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.
Wednesday, February 12
(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.)
The Washington Post’s Mike Wise wrote a nice piece about Shaun White.
Breakfast: Pear chunk, apple chunk, cucumber chunk, green pepper chunk, toast with tasty raspberry preserves, orange juice, corn, “caned” peas, plump sausage, porridge, cheese, and yogurt drink. Had a nice visit with old friend Jim Litke, AP columnist. We have to agree to disagree about the BCS. He’s entitled to his opinion. I’m right; he’s wrong.
Also nice visit at breakfast with Alex Wolf, a great friend to many of us in college basketball for a long time. Despite having exchanged Christmas cards for many years, he had not met Nicki before. Alex is one of the all-time good guys..
Commute from Chistye Prudy to the Main Press Center: 20 minutes by bus on the most perfect morning you can imagine. The mountains were out..
The Russians put out grass seed. We saw little heads poking through last week. Now there’s real grass. (Other places got sodded. Some of that died.)
Note from San Diego: That fruit Nicki is talking about is a quince. (Someone in St. Louis said the same thing.)
Volunteer du jour: Sergei, an usher at the women’s hockey game at Shayba arena. Why did he volunteer? “For my country. To show the rest of the world that Russia is good country. And to have a little fun.” (See below for more about ole Sergei.)
Note from Olathe — Reading about your ventures outside the Olympic bubble, we have heard in the states that it has been advised to the Americans not to wear clothing to identify you from the good old USA if you wish to leave the Olympic Village. Have you been told this?
Response from Nicki – Yes, we have heard that but we were also told to “wear the USA gear with pride” at least in the Olympic bubble. When we went to Sochi, we didn’t wear the biggest logos, but we did have on coats that said USA in small letters and an American flag. No one noticed. Here’s an interesting thing, even when I’m wearing clothes with large USA all over them, people ask where I’m from. I think the average Russian is not nearly as interested in the US as we tend to think. I do agree that people are over-reacting. Bill says that we were the same way before the Olympics in Athens and, of course, things ended up great there.
Note from Oklahoma City — Ahhhh…I see the Golden Arches on a sign behind you in the picture of the train station!
Response – Yes, Sochi has at least one McDonald’s. The Main Press Center has one, too. A fancy one where you punch your order into a computer screen when you first walk in. It’s always crowded. I don’t eat McDonald’s during the Olympics, but did have a salad last week and some McDonald’s carrots a couple of days ago. The athletes village also had McDonald’s and it, too, draws a big crowd.
Reporters here in the MPC have to pay; I checked out the prices and they’re similar to home. People say the food tastes similar, too.
A USA medalist came to the office yesterday to prepare for her news conference in the MPC. She asked the PR person to buy McDonald’s for her. (She also put on makeup in the office, using a small hand mirror.)
Lunch: Peanut butter crackers, great chocolate cake, the best pistachios you’ll ever find.
When Mike Moran invited me to my first Olympics—and Bob Condron to his—back in 1984, I was 33 years old. I thought I was a wise and wily veteran of the world. Now I’m 63 and growing less wily by the moment.
Very true note from a top-flight PR person back home: “One of the NFL PR guys told me, ‘When you volunteer to work the Super Bowl, you become an intern again. So true (I ended up making copies, taking quotes and holding a microphone…sounds like you’ve got some of that as well). But it’s also nice not to have too much responsibility sometimes. It also serves well to keep you humble and grounded to get back to the roots sometimes.”
There are many fresh haircuts in the Main Press Center.
Weather: Just incredibly beautiful. High 61, low 39 here at the Coastal Cluster. I actually saw people sunbathing in Olympic Park. At the alpine center, high 54 and low 29. A little too warm there.
Daily reminder: it’s 10 hours different from Central time. So when it’s 10 a.m. in Lone Wolf, 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 “I Cain’t Say No.”)
Russia Fact that surely must be true because somebody told me: Russia spans nine time zones. Russia has boundaries with 14 countries: Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the People’s Republic of China and North Korea
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.
Question from one person in Stillwater and another in Oklahoma City: I was going to ask what is a “mag-n-bag,” to which we unsophisticated small towners were baffled. But (his wife’s) superior intellect (to mine, anyway) finally figured that they must refer to something similar to what we would have called a “news stand”. Is that correct? Or can I tell her she’s not as smart as she thought?
Response: Oops, sorry for the obscure jargon. Mag-and-bag is slang for the security stations. You go through the magnetic imaging while someone else checks your bags. Magnetic and bags. Mag-and-bag.
Note from Kansas City: Not a surprise that Nikki is everyone’s go-to person. She was a teacher, for heaven’s sake. They learn to take care of everything!
Went to the USA-Canada women’s hockey game in the beautiful small arena. When I walked into the media center, a USA reporter said, “there aren’t enough seats (for journalists). There are a bunch of angry Canadians here.”
That’s an oxymoron.
It was true that the tabled media seats (i.e., the premium seats; the ones with writing tables, power outlets and TV monitors) were all gone and had been since two hours before the faceoff. I helped the security people escort American writers to the non-tabled seats (i.e., regular stadium seats nearby.)
Alexandr and Sergei, the besieged volunteers manning the entrance to the seating area, were getting tired of dealing with the American reporters. They sure were happy to see me. Most importantly, I was there to keep ugly Americanism from erupting, as it is wont to do in such situations. When an American writer showed up, I pointed out the non-tabled seats. I missed one woman and she began arguing with the Russian volunteers. She said, “I must have a tabled seat.” I said, “Aimee, all the tabled seats were taken an hour ago. And if you stand here arguing too long, the non-tabled seats will also be taken.”
She scooted up the steps to her seat without smiling. Alexandr said, “are these all your friends? They listen to you.”
Sergei introduced himself to me, saying, “My name is John.”
In halting but firm English, Alexandr said, “his name is not John. He is a silly boy. No one in Russia is named John. His name is Sergei.”
Sergei grinned. He had been busted. “It is good American name, no? I want you to call me John.”
At the hockey, Nicki and I passed like two ships on the Black Sea. Actually I only saw her between breakfast and beer time. When she arrived during the second period after making arrangements to transport the athletes to their news conference, all the non-tabled seats were full. But she and Peggy got seats for the last period after several writers left to go to figure skating. They then waited for two hockey players and successfully transported the young women to the news conference and to their dinner afterwards. She was a bit star-struck to meet them and also the young Chicago Blackhawks player she transported yesterday. She gave her phone number to the Blackhawk and said, “let me know if I can help.” He and his girlfriend were nice to her.
I walked the tidy main concourse as fans streamed in from the spectacular afternoon outside. I did confirm one rumor: even at hockey, no beer is sold at the venues. As I was asking a volunteer about it, I turned and spotted tall young man all dressed in Canada red clear down to his socks. He was swigging from a tall pretty can of beer. “Can’t go to a hockey game without beer,” he said earnestly. “I have two more in my pocket. The worst was curling. There is no way I was going to a curling game without beer.”
So….the Russians don’t sell beer in the venues, but you can bring your own from home.
Somehow I pictured that beer-toting man being apprehended and saying, “Beer? What beer? Oh, I do not know how that beer could have gotten into my pocket!”
(Beer is sold on the grounds of Olympic Park. Just not inside the venues.)
Anyway, I did not want to take a seat myself, and take it away from an American writer. So I stood in the concourse for a while, then walked outside into the glorious afternoon that was almost too beautiful to be true.
The Russians have created a lively, fun, energetic Olympic Park. A water show played in the fountain surrounding the cauldron. There were jugglers and dancers and drummers and a string octet. And four slender young women on stilts. A friendly American walked up to me and chided the media for overblowing the security concerns. Netherlands fans stood out in their orange, as always. Children played, grandmothers sat on benches. It was a perfect Sunday in the park. (Well, it was Wednesday, but you get the idea.)
There were bunches of people—I just thought it was a shame more folks weren’t there.
There was the dangdest food-vending area I’ve ever seen at a sporting event: it must have had 20 different concession stands and must have seated 500. It was packed with happy diners. One place offered sushi: California rolls, Philadelphia rolls, Bonito Maki Rolls, Cucumber Rolls. And Tom Yam Soup, Yumitsu Salad. Plus chicken noodles, vegetable ones and seafood ones.
There was the pizza place. The pie place (like meat pies), the hot dog place. The kabob place. And on and on and on.
Dinner: Peanut butter, crackers, almond, Nutri-Grain, cake, chocolate from the Canadians, half beer in MPC. (Remember, I had eaten a huge breakfast.)
Watched women’s halfpipe in the office until 10:30 p.m., then took the bus back to Chistye Prudy. The driver nearly ran over a stumbling young man in the crosswalk between the Olympic Village train station and the MPC. Surely alcohol had been a factor. Then he nearly ran over a small black dog.
What a privilege to be here! Every day is an adventure. Sochi. Hot. Cool. Yours. Da svidanya for now.