SOCHI – I’m generally not one to blow my own horn, but I feel like a real Olympian right about now.
You talk about an endurance sport. I feel like I rode down the slopestyle course in a barrel. Someone should hoist me up on a podium and put a gold medal around my neck.
Barely an hour ago, I arrived in this Black Sea Olympics resort after making my way through five airports and four flights over a span of roughly 24 hours.
Remarkably, the journey went off virtually without a hitch. I caught an early break when my flight to JFK was the last one to get out of Buffalo before the storm hit Tuesday evening. There were no calamities in New York, Paris or Moscow.
Trust me, it’s a borderline miracle by my standards.
Only now does it strike me how regrettable it was to be in three of the greatest cities in the world (OK, Moscow is a stretch) without stepping outside the airport. The only thing I remember about Paris is whining about the lack of helpful signs in the airport. I’m big on signage.
I couldn’t believe how smoothly the flights went. All those nights in January, lying there wide awake at 4 a.m., obsessing about missing my connection to Moscow, were all for naught. Four times through the security lines, and not once did I feel pressure about missing the flight.
The Russians were more than accommodating. I was expecting the worst. I was worried that they might confiscate my new breathing machine for sleep apnea.
At the very least, I figured they’d make me put on the mask and demonstrate its purpose, suspecting it was some clever terrorist device.
No, the woman in Moscow simply peered into the bag and said, “I understand.”
The Russians might not love us, but they want to please us (most of them, anyway).
The signs in the airports are in two languages, Russian and English. On the flights, the announcements are given in Russian, then repeated in English.
When we arrived in Sochi early at 8:30 p.m. (11:30 a.m. Buffalo time), a woman dressed in the blue Olympic volunteer outfit was standing outside the door, holding up a sign that read “Sochi.” First-class, all the way.
Now all I need is a room.
After four flawless flights, I should have known bad things were in store. All those horror stories you’ve been hearing about the media hotels in the Coastal Cluster? They’re true.
As I write this, I’m sitting on a couch in the reception area of the Ekaterininsky media hotel complex, surrounded by journalists from around the world. Writers are sitting with their computers on glass-topped tables, their cellphones plugged into the few available wall plugs, working and waiting for the harried workers at the desk to inform them that their rooms are ready.
Two days before the Opening Ceremonies, one day before the slopestyle qualifying, the Russians are still scrambling to finish the rooms in this makeshift collection of five-story, pastel-colored media hotels, which look like something out of “The Truman Show.”
We had heard there were problems in the Mountain Cluster, where the construction of an entire Swiss hotel was stopped because they were so far behind schedule. We’d hoped the media hotels in the cluster along the Black Sea, where the Olympic Stadium and the skating and hockey arenas are located, would be finished on time.
Wrong. I knew something was amiss when I heard the woman at the reception desk tell a guy in front of me, “We are looking for keys.”
“Any estimate?” she was asked.
“We will not have the keys until midnight,” the woman said, visibly rattled by having to explain the incompetence of others.
“They were working on it all day today,” one reporter said.
Steve Milton, the fine columnist from Hamilton, Ont., told me he had arrived at 3:30 Wednesday morning. “There was someone in my room,” he said. “Scared the hell out of me.”
That’s a common story among media types this week. Other reporters in their rooms. People walking in during the night. No furniture. Lamps that don’t work. Weak wireless. Workmen frantically trying to finish jobs in the hallways.
No keys? No clue is more like it.
One writer told me the paint was still wet on the walls of his room. They’re literally finishing this stuff at the last minute.
Evidently, there are feral dogs running wild near the perimeter of the media village. Reports say the Russians plan to kill them. As a reborn dog lover, that bothers me.
Come on, the Russian have spent $51 billion on the Olympics, more than all other Winter Games combined. They had seven years to get it together. You’d think they could have the rooms worked out on the night before the first actual competition.
God, and to think they picked Russia over Austria.
I thought the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, cared what the rest of the world thought of him. Maybe when he funneled all those billions to his business cronies, he forgot to give them the dates. Or maybe this is his way of sticking it to journalists who had the audacity to report news of his repressive, corrupt regime and his unevolved stance on gays.
This doesn’t make me optimistic about the Russians’ chances of measuring up to Beijing and London in Friday’s opening ceremonies, I’ll tell you that.
Let’s hope Putin is doing a better job with the security.
Hold it, one of the women at the desk – either Elena, Valeriya or Yekaterina – tells me the keys might be ready in 15 minutes. It reminds me of the airlines when they say the flight has mechanical trouble and it will be ready to go in half an hour, when they know it’s more likely to be canceled.
Sorry, I’m tired. My body doesn’t know what time it is. I’d like to have a few hours’ sleep before tomorrow’s press conferences with the American skiers and speedskaters at the Main Press Center.
And at some point, after nearly 36 hours without real sleep, it would be nice to get in my room.
The way things are going, there’ll probably be a feral dog in my bed.