I leaned in as far as I could. With one leg parallel to the floor and the other balanced on the balls of my right foot, I looked like Sasha Cohen gliding across the ice in a graceful spiral.
One key difference is that I'm not Jewish. Another is that I wasn't competing in the Olympics. I was covering it. Which is how I came about arching in the sub-basement level of the Palasport ice rink. Jockeying for position with 30 reporters huddled in a half-circle, I extended and lurched forward with my tape recorder to catch every word uttered by U.S. forward Doug Weight after a 3-3 tie to Latvia in the meaningless preliminary round.
Welcome to the mixed zone, otherwise known as "barnyard journalism." This was my first Olympics, and the mixed zone, a designated interview area where athletes are required to pass through a long line of shouty press wags, was where I spent the better part of 17 days. During that time, I covered 30 events in eight sports, where I learned to master the art of interviewing behind very tall reporters at five different mixed zone venues.
I enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere of the mixed zone at the snowboarding venues in Bardonnechia, chilling in the warm afternoon sun, but my fondest memories of hanging in the zone was at the Palasport rink where the men's and women's hockey tournaments were held. There, I traded pins with one of the NHL's public relations's staffers, Jamey Horan, and newspaper gossip with New YorkTimes reporter Lee Jenkins and got asked out on a date by some Canadian guy. I forgot his name, but he was nice.
My colleague, Michael Farber, told me that the Palasport mixed zone was a serious upgrade from the hockey venue at the 1992 Albertville Games that separated the skaters from the press corps through a chicken-wire fence. "It was a somber place. I thought they would stick pieces of bread through the holes," Farber said.
While the mixed zone sites have gotten better, the reporting skills of journalists have not. After Canada was bounced by Russia in the quarterfinals of the men's hockey tournament on the evening of Feb. 22, Canada defenseman Chris Pronger came out to face a group of journalists with their knives sharpened. For several minutes he talked about Team Canada being outperformed, but then came the zinger. Asked one reporter, "So, how does it feel to lose?"
Pronger's comeback: "How do you think it feels?"
A few days later, I'm listening to a new batch of skaters. This time, it's short-track star Apolo Anton Ohno. Unlike the airy basement of the Palasport, the Palavela mixed zone, where all the short-track and figure skating events are held, is cramped and small. This time it's 100 reporters lined up in a room the size of a New York City studio apartment. Five feet tall, I can just see the top of Ohno's bandana as I'm suddenly crushed up against a dozen smelly male armpits. Does the mixed zone get any better than this?