Well, did I make the right decision to miss the men’s biathlon mass start! Can’t imagine I’d have been pleased at getting up at some unholy hour only to find out it was cancelled again. Still, the women’s biathlon went ahead and that race alone was worth the trip to Sochi. I spotted another British flag on the hill behind the range so headed for it since my ticket was for a track-side view. It was owned by a family from London who became my neighbours for this one.
The big screens were only visible from the stadium but my place on the hill behind the shooting range proved to be a great place. I got an excellent view of the long downhill, corner at the bottom, and the long climb. Oh, and the finishing straight. No doubt I bored my neighbours silly while the athletes were warming up on track before the race, identifying the ladies as they skied past. Having watched them week in, week out, it’s a whole other experience to be just a few feet away. I spent most of the actual race running between the downhill and uphill sections (the spectators were penned between the loop), taking photos and cheering the athletes on. Mainly Domracheva, sure, but other favourites like Finland’s Makarainen and just about anyone from Norway. And yes, Tora Berger’s style is even more impressive in person. Great race and a gold for Domracheva so I couldn’t ask for more.
A few people asked me about travelling alone in Russia. Even the Russians were surprised as they are aware of a certain reputation. The truth is that I really didn’t spend that much time alone, mainly just on trains and walking between venues. At events like this, you’re there on common purpose, which is the sport. That said, it takes self-confidence and trust in your abilities to stay safe. Ultimately, you’re responsible for yourself. Do thorough research to find out where you need to be, how to get there, and how to get back. Learning just a few words of the language helps no end, and you cannot be afraid of asking someone. If you get yourself into a pickle, it’s up to you to stay composed and get yourself out of it. If you leave your coach’s flag tied to one of the fences at the Laura biathlon stadium, well you just have to take responsibility and order a replacement. Sorry Anne–too excited at Domracheva’s win and the need to get to the cable-way station.
So there we have it. Time to say spasibo (thank you) to Russia. I could have gone into the background of the games or given you the results but there are far better placed people than I to do so. Instead I wanted to share the experience of being there as your man on the ground, and with any luck, didn’t end up telling the class what I did on my holidays. Saying that, I did share a flight home with one of our British gold medallists.
Yes, there was a lot of travelling, I ache to my bones from head to toe, and my body clock is under the misguided impression that 5am is a reasonable time to wake up, but none of that matters. This was about seeing the best in the world and being part of the biggest stage in winter sports.
I’ll leave you with a picture which I think epitomises the foreign relations aspect of the trip.