SOCHI, Russia — I was walking to Bolshoy Ice Dome one day this past week when up ahead someone on a bike raised his arm and waved.
I didn't catch who it was, and didn't think anything of it-until I stood in the mixed zone after Team Sweden's hockey practice. The mixed zone is where media members interview athletes at the Olympics-there is no locker room access.
I was talking to Daniel Alfredsson when Jonathan Ericsson came up, smiled, and asked why I didn't wave back. Now it's a running joke in the mixed zone.
Today we'll all be waving good-bye to these Winter Games. It has been an absolute blast being here, not the least because all the venues at the Coastal Cluster (where all non-snow events happen) are walkable. It helps the weather has made it feel like a spring break.
Every hockey player I've talked to has raved about the experience. It has been clear that one of their favorite parts has been the bikes provided in the Athletes Village, which players have used to ride to and from the arenas.
The hockey tournament began a few days after a spectacular opening ceremony. It's interesting to watch how different the national teams act while going through the mixed zone-if I were handing out Olympic medals for accessibility, I'd go Sweden, Finland, Slovakia for gold, silver and bronze, respectively.
Alfredsson, star for Sweden and the Red Wings, has talked and talked and talked, in Swedish and in English, after every practice and every game. When a Swedish PR person told me that Alfredsson would not be taking any more questions one day, Alfredsson ignored him and told me to go ahead. I saw Teemu Selanne do the same for English-speaking reporters he knew, even as he dealt with the disappointment of just having lost in a semifinal to Sweden.
The gold medal will be contested today between Sweden and Canada, but I doubt it will top the experience of covering the Team USA-Russia game last weekend. That was during group play, when teams jockey for seeding, but it carried the atmosphere of a championship. The flags, the chants, the ability to look over my shoulder and spot Russian President Vladimir Putin, made for an afternoon I won't ever forget.
My favorite part about the Sweden-Switzerland game was writing a story on how often the two countries were thought of as one and the same by North Americans, according to players on both teams. Damien Brunner, who I am certain misses Detroit as much as the Wings miss him, provided the gold-medal quote of the tournament when he said his native Switzerland had better mountains, watches and chocolate, but Sweden had more good-looking blonde women.
I tweeted that nugget-and it topped 400 retweets within hours. Because, obviously, everybody likes a quote about mountains.
Team USA's David Backes turned out to be a gold medalist in quotability, especially on the topic of Team USA's drive to adopt some of the stray dogs that roam Sochi. Sweden coach Per Marts turned out to be the most amenable coach to cover, at ease speaking English, at ease talking for as long as there were questions, at ease predicting winners of other matches.
I was able to sneak off one recent evening to Adler with two colleagues. We sat outside eating skewers of grilled pork, with bread and sauce, talking Olympics, and how we'll be sad to wave good-bye to Sochi.