The line to the gondola that would take Bill Burke where he wanted to go at the Winter Olympics was long and so was the wait. Burke, the owner of the Portland Sea Dogs, started to sing with another American to pass the time.
Their choices were unfamiliar to Russians around them. One turned to Burke and said, how about . . . and started singing “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.”
“Next thing you know,” wrote Burke in an email from Sochi, “the entire line is singing the Beatles in broken English. It was great.”
The mood at the Winter Olympics could have changed with one act of terrorism before Friday’s opening ceremony. Threats to disrupt the games with bloodshed were made. Sochi, on the Black Sea, is in a restive area of Russia. Grievances against the government have festered for generations.
Burke, who went to Sochi as a member of the U.S. Biathlon Association, had no security concerns before he began his return trip home Wednesday morning, nearly 10 days before the Winter Olympics close Feb. 23.
Peter Carlisle of Cape Elizabeth, the managing director of the Olympics & Action Sports division of Octagon, the sports management and marketing company, said the same.
“Security (is) visible wherever you turn,” wrote Carlisle in an email. “It doesn’t seem overbearing as yet. It is typically two officers walking together as you would see anywhere else although these guys are probably better armed.”
Carlisle compared security in Sochi and the Olympic village to Richard Scarry children’s books, where you try to find the little yellow bug in every picture.
“Sometimes it’s hard to locate but it’s always there,” said Carlisle. “You literally cannot get anywhere near the Olympic Park without showing multiple credentials, tickets, etc., which are scanned in so they know who you are, and when you arrive and depart. It is quick and efficient but amazingly thorough.”
Burke, attending independently of Carlisle, also noted the omnipresent security. “On one hand it makes you feel very safe but on the other it reminds you of where you are and the concerns we heard before arriving.”
Everyone is screened and frisked at the transportation hubs and the venues, said Burke. “Very efficient and friendly.”
In fact, Burke uses his limited vocabulary of Russian and almost always gets a warm smile in return, especially from the young volunteers.
“This is my first Winter Olympics,” said Burke. “But I’ve attended several Summer Games. As in the past, the spirit here is special. People from different countries really do come together with an unusual spirit of welcoming.”
Carlisle also has attended other Olympics. “Once in the Park, it feels like any other Games. Yes, there are remote-controlled blimps floating about above, with cameras and who-knows-what other equipment, but they are not obtrusive.”
He didn’t find the Olympic Park to be overly crowded but felt the energy and excitement. “Sponsor venues were comparable to other Games and as usual there was a line around the Olympic Super Store.”
Every time Carlisle reaches to open a door at his hotel, there is a doorknob, contrary to early reports that basic fixtures were missing or inoperable. “The water is fine and as best as I can tell, nobody has rifled through my luggage while I’ve been out during the day.”
The biggest quirk Carlisle has seen? The floor slopes away from the drains in a gym locker room, toward the hallways.
“I followed the water, thinking I’d find another drain, but no. The next day when I walked into the locker room there was an attendant with a squeegee, pushing water back toward the drains. Clearly this guy’s full-time position is secure.”
Burke stayed in a hotel that opened in the fall. The bed is comfortable and he feels safe. He did notice that one of the walls in his room has three picture frames. Two have pictures, the third does not.
“Some (United States Olympic Committee) staff are here as well as guests from Australia, Belarus, Germany, Norway, Sweden and I’m sure others I’m forgetting,” said Burke. “That’s another great thing about the Olympics – the constant mingling with people from all over the world. Good fun.
“It’s also been a treat to be with biathlon parents. Anyone with kids can only imagine what it would be to watch them in the Olympics, and to experience this with them is a privilege.”
Carlise is staying longer in Sochi. “The general sentiment seems to be growing more positive by the day. If Russia does well in hockey I would expect this place to really liven up.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: