC. Story in Oklahoman about dog killings, as well. Glad the media coverage is not getting to you guys over there.’
“Response: In our little world over here, things are darn good. It’s NOT as comfortable as home, but the adventure is incredible and we have everything we need except tamales and key lime pie.
“Commute from Chistye Prudy to the Main Press Center: 20 minutes by bus. The route is now familiar. And fun. Stop at the Radisson Blu Hotel with its own mag-and-bag in front and beach view in back. Stop at the swanky Azimut Hotel. Past the amusement park and its cute castle-hotel. By the cauldron. Past the massive train station for Olympic Park. Past the beautiful old church, past the Milano Pizzeria Restaurant that has no parking lot. Almost constantly in view of the cauldron., on to the freeway for a quarter-mile, through the parking lot. Then past my favorite part — the little old houses with laundry hanging from the balconies. Alongside the muddy canal. Past the smaller Olympic Village train station. Then a U-turn to the bright and welcoming MPC that is our home away from home.
“Reporter, before the opening ceremony: ’A friend at home thinks I’m at death’s door over here. I told him I’m in the safest place in the world. If anything goes wrong, 19,000 Russian soldiers will pounce.’
“Bob Kravitz, the nifty Indianapolis columnist, took an interpreter and watched the opening ceremony in downtown Sochi: ’The American view of Russia tends to have a Cold War tint, a view of Russians as cold, taciturn and brooding, the inscrutable human equivalent of Siberia. This is the land that gave us Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and Turgenev, plumbers of the human soul. Americans think of Russia, they think of the old Soviet Union, of Lenin. So why are there thousands of people in downtown Sochi partying like it’s 2014, drinking beers and downing shots of Beluga Vodka (which, by the way, is purer than Tim Tebow)? Why are there so many men lovingly holding their sons above their heads, so many smiling mothers warmly embracing their daughters, all of them watching a pair of giant screens showing the Opening Ceremony while standing at the seaport in bustling downtown Sochi? How do you explain the tears as the Russian national anthem plays over the loudspeakers?’
“Volunteer du jour: Micah, about 25, from Kentucky. Not Kentuckyski. But basketball Kentucky. Went to Asbury College. Working here for the Olympic television folks.
“A reporter found the Pittsburgh bar in Sochi. The sign out front read “Pittsburgh.” Inside were photos of the steel city. The owner apparently just likes the city. Nobody inside spoke English.
“Note from Washington, D.C.: ‘The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed on June 22, 1939. The Germans did break it, and, interestingly, two years to the day after it was signed. Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Nazi troops advanced deep into the country and even got to the outskirts of Moscow (they could see the spires of the Kremlin). But because Hitler could not make up his mind whether he wanted the oil fields of the Ukraine or control of the capital, the Nazis got no further. They were bogged down by a brutally cold winter, and then foolishly declared war on the United States on December 8, 1941, immediately after Pearl Harbor. Hitler had a significant new enemy on his hands and was overextended on his Eastern front. The supply lines, particularly to the East, became a shambles for the German Army, and the Red Army, which provided little resistance during the summer months, suddenly became a formidable force in the winter. The Germans, like Alexander the Great and Napoleon, were brought down by the fierce Russian winter and the heartiness of the Russian people. It seems to be a lesson that invaders simply have not learned.
“The Russian people paid an awful price during the Nazi invasion; 20 million died. The siege of Stalingrad (Volgograd) was particularly brutal as Nazi troops surrounded the city and essentially choked it for nearly three years. The people who survived there lived in some of the most squalid and unfathomable conditions ever visited upon a civilian population. They are a resilient bunch. They survived Nazi invasion and the brutality and criminal inefficiency of Bolshevism. If you get a chance, you should try to get there. Volgograd is about 600 miles from Sochi, although probably shorter as the crow flies. it would probably take a long time to get there by car, especially this time of year, because the roads are not good, but maybe a train would be faster, assuming there is one. In any event, the monuments in Volgograd commemorating those lost during World War II are very moving.’
“One American photographer is half Russian. The name was spelled Mochsen. It was Anglicized to Mackson.
“Daily reminder: it’s 10 hours different from Central time. So when it’s 10 a.m. in Gotebo, it’s 8 p.m. in Sochi.
“Lunch: Salad, peanut butter and crackers, three bites of Cadbury chocolate from the Canadians.
“A little more from Eddie Frost, the Russian professor from Hobart: ‘Something I forgot to mention is the sports competition between the U. S. and the U.S.S.R., and the space race. There were dual track meets, dual wrestling meets, dual weight lifting meets, and so on. The Rev. Bob Richards, the ‘Vaultin’ Vicar’ as the scribes called him, interviewing Russian athletes in Russian on TV during a track meet. Wilma Rudolph taking the baton, behind in a relay, and bringing home the bacon with her anchor leg. It was easy to get caught up in all of it. But my big discovery was getting to know individual Russians as people. Lena and I have known a bunch of ‘em. I could tell you some stories, but it’ll have to wait ’til we have more time.’
“Weather: Beautiful blue sky, but a little more humid today. Hazy, actually. Not smog, just good old-fashioned high-humidity haze. Bright sunshine. Low 32, high 50. Up at Rosa Khutor, low 25, high 39.
“One photographer friend brought a giant bottle of ketchup and a giant bottle of mayonnaise from home. But the grocery store has Heinz ketchup.
“Some people have packed for this trip as if they are boarding the Mars lander. Nicki and I pretended we were backpackers. I have everything I need and could stay here four months, only leaving when I run out of eye drops.
“This place gets better every day. Must admit I did see a shell of a partially-completed building that had been wrapped in a cloth ‘mural’ of a building.
“That large pond across the street from Chistye Prudy is surrounded by a nice-looking running path. It also has baby trees. We saw one man walking through the huge park picking up trash. Looked like a lonely job. But no pressure.
“Nicki returned from the grocery store yesterday with Pringles and Cheetos. See? We have everything we need.
“Today she returned to the store and came back with a bag of nice green apples for the staff.
“Russia Fact that surely must be true because somebody told me: The Russian Revolution in 1917 was caused by economic problems, effects of WWI, reaction to Bloody Sunday, and excesses of Tsars. Nicholas II; his wife, Alexandra; his son, Alexei; his four daughters (Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia); the family doctor; the Emperor’s footman; the Empress’s maidservant; and the family cook were all executed by the Bolsheviks July 17, 1918. Daughter Anastasia thought to have escaped but DNA testing proved all five children were killed with parents Nicholas II, Alexandra, and their children canonized on August 15, 2000 by the Russian Orthodox Church.
“Judging by the opening ceremony, Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor might be the theme music. Can’t go wrong with that. Listen on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsTVF0Fu5_c
“First gold medal of the games went to Sage Kotzenberg of the USA! Is that serendipitous?
“Nicki and I went to his news conference. He wore the USA silver jacket and a big smile and a beige stocking cap. ’It’s the craziest thing ever,’ he said. ‘Repping the USA is so cool. Being on the team together is SO sick.’ He was SO happy, waving to the media three times. ‘It feels like I’m in a dream. When I got in the finals I thought, “man, I might have to do this crazy run that I was thinking of.” It feels surreal.’
“Eight Russian volunteers—all young women—stood against the wall during the news conference. I half-expected them to squeal like Beatles fans on the Ed Sullivan show 50 years ago.
“On his way down the hill, Sage did a backside 1620 Japan grab. A reporter said, ‘could you take a few minutes to describe that? I don’t what that means. I feel like I’m talking to Peyton Manning about Omaha.’
“Sage’s parents, brother and sister didn’t come to Sochi. ‘The main reason is they stress me out to much. At usual competitions, my mom sits behind a bridge. I was kinda like, “would you guys stay at home?” I’m so much more relaxed and I’m not really thinking of anyone. I called them afterward. My dad was like “whoaaaaaaa.” All my friends were watching back home. There were like 50 of them in my house. It could be a dangerous night in Park City.’
“He also called his older brother, Blaze, age 22, from the top of the hill about 10 minutes before his run. ‘I’m stoked to watch events that I haven’t watched live before. I’m gonna watch downhill skiing. It looks gnarly. I’d love to watch some hockey games or some figure skating. I’m at the Olympics; I might as well.’
“Sage, on what he did last night to get ready: ‘We had a bunch of chocolate, some onion rings and some chips.’
“Question from 7-year-old Andres in Kansas City: ’So I know that he likes sports but the big question is does he like Star Wars? Oh, and what is his favorite dessert there?’
“Answer: I do like Star Wars. Of course. I like Yoda best, then R2D2 next. And my favorite dessert here is Cadbury chocolates from Canada. Also, we get little cakes for breakfast, but they’re not very sweet.
“Dinner: Peanut butter sandwich, carrots, raisins, crackers. Water, of course.
“A great friend back home is really nervous about our safety over here. That’s very kind. But it’s like watching your favorite college football team. The angst is much greater watching on television than in person.
“What a privilege to be here! Every day is an adventure. Sochi. Hot. Cool. Yours. Da Svidanya for now.”