Winter Olympics: Empty Seats Signify Low Interest?
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Well, the Olympics are in full swing, and guess who's back? The Jamaican bobsled team who captured the world's imagination in their first Olympics back 1988 have returned to Sochi. We want to meet one of the men responsible for getting the team off the ground back in 1988. That's coming up later. Also back on the scene, our team in Sochi. NPR's Sonari Glinton, and the McClatchy news organization's William Douglas is joining us, too. He also writes "The Color of Hockey Blog." We want to hear about the opening ceremonies, the accommodations, the security and of course the events that are making an impression. And they are both with us once again from Sochi, Russia. Welcome back, gents. Thanks for joining us.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: It's good to be with you.
WILLIAM DOUGLAS: Glad to be back.
MARTIN: So, Sonari, let me start with you. What's been the most spectacular thing so far?
GLINTON: Well, the most spectacular thing just happened for me a couple of moments ago, which was that Shani Davis, who's going for his third gold, he came in eighth and sort of crushing his chances of, you know, breaking, you know - of a three-peat for this Olympics. That was a big deal.
MARTIN: And what happened? I mean, I know this is - people always ask this, well, what happened? Well, I mean, he didn't win. But what happened? Did he skate poorly? Were the other guys just better? What happened?
GLINTON: Well, you know, this is - he was .73 seconds slower than the leader. And, you know, you would think that he had all of the momentum. You know, they had spent thousands - you know, possibly millions of dollars on suits and all of the - and training for this team. This team was supposed to be dominant. But the Dutch, who love ice-skating the way - I don't know - South Siders love basketball, they got two - they placed twice.
MARTIN: OK. They just - OK. They had a good race. Bill Douglas...
MARTIN: ...What's been the most spectacular thing for you so far?
DOUGLAS: So far, I just got through watching the women's Canadian-U.S. hockey team, and the Canadians won. You know, after the Canadians lost four exhibition games in a row to the U.S., after they got beaten up literally in South Dakota by the U.S. women, they extracted some revenge today, which makes the gold medal possibilities for the U.S. women a bit more tricky now.
MARTIN: You know, the medal count is a big preoccupation, you know, of the networks often. And the countries that are supposed to do well are doing well. At the same time, you know, this is the most countries ever participating, you know, 88 countries. But it seems pretty evenly matched, Bill, among sort of the top contenders - you know, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, United States, the Russian Federation. I mean, so is it just kind of overall - like, so we just heard about this big, you know, upset with Shani Davis - but is it overall - are things unfolding kind of the way you expected or not?
DOUGLAS: A little bit. I mean, right now for the medal count, it's in Russia's favor. I mean, they've got numbers in terms of the number of athletes participating in sports. You've got some of the events going on now that sort of favor the known countries - the more established countries. We get into some other events next week. We get into the bobsled, and that gives some other countries a chance at medals. But right now, it's going to form.
MARTIN: And, Sonari, what about with these figure skating - always a - figure skating and ice dancing, always a favorite. Is that unfolding pretty much the way you expected? I mean, and I have to say that just as a person who does not follow the sport regularly, I just think it's been just remarkable. I mean, the artistry, the music - I just - I find it mesmerizing.
GLINTON: Yeah, and it's really sort of - I think it's a really athletic event. The U.S., you know, in 2010 had Evan Lysacek, who was the gold medalist, and he dropped out. And so that's not a chance for the U.S. to win a gold. If you at look also - this is to go round back on to some of the other sports - Shaun White came in fourth. And he was sort of the defending - he was the defending gold medalist. And then, you know, Shani Davis - so these are places where the U.S. did really well in 2010 and then faltered.
MARTIN: So let me turn to another issue we talked about when we spoke to you folks last which is the accommodations. Bill Douglas, you just wrote about this. One of the athletes that you've been talking out with - this is for your "Color of Hockey" blog - one of the - for the Montreal Canadiens - who's playing for the Canadian team, he says the accommodations are awesome and that you news-media type should just quit your beefing. What do you have to say about that?
DOUGLAS: You know, God bless P.K. Subban. He is - he speaks his mind. I mean, the athletes' accommodations are spectacular. You know, theirs were done probably a year in advance. They have their dietary needs are taken care of. The got - they have bikes. They have a nice view of the venues, a nice view of the Black Sea. They're living good. You know, the media accommodations - and I agree to a certain extent with what P.K. said. I mean, there was a lot of tweeting and whining and Facebooking about, you know, you know, we're not staying in the, you know - we're not staying in the Ritz, and we're not staying in a Best Western. I mean, what we have are accommodations where we go to bed, we get up, we eat, we go cover things. You know, if you have hot water, that's good. If you have your wireless, that's good. I have no complaints about my digs. I mean, I have hot water. I have Internet every now and then, and my TV works.
MARTIN: Well, that's - what can one ask for, a traveling man like yourself?
DOUGLAS: What more can a man want?
MARTIN: What more can a man want?
MARTIN: So, Sonari, when we last spoke to you, you also talked about kind of the interesting atmosphere there, that you and Bill were attracting quite a lot of attention, but in a good way - two men of color who happen to be covering the Winter Olympics. Now that mostly the athletes have all arrived and the kind of the villages filled up, what's the atmosphere there like now? Does it feel - do the games feel as kind of diverse as one would imagine given that there are 88 countries participating? Is the atmosphere more tense now? I would think that there are more people there, the security concerns are heightened.
GLINTON: I think, I mean, I've walked around the Olympic village a couple of times, and I do get stopped by people to take my photograph. But it seems relaxed there. It doesn't seem to be, you know - people are milling about. It just doesn't seem packed. You know, it doesn't seem - you know, throngs of people. When you - there are empty seats in the stands when you go to an event. Though there...
MARTIN: I was noticing that. Can I just say I was noticing that and watching some of the high-profile events like, say, the team figure skating, which I would think would be a fan favorite, a crowd favorite. I saw lots of empty seats in the stands. Why is that?
GLINTON: Well, we have this theory that because security is so tight and because the logistics of getting into the games are tight that, you know, people sort of end up coming late. And then - so there's this moment where you look around, you're like, woah, everyone's here. There's full stands. And then you turn around and I'm like, where did everybody go? Because people are, like - they come late and they seem to leave early because, you know, it's like, hey, I want to get out of here so I can get back to my car, so I can get back to the train, so I can get back to wherever I'm going. And that seems to be the sense of, you know, why sort of the stands are the way they are. And then some of these sports - I mean, it's a weekday, and some of these sports aren't the most crowd-pleasing sports. I don't think there will be an empty seat in the house...
DOUGLAS: You know...
GLINTON: ...When Russia plays the U.S.
DOUGLAS: ...I think that's going to change because on my way over here, I was having lunch and I noticed for the first time people other than Russians. I sat next to a couple. They had Swedish flags, you know, on their hats and some Finnish people. So I think with the start of the men's hockey, with the arrival of the NHL players, you're going to start seeing more and more people in the stands. And I think you're going to see a bigger diversity of fan. I think the big question that surround these games, would people come? And for some people, it's a haul. I mean, if you come from the United States, it's a long way. If you come from Latvia - I'm getting ready to go to the Latvia hockey game, and the Latvian hockey fans travel. They come in packs.
They will go almost anywhere for a hockey game. They might be a good indication of whether or not people come to these games 'cause if there aren't Latvian people in the crowds this evening, that might tell you something. But I do think once you've had the NHL players play, you'll have all the skating venues up and operational, I think you see a bigger crowd. I think one of the things that people do talk about - you know, Olympic veterans - the difference between here and Vancouver. Vancouver was downtown. Vancouver, after a game or an event, there was someplace to go. I mean, here you have to sort of, as he pointed out, you have to negotiate the ring of steel. You know, you have to figure out, do I want to get out of here early so I won't get, you know, stuck in traffic on the way out? Do I want to go to the next event and rush there so I can get in the security line? So I think that's going to change over the weekend.
MARTIN: Well, we'll just take a little time. Very briefly, Bill, I wanted to ask you about this. It was a very disturbing story last week. A passenger aboard a commercial airline flight from Ukraine to Turkey apparently tried to hijack it to Sochi, Russia. This was on Friday after the Olympics started. And he threatened to set off a bomb with a cell phone if his demands were not met. But they fooled him. The crew fooled him and the passengers into thinking the plane had landed in Sochi. So then he was taken into custody. We have not heard a lot about this incident since then because the man was refusing to cooperate. But did this story penetrate the ring of steel? Are people worried about it? Have there...
DOUGLAS: No, not really.
MARTIN: ...Been any further concerns?
DOUGLAS: I mean, what you have here is more or less a media bubble. What you have here is, you know, if you have media people who might have rooms, who don't have TVs. We don't see English-language papers. So we're sort of at the mercy of logging into our websites to get the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, CNN or whatever. And with the start of the athletic events, you know, it was mentioned, but we haven't heard that much about it. It's not really a concern to people who are going to the games, to the fans and the spectators.
DOUGLAS: So it's just one of those things that sort of happened and sort of disappeared into sort of Russian, you know, media ether.
MARTIN: All right. Well, we'll be checking in with you again. Keep us posted, gentlemen. Bill Douglas is with the McClatchy news organization. He also writes "The Color of Hockey" blog. Sonari Glinton is a reporter for NPR. Both of them were with us from Sochi. We'll talk to you next week. Thanks for joining us.
GLINTON: It was a pleasure to be here.
DOUGLAS: Thank you.