First, an Olympic stray-dog story. It is hard to know exactly what Russian authorities are or are not doing to the roaming dogs that remain in and around Olympic venues. I am at least slightly encouraged by the fact that I had a happy encounter with a pooch on Sunday afternoon as I walked from the speedskating arena back to the Main Press Center.
He was caught between fences and buses in a roadway. He didn't know where to go. I feared that he would be struck by a vehicle, but then—like a short-track speedskater making one of those quick, dramatic passing maneuvers—he zipped out and around a bus and I lost sight of him. He seemed to have vanished.
Then I saw him again. I won't say he was smiling, but, well, you can judge for yourself from the photo above. I called to him, but I don't believe he spoke any English. I had no treats in my pocket. He did begin to approach me, however warily. In my most soothing voice, I said, "Hi! Goooood booooy! Would you like to meet Rocky?" Rocky is our mixed-breed puppy back home in Maine. The lure wasn't enough. He veered off to the side, wove through more cars, and I lost him again.
I crossed a couple of intersections as I continued toward the press center. There he was again! This time he'd hooked up with two more strays along a paved walkway. He rolled on the grass and played with one of them. The trio joined the human crowd walking in my direction.
We passed again. I put my hand out and called to him, but he gave me only a quick glance. He had paired up with one of the other strays, and the two of them angled off the path and up a grassy slope in the direction of the mountains. They looked like old companions. I tried to tell myself that they'll be O.K. I hope to see them again in the days ahead, and won't know what to think if I can't find them around.
One observation: When Pamelia and I were doing a travel article on St. Petersburg, Russia, several years ago we saw several packs of stray dogs wandering the city. People seemed totally accepting of them. The dogs would lay in the sun together in the park. They would stroll the sidewalks seemingly oblivious to the human pedestrians, and vice-versa. Although Russia is far behind the U.S. in spaying and neutering stray dogs and cats, I don't think it's accurate to portray Russians as not liking dogs or eager to see them exterminated. In the U.S., shelters euthanize an average of 8,000 unwanted cats and dogs every day, and there is little public outcry.
Now an athlete story.
At the Olympics, everyone on the Sports Illustrated team chips in to do whatever is needed. That might mean talking to athletes in the chaotic mixed-zone interview area at an arena to collect quotes for a writer who's at his laptop writing on deadline. It might mean rushing a colleague (um, me, at the1988 Seoul Summer Olympics) to a hospital after he slips coming out of the shower and shreds a few ligaments in his foot. It might mean foraging for AAA batteries for someone's tape recorder in a remote mountain village or translating an interview from Italian or lugging a photographer's excess camera gear across a swelteringly hot cluster of Summer Olympic venues.
On Monday morning, U.S. snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg showed up at SI's office in the Main Press Center to do a video interview. Someone asked him if we could get him anything. "I'd love some McDonald's," he said.
And so it was that a moment later, in another of the many odd experiences I've had in three decades of covering the Olympics, I found myself hoofing it downstairs to the press-center McD-ski's to obtain for the cheerful, 20-year old slopestyle gold medalist his order of a medium French fries and a Big Mac with no pickles. And on that walk I wondered: How exactly do you say "no pickles" in Russian?
Sage's gold medal.
That question took two McDonald's checkout girls and one NBC translator to answer. So remember this: The next time you want a no-pickles Big Mac (shall I call it a Sage Kotsenburger?) in Russia, say, "Byez ogoortsov. " Trust me, it works.
As soon I stepped back into the SI office, Sage started sniffing the air. "I smell McDonald's," he said. I told him about byez ogoortsov and he laughingly repeated the phrase. Then he was ready to dig in.
"Dude, thanks so much!" he told me. And I went back to work.
A few more photos from recent days:
And one final fun fact: Canada House, an Olympic Park gathering spot for Maple Leafers, has a beer vending machine—and as if that isn't cool enough, the machine dispenses beer only to those who insert a Candadian passport.