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SOCHI, Russia -- It took me nearly three weeks, but I found the strangest place Friday afternoon, and it couldn't have been any more needed. Or bizarre.
Tucked away into a quiet corner on the second floor of the Main Press Center is the "Relaxation Room," a place for writers, photographers and broadcasters to at worst escape the Olympic grind and at best grab a few minutes of shuteye before shuffling off to another event.
Early Friday afternoon, barely functioning on five hours of sleep after Thursday night's thrilling women's hockey gold-medal game, I desperately needed a recharge. I grabbed a building map and made way to the place I had long heard about but never before visited. There it was: Relaxation Room. The only sign on the door said no cell phones. I paced in the hallway before opening the massive metal door.
What I found was darkness. Complete and total darkness. Like I can't-see-three-feet-in-front-of-my-eyes darkness. I stood there, allowing the door to close behind me, trying to figure out what to do. I couldn't see a thing. But I could hear snoring and the rustling of clothes as people tossed and turned. It was creepy.
Where were these people that I couldn't see? I worried that if I meandered my way through this wall of darkness, I might trip over somebody or worse yet, crawl into a cot that was already occupied. (Imagine that: "Oh, I'm sorry for laying on top of you. Didn't see you sleeping there.") I bailed. I headed back to my workstation, set my head into my folded arms and tried to sleep there. No chance. So I trudged back to the Relaxation Room, flipping on my phone, hoping the light from the screen would illuminate a path to an open cot.
It worked. When I lied down, I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep. But my mind couldn't stop thinking about how odd this all was. I mean, when was the last time you've slept in a room with 20 strangers from various countries throughout the world?
What exactly is the proper protocol in a communal nap room? Can I take my shoes off? Are there blankets? If there are blankets, would I even want one? And why is it so damn dark? I can't even see my feet.
Then perhaps the most troubling thought of all entered my head: Over the course of the last month, how many people had laid on this exact same cot, in this exact same spot? How many of them had fallen asleep and drooled where my cheek now rested? This was disgusting.
A few feet away, one man snored with the force of a small hurricane. In another corner, another person kept mumbling -- "mmmm ... mmmm ... mmmm" -- and I don't think they were listening to the Crash Test Dummies. And then there was the rustling. The constant reminder that yes, in fact, I was trying to sleep in a room with some 20 other people I didn't know and couldn't see.
But I was so exhausted I didn't care. I curled up into a tiny ball and tried to clear my head. Eventually I crashed. Every couple minutes, the door would swing open and another unsuspecting soul would meet the black curtain. The smart ones would pull out a cell phone and find an open cot. The weak ones would bail. Each time the door opened, those of us trying to sleep were greeted by a beam of light from the outside world. Let this happen to you more than once and you quickly learn to turn your back to the door.
For the next 90 minutes, this was my life. Sleep, squirm, shush and repeat. The shushing came when someone tried to talk, whisper, rustle excessively or when a cell phone rang. (C'mon, do you not see the "no cell phones" sign on the door? Do you not have a silent button? We're sleeping here, people!)
Eventually, the commotion was all too much and I woke up. In the end, I probably collected close to an hour of actual sleep. But I felt like a new man. At least for a couple hours. Later that night, sitting at the Iceberg Arena for the final night of short-track speedskating, I had one thought: Man, I'm tired. I could really use a nap.