I’ll come away from this experience with that sentiment above all. The gap in the warmth you feel from the younger generation that’s not at least a couple decades of something less than completely autocratic rule, it’s so different than the squinted eyes, mistrust and other creepy things you get from those older. What you hope, whether it’s here or Ukraine or Georgia or anywhere this battle is still being fought in a sociopolitical realm, is that the brighter lights win out. I’m not so sure.
I’ll come away with a feeling of guilt and excess, walking down marble-lined back stairwells in the opulent venues and driving on roads so elaborate and futuristic it seemed a shame to put tires on them. All that for two-and-a-half weeks, then who knows what? The IOC must find a way, at the risk of invoking the salary-cap concept, to make sure no one ever approaches $51 billion on an Olympics. Among other reasons, it isn’t fair to smaller nations doing the bidding for what might be a fine Games in their own right.
I’ll come away, in the sporting sense, feeling more hollow than after any Olympics. There were no truly great, transcendent performances, not by any country and most certainly not by the U.S., which would have come home with two measly golds had it not been for the still-nascent X games events. The USOC needs to look hard in the mirror at its athlete pool and, as it relates to speedskating in particular, completely clean house after their epic embarrassment here of training at the wrong altitude, then wearing new suits without having tried them before. No one can survive that purge.
I’ll come away with a hockey tournament that was mostly a dud. Not just because scoring was way down — only 4.46 goals per game, or less than a full goal below the average NHL game — but also because the gold game was a no-touch, non-competitive affair between a powerful Canadian roster and a Swedish team missing four of its best forwards. The rest of the tournament, save for T.J. Oshie’sshootout and the wonderful Slovenes, wasn’t any better. The NHL must go to Korea, though, and it’s funny to me that this discussion even comes up. Go look at the TV ratings for U.S.-Canada. The NHL can’t get that kind of exposure or emotional investment from a broader audience with a Stanley Cup Game 7.
I’ll come away with the experience of having met so many terrific, fascinating new people, though the hurry-hurry of the Olympics doesn’t always allow you to catch a name. The really tall Danish reporter was a fountain of knowledge about Nordic sports, and he wanted to learn all he could about ‘ice hockey,’ so we traded. For hours. The young lady named Irina working in the McDonald’s who saw me come in one night after midnight dragging myself with the longest of faces. She didn’t know much English, but she used her fingers to push up her own face into a smile as a suggestion. The camaraderie of co-workers new and old, from NHL.com’s Corey Masisak sneaking out what ended up becoming my oh-so-controversial Starbucks cup, to Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times always offering a sturdy and inspiring presence in her 11th — yes, 11th — Olympics, from Bill Hancock of the USOC managing the toughest of jobs in deciding which writers get special accreditation for the biggest events and always remembering the nobody from Pittsburgh, to Gary Lawless, my good friend and constant companion from the Winnipeg Free Press. Gary’s good people. He helped this stay somewhat sane.
I’ll come away somehow even more grateful than ever for a diverse, dynamic readership that feels just as comfortable writing, blogging or tweeting me about bobsled rules as they do about Big Ben’s passing. Seriously, check last Friday’s chat. Got into it over curling and figure skating. I love that. It’s a big world with so much more to see and learn than what’s out our back windows.
Thank you for that, for reading and commenting, including when we disagree. Means most of all.
>> Flying out of Sochi tonight for Moscow, where I’ll have 12 hours, hopefully enough of a chance to ride into Red Square for some cheesy selfies and a Russian Starbucks. From there, it’s back to the good place.
I have been instructed in no uncertain terms to take a minimum 10 days off upon returning to the U.S., and that’s what I’ll do. The next column will be March 10, one of those smorgasbord things catching up on a ton of stuff I’ve missed. I’ll then spend a week in Bradenton, as always, covering the Pirates’ spring training. After that, it’ll only be another couple of weeks until the annual pilgrimage to Manitoba’s provincial capital April 3.
All the usual game posts will go up here, as well as daily vacation threads each morning to continue the discussion.
>> The volunteers make any Olympics. These are the tens of thousands mostly young folks who, out of commitment to city or country or both, will invest a month of their lives working pretty much around the clock as goodwill ambassadors or more. They’re everywhere and, almost without fail, smiling even through the roughest of days.
The difference in Sochi is that not a lot of people live in Sochi, only about 350,000. So these volunteers have had to come from all over Russia to be here, generally on their own ruble. One young lady named Sasha took three trains from north of Moscow to be here “because it was once in a lifetime.” Another named Irina from south of Moscow said, “I needed to be a part of this.” But that was early in the Olympics. I saw Irina again a couple nights ago, and she looked tired beyond words.
At every Olympic event, a special announcement is made over the PA system thanking the volunteers. It tends to bring one of the loudest roars, and it’s understandable.
>> I’ll be flying to Moscow tomorrow, then the good place the day after that.
>> Thesecurity here, as I’ve been writing throughout the Games, has been subtle. It’s there, and you can tell it’s strong, but not in your face.
That’s changed a bit these past couple days.
There’s been more of an armed police presence, two officers walking side by side with clubs in black suits, looking all menacing and stuff. They’re walking right in the common areas, too, not off to the edges. They want to be seen.
Patdowns have come into play, too. They were almost nonexistent early, then only when something would set off a metal detector, then only the men, and now it’s everyone.
This isn’t the sort of thing where you’re going to get an explanation from the Russians, so don’t expect one. If I had to guess, based on the timing, they’d like to finish strong. Only this weekend remains, with the Closing Ceremony on Sunday night. Not much left.
Why mess it up now?
>> I’ll be at the bronze medal game today, gold tomorrow, Moscow the day after that, the good place the day after that.
>> The Friday column is the only one I’ve filed from this side of the planet I really hope you read. It’s about the national hockey team. And the sports page you see above was beautifully designed back in Pittsburgh by our Matt Rosenberg.
The hockey notebook focuses on Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz seeking offense, Finland’s challenge today and much more.
>> When these Olympics are done in a couple days, the Russians will have plenty of keepsakes and souvenirs. Mostly because they really haven’t sold many.
I’m typing this from the press tables inside Bolshoy Ice Dome, where some of the biggest hockey games in history could be played today and visitors are arriving from around the world … and there’s almost nothing to buy. The concourses are blank white walls, separated by an occasional food stand bearing Coca-Cola logos. That’s it. No Olympic hockey programs, T-shirts, pins, pucks, nothing.
The entire Games is like that, and at the risk of engaging in social commentary, you can’t help but wonder if it’s mostly to do with this part of the world still being so ingrained in the old socialist approach that making money seems an afterthought. I mean, there’s one souvenir store in the entire Olympic Park, no independent kiosks. And even inside that store, the shelves are half-empty because what arrived was snapped up quickly and never replaced.
All of which is my very long-winded way of saying, no, I’m not bringing you anything.
>> Back in that other hemisphere, the Penguins expect to elevate the roles of Olli Maatta and Matt Niskanen once play resumes. Josh Yohe reports.
>> In some in-house news, TribLIVE Radio announced yesterday that Chris Peak of PantherLair.com is joining our ranks. I could give you the man’s bio, or I can just tell you that the guy knows Pitt football and the recruiting business. Lives and breathes it. Great addition.
>> The one Russian word pretty much every visitor here seems to have picked up is spasibo, or thank you. Stands to reason, too. The workers and volunteers have been, as with most Games, unfailingly helpful and polite. In a given day, the word gets used maybe a couple dozen times.
But it’s also led to an unfortunate, if amusing, trend.
An awful lot of people, instead of spasibo, or saying placebo. Which, of course, means a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient.
Upon noticing maybe the millionth example of this with someone ahead of me in the cafeteria line, I asked the young lady at the register why she didn’t correct the gentleman.
“Everyone does it,” she said. “We think it’s cute.”
>> Back in that other hemisphere, Tomas Vokoun gets cleared to return to full action. That’s great news, obviously, but it’s uncertain what it means for the Penguins. Josh Yohe reports.
>> The Dukes fall short of St. Bonaventure. Shawn Campbell reports from Olean, N.Y.
>> The weekly chat will be today at noon, rather than the usual Friday. Too much going on in the way of pucks to hold it at the usual time. As soon as you see the post go up, submit an entry in the chat field.