It was a 16-year journey taking me around the world but when the 2018 Winter Olympics get underway this weekend, they’re going to start without me.
And that leaves me with a lot of mixed feelings.
It was thrilling to visit faraway places like Turin, Italy in 2006 and Sochi, Russia in 2014. Also, not so faraway places such as Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver, Canada in 2010.
If not for the NHL’s decision to skip the Games in Pyeongchang, along with the uncertain political climate in Korea and the massive 14-hour time difference, I might have covered this magnificent event for a fifth time.
In the end, the task seemed a bit too daunting.
Still, the Olympics have supplied me with many memories, many of them good, some of them not so much.
Let me share with you what I will miss. . .and what I won’t.
Will miss: Getting an up-close-and-personal look at the local culture, especially Italy and Russia. I had been to Italy before the 2006 Olympics, but staying in Turin for nearly three weeks allowed me chances to walk the streets, visit museums and soak in the atmosphere at corner coffee shops. Sochi was my first visit to Russia and the people couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating. Say what you will about the nation’s political doctrine, most Russians seem a lot like you and me.
Won’t miss: Ha! First on the list – 20 days with virtually no sleep. I had to laugh when media types complained about their “poor’’ accommodations in Sochi. Are you kidding? At the Olympics, all you need is a firm mattress so you can squeeze in your daily 4-hour allotment of shut-eye. There’s so much going on, there’s almost no time to worry about the wallpaper.
Will miss: Hockey played at its highest level. Say what you want about the Stanley Cup Final, it paled in comparison to what happened on a global scale at the Olympics. Is there anything more compelling for a professional athlete than competing for your country in the world’s biggest competition? Canadians and Americans might think raising Lord Stanley’s Cup is the end-all – I say sit in the hockey rink when they hand out the gold medals. Nothing like it.
Won’t miss: The travel time to get there. I know, this sounds like whining but getting to a place like Sochi took the better part of 33 hours, with a long layover at the terminal in Moscow, and then sitting in an “apartment’’ lobby for 8 hours while last-minute room repairs were made. At Salt Lake, I stayed in a Super 8 motel and didn’t have time to do laundry. Fortunately I brought enough underwear and socks to cover the trip but the room eventually had a very distinct odor of its own.
Will miss: Meeting some great local athletes, such as gold medal mogul skier Hannah Kearney, whose father hails from Bristol; short track skater Chris Creveling of Kintnersville and bobsledder Jamie Gruebel of Newtown. They are world-class talents, yet so down-to-earth in one-on-one conversations that it’s startling.
Won’t miss: The heavy security. Yes, it’s understandable, given the state of the world, particularly at Salt Lake, right after 9/11 took place just six months before. The Utah folks, as I recall, spent millions of dollars on making sure the bad guys didn’t get in. I clearly remember deciding to see if I could “breach’’ security by tucking my credential into my coat during the Opening Ceremonies and drifting in with the crowd. Almost made it, but one sharp guard caught me at the last second. Hats off to him. It still made for a good column.
Will miss: Spectacular food. You haven’t had pizza until you’ve had it in Italy. The bad part is you keep coming back for more. Also, I managed to find what passed as a legitimate cheesesteak at the International Food Court at both Salt Lake and Vancouver.
Won’t miss: The stress level of trying to be two places at once, which often happens when hockey overlaps with trying to cover individual events, such as when Creveling and his mates were going for the relay silver medal at Sochi. I actually walked out of the USA-Finland bronze medal game at the end of the first period, ran down the street to cover the USA short-track event, then dashed back to catch the final period of the hockey game. Now that’s comprehensive coverage.
Will miss: All the smiles and story-telling after each Games ended and we landed back in the good old USA. Maybe my heart was telling me something when I stuck around Russia an extra day, made a nostalgic walk through the Olympic Village one more time and bought a few souvenirs. My history with the Games goes all the way back to the Montreal Summer Olympics in 1976. I’ll be watching on TV starting this week but it just won’t be the same. Good luck to all and save me a seat for 2022. Who knows? I just might be back.