Liz is usually pretty excitable but here she's giving the dual thumbs up + some!
You read about the stray dogs, the rust-colored tap water and the hotel rooms with the wet paint but what about the good stuff in Sochi? Now that we (the US Ski Team) are in Lahti Finland for thecontinuation of our regular season I’ve had a bit of time to reflect over the past three weeks of life and competition in Sochi. In complete honesty we came up just shy of some of our result-based goals but I tend to be a glass “half-full” person and there were many amazing things about our Russian Olympics.
First of all, there was the weather. While Vladimir Putin was able to buy most everything he desired for the Games with his record 51 Billion dollar budget blue skies couldn’t be purchased but appeared nonetheless. The views and photos from the venue were spectacular and the sunset behind the biathlon stadium was worthy of a painting in and of itself.
As an athlete I struggled with the heat that reached upwards of 55 degrees on some of the race days. I think I even suffered a small bout of heat stroke in the 10k classic race when I opted to wear my full black, one-piece suit ski suit. Some of my smarter teammates wore tank tops (to limit overheating) and landed in the International Media spotlight because of their bare shoulders. From an athlete’s perspective it was too hot but it was impeccable for spectators, Putin, and TV viewership.
The accommodations in the Endurance Village were fantastic despite the horror stories from the International media. In Vancouver our rooms were so small that duffle bags had to be stored in the hall, moving around the room required a do-si-do with your roommate and bathrooms were shared entities down the hall. In comparison, our rooms in Sochi were palaces. Apparently the chalets that we stayed in were pre-sold for top dollar before the Games even began. We had huge rooms with 15-foot tall ceilings, common rooms with microwaves, hot pots for tea and coffee and cupboards full of peanut butter and jelly stocked for us by the US Olympic Committee. Just a stone’s throw away from our neighborhood was Medvedev, the Prime Minister of Russia’s Mansion. I suppose you know you’re in good company when you share a view and locale with someone of that stature!
Some complained about the lack of McDonalds at our Mountaintop village and I missed the opportunity to get standard bean-based coffee there as opposed to grain-based coffee which seems to be standard throughout Russia. The food itself was edible and 180% different from our pre-Olympic World Cup experience one year ago. Yes, it was still a buffet, which we liken to eating out of a “trough” but the trough was relatively good. We had fresh options in addition to Borscht (Traditional Russian Beet-based soup) and when all else failed 4 types of oatmeal were available 24 hours a day. My favorite things were the options that are hard to find in Europe like sushi, wasabi, sweet chili sauce, BBQ sauce & blue cheese. It became a Game for me to make inventive meals from the buffet ingredients. This included “Mexican Night” when I brought my own Cholula and Salsa. On days 15, 16 and 17 of the Games the overall consensus was although the food looked different, everything started to taste the same. Also, there were hand-sanitizing stations throughout the cafeteria but the dining hall was certainly a cesspool of International germs.
Some of my personal highlights included helping “call the shots” from the NBC booth with my husband Rob who was working as a researcher-statistician for Al Trautwig & Chad Salmela, the NBC Cross Country Announcers. My day in the booth just happened to be the sprint day when my teammate Kikkan Randall was favored to take the Gold Medal but came up short. I was challenged with having to contain my disappointment while sitting 4 feet away from the LIVE broadcast. I certainly shed a silent tear for her but I was so impressed by her composure and the good luck hug that she gave to our other teammate, Sophie Caldwell who ended up skiing to a 6th place finish; the best Olympic result ever for a US Women.
In the NBC booth with Rob and legendary NBC Announcer, Al Trautwig
Other highlights were painting Russian Matryoshka Dolls under the tutelage of Russian-speaking ladies whom I befriended. My doll will certainly be my most beloved keepsake from the Games. One of my other favorite moments was standing at the top of the Biathlon bleachers during the Russian men’s gold medal performance in the team relay. Kikkan, Liz Stephen and I joined the crowd in cheering for the home team and chanting, “Russ-i-a!, Russ-i-a!” The local boys won in a dramatic sprint to the line and the crowd exploded in enthusiasm and energy. The very next day in the men’s 50k race the Russian men swept the podium and received their Olympic medals in front of tens of thousands of people at Closing Ceremonies.
The "example" doll is on the left, the one I painted is on the right!"
During the Olympics there is always a huge focus on the overall medal count. America loves “winners” and is somewhat obsessed with Gold medals. The question is always, “who will take Gold, Silver, and Bronze?” The truth is, most people who go to compete on the World’s highest stage go home empty-handed, myself included. While it may be disappointing that the Cross Country Team didn’t earn a medal in Sochi there are many more medal opportunities in our futures. The Olympics are just a small snap-shot of our storied careers and luckily the Olympics signify much more than first, second, or 29th place in x, y & z race. While it would have been fun to pop a bottle of champagne and celebrate making history with my teammates the Sochi Olympics were an experience I will never forget. I was proud to represent my country, the state of Alaska, and the Cross Country Ski Community at large. Congratulations to all of my fellow competitors and thank you to everyone who has supported us along the “Road to Sochi.” Time will tell where the next road will take us…..