Live From Sochi: JCK Goes to the Olympics

In the early 1960s, when my dad was still a teenager, he vacationed with his buddies at the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The photo albums at my parents’ home in Los Angeles contain faded, yellowing prints that show him sitting on a rock-strewn beach, surrounded by bikini-clad babes, playing cards and chain-smoking cigarettes.

 

A grainy black-and-white photo of my dad (far left) playing cards on the beach in Sochi, c. 1962

So I wasn’t surprised by his reaction when I told him that Omega, the official timekeeper of the Olympics, had invited me to this month’s winter games in Sochi. “Ahhh, Sochi,” he said, as a dreamy look passed across his face. The wistfulness in his voice was unmistakable.

That was in November. Now it’s Feb. 10, and I’m here in Sochi, feeling quite proud of myself. Not only am I reliving a slice of my dad’s youth, I’m fulfilling a lifelong dream to attend the Olympics.

I began writing this post on Aeroflot flight 107, a 12-hour haul from Los Angeles to Moscow. Things got off to a friendly start at LAX, where I checked in beside Ariel Adams, the founder of A Blog to Watch, also heading to Sochi as a guest of Omega. As we boarded, I was amused to discover that my business-class seat found me across the aisle from Access Hollywood’s affable host Billy Bush. (After takeoff, he changed into the most charming little-boy pajama pants emblazoned with tiny red skiers slaloming across them—and now every time I see him on TV, I will picture that.)

I drank some champanskaya (as the Russians call it), ate some sea bass, watched Cool Hand Luke, and passed out.

The layover in Moscow was brief, as was the flight to Sochi. Upon landing, the Omega hospitality crew scooped us up and delivered us to the Radisson Blu Paradise Resort & Spa, a brand-new hotel just south of Olympic Park (indeed, the view from my balcony of the park and the Olympic Flame is spectacular). I’ve read the tweets and seen the photos of “dirty water” at the shoddy hotels across Sochi, as most of you probably have, but I’m here to say: Not so when you’re a guest of the sponsor!

The Radisson has clean and stylish rooms, working Wi-Fi, hot showers, friendly and reliable staff (from what I’ve seen so far), and is also hosting the NBC crew, which means that at the end of each day, when we congregate in the Omega hospitality lounge downstairs, I’m going to do my best to convince Brian Williams to give JCK an on-air mention.

As I prepare for a full day of Olympic adventure at the mountain cluster, about 45 minutes due east of the city, where all the alpine sports are taking place, I’m honored and humbled to be here with a longtime Olympic partner. Omega first timed the Olympics in 1932 in Los Angeles. The company served as the official timekeeper of its first Winter Olympics in 1936 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where a single technician timed every event using a medley of 27 Omega stopwatches.

Omega at work at the 1948 St. Moritz Winter Games (photo courtesy of Omega)

At this year’s games, Omega has improved considerably upon that lone timekeeper: The brand has 260 on-site professionals, working alongside 170 trained volunteers, using 230 tons of equipment (including 30 public and 90 sports scoreboards, and 78 km of cable and optical fiber, all comprising a state-of-the-art timekeeping operation).

The Sochi Games will see the world premiere of a new technology in the bobsled races. Using information gathered in red Omega measurement units mounted on the bobsleds—which include a speed sensor, a 3-D acceleration sensor, and a 3-D gyro-sensor—the technology makes race data available to competitors, their teams, and TV viewers in real time.

 

New data-gathering red Omega measurement units are mounted on the bobsleds as of this year’s games (photo courtesy of Omega).

Elsewhere at the games, Omega is a ubiquitous presence. Races are begun with the trigger of a bright red Omega electronic starting gun. The Omega Scan’O’Vision Star Photofinish Camera is another key component of the brand’s official timekeeping duties.

 

Omega’s photo-finish camera hard at work on the field of play (photo courtesy of Omega)

Suffice it to say that I am duly impressed! In the watch and jewelry business, we know Omega for making storied watches like those in the long-running Seamaster and Speedmaster collections. We are, however, less aware of its legacy as a keeper of time. The difference may be nuanced, but it matters. Very few brands have the technological chops to measure time in the minute quantities required by the Olympics.

Later today, when I watch the alpine skiing (ladies’ super combined) competition, followed by men’s moguls in the freestyle skiing category, I’ll keep all that techno-accuracy in mind, as I salute the winners, thank Omega, and toast my dad (there has got to be vodka in the spectator stands—this is Russia, after all). Here’s looking at you, Papa.