I’m writing this on the night of Saturday February 8th.
I have been 2 nights and 3 days in Sochi the controversial capital of this 2014
Winter Olympic Games. Things have been polarizing, but that does not in any way
mean that they have been bad, all the contrary, I have had a real good time in
I got to Sochi around 9pm of the 6th, my
birthday, it was the quickest birthday of my life. Traveling against the
time-zone made it that way. I made it clear that it would not affect my
celebrations so I treated myself well with a nice beer and a schnitzel at the
Frankfurt airport during my layover.
After my 7 hour flight from Dulles Airport to Frankfurt, my
two-and-a-half layover in Germany, and the subsequent four hour flight to
Sochi, I finally made it to Olympic territory. I was greeted by half a dozen
police-men waiting for us right outside the airplane’s door. One had an
intimidating camera who was taping each and every one that was getting out of
the plane. I highly doubt they planned on showing our arrival on Russian TV. I
passed customs fairly quickly but with a sense of tense calm. The custom
officers were friendly and polite, but there was something in the air that was
a bit uneasy.
As I walked outside the pick-up baggage area, I saw hundreds
of people with signs trying to locate the people they were supposed to pick up.
After a few minutes of struggle I found a familiar name on one of the signs and
approached the man holding it. We struggled with language barriers for about 10
minutes until I finally realized that he was trying to tell me that my
classmate, owner of the name on the sign, had already arrived and was waiting
for me at the car. I could write an entire blog post about her, but long story
short, she brought 3 huge bags to Sochi, with one that included exclusively
Cokes (yes Coca-Colas) and bottled water. She had her reasons, very poor ones
if I can judge that.
We got to our hotel. A nice guest-house with about 15 rooms
and at least 75% of them booked exclusively for our group. Aside from the fact
that the rooms do not smell very well (it could very well be my roommate’s
fault and not the hotel’s) and that the bathroom floods every time someone
takes a shower, there are very few things one could complain about.
After going out for a few drinks to end up my shortest
birthday, we got some sleep and promptly woke-up pretty early to start with our
intense schedule. We went to the Olympic Park to get our accreditations. One
for the USOC (United States Olympic Committee), the mandatory Spectator Pass
(if you want to go to any event, you have to have one of those), and a 2-day
pass for the USA House inside the Olympic Park where I’ll be volunteering twice
in the next few days.
We got an amazing tour of the Olympic Park and the USA House
before any of those opened to the general public the day of the Opening
Ceremony. Senior Executives from the USOC gave us a couple of lectures about
logistics and transportation, my area of expertise, and also got a training
session for our upcoming volunteering days at the USA House
Some of the group members stayed around at the Olympic House
while the rest of the group went to pick-up pre-purchased tickets and watch the
opening ceremony in a restaurant. After our meals, 5 of us decided to go to the
Fan Fest near our hotel, a place with a huge TV screen and some food stands. It
was only Russians trying to get into that place, it seemed like a nightclub with
bouncers deciding who gets in and who doesn’t. Fortunately I took advantage of
our multiple accreditations and from way back in the crowd got the bouncer’s
attention while flashing me credentials and they allowed us in. Sochi is not
that different from our Western culture. Inside things only exploded with
cheers after the Russian delegation showed up in the huge screen. I was the
only one who cheered when the Mexican delegation composed of Hebertus Von
Hohenlohe (yes, just him) showed up on the screen.
After that we went back to our hotel, not before stopping in
a convenience store and grabbing a traditional Russian Vodka. We had a nice
chat in our hotel’s kitchen over a few drinks and went to bed. We woke up early
(again) and went to the Olympic Broadcasting Service (OBS). It’s an enormous
place, I can almost say it’s unnecessarily huge. All the technology that they
have in there is mind-blowing: servers, computers, TVs, gadgets, all
interconnected to the International Signal that feeds the images that you watch
back at home, wherever that is, projected on your screen. I will not forget the
tour of this place.
Also, we got to talk to people in charge of communications
of the USOC, writers from Yahoo!, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and some
others. People that have been part of the Olympics for decades, listening to
their stories was very fulfilling and they were very welcoming. Our professor,
Dr. Lisa Delpy Neirotti is a very accomplished and recognized person in the field,
everyone knows her, EVERYONE. That’s quite helpful.
A former silver Olympic medalist gave us a great chat, we
got to talk to a logistics person (and alumni of GW) of NBC, and take a lot of
picture. Even I got a chance to give a press conference (not really, but the
picture is awesome).
My favorite part so far of the Olympics has to do with my
least favorite part. I had plans to go to 2 events today, Luge and Ski Jumping.
I had to pick-up tickets for the first one and already had in my possession my
tickets for the latter. After leaving the OBS and a series of poor decisions on
my part, I realized that I had lost my ticket for the Ski Jumping event. I got
so mad at myself but somehow kept my cool and went to pick-up the other tickets.
It can be hard to move around in Sochi if not going from the Olympic Park to
main streets. Not every taxi driver is willing to take you anywhere, not even
for a 20 minute ride.
I finally got back and headed up to the mountain-cluster.
The high-speed train is not a high speed train after all, it’s a train and
sometime it moves faster than a human walking. The Luge event was pretty cool.
It’s amazing the speed of these artefacts and amazing athletes. But then, the
main event, the event for which I had paid over $100 USD and lost the ticket. I
decided to head to the event and had 5 options in my mind. 1) Somehow get to
reprint my ticket (it’s possible), 2) Play the dumb-tourist card, 3) sneak in
4) convince someone to take pity on me or 5) buy a ticket outside the venue. My
3 newest friends, the ones with whom I had planned to go to that event were sad
about my ticket situation, but seemed a little unsure about my plans, I don’t
blame them, but they don’t know that well.
Turns out it was a very poor organization for the event. The
lines were huge to get into the gondola that would take us to the venue. That
lack of organization helped out with what turned out to be my favorite moment
thus far. As we were in line, we realized I needed a ticket for the event in order
to get to the gondola (unlike for Luge where they scanned the ticket after
traveling in the gondola). Basically options 1 and 5 were out of the table. I
realized it was time for a combination of 2, 3, and 4. I told my friends to get
in past the ticket check and wait for me. As it was my turn to check my ticket
I scanned my Spectator Pass and then in a hollywoodesque performance started to
look for my ticket. There were hundreds of people behind me and chaos was all
over. I got past security but kept playing dumb “I lost my ticket!!, hey Ryan
do you have my ticket?!”, no one spoke English and only one security guy seemed
to care that I had passed security without a ticket. I approached him (not ran
away, that’s for amateurs) and told him what happened, he had no idea what I
was saying. He told me to wait while he went for someone that spoke English, or
at least that’s what I imagined he said. But passed security, volunteers were
urging us to hop into the gondolas, they needed people to keep moving. I looked
at my friends and they had a nervous face, couldn’t believe what just happened.
I decided to be a good sport and follow the volunteer’s indications so I hopped
into the gondola and rode along my friends. No one checked our tickets at the
top. It was another incredible event. It has been an excellent couple of days
here in Sochi!
Until next time!