(This will be the second to last post as I try and recall and wrap up the best moments of the games. This is the first of two, warning part 2 will likely be sappy)
The $120.00 Cappuccino:
On race days the producers, talent and myself would hold our pre-race “production FAX” meeting at the 5 star “talent hotel” – the Radisson Blu about 1/2 mile south of my hotel. After Apolo and Rob and Pierre and Terry had left and on the morning of the last day of racing I stayed behind at the hotel restaurant sipping coffee and assembling the mens 500m semis on my laptop. After an hour or so I asked the waitress for a cappuccino as they had taken away the coffee pot from the table. A short time later I stood up to leave and the hostess told me I would need to pay since I didn’t stay at the hotel. I quickly realized I had no money, but sitting one table over was Ted Morris – Executive Director of USA speedskating. I asked him if he could put the bill for the coffee on his room and I’d pay him back. “Sure – no problem – you don’t need to pay me, how much can a cappuccino be?” I thanked him and walked off.
Boy was he surprised… the next day, I was chagrined to find out that my cappuccino had somehow expanded to include full lunch buffets and other assorted items and that the tab was $120. Ted had tried to fight it, but didn’t really know what I had ordered or maybe it was for the whole crew I had been with – so he paid it. So at the USA house the next day I gave Ted 4000 rubles to purchase the single most expensive cappuccino in the world. Before I arrived, Ted had asked my friends, “Uh, this John – does he do this often?”
Vodka shots and Caviar at… the Grocery Store
Early in the games after realizing that a glass of wine at the hotel was $15, I sought and found a small market near to the hotel. After a bike ride I purchased 3 bottles of wine and put them in my back pockets of my jersey. The silver and gold toothed ladies in the red shirts working found this amusing and the next thing I knew one of them had my hat, gloves, headphones and sunglasses on holding onto my bike for a picture.
Fast forward 2 weeks and I went into the store right at closing to buy another bottle of wine and the sign said “closed.” I knocked anyway and they quickly ushered me in and then around back to where there was a small table, bread, salmon eggs, cucumbers, chicken cutlet, vodka, shot glasses and some sort of orange flavored chaser. They wouldn’t take no for an answer so 20 minutes and several vodka shots later I extricated myself. Similar story happened the night of the short track party – walking outside of the restaurant to the outdoor seating to find my missing friends, a group of Russian hockey fans literally trapped me and would not let me go until I joined them for a shot of vodka. I don’t even like vodka.
Club Baikal – Supermodel Service:
Baikal is a restaurant / bar found within the bubble that we didn’t discover until a week into the games. Apolo was particularly fond of this luxurious place in the early goings. The food was excellent, the staff – gorgeous supermodels, and the service…. absolutely horrendous. Getting served was a gymnastic exercise and sometimes just getting inside was like climbing Everest. We scheduled a short track reunion party there under my name, inviting more than 30 Olympians in in the process I quickly grew to hate the place.
Baikal catered primarily to wealthy Russian men and no amount of other collateral would sway the stilletto heeled women manning the door and hostessing the seats. It all came to a head when the reservation I had made for 25 short track speedskaters was arrogantly ignored. Half the group was inside when the other 10 arrived and were promptly denied entrance. “They cannot come in – it is full,” she says. I looked around and every other table was empty, the place was cavernously hollow with the lack of people. “Full?! This place is empty!” “It is full,” says the supermodel with compete conviction. We move to the door where a host of olympic speedskaters were standing in the cold, annoyed. “Those people right there – they represent 10 countries and probably 20 Olympic medals – they are very important.” Unmoved, her response was infuriating “Everyone here important – athlete, politician, rich – doesn’t matter, we are full.” I switched to a different supermodel to no avail. “You have reservation?” she asks. “Yes! I have a reservation!.” “Doesn’t matter, we are full, they cannot come in.” Finally with the help of one of the nicer girls the manager came over and she was at least attempting to hear me and I let her have it in a 2 minute rant loud enough for everyone to hear.
Eventually we were able to get everyone in, but after that moment I swore I would never go inside Baikal again and I didn’t. Later that evening there was an amusing moment as I was telling the group what had happened and as part of the story I pointed with emphasis to each of the hostesses and said loudly “and I don’t like her. This one I don’t like either. That one I hate!” reserved for the worst of them, a brunette named Ala. Alex turns to me and says, “you realize they all saw you pointing at them” and I said, “that’s exactly the point.”
I did return a few days later and sat outside on the deck with Wilf O’Reilly and Steven Bradbury. Before they arrived the most terrible hostess Ala came up and stood there glowering at me, not saying anything. I looked her straight in the face and said, “yes, I still don’t like you!” She turned and stalked off yelling over her shoulder, “I don’t care!” It was awesome. (see pictures below)
Club BaikalShort Track Party @ Baikal
Club Baikal in the background
The Black Sea Plunge.
From day one I intended to do the Black Sea Plunge and announced it to others repeatedly to gauge interest. “On the last night, I’m going to swim in the Black Sea at midnight – are you in?” The responses varied from “uh, why?….” to “Hell yeah, I’m in!” The first two people to say they were in was Summer Sanders and then Ariana Kukors – so with two Olympic swimmers I figured I wouldn’t drown, and Tony was next (military special forces, probably CIA) so I figured we’d be safe. So Erik, Tim, Tony, Suzie, Josette, Tom, Izzy, Alexis, Shelby, and Jeremy all said they were in as well.
Since Summer was leaving a few days early we tried and failed to schedule a window during the day for her but couldn’t make it work with people’s various social engagements. We were running out of time, but, sure enough at 4am on Jan 24th, our last morning in Sochi, 3 hours before our airport bus pickup, 8 of us headed out and implemented the plan. Wearing bathrobes and slippers we sat in the bar as the group assembled and then made our way out to the rocky shore, passing through the hotel lobby blaring “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC on a Jambox to the bemused smiles of Russian partiers and hotel staff.
Exiting the hotel with a photographer in tow wearing one of my powerful LED headlamps, we then proceeded to the shoreline to a) take shots of chili infused vodka and b) eat slices of Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper – the world’s hottest chili – in order to heat up our insides in prep for the 39 degree water. All went according to plan and shortly thereafter as the “leader” of this escapade I ran across the rocks and into the water first, splashing all the way in until I couldn’t touch bottom screaming with the cold. I turned, excited to see my comrades splashing in besides me and realized that they were still 100yards off, picking their way very, very slowly across the rocks. I was dying. I treaded water for one minute, then two. I lost feeling in my limbs, so I swam forward so that I could at least stand. Finally 3 or 4 minutes later, everyone was in and we got our Black Sea Plunge photo. Tim, Erik, Josette, Tony, Alexis – love you guys – we will always share this moment. (see pictures below)
- The fuel: Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Peppers and chili infused vodka
- notice the lovers
stylin’ through the lobby in russian style
- “thunderstruck” by AC/DC. Why? It was the first loud song I found
(The pain of the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Pepper!)
- Seriously – this is why I froze – tenderfoots couldn’t walk on the rocks
Every single interaction over the years with Katarina Witt has been a bad one. In Lillehammer I explained figure skating to her not realizing who she was until she whipped off her hat and said, “You’d think I’d know!” A year later and Kristi Yamaguchi gave me a flower under spotlights rink-side at a Stars on Ice show that they both starred in and afterward at the bar, Katarina announced loudly “not with him” when asked to join us and refused to sit with us. Years later in Torino we knocked over a metal barrier in the hotel she was staying at at about 4am and she came down wearing nothing but a fur coat and yelled at me “Vat is all this noise!!? Vat are you doingk?!!! People are sleeping!! Stop!!”.
So it was with some amusement that my first night at the Azimut 4 hotel I see her in the lobby and start chuckling. That night absolutely no joke, I open my computer and right in “Finder” I see that her entire computer and all her files are somehow wirelessly linked right onto my desktop. Never in my life has this happened – and of all people why her? I couldn’t resist clicking, there it was, “Katarina Witt’s Mediathek” – 45,253 photos, all of them of Katarina, many of them selfies, some professional, but all Narcissitic. I couldn’t help but take a few minutes to scroll while laughing hysterically.
What are the odds, in all the world that one person at the Olympics who dislikes me, somehow her computer just magically shows up on my desktop. (see screenshot below as proof)
Katarina Witt’s computer – suddenly inside mine = HI-LAR-I-OUS!
Other Funny Moments:
- Exploring the sleek modern marble hotel spa and finding the “stuff only” rooms. I asked if I could put my bag in there. (see pics below)
- Summer and Suzie turning the USA house into a disco with their reckless enthusiasm
- Summer Sanders photo bomb at Holland House
- Obtaining passes to the USOC house – hottest ticket in town – from Tommy O’Hare and sitting down to a nice meal w/ Stephen Bradbury, only to received this for the salmon and gruyer platter…. thumb sized sandwiches
- Letting Tommy know we missed him through a 4 finger salute after he left
- Riding one morning, joining Apolo and two dudes I didnt’ know. After intros of Billy and Johnny Bush, I started asking Billy if he was in media. Apolo says “he IS media.” I apologized and told him I don’t watch TV. Turns out he is the host for Access Hollywood and cousin to George W. Bush. As I rode off he yells, “go Johnny go!”
- The super high speed train to the mountains, that went 10km/hr for the first 35 minutes and then 120km/hr for the last 15 – why? No one knows
- One day on my bike ride I noticed some men laying the foundation for a platform of some sort. By that evening there was a completely functioning restaurant / bar with tables, and kitchen, and a fully stocked bar. Must have been 30 people working on it all day. Amazing.
- Doing the TV shoots w/ Summer Sanders, Ariana Kukors and Jeremy Bloom. The Summer shot was totally last second – “hey can we put you on camera?” The Jeremy shoot was my idea that I pitched – so cool to see it happen and he was a blast.
- Bonnie Blair. Bonnie is the sweetest, nicest person you could meet. But at the USA house, with a couple glasses of wine and the whole speedskating program getting ground beneath the Dutch skating machine, she didn’t mince words, especially about the “whiny babies” on the team complaining about the suits and the ice. Loved it – go Bonnie Go!
- My Great friend Alex Izykowski and his Wizard of Oz folding bike (dut da-dut da-da da) – zipping circles around the olympic park and one night, the US trainer, riding Jenny Walters standing on the bike rack on the back – stoic like a charioteer.
Sleep, Please?! Tomorrow. No, Wait, I’ll Sleep on the Plane. No, Wait…
In the last few days, everyone was wanting to connect, to make sure they didn’t miss a moment – to “really live” the final moments of the games up to the sad moment of closing ceremonies and the extinguishing of the flame. I got 3 hours of sleep on the night of the 20th, 2 hours on the 21st, 2 hours on the 22nd, and the night of the 23rd, zero hours. That was the night of the Black Sea plunge. After the Black Sea swim I finished gathering my belongings and headed down to get on the bus at 7am. I was hazy and disorganized. I proceeded to leave my phone on the bus, and then other items in the bin at security at the airport and then stood swaying in the terminal and waited with Apolo and Ariana 2.5 hours until we began boarding. As we walked out of the terminal a wave of sadness rolled over me. It was over. No more of the world’s greatest contests surrounded by people whose intense shared experiences with me go back 25 years. No more permission to speak to anyone at anytime about anything. No more USA house, Holland house, late night conversations and morning rides in the sun along the boardwalk.
I was nostalgic for the recent past and already curious and hopeful for Peongchang 2018. at 11am I filed onto the plane excited to do nothing other than sleep. I settled in in row 44A, closed my eyes and we took off. Thirty minutes later the “bing” of reaching cruising altitude roused me from the beginnings of sleep, and then the announcement, “ladies and gentlemen – your flight attendants have rolled the bar carts into each aisle and galley and cleared out: it is open bar until we reach NYC.” Moments later half the plane was up talking and laughing and try as I might I couldn’t sleep. There was a lot of noise and laughter in the back so I got up to see what all the commotion was all about. In the back I was immediately recruited into some odd dice game with a pair of stewardesses a few producers including Bobby V. from Chicago and a news anchor from Atlanta named Jay Watson. We started w/ Moet champagne but swiftly moved to stronger stuff. 11 hours later we landed in the good old USA and I still had not slept. The whole plane smelled like a bar. The whole plane WAS a bar. I figured I had 7 hours sleep in 5 days. I was vibrating all over with tiredness and some bits of fear and sadness. I arrived home at 8pm Monday night, and 12 hours later was sitting at my desk at work staring down 457 unread emails. I still have not fully recovered four days later… (see pictures below)