KRAVITZ: An ode - or something like it - to the Olympic Games

The Eyewitness News team covering the Olympic games in Rio.
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I watched figure skating Thursday night from my couch. It's weird watching the Olympics from my couch, especially with my wife and daughter offering running commentary on skaters' costumes and Johnny Weir's eccentric outfits. It's weird, too, because besides Vancouver, I've covered every Winter Games since 1992.

I must say, it's very relaxing, except when I'm continually scrolling the web and sending texts while trying to figure out what in the heck the Colts are doing. When I'm covering figure skating at the Games, I join my stick-and-ball-covering brethren as we sidle up to USA Today's Christine Brennan, a figure skating expert, and badger her with questions like, "Was that a triple Salchow or a double toe loop?" (To her great credit, she puts up with us and our dim queries).

Nope, this year, I'm kicking back and watching it like everybody else, watching Calabro and Diaz, which sounds like some kind of New Age Vaudeville act. Even as we speak, random South Koreans are walking up to Dave and asking if they can run their hands through his luxurious lettuce. Meanwhile, my man Carlos is doing his level best to avoid inciting an international incident. (I have my concerns).

As Dave will tell you, and Carlos will soon find out (if he hasn't already), covering the Olympics is the single-hardest assignment in sports journalism. The hours are ridiculous. Sleep is a rare luxury. It's physically demanding, especially for guys like photojournalist Ryan Thedwall, who have to lug camera equipment all over the place, then spend hours trading elbows with thousands of other cameramen, some of whom haven't showered since the Cold War

Interviews? They're a cattle call. Hundreds of journalists are roped off into what's called the "mixed zone," which is usually a narrow hallway, where we box one another out like power forwards vying for a rebound. Sometimes we can hear the athlete and sometimes we can't, but in the spirit of collegiality, we find the writer who got close to the athlete and steal his or her quotes. Hey, we're all in this unholy mess together, right?

Sometimes, you want to throw yourself off a mountainside, exhausted and frustrated with the Olympic grind, and sometimes, it's the most perfect thing imaginable. Like watching Aboriginal Australian Cathy Freeman win her race in Sydney, a powerful statement for her and her people. Or like the day when we all sat with swimmer Ron Karnaugh in Barcelona just a day after his father died at the venue on the first day of competition. Journalists get a bad rap as a bunch of yapping hyenas with no regard for people's feelings, but I'm telling you, we sat in a courtyard with Karnaugh the day after his father's passing and it was so moving, journalists asking all the appropriate questions, Karnaugh cathartically answering with so much grace and emotion.

That's the thing with the Olympics; often, the best stories, the most moving stories, are the ones you never expected to write.

The folks covering these Games in recent years, they have it easier than some of us old geezers. Back in the day (cue the sad violin), there was no Internet. So before every Olympics, we used to clip Olympic stories from every periodical available and create these eight-inch thick binders with every piece we had gathered. Stories on the athletes. Stories on the country we were visiting. Stories on everything tangentially related to the Olympics.

I can still remember the 1992 Olympics, when American Gail Devers won the 100 meters. Suddenly, we were all walking around the press room, asking friends and strangers, "Hey, you got any clips on Gail Devers?" Finally, we would find one guy, or woman, who was smart enough to bring a Devers clip, we'd take it, make lots of copies and pass them out.

Now? Go on the Internet. Google "Gail Devers." Learn her life story, read everything that's ever been written about her. Voila! Instant expert on Gail Devers.

Covering the Olympics is like covering a hurricane while stationed at the eye, and it was especially true before the Web came along. You'd sit at the skiing venue and be forever worried that some massive story was going down at the biathlon. (OK, that's a lie; nothing massive ever happened at the biathlon). But you get the point. When you're at the Games, you are forever worried you're in the wrong place. You'd be at gymnastics, and the U.S. Dream Team would be falling behind Lithuania. Or there was another night when we were covering something – maybe baseball – only to eventually learn that American Greco-Roman wrestler Rulon Gardner had just upset the unbeatable Russian Alexander Karelin.

The next day, you'd hear from your editors, whose view of the Games is completely shaped by what they see on American television. "How come you weren't at Greco-Roman wrestling last night?" Uh, because I don't know what Greco-Roman wrestling is and hadn't heard of Gardner until about 20 minutes ago.

Basically, you have to guess where the Big Story is going to unfold.

And sometimes, you just get lucky.

Like in London, when I was debating whether to attend David Boudia's diving event or Tamika Catchings' gold-medal basketball game. After lots of vacillating, I chose to go to diving, even though Boudia wasn't anybody's idea of a favorite. Anyway, we knew Catchings would win gold with her American teammates. There are very few sure things in life, but American gold in women's basketball is one of them.

Well…Boudia, who is from Noblesville and Purdue, won gold. Stunned everybody. Made history.

And I was golden. I knew more about Boudia than just about anybody at the event – I had coffee with his mom before the Games — and was surrounded by other journalists who wanted me to tell them his life story.

Like I said, lucky.

I get asked all the time – OK, once in a blue moon – how I'd rank my 13 Olympics. Now, understand, media people judge Olympics different from fans who attend the Games and a lot different than people who watch it at home.

We want:

  1. Good transportation.
  2. Decent housing.
  3. Access to late-night beer.

OK, so the first two aren't that important. Access to late-night beer is key.

  1. Sydney – A state of the art Olympics, even though the media stayed in a village that used to be an insane asylum (which seems appropriate). Everything ran like clockwork, the people were fabulous, the beer was strong and, um, did I mention the beer was strong? Except that I lost my wallet on the first or second day, only to have it returned to me by some kind Aussie who found it in a Sydney taxi cab and reached out to my editors at The Star.
  2. Barcelona – The sheer physical beauty of the place and the people were overwhelming. There was nothing better than coming down the mountain, Montjuic, late at night, the lights of the city below laid out like some glorious constellation. That was also the place where the U.S. unveiled the Dream Team. Following them was like covering The Beatles' first visit to America. I didn't lose anything in Barcelona, but my computer blew up and I spent the better part of two days walking the backstreets of the city looking for a repair shop. (The media dorms were ridiculously hot, but after a trip to the on-site beer garden, you stopped noticing).
  3. London – How can you not love London? The history, the architecture, the lack of a language gap – which is always comforting. And riding their subway system – The Tube – was incredibly convenient. I lost nothing in London, except for my mind a couple of times, particularly when I took a wrong turn after attending a press conference, got hassled by the police and was forced to walk about a mile back out and around through security to re-enter the venue. There was also a night in Manchester when I stayed at a hotel near the train station that was actually a flophouse. Good times.
  4. Rio de Janeiro – The bad thing was, the place stunk. I mean, your olfactory senses were abused. The beautiful areas were off-the-charts gorgeous, like Copacabana Beach. The poor areas were Third World poor and dangerous. Rio had some logistical issues, and it took the better part of a day to take a bus to the beach and back to get 20 minutes with Paul George, but it was wild and mostly wonderful. (I also got ripped off; somebody somehow got my station credit card number and ran up a bit of a bill. At least I didn't get Zika).

Bob Kravitz: "I’m in Rio, so I’m on Copacabana Beach, walking the Promenade, looking at some of the most beautiful people on the face of the Earth." Read Bob's column here: http://bit.ly/2aGMbCZ

Posted by WTHR-TV on Tuesday, August 2, 2016
  1. Beijing – I'd always wanted to go to China, and felt blessed to have the opportunity to spend three weeks there. It wasn't the massive party that we had in Sydney, Barcelona, London and elsewhere. Honestly, it was a little chilling, looking at all the dour security guards standing dead-still and sentry on their little red boxes. Idiots that we were, we learned some profane words in Chinese and tried to entertain them, but they wouldn't smile, wouldn't acknowledge our earthly presence. But how can you beat the Great Wall and the Forbidden City? (Update: I didn't lose anything).
  2. Athens – Again, great history. Lost my phone going through Opening Ceremonies, but it got returned – somehow. I must have a guardian angel or something. One day, we rented a car and made the scenic drive out to Olympus, the site of the first Olympic Games. Incredible trip, but we got totally lost on the way back to media housing. We would stop and ask for directions, but all the signs were in the Cyrillic alphabet, which is why people use the phrase "It's all Greek to me." And I was never in the Greek system at IU, so I didn't know what anything meant. I honestly have no idea how we found our place. That guardian angel again.
  3. Lillehammer – This place felt like the Winter Olympics. Lillehammer is a scenic little ski town, a Norwegian Vail. The people were so unbelievably nice, I wanted to bring a Norwegian home with me. Specifically the media village bartender, a gorgeous woman named Siv, but I thought my wife might have an issue with that. That was the Tonya and Nancy Olympics, so it was around-the-clock madness.
  4. Torino – Well, the food was fabulous when you weren't eating at the media village or one of the venues. Can't beat Northern Italian. Of course, I lost something. More accurately, the cleaning lady lost something. See, I was putting all my receipts on a shelf in my room, and one day, she mistook them for garbage and threw them out. When I saw her later, I asked her what happened to the papers and she broke out sobbing and apologizing – well, I figured she was apologizing; she was speaking Italian. I felt like such a heel. I made the cleaning lady cry. I tried to comfort her, but to no avail. The Star bean counters were not amused.
  5. Nagano – I believe "Nagano" is Japanese for "Torino." Same kinds of mid-sized, industrial cities. Enjoyed seeing monkeys roaming around town, so that was cool. This was the Olympics when the U.S. hockey team went out partying every night and made a menace of themselves in the Athletes Village, so that gave us plenty to write about. I'm sure something stupid happened there as well, but it's slipped my mind, conveniently.
  6. Sochi – Here was Sochi's problem: It wasn't in Sochi. It was waaay out in the suburbs, kind of like calling them the Indianapolis Olympics and actually holding them in Fortville. The entire Olympics, I got to downtown Sochi one time, taking the 45-minute train ride each way. The one positive was the conveniently place Wine Bar in the media village, which was about 100 steps from my dorm. Almost every night, we were in there singing karaoke and acting foolish. Yes, I sang. I have just one song, "People Are Strange" by The Doors. If anybody out there has video, please delete it immediately. When Americans wanted to sing a song, we had to pay the DJ. When Russians wanted to sing, it was free. But you haven't lived until you've heard four Russians millennials sings "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)" by the Beastie Boys.
  7. Salt Lake City – One of the joys of the Olympics is going someplace foreign and exotic. Nothing against Salt Lake City, but it's neither foreign nor exotic. And poor SLC, it was held in 2002, just one year after the September 11 attacks, so security was on high alert. The place looked like it had been taken over by an invading army. Not their fault; we were grateful for the security, but there was a weird vibe about those games. Everybody was on edge. Cool seeing Mike Eruzione and the Lake Placid miracle boys, though.
  8. Albertville – If Albertville had been my fourth or fifth Olympics, I probably would have enjoyed it more, but it was my first Games, and I was totally overwhelmed and perpetually flustered. Plus, I shared a tiny hotel room with a colleague who smoked a pipe and fell asleep every night to the strains of Radio Free Europe, or something like that. Oh, yeah, we almost died, too. First, when the brakes on another colleague's rental car went south as we were driving down the mountain from the hockey venue. Then later, my and a friend had a few cocktails in downtown Albertville, closed the joint, then noticed there was no transportation back to our hotels. So we hitched a ride, eventually ending up in a car with a bunch of rowdy teenagers who were blasting AC/DC and navigating the icy, snow-covered mountain roads at a frightening rate of speed. Yeah, good times.
  9. Atlanta – The worst, the worst, the worst, and nobody comes in second. It was a disaster from start to finish. Transportation was completely unreliable. Invariably, the bus would either show up an hour late or not at all. And when it did show up, there was a 40 percent chance it would break down or the driver, who was usually from out of town, would get hopelessly lost. The whole city looked like a flea market, a capitalist tent city. And, of course, a bomb was detonated in Centennial Park, at which point, a dark pall descended over the entire Games. Just a lousy experience.

So, to Dave and Carlos, Ryan and Cyndee, best of luck in South Korea. Stay away from anybody who calls himself "Rocket Man." Don't end up on the wrong side of the DMZ. And for crying out loud, don't lose anything.