>> 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.
>> The climb to Sanki Sliding Center, home of bobsled, feels like it never stops.
The phenomenal topographical distance between Sochi’s coastal cluster, home of the ice sports, and up here in Krasnaya Polyana, home of the snow sports, is a peak elevation of 7,610 feet. Or 1.44 miles.
Think about that: It’s like rising elevation-wise from Los Angeles to Denver, then adding on another half-mile. Oh, and in the span of less than an hour.
Know how your ears pop driving up Grandview Avenue to Mount Washington in a matter of seconds?
Well, imagine the ears popping every minute or so for an hour straight on the winding, swirling bus ride, and you’ve got this experience down.
>> Back in that other hemisphere, Tony Sanchez continues to earn the Pirates’ trustbehind the plate. Rob Biertempfel reports from Bradenton, and he uploads this video, as well …
Here’s the Trib’s Pirates page, including more on Francisco Liriano being named opening day starter.
>> Six players the Steelers will watch closely at the NFL combine, by Alan Robinson.
>> The accommodations for the athletes have been so extraordinary that some have been moved to speak or tweet about it without prodding. Teemu Selanne, Finland’s hockey legend, told a group of us the other night these were ‘the best organized Olympics’ he’d seen.
Talking about beds per room?
Nope. Bikes, mostly.
The Finnish Olympic Federation, seeing in advance that the Athletes’ Village and venues were close and security-clean, thought to bring a bunch of blue bikes. And once all of their athletes began using them, Selanne and the Penguins’ Olli Maatta included, more bikes were brought for other nations. Some Americans have them now, too. That’s Patrick Kane over there to the right.
“It’s not what I expected at my first Olympics, with everything you hear,” Maatta said. “But it’s been a lot of fun, for sure.”
“It’s been 20 years,” Olli Jokinen said of how long it had been since he biked to a game, back in his native Kuopio, Finland. “My parents didn’t have a car, so I would ride my bicycle every time. Obviously, when it was minus-25, I took the bus.”
>> Back in that other hemisphere, Scott Boras tells the Trib’s Travis Sawchik that his client, Kendrys Morales, would be a fine fit for the Pirates.
In the interim, Andrew Lambo is spending a lot of time at first base, Morales’ position, in the early part of spring training. Here’s a video on that topic …
>> The Monday column breaks down the hockey tournament as the medal round becomes set. And the new favorite in the tournament is …
If you missed them over the weekend — and I know you’re better than to wait to read stuff on company time, but just saying — I wrote extended pieces about T.J. Oshie’ssignature shootout and about the Russians finally warming up to the Games.
The daily Sochi Hockey Notebook looks at Chris Kunitz’s demotion, Sidney Crosby vs. Teemu Selanne and more.