WL Insider: Olympic Observations

From mustaches to bobsleighs and public transport etiquette, learning the ropes in Sochi, Russia.

By , DLE Agency

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Hint’s from Russia’s Soviet past during the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony (Photo by Korea.net via Flickr)

Like London in 2012, I find myself writing most of these columns for Washington Life between 0100 – 0300 each morning. It’s not the start of my day and in truth, it’s not even the end of my day; it’s simply the one time where I can count on being able to sit down at the Macbook and do a 30-60 minute data dump on my experiences and observations from that day.

In that regard, tonight I thought I’d share some of my observations from “Rah-see-uh” (as the crowd chants here in Russia). So in no particular order, here’s a run-down of 100 percent accurate (and actual) events that I saw, heard or otherwise experienced thus far at the Sochi Olympics:

In Russia, passengers clap every time the plane lands on the runway. I learned that this is not superstition, but actually a very serious appreciation steeped in years of aviation nightmares. According to the guy next to me on my connector from Moscow, “Yes, we clap when there is a safe landing. It was not always this way, so we are very glad we are there and we are alive.” Again, the things we take for granted in America.

In Europe, let alone Eastern Europe, mustaches are neither ironic nor based on hipster trends. They are intentional, they are serious, and they are not to be mocked. Seriously, don’t bash the ‘stache over here.

At the Olympics, it’s not called bobsled, it’s the bobsleigh. The devil is in the details, but the difference matters.

Athletes always appreciate other athletes no matter the sport, no matter the requisite skill-set; if it’s outside of what they do, they intuitively understand the skill and dedication needed to achieve excellence. Just last night, as I was wrapping up a meeting at the USA House, a table full of USA Hockey players stood up almost on cue and hustled across Olympic Park. Why? So they could catch the tail end of ice dancing. That’s right, ice dancing. Here’s the deal guys, athletes are athletes, no matter the sport. Technique differs, respect is universal.

The Biathlon is absolutely amazing to watch and brutal to perform. Anyway you spin it, cross-country skiing at anaerobic threshold (as hard as you can go from a heart rate standpoint without your body producing lactic acid causing you to cramp and throw up) with a sniper rifle on your back, only to stop at various intervals and shoot — either standing or laying on your stomach — at a target the size of your fist, with a bulls-eye the size of a walnut. A miss at any one of the five targets at each stop results in an extra lap, which is basically a time penalty.

In Russia, there are no guidelines insofar as personal space, or pushing and shoving when boarding/deboarding buses, trains, stairways, walkways, escalators, elevators, gondolas, or open areas in general. After the first four days in Russia, you realize that not everyone who gives you a kidney punch, a dead leg — or a low-post box out worthy of Dennis Rodman in the late ’80s — is trying to start a fight. It’s not personal, it’s cultural. I’ve traveled the world and experienced a lot; yet the older I get, the less I realize I actually know. It’s not a lack of knowledge, it’s an enrichment of perspective and an appreciation for those who are older (done more) than I have.

I lived in West Germany in the ’80s. That’s right, young readers, Germany used to be split into two parts. My father was a tank battalion commander and would leave for “the field” for six-week periods where they would go to a gunnary range and essentially run a military “fire drill” in the event that either side flipped the switch and triggered the WWIII that everyone had been bracing for since the ’60s. These days, when kids watch “Rocky IV,” they laugh and talk about how “campy” Stallone and Lundgren were in those roles. For me, in 1985 that was 100 percent accurate. As I walk the streets in Russia now, I see two expressions greeting me as an American: the twenty-somethings who say “I love America, where are you from” and the Soviets — now in their 40s to their 90s — who look at me with equal parts disdain, distrust and dislike. I grew up in a different era; I have a different sentiment about what it means to be an American and why we cheer for the red, white and blue. My kids will never know the fears or the fervor that I did as a little boy, but hopefully their sense of patriotism and pride will be no less diminished as a result.

Apparently, the Scorpions have never been bigger than they are in Russia in 2014. While “Winds of Change” certainly hasn’t been blaring through the loud speakers, the rest of their back catalogue of metal-worthy, hair-band hits have been in solid rotation. In a word: awesome.

At the Olympics, you’re not cheering for a team, or a player, or a city … you’re cheering for your country. For three weeks every two years, we don’t hail from New York, or Boston, or Los Angeles, or Chicago. We all come from America. We cheer for red, white, blue, blood, guts, glory, bronze, silver, and above all, mettle. I watched the USA/Russia hockey game live. I watched the USA men grind it out in bobsled. I saw U.S. men advance in short track. I saw U.S. slope style sweep. It doesn’t matter the sport and it doesn’t matter the athlete. At the Olympics, the only thing that matters is the flag.

Doug Eldridge is the managing partner of the DLE Agency, an integrated PR consulting firm, based out of Washington, DC. A lawyer by trade, Doug has represented athletes and personalities across the NFL NBA UCI IAAF FIFA Olympic, Action and Motor Sports landscape. His agency also provides communication and brand development strategies to emerging businesses and charitable organizations. Doug is also a frequent TV analyst on issues ranging from sports to legal to PR and has been featured on ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX FOX Business, FOX News, and NBC. He has three athletes competing in the Sochi Olympics.

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