MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Every Sochi entry
February 24, 2014 4:55 am
As I said in last week’s Olympics wrap entry, I am taking the week off.
But I will leave this parting post.
In three weeks, I wrote 15 posts for the Telling The Story blog. They have tackled topics both light and heavy and, I hope, provided a deep look behind the scenes at Olympic life for a reporter.
In case you missed one, here is the list of all my entries from Sochi:
Mon. 2/3 — Arriving in Sochi, awaiting sleep: At 3:34 AM, the night upon my arrival in Sochi, I penned this post about the anticipation for my first day of Olympic work … and the insomnia that came with it.
Tue. 2/4 — Checking out Sochi’s coastal cluster: The sun shone down on Sochi’s Olympic Park, and suddenly everything made sense.
Wed. 2/5 — A look at Sochi’s mountain cluster: Olympic organizers built the Rosa Khutor alpine resort from nothing … and did a great job.
Thu. 2/6 — Culture shock? What culture shock?: When I got the call to go to Russia for the Olympics, I imagined numerous opportunities to scratch my authenticity itch. After half a week, I was still itching.
Fri. 2/7 — Ten observations from the first five days: With one week (sort of) in the books, I offered my thoughts on the sights, weather, and experiences so far in Sochi.
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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Farewell from Sochi, return to life
February 21, 2014 4:55 am
By the time my Olympic experience ends, I will have worked 300 hours in three weeks.
And I am feeling every last one.
I have been in Sochi, Russia since the start of the month, and I will remain here through the next few days. When it all ends, I will have done the following:
- 35 packages and four live shots for my home station, WXIA-TV
- 15 blog entries for 11alive.com and this web site
- Five interviews on an Atlanta radio station
- Four daily Olympic wrap-up videos for USA Today
- A handful of stories that have appeared on TV stations across the country
That would be plenty for four journalists combined, let alone a one-man band such as myself.
I will do myself a favor and decline to tally my hours of sleep.
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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: No shame in silver for Elana Meyers
February 20, 2014 4:21 am
The Olympic spotlight is extremely bright but cruelly brief.
It shines on an event, and that event’s mostly anonymous athletes, for a few days before zooming to the next.
Win a gold medal? You might earn another day before the spotlight leaves you dark.
Win a silver, and you fade even faster. And the viewing public will have barely learned your name, let alone everything you have battled to reach the Olympic Games.
In the case of Elana Meyers, that is truly a shame.
The Douglasville, Ga. native is an inspiration, someone who may not have won a gold medal, but is so worthy of the golden spotlight.
Meyers, despite standing on gold’s doorstep, took silver Wednesday night. The 29-year-old, alongside partner Lauryn Williams held the lead in women’s bobsled through three of four heats. Only in their final run did they make one costly mistake – bumping a wall on an early curve – to fall into second place. The headline, for some, may read: “USA Women’s Bobsledder Loses Lead, Misses Out on Gold”.
That may be a correct headline, but it is not the right one.
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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Elana Meyers rocks the mountains
February 19, 2014 4:55 am
I could not tell.
Speaking with Elana Meyers after her record-setting start to the 2014 women’s bobsled competition, I watched her display the same calm and composure she has shown in the past.
She spoke of her performance as if it were a training run, not Day One of the Winter Olympics. She talked of how, while she was certainly excited to sit atop the leaderboard, she needed to focus on the overall picture and work on fixing the mistakes from her first two heats.
She seemed very level-headed.
And I could not tell if she was faking it.
Meyers had to have been doing mental backflips, right? Team USA’s top bobsled driver had to have been thrilled with coming out of the gate and setting a track record on her first run. She had to have been relieved, after crashing her sled twice in last week’s training runs, to have taken two clean, beautiful slides down the Sochi track.
More than that, she had to have been bubbling with excitement. After winning a bronze medal as a brakeman in 2010, Meyers learned how to drive the bobsled in half the time usually required. She entered this season as America’s best and remained so entering the Olympics.
After one night, she stood temporarily as the world’s top driver, two heats away from potentially realizing her gold medal dreams.
She had to have been absolutely amped, right?
The conditions outside could not have been worse. Rain, clouds, and fog blanketed the Krasnaya Polyana mountains Tuesday. Much as it had in previous days, weather became a factor in various Winter Olympic events.
But it did not stop women’s bobsled. And it could not touch Meyers.
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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: How to succeed at pin trading (with kinda, sorta trying)
February 18, 2014 4:55 am
I have hinted at it.
I have mentioned it.
But I have not really delved into the subplot bubbling under my Sochi Olympics experience.
That would be pin trading.
Perhaps you have never heard of it. I know I had never heard of it until I arrived at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. Within a few days, a collection of uniquely dressed gentleman had set up long, pin-filled tables outside the International Broadcast Center.
But pin trading is a phenomenon. Athletes, sponsors, and media members arrive at the Olympics with pins representing whoever their country, company, or publication. When two people of differing Olympic backgrounds have a pleasant conversation, they conclude it by exchanging pins.
At least, that is the theory.
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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: A different view of USA-Russia
February 17, 2014 4:55 am
If you watched this weekend’s instant classic USA-Russia hockey game, then you probably had the same view I did.
Check that. You probably had a much better view.
Despite being a few hundred yards from where the game was being played, I saw none of it in person. I watched from, not the Bolshoy Ice Dome, but the International Broadcast Center.
On a 12-inch television.
With no sound.
But I would not trade that experience.
When covering the Olympics, most journalists rarely get to actually see Olympic events. The action takes place across multiple venues and times, and the media receives limited seats. Aside from that, reporters like myself focus most of our work away from the venues, telling stories about fans, atmosphere, and ambiance.
I got lucky once last week, stumbling onto the extreme park in time for a gold medal performance, but otherwise I have not seen a single event.
But I have tried to watch. I love the Olympics, and I become enthralled by specific events. I have been able to watch many of the big ones on TV here in Sochi, from men’s half-pipe to women’s curling.
But nothing has compared to USA-Russia.
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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Ten observations from the first two weeks
February 14, 2014 4:55 am
I am starting to settle into a groove.
The 2014 Winter Olympics are in full swing; events are taking place and leading to dramatic moments; both the mountain and coastal clusters are starting to buzz; and the views remain fully picturesque.
Having said all that, I must say this: the whole thing still seems very isolated.
A colleague and I were talking this morning while watching women’s bobsled practice. We began comparing international trips, and he told me about how, in 1997, he vacationed in Australia. He felt liberated, he said, by his complete anonymity halfway around the world. In a time of few cell phones and extremely limited Internet (he said he brought a pager), he reveled in being completely unchained.
Now in 2014, staying in Russia for a work trip, I carry two cell phones in my hip pocket and plug into an Ethernet connection in the workspace. I submit daily reports for my station in Atlanta and do occasional Olympics wrap-ups for USA Today. I even wear a credential around my neck that has my name, photo, and birthday.
On this trip, I am anything but anonymous.
But the trip itself still feels detached from my regular life.
I know I am in Russia, but I rarely feel like I am seeing its authentic culture. I am living out of a hotel room, in which I spend maybe one hour awake per day. I can name countless ways, many of which I have already documented, in which my life at the Olympics is anything but normal.
At this point, I feel like I have begun to stop worrying and enjoy the ride.
And the ride is very much enjoyable.
Here are ten observations from my second week in Sochi:
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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Food, glorious food (or at least edible)
February 13, 2014 4:55 am
My diet has taken a turn for the … abnormal.
Today I hit the halfway point of my Olympics trip to Sochi, eleven days since touching down in the Russian resort town.
And food, in my life, has never been more functional.
Let me be clear: normally, I love food. Good food. I love trying cuisines of all nations and replicating them in my kitchen. I love picking out a top selection on Yelp or OpenTable and giving it a try. I love visiting places that have deep culinary traditions.
I also eat consistently. I rarely miss a meal, and I eat various snacks throughout the day to satisfy my wide-beyond-its-years appetite.
Now, I eat to stay nourished, and I eat with the goal of not being hungry for the foreseeable future.
And my only glimpse of authentic Russian cuisine happens at breakfast.
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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Savoring the “small” moments
February 12, 2014 4:55 am
I keep getting the same nagging feeling.
With each passing day of the 2014 Winter Olympics, I am bombarded with experience after unique experience.
But, I wonder, how many will just as rapidly slip from my memory?
I am a big believer in capturing moments however possible. On a week-long vacation, I will snap a thousand photos. When I have time at home, I write a journal about my day. I do it all in a seemingly vain pursuit: to remember as many of the numerous encounters and events that make up my life.
But at the Olympics, in a strange way, this task is more difficult.
Even though I am equipped with a variety of moment-capturing devices – my WXIA-TV video camera, for starters, as well as a smart-phone and laptop – I cannot possibly find the time to snap everything I see in Sochi. And the experiences happen both sporadically yet furiously.
The smaller moments – the more likely ones to slip through my memory’s cracks – are the ones I savor the most.
These are the chance encounters: the cheerful Russian Starbucks barista who remembers my name every day; the Asian journalist who tried to trade pins with me despite a massive language barrier; the Dutch speed skating team that happily granted my interview request by the Olympic rings.
When will these moments ever come up in conversation? When will they naturally pop into my head? How will I remember them if I experience so many of them?
With that in mind, I write this entry both as a window for my readers and a public continuation of that vain pursuit. I want to share a few of the “smaller” encounters that have made this Olympic experience so rich:
Perhaps you have heard that the 2014 Winter Games have felt strangely homogeneous. Most of the fans are Russian; an IOC official told me yesterday they have sold 70-75% of their tickets so far to residents of the host country.
Finding foreign fans in that mix — let alone ones that speak English — has become an occasional challenge.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I bumped into this family from the Netherlands. On Day 1 of the Olympics, these folks were my first official fan interviews.
They could not have been more jolly — or better dressed.
(I do not know if you can tell, but the dad’s hat says “VIP”.)
The Games had just begun, and the crowd felt both small and quiet. Meeting this family provided an early burst of joy, the types of which typically define the Olympic fan experience.
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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Churning out the content
February 11, 2014 4:55 am
“Once the Olympics get going, this building will be packed, which is why it’s so important …”
Nope. Too many words. I can do that faster.
So began a humbling, excruciating period of my Olympics experience. Our group had journeyed to the Sochi region’s mountain cluster to see the sights and shoot some stories. And shoot we did: I had already recorded enough video for three pieces, two of which would air in the coming few days.
By this point, we had reached the home stretch. After five bundled hours in the freezing cold, I simply needed to record one more stand-up. It would be the final on-camera line of a story about the Olympic superstores selling all the Sochi 2014 merchandise.
And I could not get it done.
“Once the Olympics get going, this building will be packed, which is why some –“
Nope. Tripped up on the last word. That won’t do; let me start again.
I talk for a living. True, I also shoot, write, interview, and edit video for a living. But mostly, I talk. I work in the communications business, and that requires me to convey a certain level of expertise with the English language.
Normally, I can handle that.
But on some days, my mental word bank gets tapped out.
The Olympics brings those days with conviction. Daily work hours run into in the teens. Sleep comes on a hotel bed and often in short spurts. Food is … well, food is a story for another day.
To put it simply, very little feels normal. Dealing with the abnormal requires a bobsled-load of mental energy.
When that energy dwindles, so do one’s wordsmith tendencies.
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