Bobby, We Hardly Knew Ye...
Bob Stiles' Sochi 2014 Olympic Legacy
Terrence Burns ©2014
In January of 2005, our team began prepping the Moscow 2012 bid committee for the upcoming visit of the IOC Evaluation Commission. In those days we had a very thin advisory team and my forte was not and is not technical planning. It was too late to “adjust” the Moscow bid books, written locally by non Olympic-experienced advisors – that's another story. And, we had to get ready for the IOC EC visit in just two months.
Bob Stiles, an old friend, had just finished his consulting stint with Leipzig 2012. Bob was quite vocal in the media about Leipzig being cut and Moscow passing through. And if you remember Bob, he could be fairly direct. A few years before, Bob hired my former partner George Hirthler and me to work on the US bid for San Francisco 2012 (a great bid…too bad) and also for the US Equestrian Federation’s re-branding. As we do in our business, I felt obliged to return the favor to Bob as soon as I had an opportunity.
Bob had extensive experience in planning, implementing, managing and consulting to major world-class sports events, including six Olympic Games, three FIFA World Cups and numerous other international competitions.
Bob knew his proverbial stuff.
In January 2005, Bob agreed to come to Moscow. He immediately fell in love with the city and its people, and as we shall see, Russia became the consuming passion for the rest of his too-short life.
Bob was a brilliant man - kind of off the charts brilliant, having earned both his BA and MA at Stanford in education and German. In truth, you could drop Bob anywhere on the planet and he could speak the language in about two weeks. He learned Russian as an undergrad (in his spare time) at Stanford and actually visited Moscow on a student trip in 1966 (yes he was busted for selling Levi’s blue jeans out of his backpack on the street). He was fluent in Russian when he was 18, but not when he returned to Russia for the second time of his life in 2005, at the age of 57.
As I said, it didn’t take Bob long to figure it out. I remember walking all over Moscow with Bob – he loved to walk. It was a Rip Van Winkle moment. The Moscow of 2005 was literally a different planet from the Moscow of 1966. Bob was speechless and observant as always. As we sat drinking a glass of good red wine (Bob loved red wine), overlooking Red Square and the new GUM, tears filled his eyes and he said “God I am so happy to be back here and see this…they made it through the nightmare.” Frankly, I’d never seen this side of Bob.
The very first mention I can recall of the word “Sochi” came at lunch one day, in an nondescript little Russian restaurant around the corner from the bid office – just the kind of place that Bob sought out and loved. He and I were having soup and some lovely dark Russian bread, and as usual drinking one of the dozens of flavored tea offerings with Dmitry Svatkovksy.
Dima was the Sydney 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist for Russia in the Modern Pentathlon, and he won a Silver medal in the same discipline competing for the “Unified Team” in Barcelona. Dima served on the leadership team of the Moscow 2012 bid as Sport Director and he was already thinking ahead. He said, “the leadership (a vague term in Russia that could mean anyone from the Sports Minister - then Viacheslav "Slava" Fetisov - up to Putin himself) is thinking about a winter bid for Sochi for 2014…”.
Bob and I were silent, as neither of us knew where Sochi was, and frankly we working hard to keep the Moscow bid afloat. In classic Russian style Dima leaned in, inches from our faces, and with an upturn in his chin, he narrowed his piercing blue eyes and said “Sochi…vhat you think…?” To this day I can’t recall what we actually said, but I don’t remember either of us jumping on it as a “great idea”. Like I said, we didn’t even know where it was. I do remember Dima looking a bit disheartened.
So the Moscow 2012 bid marched on to Singapore. We did our best, but were voted out in the first round with 16 votes behind New York, Madrid, Paris and London.
Four important things happened during that Moscow 2012 bid:
- I reconnected with Russia (I’d worked there briefly in 1992 with Delta Air Lines as their country manager) and learned to love and appreciate it and its people – it’s tough for most foreigners but worth the effort;
- I learned a lot about Olympic bidding from the bottom up;
- I reconnected with Bob Stiles. Although I initially hired him as a consultant to our firm, we always had a partnership relationship. We had different but complimentary skills – but I am sure that I learned a lot more from him that he did from me.
- The final important thing that happened as a result of the Moscow 2012 bid experience was that the Russians called, right after the loss in Singapore and asked us to help them on the Sochi 2014 Winter Games bid. They appreciated our grit, our ability to work hard and frankly, they liked us, trusted us and we liked them.
I called Bob and asked if he was “in” but with a twist. Going forward, we wanted him on our team as part of our company, not a consultant. The world of the independent consultant is a tenuous one. Contrary to common belief, the money is not that great and it is certainly not steady, working from event to event.
To our delight, Bob said yes and joined us full time. We immediately got to work on closing the Sochi deal.
The then head of the Russian Olympic Committee, Leonid Tyagachev, was the former sports minister. He was rumored to be a close friend of Putin’s and also his ski instructor. Tyagachev tasked the “three men left standing” after the Moscow bid, Dmitry Svatkovksy, Alexey Sorokin and Alexander Chernov to get the Sochi bid rolling. They immediately called me and I agreed. To this day people still ask me why I agreed to Sochi and all I can say is that I knew the Russians would not do two bids in a row and lose. They were determined – it was a very different feeling from the Moscow bid. And, I’d never been to Sochi!
Bob and I took a team including David Woodward of North Design, Charlie Battle and David Ficklin representing Jerry Anderson of then-HOK, and Catherine St. Laurent to Sochi in August 2005 for our initial look around. There was no bid committee, no money, no contract – nothing. All we had was the word of Russia via our three friends Svatkovksy, Sorokin and Chernov. But we believed in Russia and we knew, as it always does there, “it will happen”.
Bob and the HOK team, along with other Russian colleagues such as the late Andrei Serpilin of BDO and Dima Mosin, also ex-Moscow 2012 team member went to work on an initial sports and venue plan and budgets, while I went to work on the branding, messaging and the answer to “Why Sochi?” I am not sure which was more difficult at that point. I remember the deputy mayor’s office literally covered in maps. Bob looked at the place where the Olympic Park now resides and said, “what is here…?” After a few exchanges in Russian with his colleagues, the deputy mayor looked at us and said “nothing…we can use it all - what do you want to put there?”
It was an “ah ha” moment and one that frankly only Bob, among us, truly understood in terms of what it could really mean for this bid and for the long term legacy for the city of Sochi. Bob said, and I am paraphrasing from memory, “gentlemen I think we can do something historic for the Olympics here – and for Sochi…we have go over there and look around and measure the place but I think we can offer the Olympic Movement the first ever totally enclosed Winter Olympic Park for all the city/ice venues…including the Village, hotels, lounges, sponsor showcasing – all of it in one place! Do you realize what this means?”
I have to admit I did not know what it truly meant, and I really didn’t understand the true genius behind Bob’s revelation until it began to take shape on paper and in our narrative. Then it was clear: a built from scratch, tailor made plan for the Winter Games – state-of-the-art, brand new and in a region desperately in need not only of the sports infrastructure, but the accompanying city infrastructure needed to host a Winter Games and to serve its citizens for generations to come.
We would also re-introduce a new, vibrant and democratic Russia to the world, and host the Winter Olympic Games for the first time in one of the world’s greatest winter sports nations. Oh, and did we mention it will take place in a summer resort on the Black Sea? This bid had it all, and then some. Most of all, it had Bob.
Bob had a vision in his mind that people around the world are now seeing every night on the Olympic broadcast – he could really see those beautiful, incredible new venues in a glorious park in what was then a vast, empty, unused and frankly blighted area. And he was right – he was right more right than he would ever know. I know a lot of adjustments have been made since the Application File and Bid Books were written, but the foundation is essentially the same. And it was Bob who conceived it and drove it.
Bob worked tirelessly on the Sochi bid – it consumed him. We were in Moscow once a month, every month for at least one week, and often two-plus in Bob’s case. We were, by this time working with the new bid committee team brought in December 2005 by new bid CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko, whose talented leadership led the bid to victory in Guatemala City.
We also had help from new colleagues such Jon Tibbs and his team, IMG, Weber Shandwick, film makers Caroline Rowland and Rupert Wainwright, Andrew Craig and Emma Newbery, speech coach Martin Newman and others I am certain I've omitted (forgive me - let me know and I will update this post!).
Bob’s greatest pride was the Olympic Park – that was a never-been-done-before accomplishment and those are hard to come by in Olympic venue planning. To be sure we had a team of people, foreign and Russian consultants, architects, and analysts working on the bid by now – but it truly was Bob’s inspiration for the Sochi Olympic Park that led to what we see today.
I watched Bob literally become a different, happier more fulfilled person in Russia. “A New Bob.” Yes he could still call down the hammer of Thor when displeased with someone or something (if you ever worked with Bob closely, you’ve been singed a time or two from the accompanying lightening bolt).
But Bob was also a man at peace with himself. Russia gave him that gift and it was a beautiful transformation to watch. The photo at the top of this page was taken when we were leaving Moscow for what we thought was the last time – July 2005 on our way to Singapore for the Moscow 2012 Final Presentation. Little did we know we’d be back constantly over the next several years, and in Bob’s case finally, to stay and call it “home”.
Bob left our firm in 2008, after the Beijing Games and joined the Sochi Organizing Committee as a Vice President. I was sad to see Bob go but also understood it was the best move for him. Bob of course re-learned the Russian language; he also fell in love with a Russian lady, Olga, and got married. Frankly, I think he’d always wanted to end his career with an Organizing Committee.
Tragically, almost one year into his new life in Russia, Bob passed away on a trip back to Atlanta. His loss was devastating to his family, friends and the new Sochi Organizing Committee.
Bob touched everyone with whom he worked in a very special, personal way. Bob was tireless, visionary, relentless, complex and always kind. He was a true professional. And he was my friend.
Rest well my friend, and know that your vision, your dream for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games not only came true, but exceeded everyone’s expectations.
Thank you, Bob.