23 April, 2014


Puck Daddy, at the Olympics: It Was Like ‘A Roman Orgy’

The story arrived on my eyes like a first centerfold does to the adolescent away at summer camp — an “emergency” shipment of condoms was headed to Vancouver during the second week of the Olympics. This after 7,000 Olympians had already been provided an initial cargo load of 100,000 prophylactics. At that moment I knew I had to interview Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski upon his return from the Olympics.

Wyshynski attended his first NHL game since the Vancouver Games ended this past Monday night, for the visit to Verizon Center by the Dallas Stars. Vancouver was his first Olympics experience. It made quite an impression on him.

Wyshynski and more than 50 of his Yahoo colleagues made the trip across the continent to cover the Vancouver Games, in their entirety, an extraordinary allotment of personnel and resources in this resource-constrained era. Even a few of the mightiest and most prestigious of news organizations couldn’t match that.

“There was enormous pressure in the beginning to make sure [the investment] was warranted, but that’s what I do every day. I get to do this for a living. I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself and the blog to do well because of that,” Puck Daddy told me before the Capitals-Stars game on Monday.

“I was proud of the work we did. The numbers were great. Then there was encouraging comments by [our] peers. And then there was the totality of the work you do when you’re on site — we did some really great stuff. Some of the angles for the stories we did were different, and were not things that necessarily would have been written about had we not been there.”

Was he affected at all by the enormity of the sporting stage, aware perhaps of watchful, suspicious eyes of the IOC’s media flacks upon new media?

“I think it was just going to Vancouver and doing my own thing,” he said. “I don’t know if the blog necessarily did anything different than we would have normally done.”

Puck Daddy, Greg Wyshynski

Wyshynski never experienced any sense of being out of place among world-recognized media in Vancouver. Perhaps that’s because Yahoo today is very much a world-recognized media outlet, particularly for sports, particularly because of Wyshynski’s success there.

“The fact that you’re on site [covering the Games] is enough — there’s never a feeling of ‘Why are you here?, why are you asking that question?’ he told me.

When I expressed skepticism that any media outlet, even the most esteemed over the longest period of time, could possibly harbor suspicion that a writer for Yahoo would be credentialed for the Olympics, Wyshynski detailed a stratified credentialing process.

“For certain events, you had to get a special ticket in order to get in the press box for it. Like [for] the Canada-Russia game, the U.S.-Canada [hockey] games. You couldn’t just show up with your credential, you had to go through USOC and get a special ticket.”

For almost the entirety of his coverage time in Vancouver Wyshynski had reliable access to an Ethernet jack and could work without fear of wonky WiFi service. But for one hockey game — a semi-final one at that — Wyshynski and his Yahoo colleague weren’t seated at a media table. He was supposed to live blog and had no Internet access. That situation got resolved. Otherwise, though, the entire Olympic experience was smooth sailing in terms of generating work product.

When I pressed Greg again about his comfort level with engaging the Games with his characteristic (and endearing) irreverence, he pointed out that Yahoo’s coverage mission overall was to cover the Olympics as largely a straight news story, but he also reminded me that his inner Puck Daddy tossed off his red mittens at times.

The article that I wrote after the Canada-Russia game was complete id — I tore the sh*t out of Russia,” he said. Indeed!

“Russia’s 7-3 loss to Canada in its Olympic hockey quarterfinal game is one of the most definitive, declarative and emphatic emasculations the sport has seen in decades . . .

“The defense was pathetic. Unable to move Canadian players from Nabokov’s sight line. Unable to defend odd-man Canadian rushes. There may be a “D” in “forward,” but there sure wasn’t any in these tentative, meandering Russian wingers.

“The non-NHL players were pathetic. The Russians have nine players on the roster from their native Kontinental Hockey League. There were a combined minus-9 with two points, getting outclassed and outcompeted in every zone. They were warm bodies, background players to Canada’s stars.”

Yahoo wasn’t alone as a dot-com entity in Vancouver, Wyshynski noted. Fox Sports.com was there, and there were a few other web oriented outlets, almost all North American-based. One particular caliber of new media reporter — “the Dan Steinberg types,” Greg called them — wasn’t present, and that he felt was a detriment to the overall coverage.

“There were a lot of columnists, a lot of old school shoe-leather types, let’s say,” he noted. “I think the [Olympic] gig demands a versatility. For the first few days I was there, I was doing the ‘Man about town’ [feature-y files] before going straight into covering hockey.”

There were hardships to Greg’s tour of Olympic duty. He’s an expecting father, and he was a full continent away from his family for more than half a month.

“I’m not a beat writer, I don’t leave [home], I’m a homebody, and I hate leaving,” he said, “so the first week was beyond anything I was used to.”

“The Olympic experience, at least with the winter Olympics, is like a Roman orgy. It is Mardi Gras. It was unbelievable, the level of revelry that existed in that city for a month. For a month!

“Vancouver is split up into different neighborhoods, and a lot of these neighborhoods are very concentrated with bars and restaurants. Every night tons of people would be there. There was a street called Granville Avenue where every single time you walked past it the street would be filled like a concert in Central Park.

“Girls kissing . . . the U-S-A fans chanting against the Canadian fans. . . ”

I pressed him for more details on the kissing girls. That sounded rather Roman to me.

Did hockey’s most famous blogger encounter any evidence of a condom crisis in Vancouver?

For a lot of the Games’ athletes, Wyshynski noted, “there’s nothing else to do” besides fornicate, outside of competing. You have literally thousands of extraordinarily fit young men and women encamped together in a sequestered village for weeks, he noted. Some athletes find the competitive portion of their Olympics participation over literally within hours of the Games’ start.  That’s a lot of free time around very fit bodies before the closing ceremonies. Hence, 14 condoms per athlete, and with these particular Games, that volume barely lasted beyond the first week.

The Olympics are unifying in this regard.

As for the PR hits Vancouver initially took, Wyshynski said a lot had to do with the opening day tragedy of losing a luger, and the Olympic torch not working at the Opening Ceremony, but beyond the somberness of the first day or two, for those actually attending the Games, “you never got a sense of [anything negative]. It was an overwhelmingly positive vibe, because it’s an overwhelmingly positive city.

“Being an American, in that building, and watching the USA beat Canada, on their home ice, and then losing in overtime in the gold medal game, was mind-blowing.”

That initial defeat of the Canadians, Wyshynski suggested, “was a lot like the World Juniors — you had [Canadians] questioning their existence. I mean if you remember what happened right after World Juniors, you had people writing columns about, ‘Well we need to rethink our entire system!’ And it was like that with the Canadian [Olympic ] team, except it was ‘Well, we need to rethink this entire team — where is Stamkos, where is Mike Green? We can’t work the power play.’

The Canadians ended up rethinking things rather thoroughly — overhauling their lines. The Canadian team the Americans faced in the gold medal game was a markedly different team from that of a week before.

“Canada 2.0,” Wyshynski called it. “Totally professional, assasin-like.”

“The loss in the gold medal game, and walking around town as an American, made me feel like an atheist in the Vatican.”

Roman orgies and a seeming visit to the Vatican, all in one Olympic Games. The NHL better go to Sochi.



2 Comments

  1. Joe wrote:

    How are there no comments on this post? This stuff is gold…two of my favorite hockey bloggers talking about my favorite subject. (And that would be hockey, haha). Great work!

    11 March, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink
  2. Joe,

    Thanks for the warm words, and like you, I find Greg a daily must-read. I’m drawn to him because of his passion for our game, his superb wit, and his deft skill with new media. But on a more personal level, he’s also a colleague-friend. I’ve yet to be in a hockey rink with him, initially engage his glance at some distance, and not meet him with a wide smile and a buddy’s handshake moments later.

    11 March, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Permalink