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Berry Tramel  


Bill Hancock's Olympic adventure: Where Monopoly meets Socialism

by Berry Tramel Modified: February 14, 2014 at 12:40 pm •  Published: February 14, 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.

Thursday, February 13

(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 lovely morning. The mountains were out. The sunrise was Hawaii-like.  So was the weather, nearly.

Breakfast: Pear chunk, apple chunk, cucumber chunk, green pepper chunk, toast with tasty grape preserves, orange juice, two plump sausages, curd pie, Russian salad (peas, cheese and some other stuff), oatmeal (they didn’t have porridge today), peas, corn and yogurt drink.

Commute from Chistye Prudy to the Main Press Center: 20 minutes by bus. Traffic was heavy by the swanky Azimut Hotel and the security people at the hotel driveway gave the bus an extra scrubbing.

Volunteer du jour: Masha, 19, green eyes. Just plain delightful. 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.

USA ice dance Olympic team members Alex Shibutani and his sister/partner Maia visited the office today.  They’re students at the University of Michigan and are bright and charming. They just wanted to see our operation. Of course, he is a college football fan and hopes the Wolverines will be in the playoff soon. Their tour guide was a Buckeye and they shared some happy.

Lunch: Crackers, peanut butter, raisins.

Weather: Gorgeous. High 59, low 48 here at the coastal cluster. At the alpine center, high 54, low 41.

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

Russia Fact that surely must be true because somebody told me: Distances: Sochi to Baghdad, about 1100 miles, close to same as PV to New York; Sochi to Moscow, about 1250 miles, close to same as Dallas to Salt Lake; Sochi to Damascus, Syria, about 1250 miles, close to same as Dallas to Salt Lake.

For such a big place, the park has a splendid sound system. When I walked in today, it was playing “Ticket to Ride.”

All fans must enter Olympic Park through one entrance, through the Olympic Park train station. The park is just over a half-mile walk from the station. Then there’s another quarter-mile stroll inside the park to the venue—maybe more. The Russians don’t seem to mind.  Folks in America would writer letters to the editor and go nasty on Twitter if they had to walk that far to a game.

There were a few golf carts shuttling a few people to the Olympic Park. I couldn’t tell how to get a pass. And was enjoying the walk, besides.

I went to Sochi Park, the amusement park adjacent to Olympic Park.  You had to have a ticket, but the tickets were free to everyone with an Olympic credential or a ticket to an event.  It was like walking into Disneyland when it was about 10 percent complete.  In fact, the girl who took my (complimentary) ticket at the gate said, “enjoy the magic.”’  Inside was a public square surrounded by colorful buildings; only the store and restrooms were occupied.  The colorful and high roller coasters were shut down.  The teacup ride was under repair.  Two carousels and two other children’s rides were operating. The lines were long and there was no discernible fast pass.

A two-year-old tripped over my right foot and did a face plant on the paving stones. It (the child’s gender could not undetermined in that space outfit) was wrapped up like Randy in A Christmas Story and could not get up on its own.  It cried and cried.  A crying child is heartbreaking in any language.  I apologized to the unhappy mother on behalf of my too-big feet.  But she spoke not a word of English and I have not learned how to say, “I am SO sorry” in Russian. I felt about five inches tall.

Still, families were enjoying the amusement park.  People walked on stilts, white-faced mimes mimed, children played on 30-foot checkers and chess boards.  Fathers drank beer and kids bounded around like four-year-olds.  Which several were.  Mostly they treated the giant checkers like hockey pucks.  There was a front-yard-sized board game that seemed to be a Russian version of Monopoly, with dice the size of clothes hampers.  I tried hard to rationalize socialism with Monopoly. And finally decided that everyone could pool their money, build houses for each other, and nationalize the railroads, Marvin Gardens and Ventnor. Community Chest would be the favorite landing spot. There would be an Olympics at Boardwalk.

Olympics Park includes a huge building exhibiting Russian industry.  Best I could tell, the state is encouraging investment. In any case, there were cute folks in ethnic costumes and some free tea, so the stop was worthwhile.

Ethnic singers and dancers cavorted on a stage near the exhibit hall, to the happiness of a couple of hundred Russians.  The stage was flanked by two big television screens showing the Russian men’s hockey victory, creating extra happiness.

Hungry for souvenirs, people waited in a line the size of about 97 football fields to get into the Bosco Olympics superstore.  I spied another door with almost no line and wondered if I could avoid the line by going in that door.  Natalia, the volunteer in charge of the throng, said, “that door is the exit.”

A man wearing an indigenous costume and a Red Sox beard played “Summertime” on a horn that looked like a recorder and sounded like a saxophone.  It sure is fun to hear American music.

The footbridge—the size of six lanes of traffic—had two lanes going out and four coming in. Clearly the Russians were catching on to the joys of Olympic Park. A young woman in a lifeguard chair gave instructions in Russian, then in English without missing a beat.

Dinner: Crackers, peanut butter, nutri-grain bar, chocolate from the Canadians, half beer.

Wow, the mountains were pink again this evening! Nearly crimson, in fact.  And then a cream-colored moon popped out of them like toast.  My brownie instamatic didn’t do it justice.

A bus from the mountains got lost en route to the MPC this evening, causing at least one American writer and one photographer to be really late for the men’s figure skating short program. “People were screaming at the bus driver,” my friend said.  “It was an ugly scene.”

The good news is that only two of the uglies were American. I think.

The moon was nearly full and all enchanting.  Took Nicki for a candlelight Valentine’s dinner at The Chalet in Chistye Prudy.  We had excellent Russian wine and terrific crackers, the best mushroom soup, and penne pasta baked with cheese and meat.  It was too much food, but I don’t know how to say “doggie bag” in Russian.  At the next table, a Japanese table laughed; six Germans occupied another spot.

Reading menus in foreign countries is charming.  The menu was exactly the size of our high school yearbook.  The writers had really tried hard to translate things into English.  But, well, the results were amusing.  The giant menu had photos of each dish, as well as descriptions in English and Russian.  Here were some of the offerings:

*  “Garnish the difficult vegetable.”

*  “Broth from a dogrose.”

*  “Swept away with garlic sauce”

*  “Dairy pig festival”

*  “Vegetables from a neighbour’s bed”

*  “The baked shin of a lamb with vegetables on a grill”

*  Last but not least, a drink named “оргазм” (will print the Russian version only, because this is a family log, but plug it into Google Translate and you will see the )—a mixture of Bailey’s, Cointreau and cream.

What a privilege to be here!  Every day is an adventure.  Sochi. Hot. Cool. Yours. Da Svidanya for now.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist and Reporter
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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