Sure, I missed the party, but I met the peeps

Updated: February 19, 2006, 4:17 PM ET
By Brian Church | Special to ESPN.com

Forget the sports, the Olympic Games is the biggest party on earth. One giant FriendFest. Torino threw an all-night celebration this weekend for some 700,000 people, organizers claimed.

Vladimir Prikupets
Brian Church/ESPN.comVladimir Prikupets, 75, holds his third Olympic torch in front of Piedmont's foggy Susa Valley.
Yep, I missed it.

I've been dreading the call from the Big Boys and Girls at ESPN.com, demanding to know how someone with the job of walking the streets of Torino failed to notice a party attended by almost three quarters of a million people.

Folks, I was very tired and a really big dog was outside my flat. More on that later.

"La notte Olimpica," or Olympic Night, was a sight to behold (I'm told), with museums, shops, bars and institutes open late -- 'til dawn in many cases. Performers included Daddy G from Massive Attack and Italian crooner Paolo Conte. At least, I think he's a crooner. He's world famous in Italy.

"Torinonodorme," or Torino doesn't sleep, was at the Teatro Agnelli. That's not to be confused with the smaller rival event, "Church-does-dorme," a few miles up the road.

Post-party snow fell heavily in the area Sunday, causing havoc with transport and some events. I got stuck up in the mountains, but made new friends in the process. That's the Olympics for you.

Gary Morgan is an Olympian who competed as a speed walker for the U.S. in the 1988 Olympics. He didn't win a medal, but still looks pretty fit to me. His fastest-run marathon -- check this out -- is 2 hours and 35 minutes.

I asked him for some tips in improving my best 5K time, a terrible 22 minutes that I set while trying to impress a beautiful Greek woman on the same track. Gary's best is around 16 minutes. I've got to run much more and do some speed segments, he told me. "No pain, no gain" is as true as it's ever been.

Vladimir Prikupets, 75, was my fave person of the day. A Jew from Ukraine who left for San Francisco 30 years ago, he is that rarest of combinations: A U.S. civil engineer and sports press photographer for Russian newspapers. He's taken part in the Olympic torch relays three times: 1984 Los Angeles, 2002 Salt Lake City and 2004 Athens.

All three torches bear his own inscribed message.

"Second torch I carried in 2002 and, of course, it was a very fresh memory from Sept. 11," Prikupets told ESPN.com. "This is why I put on the torch: Against terrorism, banditism, anti-Semitism all around the world."

His first torch remembered the victims of the Holocaust and the Israeli athletes who died at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Although the snowstorms made it feel like a real Winter Olympics on Sunday, this is still a country full of the carefree Mediterranean spirit. I asked the driver of my private bus if he minded me leaving my bag with a valuable laptop on the vehicle while our tour party went and ate. Sure, no problem, leave it, he said.

In the tavern, much wine and food later, I looked over to another table and there's my driver eating away. I'm glad to report the bag and bus were still there upon our return.

Now, about that dog. We met at my new lodgings, a basement flat in a remote area of Piedmont. Apparently, he's very friendly, but all owners say that, don't they? I just know he's huge and doesn't like me.

Stressful 18-hour days are the norm for many journalists covering these Games. My day, as long as I get through the first 3.5 seconds alive (that's the dash from the flat to the other side of the yard gates) is a doddle.

He'll be waiting for me tonight.

Brian Church is a columnist with the Athens News in Greece. He will be contributing to ESPN.com throughout the Olympics.