Bill Hancock’s Olympic letters home: USA-Russia hockey special but not ‘Allen Fieldhouse loud’

02/16/2014 5:05 PM

02/16/2014 5:05 PM

Prairie Village’s Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff, began volunteering with the USOC at the Olympics in 1984 and is in Sochi now, sharing daily reports with friends and colleagues, including The Star. Here are excerpts from his latest update, Saturday Feb. 15:

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 Olympic 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 (drivers) 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.) ...

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

The Russian fans (were) 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. …

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 Fieldhouse 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 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! …

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 …

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.

Dasvidaniya for now.

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