I love the Olympics. One of the reasons I got into journalism was because of the Olympics. It’s a phenomenal event that brings together people from every corner of the world. When I was asked to work in Sochi, I didn’t even bat an eyelash.
I had wonderful experiences in both Vancouver and London and I expected the same in Russia. However, when the 30-day mark rolled around before my departure date, the headlines were filled with information on terrorist threats, the Olympic host being a massive target, and basically that anyone going to the area would be at risk. All of the focus on this wonderful sporting event was gone and instead, the focus was on safety. It’s something I was not used to.
Three days before I was supposed to leave, the headlines intensified. I registered with the Canadian government in case I needed to search for an embassy during my time in Sochi. South of the border, safety dominated American newscasts. Athletes said they didn’t want their families to come with them. There was even talk of the United States sending their own Navy ships to the Black Sea in case a quick escape was needed.
I had absolute stomach turning anxiety on the day I left, but the good news was, I already had colleagues in Sochi. They sent me pictures and gave me briefings about the surroundings and security presence. They felt safe. Maybe they didn’t put my mind at ease 100%, but it definitely helped.
My journey to Sochi was simple one: Calgary – Frankfurt – Sochi. When I arrived in Russia, I was greeted by one of the many friendly volunteers. These people were superstars. They were always smiling and ready to help if you had any questions.
When we arrived in the media village, it was as expected. Forget all the stories you saw on Twitter, the accommodations were just fine. It was clean. There was plenty of space. It was quiet. There was Internet. We were in a secure area that was surrounded by a gate that was guarded by police.
I was covering figure skating this time around. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I always knew figure skating was a popular Olympic sport, but I never really knew how fanatical people were about it until I got to Sochi. The Russians had strong skaters in every event. There’s a reason they took the gold in the inaugural team portion. They were just that good.
It was phenomenal to see the kind of drive the skaters had. They spent countless hours day in and day out perfecting their routines for the four minutes the eyes of the world were on them.
The Canadians had a strong showing in figure skating. They left Russia with a silver in the team event, silver in men’s and silver in ice dance. There was plenty of controversy along the way. Did I feel that Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir deserved gold? Of course I did, but I wasn’t a judge. It was fascinating learning about all of the different elements and finally knowing what a proper twizzle was supposed to look like.
In my spare time, I focused on the other Canadian athletes. Our country not only impressed in the field of play, but off of it too. Other journalists were constantly commenting on the friendly and polite nature of our athletes. That’s something to be very proud of.
One of the highlights of my journey to Russia was the success of the women’s hockey team. They went into the tournament as the underdogs. The team must have used it as a rallying point, because they looked stronger than ever. Head coach Kevin Dineen had a game plan and he stuck to it. The final versus the US is one of the most exciting games I’ve ever watched. The resiliency and drive helped them bring home their fourth consecutive gold. Amazing.
Olympic Park itself was lovely. All of the venues were top class and they will be for years to come. Sadly, it’s just window dressings. The area outside the park is obviously struggling economically. It really saddens me to think that all of these people who worked at the Olympics are going back to being unemployed and have to wait for the next event to roll around. You could see how much it meant to the workers and volunteers when you spent time talking to them. They were all so genuine.
I left Sochi with a better appreciation for the country I live in. I’ve always been a very proud Canadian and now, even more so. We are very lucky. When I arrived home in Calgary, I had this sense of pride and calm wash over me as I waited in the Customs line.
A big thank you to everyone in Russia. Spasiba.