In 2002, I was part of the KSL Radio team that covered the games. I spent the two-plus weeks at the main media center inside the Salt Palace with other journalists from around the globe.
My favorite story from those games came during the figure skating controversy surrounding the pairs competition. As you may remember, Russia’s Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze initially beat Canada’s Jamie Sale and David Pelletier for the gold medal. Turns out the French judge, Marie-Renie Le Gougne, reportedly said she was pressured by the French skating organization to favor the Russians as part of a deal to assist a French couple in the ice dancing competition.
As the brouhaha unfolded, word leaked that a co-gold medal for the Russian and Canadian couples was a possibility. The Russian Federation scheduled a press conference to discuss the situation. I was assigned to cover the announcement. The room was packed.
For these press conferences, five interpreters sat in small booths on a raised platform at the back of the room. Journalists could then plug into one of the language streams so they could understand what was being said.
The press conference was supposed to begin at 3:30 pm. As we sat in the room sweltering, the Russian team failed to appear.
4:30 rolled around. No Russians.
About 5 we got word the Russians were meeting with IOC President Jacques Rogge, hence the delay. The assembled journalists were not happy having to wait, but were ready to pounce once the Russians showed.
At 5:30, we were told the South Korean delegation was scheduled to have the room at 6 to hold a press conference to complain about an incident in the short track speed skating competition involving American Apollo Ohno. Everyone packed up their equipment and left. The interpreters left their booths to make way for those who could translate Korean for the next group of reporters.
As I walked down the hallway, coming the other direction is the Russian Federation coaches and officials barreling toward the interview room. Everyone who realizes what is going on does a quick about face and heads back to set up again.
There’s absolute pandemonium as journalists scramble to get back in the room and set up, while those who were already there for the Koreans were completely bewildered by what was happening.
As this was happening, the Russian coach stepped to the microphone and said in a thick accent “Press conference starts now!” He then began rattling off his statement in Russian. The biggest problem with this is the interpreters were there for the Koreans. Reporters plugged in expecting to hear the translation and got nothing. The Russians kept talking, journalists couldn’t understand them, and the frustration level was rising. Reporters were yelling at the Russians to stop and at the interpreters who had no idea what was going on.
It was absolutely glorious! Chaos is like manna from heaven for this reporter, and the 2002 Olympics delivered that in spades!
It’s experiences and stories like that which make me long for another games in our back yard.
“Whenever I feel bad, I go to the library and read controversial periodicals. Though I do not know whether I am a liberal or a conservative, I am nevertheless enlivened by the hatred which one bears the other. In fact, this hatred strikes me as one of the few signs of life remaining in the world.” ~ Walker Percy