I remember Sochi
The International Olympic Committee has selected Sochi, Russia as the site of the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics. In my humble opinion, having been involved personally in quite a few Olympiads, Sochi is the most unlikely place to hold such a gigantic event.
We all know that to this date, the only Olympics to make money has been the 1984 L.A. Games. This was not only because of terrific marketing and outstanding management due to a great extent the business acumen of Mike Mitchell and since many of the necessary venues were already in Los Angeles. Consequently, L.A. did not have to spend billions of dollars improving and building new venues.
The Sochi I remember when I was there was a sleepy resort town on the Black Sea. Its major claim to fame was that this was the place where the commissars came to relax. It was here that many had their Dachas (country houses). Sochi was famous for one thing and one thing only…its natural hot springs… not unlike our Warm Springs, Georgia, or Hot Springs, Arkansas.
As a matter of fact, I went there within months of the Soviet Union (USSR) being overthrown. The loose knit Commonwealth of Independent States and its Tricolor Flag replaced the Union and its Red Flag with the hammer and sickle.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Almost forty years ago in the embryo stages of the now huge cellular industry, I met a man who was not only to change my life, but also as the years have passed, he has become the older brother I never had, a dear friend and my mentor in so many areas. Among these areas was technology… in particular, mobile phones.
Robert “Bob” Block had a vision back in the 1980’s that one day Cellular phones would replace hard wired and telephone poles as the prime household method of communication. But let me tell you that is only a small part of his diverse background.
I first met him when I was at 20th Century Fox. At the time, I was part of the new Telecommunications Department. Bob had pitched our Chairman to have FOX get involved with him in starting what would become over-the-air Pay Television. For whatever reason, FOX opted to pass. Today, you and I enjoy so much because of him. Among other things, he is the true father of Pay TV. Which he succeeded in starting without FOX.
However, I am sure, to most of my readers, his name is unknown. Yet, because of this quiet intelligent man, our lives enjoy many improvements. To date, he holds almost 200 Patents both U.S. and Internationally.
We formed a partnership and set about securing Cellular licenses from countries and cities all over the world. He taught me well. At one point, I decided to strike out on my own.
I started acquiring licenses wherever I could. One of the places, I carved out was Russia. I was successful from the Golden Ring of Moscow to the Ukraine. Then I looked to the Baltic and the Black Sea… first, Bulgaria then Sochi.
Through the auspices of President Boris Yeltzin, my associate Michael Wex and myself were sent to Sochi. The airport in the early 90’s was one small hut. We were met on the Tarmac by a limousine. At the wheel was a member of the military. The telephone system was antiquated and practically useless.
We stayed in Leonid Brezhnev’s Dacha. That in itself was a thrill! The bed I slept in was a gift from Franklin D. Roosevelt. Two chairs in a little sitting room came from Chang Kai Shek and a small writing desk was from Winston Churchill… rounding out presents received by Stalin from all the men who had attended the Yalta Conference.
I kept thinking how impossible it was that this son of Russian immigrant parents, who escaped the progroms, would be sitting here in such splendor!
With all of this, 23 years ago there was only one high-rise hotel. They were just starting their stock market and I constantly played tennis with an inebriated Boris Yeltzin as my partner on the only tennis court in the entire city. It was clay with weeds growing through the clay. By the way, no matter how badly we played, we never lost. I wonder why?
So that brings us to the present. I know that President Putin, who at the time I was there was still Vice Mayor of St. Petersburg, wants this as a showcase to indicate Russia is once again becoming a power on the world stage. Remember Berlin in 1936??
But why spend upwards of 20 billion dollars and hold Winter Games in a city, which is one of the very few places in Russia with a subtropical climate, plus warm to hot summers and mild winters.
There is something wrong with this picture. It doesn’t make sense!
In addition, its closeness to the violent Chechnya Republic, constantly at war with Mother Russia, poses a major security threat to the games.
In 1980, I was involved when President Carter boycotted the last Russian Olympics. I don’t advocate boycott, but I urge Scott Blackmum, the current CEO of the U.S.O. C. and a bright man with whom I have negotiated in the past, to do everything possible to keep our athletes safe. I’m sure he is!
Getting back to Bob Block, I must also tell you, the readers, that along with Dr. Tom Rosandich and others, he was instrumental in founding the United States Sports Academy. Today, it stands as our only true University of Sport. The fingerprints of this visionary definitely can be found on the Olympics in Russia.
As the Games approach, I pray for not only success, but also safety of our U.S. Team.