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We want snowboarding!
February 15, 2014 - Chris Knight
"I'm an American eating 'Buffalo' chicken wings in an Irish pub in Russia, and I want my snowboarding!"
OK, that’s not exactly what I said, but everything in that statement is true.
My good friend Doug Haney, chief alpine press officer for the U.S. ski team, emailed me late Wednesday afternoon asking if I wanted to go for pizza and a beer. Is this guy a mind reader or what?
If there's one thing I've craved more than anything since I arrived here, it's a slice of pizza. I mean, there's only so much fish and potatoes a man can stomach.
After wrapping up a story about the men's nordic combined competition, I take a bus down to meet Doug and three other members of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association crew – Amanda, Riley and Sarah – at the Gorki Media Center. The word on the street is that there's a really good pizza place up the road in Rosa Khutor village. So we jump on a bus and head out.
About 15 minutes later, we're there. But this isn't your small-town pizza parlor where they dish out a greasy slice on a paper plate. Nestled among a riverfront plaza full of hotels, shops and other restaurants, this is an upscale restaurant that more resembles the dining room of the Whiteface Lodge, but specializing in pizza. It smells amazing inside, and I can feel my taste buds doing warm-up laps.
Then comes the bad news.
"Do you have a reservation?" the hostess asks in a Russian accent.
Umm…no. We didn't know we needed one.
Well, then there was no way we you're getting a table. That's not what she said, but that was the takeaway.
Bam - out the door we go. Denied at the pizza place, we head across the river to the Italian House. Each nation has its own hospitality house at the games - a place for athletes, their family, the media and that country's citizens to go relax, have a drink or eat a meal.
An Italian reporter Doug knows had invited us to the Italian House during the bus trip, but we had opted for the pizza pace instead. Now we were going with plan B. We walk into the house of Italy and ask for a table.
"Can you come back another time?" the very friendly manager asked us. It was too busy tonight, she said.
Now what? We hoof it back out onto the plaza and find another restaurant nearby, the Red Fox. It's packed with Norwegians, including a guy sitting at the bar with the Norwegian flag painted on his face, and wearing a real Norwegian flag as a cape.
Eureka! They have a table for us. We follow the hostess into a smaller dining room off the main dining room. It's a classy place with couches for chairs and a fireplace crackling in the corner. We feel out of place in our Team USA gear, jeans and big backpacks. I look at the menu. No pizza, but plenty of roasted duck, pig, pheasant or whatever small animal you want. I look up, and a waiter is at the table next to us holding a massive, still-alive king crab. It's writhing and still dripping wet.
After 10 to 15 minutes of no one coming to serve us, and with nothing on the menu that looks terribly appetizing, we bolt. Riley and Sarah had planned to go to the women's halfpipe snowboarding competition, and their clock was ticking.
That's when Doug spots a pub down the street, next to an indoor skating arena. The sign on the door says "O'Harrah's Alpine Pub" and features a big wooden beer stein filled with grog. Perfect.
When we open the door, we're greeted with a thick haze of cigar and cigarette smoke. Needless to say, the Clean Indoor Air Act is not in effect here.
Most of the tables are filled, but a balding Russian in a black suit tells us to come with him. We follow him down a hallway and up a dark staircase. I jokingly say to Sarah, "I think he's taking us out back to kill us."
We finally get to a second-floor dining room filled with a half dozen flatscreen TVs showing the pairs figure skating competition. There's a good crowd, and black-suit man takes us to a corner table and we sit down. The waitresses are wearing kilt-style dresses and black blouses. Across the way, there's a metal box sitting on a hearth. Written across it in big block letters is the word "COCAINE." Why? I don't know.
We order drinks and our food from a quiet Russian waitress and wait for what seems like an eternity. Amanda gets French onion soup, and it comes out a good half an hour before my "Buffalo" chicken wings. Another 15 minutes later, Doug, Sarah and Riley finally get their orders of fish and chips.
Meanwhile, the snowboarding competition has started, but they're not showing it in the restaurant. We're still stuck on the figure skating channel, and while it's fun cracking jokes about their sequin-clad outfits, we want to see what's going on at the half-pipe.
There's a group of Brits a few tables over. We overhear them asking the staff to turn the TVs to snowboarding. They're pleading with the waitresses.
A chant starts to swell up in the room, and we join in.
At last, a woman takes a remote control and starts searching through the channels for snowboarding. It takes a good ten minutes, and each time she tries a channel and figure skating or something else comes on, the English-speakers in the room cry "Boo!" or "No!"
Doug and I are laughing hysterically.
Finally, she clicks on the channel with snowboarding, and there's a big cheer.
"Yeah! Thank you!"
The competition is still in the semifinal round. American Kaitlyn Farrington sits in first place.
Then, about 10 minutes later, somebody turns all the TVs back to figure skating.
"No!" we all shout. It's no worth fighting it at this point. The Russian pair is about to skate. We relent, but not without plenty of grumbling.
"This is really a damn shame that we're sitting in a pub watching figure skating," Doug says. "It's depressing. Arrrgh..figure skating!"
At this point, we ask for the check. Riley and Sarah have already left to get up to the half-pipe finals.
As we leave, the Brits are crowded around someone's tablet computer, watching the competition.
Back out in the plaza, we bounce from bar to bar, hotel to hotel, looking for just one place that's showing the half-pipe competition. You'd think the perfect place would be the huge outdoor viewing area in the middle of the plaza, which features a Jumbotron surrounded by tall fences with barbed wire at the top. To get in, you have to go through a metal detector. There's about 10 people inside while a crowd of about 100 stands outside, watching through the fence.
What are they watching? Figure skating!
By the time we find a hotel where the half-pipe competition is on TV, it's already over.
The best part is, although we didn't get to see it, Farrington won gold. Fellow American Kelly Clark took the bronze.
Me? I'm still trying to find that slice of pizza.
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