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Berry Tramel  


Bill Hancock's Olympic adventure: Watching hockey with Vladimir Putin

by Berry Tramel Modified: February 16, 2014 at 1:10 pm •  Published: February 16, 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.

Saturday, February 15

(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.)

Another beautiful sunrise. The mountains are out.  More humidity today, but a perfectly gorgeous morning.  A good day to prune lilacs.

Breakfast:  Pear chunk, apple chunk, toast with tasty raspberry preserves, orange juice, corn, “caned” peas,  butter beans, two plump sausages, porridge, cheese, semolina porridge, three French fries and yogurt drink.

Yes, they added French fries to the breakfast buffet today.  I had to eat three, which was not in violation of my no-McDonald’s pledge.  By the way, the McDonald’s in the MPC continues to be extremely busy.  It sure does smell good when folks return to the office with bags of hot grub.  I will look forward to returning to the land of the sausage biscuit back home.

Commute from Chistye Prudy to the Main Press Center:  20 minutes by bus on a spectacularly beautiful morning. 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 mostly inactive amusement park, etc. Then a U-turn to the bright and welcoming MPC that is our home away from home.  Almost always, the cauldron is in view.  The awesome cauldron.

Volunteer du jour:  Masha (another one), pretty, dark and earnest, at help desk in Main Press Center.  She told us that Russians do indeed celebrate Valentine’s Day.  “But mostly it is young people,” she said.  “It has come in  to our country from….from….(she didn’t know how to  say it)….from….from the West.”

Oh, just another high-calorie American import.

Security folks check vehicles very carefully entering Olympic Park.  A long queue forms at the entrance near Fisht Stadium.  Guards peek under the cars with mirrors, like looking under the bed for a lost sock.  Every occupant must show a credential. In fact, when we leave with Valeriy the Tall or Valeriy the Small, we have to show credentials twice  in order to get out.  On my walk yesterday, I passed through three credential checks.

I have heard a reporter object.  But one photographer was angry today because he was unable to take his crampons into the alpine venue.  Photogs need to wear crampons to climb up into the nests in the snow from which they shoot the downhill and slalom.

There’s plenty of Baltika 7 and  Baltika 8 beer here.  Someone said more diners have beer with their meals than vodka.  The Baltika is okay, but nothing to write home about.  So I won’t write home about it.

I don’t care much for vodka and so have not had any.  Plus I wouldn’t know good from bad.  (Confession: I can’t tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi, either.)

Forsythia!  Blooming!  Won’t be long until it happens at home.

One reporter in the East told me he got 18 inches of snow at his house, and the heating oil delivery company can’t find the connection into the house.

Note from Chicago, regarding that cocktail called оргазм:  Is this a new event for the Sochi or the next summer Olympics?  Or an old standard for the village?

Lunch:  Crackers and chocolate from the Canadians.

Daily reminder:  it’s 10 hours different from Central time.  So when it’s 10 a.m. in Hutch, 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 “People Will Say We’re in Love.”)

I went to another event with Vladimir Putin.  Well, he was at the USA-Russia hockey this afternoon and I was there.  So….

He cheered. I couldn’t.

At the Olympics, you never know what you’re going to get.  This afternoon, we all got some special hockey.

I sat on the third row.  President Putin had a slightly better view,  but no less fun.  I was right behind the timeout coordinator.  He held up printed signs that said “30 seconds” and “45 seconds.”  The referees did what he told them to do.  Nicki stayed back at the office for a while, then came to the game.  I didn’t see her; she wound up sitting with Julie Foudy and some other folks..

The Russian fans in a frenzy.  They sang and banged drums and played air horns.  I was glad they don’t sell beer; there could have been chaos when the goal was disallowed.  It was impossible to work up Cold War hatred for the Russians, despite several bouts of fisticuffs among the players.  Fans from both countries posed for photos together in their colorful costumes.  I sure did enjoy watching and listening to the Russian fans.  Their chant sounded like “ru-SEE-yuh.”  They went crazy when the Russian team scored.   Duh.

Between periods, the jumbotron shows a magician doing card tricks on the concourse.

The big hockey arena, Bolshoy, is a modern, clean and cheerful place. There’s a colorful ribbon board, and high-definition Panasonic jumbotron.  (Oh, while I’m thinking about it, our elevator at Chistye Prudy is Otis.)  I couldn’t see a logo on the two Zambonis.

There was Kiss Cam, and an organist, and no advertising inside the venue.  The flags of all the hockey countries were displayed at the top of the arena.  Photographers were allowed to connect remote cameras on the catwalk; an IOC person evaluated each connection to make sure it was secure.  (One time a piece of a camera fell from a catwalk onto the court during an NCAA tournament game.  We were SO lucky.)

When the jumbotron showed video of people in the stands, the Russian fans and American fans looked exactly alike.  They waved at the camera, grilled silly grins and cheered identically.  In fact, sometimes I couldn’t tell whether the camera was showing an American fan or a Russian fan.  There’s a metaphor.  We’re all human beings with hearts and souls.  It’s just that some of us learned to like borscht and some didn’t.

The venue photo chief at hockey is an American.  The photographers love him, and say they are being treated extremely well.

I brought a water bottle in my pocket.  I’m sure some fans brought Baltika beer.

There were plenty of “USA, USA” chants. Usually they were drowned out by the home team, as it should be.

The arena was loud.  But not Allen Field House loud.  Not Cameron Indoor Stadium loud.  Just regular loud.

The hockey game?  Just remarkable.  No one who was there will ever forget it.  Russians were cheering in the press area.  It was hard to blame them.  But, well, the finish was fun.  I’ve seen many soccer games end in PKs.  And PKS on ice are just as cool as PKs on grass.

Weather: Gorgeous again.  High 63, low 48 here in the coastal cluster.  At the alpine center, high 54, low 41.

Note from Nicki:  Noelle Pikus-Pace (silver medal in skeleton) came into the office today before and after her news conference here in the MPC.  About 15 people came to the MPC with her, from sister to agent.  She was really nice (and tall and beautiful) and told us a story about her 6-year-old daughter.  Yesterday she said to her daughter, “Today I’m competing in the Olympics.”  The daughter said, “I know.”  “I’m going to try to win a medal.”  The daughter said, “I know.  What are we having for lunch?  I want McDonald’s chicken nuggets.”  Very cute.

Note from Arkansas, at the end of a nice email exchange — You know what amazes me? That we can communicate for free almost instantaneously from 10,000 miles apart!

Note from Los Angeles — “Upscale roosters” was a personal favorite. Should be the name of a rock band.

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:  Sochi’s latitude is approximately 43.5.  That’s about the same as Boise, Idaho; Sioux Falls, S.D.;  Milwaukee; Toronto; Portland, Maine; Monaco; Florence, Italy; Sarajevo;

Dinner: PB&J sandwich, croissant filled with creamy delicious stuff.  Baltika 7 beer.

Security has little hand-held checkers the size of one of my shoes.  Workers point it at the bar code on my credential, and my photo pops up on the device.

Tomorrow we will get up early and ride the bus to the alpine center. Can’t wait!

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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