Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 08:51

Who said the Cold War is over? Certainly not the members of the Russian fourth estate, who are still seeing red after last night’s thrilling shootout victory by a team of pesky Americans.

The postgame press conference was loaded with questions aimed at Russian head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov about some of the sneaky, underhanded tricks the Americans used to snatch victory away from their beloved and beleaguered Russian hockey team.

It all centered around a goal by Fydor Tyutin with 4:40 remaining in the third period, that was reviewed and ultimately waved off because the net was off its moorings. The Russians contend that U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick purposely dislodged the net, something that was blatantly overlooked by American referee Brad Meier.

By dawns early light Russian papers were filled with stories featuring enough villains and cloak and dagger shenanigans to fill a Tom Clancy novel.

Stay tuned as tomorrow’s issue of Pravda will feature an expose from Boris Badenov accusing Moose and Squirrel of spiking the Russian water bottles with cheap American vodka.

Some Russian players took the high road, while others were quick to take the bait, claiming some sort of grand U.S. conspiracy.

“I don’t know what happened there but it was definitely a goal,” said Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin, who plays in the shadow of CIA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“Nobody [on the Russian team] touched the net but the goalie touched the net so the net moved [off its mooring]. The referee had to see it. He should have given [Quick] two minutes [for delay of the game].”

And Quick’s Los Angeles Kings teammate Slava Voynov said that’s a trick he’s seen many times back home in LA. Think there won’t need to be some fence mending in the LA locker room once this is all over and players return to their respective NHL locker rooms?

The no goal call was certainly a pivotal play in the game, but the accusations and allegations do a great disservice to what was a terrific hockey game between two strong teams played in an amazing setting.

The atmosphere inside the building was certainly electric, but there were still U-S-A chants that Russian fans respectfully accepted before drowning them out with their own calls of “Ru-she-ah, Ru-she-ah.” There were thousands of Russian flags around the stadium, with a few Stars & Stripes sprinkled in for good measure.

Raise your hand if you think Ovechkin and crew will go gently into that good Russian night?
This team has too much skill and too much riding on these Olympics not to show up when it’s time to hand out the hardware.

But just like in 2010, the U.S. beat Canada in the preliminary round, which plunged the country into a temporary state of mourning before getting a measure of revenge in the gold-medal game. This could very well be just a minor setback for the Russians.

This country is behind their hockey playing heroes, win or tie. The team’s pre-tournament press conference was held in a packed auditorium where Russian journalists stood up and cheered as they took the dais. They gave the team a second standing ovation as they prepared to leave.

There are even Russian journalists wearing Evengi Malkin or Boris Mikhailov sweaters in the press box. Had I known that was the standard dress I would’ve packed my Ray LeBlanc replica jersey

Since their arrival in Sochi, U.S. players have repeatedly been asked if last night’s game could signal a new rivalry, a Cold War 2.0, if you will. That line of questions was something most wanted no part of. Some just laughed it off while others tried to be a little more John Kerry-like and diplomatically brush it aside.

“I don’t think we’re going to go that far,” said U.S. forward David Backes. “It’s great competition. We’ve been up against these guys before and it’s been great battles. But may the best team win.”

The truth of the matter is that the Miracle on Ice has been and will continue to be an important part of USA Hockey history. But that happened 34 years ago. This team is looking to write its own chapter. To put that into perspective, Ryan Miller and Brooks Orpik, the two elder statesmen on this team, were just buns in the oven when the game was played.

But still, without the benefit of an interpreter it is difficult to know if last night’s victory brought back bad memories of Lake Placid. The Russians aren’t quick to talk about 1980, instead focusing on the gold medal they won at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. But every once in a while, something slips through the iron curtain of silence and offers up a window into the soul of this great hockey country.

 “As a child, there were three horror films I knew from the West,” Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of the Sochi 2014 organizing committee, said in a speech to IOC officials earlier this week. “One was ‘Nightmare on Elm Street.’ The second one was ‘Friday the 13th.’ And the third one was ‘Miracle on Ice.’ ”

Someone may want to tell Chernyshenko that there were actually nine versions of “Nightmare on Elm Street” and a dozen “Friday the 13th” movies made. But a sequel to “Miracle,” especially on Russian ice, would very likely be the scariest one of all.

Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 17:40

If you are what you eat then right now I feel like I’m a McNugget shy of a Happy Meal.

The way I’ve been eating here in Sochi has left me tired, irritable and not smelling particularly well.

And to top it off, now I read that the U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey Team has better diets than I do.

According to a recent article in The New York Times, these women have a full-time dietician ensuring that they don’t fall into the trap of those of us who report on their games.

Alicia Kendig, who the players have dubbed Nutricia, makes sure the women eat the right foods in the proper amounts and at the appropriate time as part of an approach to strength and conditioning, sports psychology and nutrition in an effort to return to gold-medal form.

Perhaps the Main Media Center in Sochi should put her on retainer.

As the great Satchell Paige once said, “Avoid fried foods, which angry up the blood.”

Let me tell you, there are plenty of people walking around here with angry blood.

Is it any wonder that McDonalds is the official restaurant of the Olympics? You can’t turn your head in the main media center without seeing someone toting a large brown paper bag emblazoned with a bright yellow M on the side. The closest thing most of us come to a salad is the shredded lettuce falling out of a Big Mac.

It reminds me of the time I was covering figure skating at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. I was walking through the press box and two reporters, each pushing 300-plus, were discussing Tara Lipinski’s chances of unseating Michelle Kwan because she had a greater mastery of the triple axel. It was all I could do to keep from pointing out to these two gentlemen that they would better know a triple cheeseburger than a triple axel.

But I digress. Reading this Times story about what these women are eating made my stomach rumble. Or maybe that is yesterday's late night snack.

They start every day with a breakfast of scrambled eggs, chopped baked potatoes, oatmeal, cereal, strawberries and blueberries. Two hours later, a pregame snack includes bananas and more oatmeal fortified with peanut butter and almond butter. Afterward, fresh fruit is available in the locker room, along with liquid yogurt, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and shakes made of whey protein, pineapple, bananas and orange juice.

“If we don’t fuel our bodies right, that training’s not going to mean anything,” 31-year-old Olympic veteran Julie Chu.

So you mean those deep knee bends and sit ups I did in my hotel room this morning were all for naught? What a waste of two and a half minutes.

And all this time I thought the gallons of coffee, late-night sausage plates and enough beer (pivo) to float a Russian frigate were actually improving my gold-medal chances.

Unlike a lot of people, I really have no complaints about the food here even though I haven’t been wining and dining my way around Sochi, like some of my esteemed colleagues.

Our favorite five-star dining experience has been this little kiosk located right outside the Bolshoy Ice Dome, where these sweet little old ladies make blinis, which are Russian pancakes stuffed with various fillings. I stopped ordering the double meat special since I’ve noticed a scarcity of dogs roaming around the Olympic Park.

Sometimes I think it’s not just what we eat but when and how we eat that may cause the most problems. Too often we are too busy running from event to event, practice to game, to sit down and eat slowly and sensibly. We’re cramming a burger into our mouths like it’s an Olympic pie-eating contest and washing it down with a sugary-sweet soda (“But it’s a Diet Coke”) before running off to cover another press conference.

And by the time we’re done working every night, there’s barely enough time to grab a quick beer and greasy snack before grabbing a few hours of sleep. To borrow a phrase from southern humorist Lewis Grizzard, “these Russian chili dogs only bark at night.”

Thinking about the lifestyle many of us have during this 18-day endurance test, there’s no shortage of walking billboards for the American Heart Association roaming the halls at the Main Media Center.

Too many late nights, too much fatty food, too many late night beers and too much stress is a recipe for disaster.

They remind me of a guy that my brother-in-law knew in his hometown in northwest Colorado. They called him “Bacon Double Cheese.” When I asked how this gentleman became the recipient of such an interesting nickname, I was told, “Cuz he’s a bacon double cheeseburger shy of 300 pounds.”

I wonder if he knows anything about figure skating.

Saturday, February 8, 2014 - 11:42

Welcome to Sochi, Russia, where phishing is quickly become the newest Olympic sport.

The U.S. State Department warned Americans coming here that they should have “no expectation of privacy,” even in their hotel rooms.

And to think that I thought those empty sockets in my hotel room were simply missing light bulbs. They’re really cameras recording my every move. Heck, I’d known someone was watching I would've worn a robe as I traipsed around my room inside this government-approved media hotel. And all this time I figured it was the hotel maid who was stealing my Olympic pins.

All I can say is that I’m glad my blow-up Olga Korbut doll didn’t clear customs. We could have a real international incident on our hands. Not to mention that I’d have a lot of explaining to do once I got home.

What is this world coming to when NBC’s lead foreign correspondent Richard Engel feels safer in the fields of Fallujah than he does inside the International Broadcast Center in Sochi?

Engel recently revealed that he pulled two brand new laptops out of the box and booted them up once he landed in Russia, and within minutes hackers were telling him that he may have already won a million rubles in the Russian version of the Publisher’s Clearing House contest.

It's enough to make you want to tell off those little Russian hackers and ex-Cold War spies with some universal sign language.

Who knew that it may be safer to hand over your credit card to a street corner salesman selling knock-off Denver Broncos merchandise than it is using Paypal on a computer terminal inside the Main Media Center in Sochi?

That’s why I changed my password to my Netflix account. Next thing you know I’m ordering 15 copies of “Moscow on the Hudson,” and a dozen copies of “Doctor Zhivago.” What a bunch of Bolshevik that would be.

Once bitten twice shy, I always say. Sorry honey, but that bouquet of three dozen roses I was going to send you for Valentine’s Day will have to wait until I return to the land of Internet security. Or at least until I can order them on Target.com.

It’s no wonder that lately I’ve been getting more emails from Russian widows and orphans than I ever have from deposed Nairobian princes looking to hide millions in my bank account. Who said the global marketplace is dead?

I guess the lesson that we can all learn here is that we shouldn’t take for granted the freedoms that we enjoy every day in the United States of America. That, and if you want privacy, make sure to lock the door, especially when you’re using one of these Russian bathrooms that come equipped with side-by-side commodes.

Still, these security breaches are no laughing matter. The things that we Americans hold so dear, such as our privacy – do you hear me NSA? – are quickly being trampled on. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to share even the most mundane details of our daily lives for everyone to sift through and eventually use against us.

That’s why I will stopped posting pictures of my favorite sandwiches on Twitter, and have vowed to never again “Like” one of those cute cat videos on Facebook.

Because you never know which Big Brother is watching.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014 - 12:07

There's a scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her traveling companions stumble upon a sign at the edge of the Haunted Forest that reads "I'd Turn Back If I Were You." Of course they pay no heed and we all know where the story goes from there.

Well, I gotta admit that I'm starting to feel a little like Dorothy, with a little Cowardly Lion thrown in for good measure, and I haven't even reached Oz yet.

Sitting in the Frankfurt Airport in the early stages of an 11-hour layover, I was killing time by reading all the horror stories about what's going on in Sochi, my eventual destination, with the final preparation for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games that begin on Thursday. I have to be honest that it’s a little concerning, the stuff that I’m seeing. 

As reporters continue to arrive and attempt to check into their hotels, they are finding things in various stages of disrepair. One CNN editor showed up and found that only one of the 11 rooms he booked -- and paid for in advance -- was ready. That's a long way to go to be in a state of temporary homelessness.

Among the lucky ones who do have rooms, many are reporting various issues, such as heaters and air conditioners, a must at these Winter Olympics, that have been installed but not connected. Another reporter said that when he tried to turn on the brand new television he discovered that his room didn't have any outlets to plug it into. Some have no hot water, or running water for that matter, or Internet services that were long ago promised and paid for. Others are staying in high rises with no working elevators.

Hey, $51 billion doesn't buy what it used to.

One reporter said she received a rather ominous warning from the building manager that said, "do not use water on your face because it contains something very dangerous." Just exactly what that is would require a KGB security clearance to find out.

My only hope is that these are isolated incidents and that for every reporter who has rust-colored water coming out of her bathroom faucet, there are hundreds of happy journalists (an oxymoron on par with jumbo shrimp) staying and working in and around Sochi.

Stories of Olympic preparations coming down to the wire are nothing new. I’m sure the Greeks weren’t ready when they hosted the first Olympic Games back in the 1890s, but they didn’t have someone Tweeting out status reports every half hour.

As organizers try to play beat the clock before the Games start on Friday, I can't help but think of something that USOC veteran PR guy extraordinaire Bob Condron once told me. The Olympics are a lot like a dinner party. Nobody ever sees the hostess with her hair up in curlers as she's vacuuming the living room 5 minutes before the first guests arrive.

If the Games go off without a hitch and spectators and television viewers are treated to amazing feats of athleticism all this will soon be construction dust in the wind and quickly forgotten.

As the old saying goes, “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.” Hopefully in a few hours we’ll be able to see for ourselves what is going on in and around Sochi.
Once we clear customs and hopefully retrieve our bags then we can make our way to our hotel, which we have also paid for in full many months ago. But this is the land of the double bookings so you never know.

It's supposedly a nice hotel, only a short commute to the area that organizers call the Coastal Cluster, the home to the five ice events and the stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies. 

But if they don't get their act together in world record time, it may be called a cluster of another kind.

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