Right about now at the last nine Olympics, I’d have arrived on the baffling scene and be trying to infiltrate and navigate the systems, logistics, accommodations, customs and quirks in Nagano, Sydney, Athens, Torino, Beijing, Vancouver or London … not to mention stateside in Atlanta and Salt Lake City.
By VAHE GREGORIAN
The Kansas City Star
Even with all the anxieties of the unknowns, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be as a sportswriter.
Covering the Olympics is the most exhilarating, consuming and rewarding professional experience I’ve ever had. The combination of the spectacles and emotions of the athletes and host nations and your own sleep deprivation and (usually) major time-zone differences invariably make it feel like an out-of-body marathon … by about Day Two.
And then you can’t wait to get up and go again, because … it’s the Olympics.
So I’m sad not to go the Sochi Games.
I’ll miss the incredible events and fascinating athletes.
I’ll miss trying to figure out where to be and when and often feeling like you made the wrong choice only to sometimes blunder into something that made it right.
I’ll miss trying to absorb it all and agonizing over how to do it justice with amazing friends in the media, shared experiences that makes for lasting bonds.
And I’ll miss the frequent pop-ins for updates at the U.S. Olympic Committee office, where Prairie Village’s Bill Hancock, better known as executive director of the College Football Playoff, is a mainstay as a volunteer and, really, makes any visitor’s day better.
(You’ll understand Bill’s impact on people more when we begin regularly featuring his updates and observations from Sochi shortly).
I’ll miss the discovery of new cultures and talking to people from all over the world who’ve converged on these fascinating places.
Really, I’ll even miss the adventures and inconveniences that might leave you, say, typing a story in the Wembley Stadium parking lot at 3 a.m. because you missed a bus.
Or, hypothetically, feigning being doubled over in pain to get past Chinese security through an alternative exit from a gridlocked press conference room to finish a story on Michael Phelps’ eighth gold medal as deadline ticked away.
All the withdrawal pangs I’m having, though, aren’t keeping me from worrying some about the Sochi Olympics, which commence with the opening ceremony on Friday.
I’m concerned that the area and events surrounding the Games will be so oppressive with “ring of steel” security and Russian rigidity as to make the overall scene joyless.
Of course, then I worry about some initial reports that the security has gaps.
I’m distressed by the implications of the Russian law banning gay “propaganda,” and the apparent homophobia it’s sparked and conflicts that could ensue as some athletes try to take a stand.
And now I’m queasy over reports that among the matters Sochi neglected is a humane means of controlling its stray dog overpopulation. Now the plan calls not for placing them in animal shelters but, in fact, mass exterminations.
Or as The Associated Press reported:
“Alexei Sorokin, director general of pest control firm Basya Services, said his company is involved in what he described as the ‘catching and disposing’ of dogs. Sorokin refused to specify whether they shoot or poison dogs or say where they take the carcasses.
“Sorokin said he attended a rehearsal of the Olympic opening ceremony last week and saw a stray dog walking in on the performers. (He said): ‘God forbid something like this happens at the actual opening ceremony. This will be a disgrace for the whole country.’”
The real disgrace, of course, is that it’s come to this panicked and seemingly savage response when safety concerns about the situation were foreseeable. And it’s a notion that leaves you wondering what other foreseeable issues have been let go too long.
That’s true to some degree at every Olympics, and most everything typically works out, and so maybe at a distance this seems worse than it is.
It’s hard to know for sure because so many little things can get magnified merely by the attention of random discovery, and so many big things can be unknown because of concerted efforts to obscure them.
Of course, the most worrisome safety concern is terror, because there seem to be so many nefarious forces with apparent interest in indiscriminate attacks on Russia’s $50 billion-plus showcase even as it’s fortified by tens of thousands of security forces.
Maybe I’m hyper-conscious of the possibility because the first Olympics I covered was in Atlanta, where the bombing in Centennial Olympic Park injured 111 spectators and was ultimately the cause of two deaths.
Or maybe it’s because you can’t block any possibility from your mind in the post-9/11 world, especially when it comes to a global event that already has suffered the horror of Munich in 1972.
But I’ve had that unease for years now, maybe never more so than when President George W. Bush boldly strode to the center of the Olympic Stadium in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Maybe with the immense, intense security efforts in place, it really was the safest place in the world at that moment … just as many believe Sochi to be now.
Even so, I gritted my teeth.
Along with the presentation that night of the tattered flag recovered from the World Trade Center, the message was that life goes on that the show must go on.
And even with the concerns and controversy over Sochi, these Olympics are making that statement, too.
Can’t wait to watch it unfold.
But I’ll still be gritting my teeth until it’s over.