Feb 17 2014

Deeper Than the Black Sea

Warning: Don’t take the title of this post lightly.

Last week, I shared my adventures that were coming out from Los Angeles to Sochi. That was an introduction to being here. I got some feedback on it, and I found that I left some things out. Let me start with some pictures though.

The above picture has received a lot of fun feedback from my folks back home. There’s a story behind it. I’ll get to that.

As most of the world knows, NBC’s Bob Costas has been down for the count due to his eye infections. The fact that Costas tried to do his job through those lasers for a couple of days is remarkable. I haven’t seen Costas here or on television, and I’m not going to judge what he was able to do the first few days. But I can relate, unfortunately, to trying to work under relatively brutal physical condition.

There are two takeaways from week two here that will stick out. One is getting sick at the Olympics.

THE #%^^#~ WORST!

I don’t want to spend too much time on my illness. I blame it on McDonald’s – I stayed away from the place for a week, “treated” myself to lunch on Wednesday there, woke up with “the strain” on Thursday. I know my body, and for what I do, that first moment of knowing there’s a foreign entity forming is like an athlete hearing a “pop”. I had a very busy end to the week, culminating with a trip up the mountains Friday night to cover women’s skeleton. (Here’s my medal feature on Noelle Pikus-Pace.) I’m really proud of that story, because it came out well despite the fact that my body was probably eroding on the mountain. Seriously, my hips couldn’t handle the altitude, that’s how much pain I was in due to the fever I caught. I don’t get sick often. But when I do, things get grimy.

I wound up missing the next two days. Weak sauce. But a wise man told me that this is a marathon, not a sprint. So after bearing witness to eight sports in a week’s time, I can’t be too upset about having to dial things back in order to get ready for the stretch run.

Speaking of all of those sports, that brings me to takeaway two: Being black in Russia.

I guess I can get into my picture with Russian security. That one picture had to be the fourth or fifth time that I was randomly stopped to take a picture! The first time was at Sochi’s airport, waiting on the bus to the hotel. The Russian security wanted to take a picture. What am I gonna say? His partner took one, then they switched, then they found some random dude so they could take one together with me. I wasn’t even dressed loud – I was in the most conservative air travel attire of my life.

I went to see United States speed skater Shani Davis Wednesday night go for a three-peat gold in the 1000 meters. As you may know, Davis is an African-American male. Out of 230 United States athletes here in Sochi, Davis is the only one. I’ve had folks back home point out the obvious to me – that the Olympics aren’t all that diverse. Well, just like there aren’t a lot of American athletes of color here, the same goes for journalists of color. It makes sense to me; after all, I’m not known for covering winter sports. But it doesn’t always make sense to others.

I wasn’t writing for Team USA that night, so I didn’t concern myself about the rest of the race. I paid attention, took notes, and did what I usually would do. But I was there to see if Shani Davis was going to be able to accomplish what Shaun White couldn’t the previous night. Of course, there were plenty of media who were covering the whole event, but they were only interested in Davis as well. Anyway, Davis didn’t get gold. He didn’t even make the podium. He finished eighth. So instead of multiple press conferences and making history, folks had to prepare for Davis to explain what went wrong. (Side note: The Dutch are doing something right on the track. As of this post, they have 16 of the 24 speed skating medals!)

Before Davis came through, Mike Wise of the Washington Post and I caught up again. He asked me about what it’s like to be one of only a few African-Americans covering the games, what my experience has been like, and my take on why there aren’t more black winter athletes like Davis. I told Wise my photo story. I also explained that, from my perspective, the opportunity and understanding to get involved in winter sports isn’t something that presents itself too often. Skiing, skating, and sliding? Or basketball, football, and track? I’ve skated twice in my life – once in middle school, the last time January 2010. I’ve never skied before. I had opportunities to learn, and I had friends in school that were into it growing up. But I was never into that.

I feel like Davis is an exception. That is, he’s an exceptional athlete. He’s not a novelty; folks showed up to watch him because he’s good, not just because he happens to be African-American. However, the fact that Davis does stand out naturally leads to questions as to why there aren’t more athletes of color like Davis around here. The focus is misplaced on race far too often. There aren’t many athletes of color on Team USA – but  that’s because there isn’t much interest in athletes of color to participate. (Check out Wise’s column here – some of my quotes were used.)

As for the journalist side? Well, as I explained last week, this has been an awesome experience. I have had an opportunity to work with several journalists as we’ve covered the same events. I’ve met several more who I’ve had some good conversations with, both about these games and other things in sports. I met another black journalist here, William Douglas, who writes about hockey players of color at his blog TheColorOfHockey. He told me to keep an open mind to the fact that I’ve picked up on how to tell stories here about sports I couldn’t tell apart a few months ago. I also got to meet NBC’s Lewis Johnson at the sliding tracks. Johnson has worked everywhere. I didn’t realize he was 6’6″ until he stood up from his booth to greet me.

There’s only a week to go here in Sochi. In a lot of ways, it’s gonna be a photo finish.

1 ping

  1. Escape from the Winter Olympics: Russia Rear View »

    […] « Deeper Than the Black Sea […]

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