Sochi Stories: Dispatches From The Olympics

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Alex Sugiura is in Sochi for work, and will be sending us sketches and dispatches and little weird moments throughout the games.

Johnny Quinn's now-notorious bathroom misadventure -- he Kool-Aid-manned his door out of necessity and then tweeted a photograph of the aftermath -- went down as such, in his and his teammates words: "I was taking a shower, and after a little while realized I was locked in, and began banging and yelling for help. None arrived, so I kept going..."

At this point his teammate jumped in to inform me that, in the next room over, Quinn's banging couldn't be differentiated from the myriad construction-related activities still going in and around the Village. Quinn's struggle was heard, and ignored.

That noise escalated, ending in the crescendo of Quinn's nominal freedom and the door's utter defeat. At some point his teammates wondered, how long is Johnny going to shower. They took a peak around the corner and found Johnny clad in only a towel, face white as a ghost. He sadly intoned, "I had to get out of there, I'm so sorry." He says he's not sorry about the number of new Twitter followers he's gained since the incident.

***

For all the illuminating photos and missives on the plight of our fair Western media in Sochi, it's worth noting that the international broadcast center and adjacent media center will be converted in to Russia's largest shopping mall as one part of the IOC's legacy. One depot of disposable goods transmogrifying into another.

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When Vladimir Putin comes to inspect the coastal village dining hall, three days before the opening ceremony, a throng of photographers, security and sycophantic well wishers ensconce him in a shell of nylon jackets and flash bulbs. His tacit approval is marked by a series of stern, vigorous head nods. He doesn't try the food.

Two days later UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon arrives with two South Korean photographers in tow and a single security detail. He sits with athletes from 10 different countries, humbly slurping freshwater eel soup between light chatter. He shakes hands, but seems reluctant to make eye contact.

***

At the Olympic opening ceremony, Hamid Karzai walks around by himself. He looks thrilled by the splendor and largesse of the proceedings. I approach him and offer a few kind words; this is not the setting to press him on failed policies and blatant corruption, I tell myself. He is pleasant in tone and happy to shake my hand, and I am drunk on Georgian wine.

***

I work for the IOC, operating a photo booth in the dining hall. This means 14-hour days for 26 days straight. It's exhausting, but I recognize that my level of access is unique and fascinating: nothing humanizes elite athletes faster than watching what they eat and how they interact at meal time, with apologies to Jon Wurster for my egregious use of "meal."

The vast majority of the athletes keep to themselves or within the confines of their teams/fellow countrymen. Figure skating appears to be the exception, as jackets from Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, France, Lithuania, Italy, Spain and the USA are hung on plastic folding chairs at the same tables, where tiny people with tiny voices wax lyrical on tiny topics.

The biggest surprise, for my money, was the discovery that the Ukraine figure skating team trains in Hackensack, New Jersey. I do not expect to shake the image of an incredulous Stephen A. Smith, in his Fashion Institute of Technology basketball jersey, screaming, "Hackensack, New Jersey!" anytime soon.

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