Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sochi Final

In my lifetime I have been very lucky to attend virtually all of the sporting world's great events. Super Bowls, World Series 7th games, NCAA Finals, Indy 500's, all of golf's major championships and the list goes on and on.

Saturday 's thrilling USA victory over Russia in men's hockey ranks up there with everything- except maybe the Ryder Cup. TJ Oshie put his team on his shoulders and scored four overtime shoot out goals to give the Americans only their second victory ever over Russia in Olympic hockey history.

Two key plays in regulation set the stage for Oshie's heroics. An overturned Soviet goal with 4:40 left in the third period followed by a thwarted American breakaway shot with a little over a minute to play forced the game into the overtime and eventual shootout.

The Bolshay Ice Dome was filled to the brim on Saturday including Vladimir Putin, Russian Premier. It was apparent that this was not just another hockey game. The crowd was probably 2/3 pro-Russian and the atmosphere was cordially intense.

Constant chants of "Rush-She-U" filled Bolshay all afternoon. While the game was not of the same proportion as the famed Miracle on Ice in 1980 at Lake Placid the atmosphere was electric and the voltage increased as every period unfolded into the thrilling finish.

Jimmy Roberts, of NBC Sports, had the dubious distinction of leaving that Miracle on Ice game in '80 in the first period. It seems he had a date with a woman. When I saw Roberts on Saturday night I asked him if he stayed until the end.

"Are you kidding? I was working and wasn't even at the game. But I watched it all," laughed Roberts.

He then went on to say that he met Oshie later that night and as they chatted, the St. Louis Blues star told Roberts that he played golf. When asked what his index was, Oshie responded it was a 2.3.

"But I am really playing like a 5 right now," Oshie quickly added in the truth spirit of an avid golfer.

Lost in Oshie's dramatic performance was that of US goaltender Jonathan Quick would successfully defended 5/8 Soviet shootout attempts. The Los Angeles Kings' star was solid in goal all afternoon and clearly made a case for the game's MVP.

Safe to say that after Saturday Oshie will be a household name and there will be many #74 jerseys floating around America this week as casual hockey fans turn into rabid USA supporters. For those of us in golf , we can only wish that we could impact the interest in our sport as quickly as Oshie did for his on Saturday.

It's a long day of travel beginning at 10 am Sochi time, which is actually 1 am EST on Sunday. If everything goes right I will be back in my driveway in Franklin, IN at about 11 pm  Sunday night.

This has been a week beyond words. It's been like being on a movie set because you don't know what this place will look like in a few months. It's hard to believe that much of the infrastructure will endure the post-Sochi Olympics.

But, for one incredible three week span, Putin and his countrymen put on the show of a lifetime.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sochi Part Two

The weather is really the story here in Sochi, but the opposite of what you are all experiencing. It's real warm here, borderline hot. This morning we headed up yo the Alpine competition only to have it postponed until 3:30pm due to extremely warm conditions. Even atop the mountains here in Sochi it was nearly 60 degrees.

Projections are that it will be close to 70 degrees in the Olympic Village today. All of the vents down there are indoors, so there is no impact. But, I will have to say that it doesn't seem like this is the Winter Olympics. It's another weird chapter in the weather annals of 2014. Go to Russia and get a suntan at the Winter Olympics.

On Thursday we went to the United States versus Slovakia hockey game. The Americans opened the game up in the second quarter and posted 7-1 win. International hockey is played on a rink that is about 20 feet longer and 15 feet wider than a NHL rink. As a result, the U.S. Team is built for speed and they clearly outclassed their rivals yesterday. The final event that we see Saturday night will be the U.S. Men against Russia and that should be great.

Following the hockey game we went to the set of the Today Show which is at the Olympic Village. It was my first meeting with Matt Lauer since I announced Tom Watson as the Ryder Cup Captain in Rockefeller Center back in December 2012. There were a bunch of present and former Olympic athletes on the set including our pairs ice skating team.  Evan Lysacek who won the Gold in men's figure skating Vancouver was there at Today. He and Johnny Weir another renowned U.S. Men's figure skater are doing a lot of work for NBC.

As I scanned for an English speaking TV station last night I stumbled across a British feed which was doing a segment on security here in Sochi. The report was openly critical of the Russian government for not investing more marketing dollars into telling the story of the iron clad security precautions that it has successfully instituted. It's really true. When you consider that the Russians spent $51 billion on this Olympiad- more than the past 21 combined- they surely could have spent another billion on marketing.

In fairness, to the Russians the American press blew way out of proportion many things surrounding this Olympic games including the security threat. As I said in the last report, no one here is even talking security risks. The "Ring of Steel" has truly been just that. We have experienced good accommodations, decent food and very friendly treatment from hotel staff and Olympic volunteers.

Friday night will find us at the finals of the men's figure skating. The typical evenings end around 2 a.m. Mornings begin at 8:30 a.m. It's an easy bus ride to the Olympic village. Going up top to the mountains for the skiing or extreme events is another story. It's a couple of gondola rides to the venues and a pretty intense hike wherever you go. The elevation makes breathing tough and it is physically draining. The weather has made it hard to dress and it's been easy to get over heated at these events.

It has been a once in a lifetime experience. Thanks to my friends from NBC and The Golf Channel for making it happen. Jon Miller is in charge of programming for NBC Sports and. Mike. McCarley is the president of Golf. Channel. They are great PGA of America partners and have rolled out the red carpet for us.

Finally, we do stay in touch with golf this week. We know that Watson named Ray Floyd as an assistant. We have discussed golf, bifurcation and the Ryder Cup on many a late night. There are lots of good things on the horizon when we get back to the States.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sochi 2014

How would I describe my first two days in Sochi, Russia at the Winter Olympics?

I guess, relief, would be the first word. After hearing weeks of the American news media talk about numerous security threats I can honestly say that has been a non-issue. In fact, no one here is even talking about it. Admittedly I was relieved to see our NBC charter approach Sochi over the Black Sea rather than the mountain ranges that a Washington Post report said grenade launchers could target approaching planes.

Once we touched down the presence of the 40,000 security and military personnel was very visible. The "Ring of Steel" that has been labeled as the secure area by the media actually extends about 70 miles around the Olympic Village. We are staying in a Rosa Khutor which is about a 45 minute bus ride from the Olympic Village. Our Radisson Hotel is near the ski and extreme winter sports area in the mountains.

The road we travel to the Village is newly built in the last two years. It was part of the $51 billion in infra structure that Vladimir Putin invested in these Sochi Olympic Games. Along that stretch of road are thousands of Russian soldiers. They dot the landscape. They sleep in camouflaged tents and carry guns. Interestingly, there is still a lot of unfinished construction near Sochi and it makes me wonder if it will ever be completed once these Olympics are concluded.

Stalin made Sochi a summer home in 1954. It's a weird, but beautiful location for the Winter Olympics which has adopted the slogan "" which is indicative of the variation in temperatures. On Thursday the Olympic Village hit a high in the mid 60's, but on Tuesday night when we attended the Halfpipe competition it was well below freezing.

Many here at the NBC compound are suffering from upper respiratory infections, no doubt from the fluctuation in temperatures along with all of the construction dust which is still in the air. My only medical issue stems from nearly chopping off the end of my left thumb while cutting a piece of  the delicious, hard crusted Russian bread.

Tuesday was our arrival day. It was a long day after the 9-hour flight from Newark. We grabbed a couple hours of sleep and went to watch Shaun White try to win another Gold in the Halfpipe. That didn't happen and the most memorable part of the night was the trek back from the venue at Midnight which included ascending 520 stairs separated by slippery rocks and steep inclines. Grueling to say the least and the knock out punch on a marathon two days.

I didn't set my alarm on Wednesday because I never have a problem waking up. On this morning I woke up and checked the clock on my cell phone only to find the time of 1:05 p.m. We has slept 12 hours and our bus was scheduled to leave for the U.S. versus Canadian women's hockey game in 25 minutes. To make matters worse there was no water in my hotel room. Long story made short- we made the bus.

After watching the American women blow a 1-0 third period lead and eventually lose, we killed an hour at NBC Hospitality and went watch the finals of Pairs Skating. This was a great event and it was exciting to see the hometown Russian skaters capture the Gold and Silver medals.

Being here is like being on a cruise ship. It seems the biggest meal of the day is the Midnight buffet at the NBC hospitality suite in the hotel. The witching hour seems to be 2 a.m. When most retire for the night.

This is truly the experience of a lifetime. The Russian landscape is dreary, stark and pretty basic. The military presence makes it appear even more Third World. I can't help but wonder what happens to all of these structures that the Russians built here in Sochi once the Olympics are over and life goes on. While Sochi is located in a moderate climate on the Black Sea it certainly doesn't appear to stand the test of time as one of the world's premier resort areas.

But, I will take my hat off to the Russians and their people. They are going out of their way to offer us Americans the best hospitality experience they know how to deliver. The people have been friendly, smiling and extremely cordial to Americans.

I look forward to seeing the U.S. Men's Hockey team play two games including Saturday night against USSR. As a casual hockey fan I discovered that the international hockey rink is approximately 20 feet longer and 15 wider. The American team is built on speed to accommodate the larger Olympic dimensions.  We are still hoping to see Americans win some kind of medal.

While we are 9 hours ahead of EST, we seem a world away from the United States. This has been the worst case of jet lag I have ever experienced. But, The most prevalent feeling that I have this week is the appreciation of being an American citizen. Appreciate what we have and don't take anything for granted.
Pete- PGA, Jon Miller- NBC, Ted,  Mike McCarley Golf Channel

Ted and Cindy

US vs. Slovakia
Matt Lauer

Today Show

Alpine Skier

Figure Skaters

Sunset Sochi

Ted and Pete