Feb 19

Spasibo Russia!

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.

 

Foreign Relations

Feb 17

Ready, Set…Wait, I Can’t See Where I’m Skiing!

Last day at the Olympics today so this should be my last update before getting home since tomorrow is all travelling.

Yesterday was all about the atmosphere. The noise when Legkov took second place for Russia in the men’s cross country skiing relay was something to behold. It was matched only by the silence when Vlegzhanin lost it to France on the next leg. Still, the Russian dug deep and took silver back for the host nation. There were some celebrations on the way down to Krasnaya Polyana after that race.

The evening promised the biathlon, the men’s 15km mass start. Biathlon, it appears, is a who different beast to the very dignified affair that is cross country skiing. Let’s say the “characters” come out. The atmosphere in the stadium was exceptional. Pre-race, we had music, cheerleaders, parkour and many singing Norwegians.

Then the fog came.

It’s like someone flicked a switch and visibility went from miles to feet. By the start of the race, I could barely make out the track from the grandstand, never mind the poor athletes who were supposed to hit targets in it. Well, we (myself, Dmitry, and the dancing girls on my other side) hung around for a while until they announced that they had postponed the race. Still, Ole Einar Bjorndalen did a ski-by for us and gave the fans a wave.

They rescheduled for a 10am start today but logistically, there was no chance I was making that, not from Sochi Seaport, so I wrote it off as a lost cause. Instead, I’m about to explore some of the other Olympic sites, depending on what they’ll let me in to without an event ticket. The extra sleep helped no end, too. So far it’s been all early mornings and late nights, or not sleeping at all and powering through the next day.

Fingers crossed, the women’s biathlon mass start will go ahead tonight. Sochi is a wet and cloudy place this morning but then the Laura biathlon stadium is far away.

In other news, I spotted some Brits at the biathlon last night! I was too deep in the grandstand to get to speak to them but the sight of another Union Jack surprised my Russian neighbours and brought a smile to my face.

So here’s me signing off. Hopefully I’ve given you an idea of what it’s like to be at the games. In all, it’s been a full-on experience. Volunteers are absolutely everywhere and most speak enough English to help you get by. The Russian people have all been very welcoming. I even spent yesterday’s cross country race with one who spoke less English than I do Russian and we got along famously.

Enjoy the rest of the games!

Feb 16

The Biathlon Starts Here!

Quickly checking in as I have a few spare minutes before heading into the mountains for the day. Yesterday had me a little below the Olympic rings on the cross country ski track (should you catch the race, look for the British flag there). Today, I’ll be lower still, closer to the track but able to see the huge screen. Though yesterday’s view was excellent, it turns out that it’s nice to see what’s happening elsewhere on the track. That’s just for the cross country relay though. For the biathlon, I’ll be in the grandstand. Go Domracheva! The Russian group I met at the last race (Yula & company) look to be in the same place for the biathlon so I may yet have some familiar neighbours.

So far I’ve been mistaken for one of the athletes on no less than five separate occasions. Guess all those press ups are doing something.

Time to move, trains to catch, races to watch.