In cataloguing past Olympic experiences, I am now willing to air my dirty laundry.
I simply ask the reader to concede that circumstances can provoke transgressions. To cover the Games, as I did for Newsday on 11 occasions, requires a stay in the Olympic host city of roughly three weeks while the international pageant plays out. That demands a considerable supply of raiment. Unless, of course, one avails oneself of the resident cleaning service.
Which I decided to do halfway through the 1984 Los Angeles Games, primarily because I was running short on clean undergarments. And here’s the vulgar denouement: The articles of clothing returned to my room a day later clearly were not mine. Wrong size, wrong color and, frankly, not perceptively clean.
Given my low threshold of revulsion, I abandoned the box of skeevy skivvies and settled on recycling what I had. And never again entrusted the locals with any of my wearables. It is the better part of valor to tote an extra suitcase to distant Olympic venues, packing enough clothes to last the duration.
In every sense, the trick to surviving these long-running shows is preparation. Beyond the specifics of the job—being armed with prior reporting to compensate for limited access to the Games’ principals, plotting adjustments to the Globe’s time zones—there is the matter of appropriate attire.
Jere Longman of the New York Times was among the few who used to go about his business at the Winter Olympics (impressively) in suit and tie. But his chores were conducted almost exclusively indoors—figure skating and so on. For those of us who had to mix in a turn on the ski slope, the bobsled run or the opening and closing ceremonies, a less formal—and more reasonable—answer to possible hypothermia necessitated an array of layered paraphernalia. Long johns, jeans, ski pants, sweater, ski jacket, wool hat, gloves.
During the bus ride to one event during the 1994 Lillehammer Games, played out in the snowy, 10-degree elements, I was topping off my bundling exercise by sneaking hand-warmers into my boots and gloves when a native Norwegian, working as an Olympic volunteer, sussed me out as a wimpy foreigner. “That’s cheating,” he said. Not in an unkind way.
The only thing to do is swallow one’s pride and carry on in as much comfort as possible. My friend Jay Weiner, who covered multiple Olympics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, always was a model of sober pragmatism—and to hell with fashion.
For the Winter Games, he had this Elmer Fudd hat, with big flaps to cover the ears. During the typical confusion of bus rides and long days, carting around laptops, reference guides and other necessities, Jay’s hat went missing at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Until he got a call on his cell phone from a Games volunteer: “Mr. Weiner. We have your hat.”
The Japanese were so vigilant to their service culture that there were regular communications to harried, distracted visiting reporters regarding the retrieval of credit cards and other misplaced articles, large and small. In the cafeteria of the main press center, there were little lost-and-found boxes by the cash registers, containing coins as insignificant as one-yen pieces (worth about 8/10th of an American penny) waiting to be claimed.
A second time, Jay misplaced his hat, and a second time Japanese volunteers rescued it.
Weiner, by the way, was so meticulous in his comprehensive strategizing for international sports competitions that, prior to the 1991 Pan American Games in Cuba, he ordered “special tropical shirts” he was convinced would keep him cool in the Caribbean heat of August. L.L. Bean still sells those shirts, claiming they are “top rated for breezy comfort and colorful patterns…in extra-soft and breathable cotton [that] keeps you cool on the hottest days.”
The afternoon of opening ceremonies in Havana, reporters were herded into a large, airless room—stifling hot, with bludgeoning humidity—for the better part of an hour for some sort of security clearance. Eventually all exited, thoroughly soaked in perspiration. Weiner and his tropical shirt included.
Nothing to hyperventilate over, though. There are some Olympic attire anecdotes to lift the spirits, such as during the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, when word spread that visitors could find grand bargains in the city’s Itaewon district, known for tailors producing custom-made suits. One brief fitting session and a return days later for the finished product, and a Mr. Sol had sold me a fine garment for approximately one-third the cost I would have paid at home. That suit lasted 20 years.
But, too, I have a clothes tale hinting at dastardly gamesmanship. During the 2006 Turin Winter Games, I was availed of what trash talk sounds like in the sport of curling, the apparently civilized competition resembling shuffleboard on ice.
American curler Maureen Brunt revealed that a curler might attempt to unsettle an opponent by casting aspersions, sotto voce, during the mostly quiet action. According to Brunt, “You might say, ‘Hey, she has lint on her pants.’ Or, ‘Her mittens are shedding.’ It throws her off from concentrating.”
Now, that is airing dirty laundry.