Monthly Archives: February 2014

MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: The Games have … begun?

What’s the toughest part of covering the Olympics in person? Actually covering the Olympics.

By “the Olympics”, I mean the Olympic events … you know, the actual competitions that serve, in theory, as the purpose of this international extravaganza.

Covering the festivities and atmosphere? Not a problem at all. In many ways, I feel I am most valuable in that role; I can be on the ground, report on how the Olympics feel, and take the viewer to places that often get shortchanged by the official broadcasts.

My goal as a journalist is to serve my audience. And, from what I have seen so far, that audience has responded more to my slice-of-life, behind-the-scenes stories than my posts about the specific events.

So, for the most part, I have spent my days in Sochi observing and reporting on the Olympic surroundings. On Saturday I visited the main park and produced a story about Day 1 of the festivities – and that day’s seemingly meager attendance. On Sunday I spent several hours at the five giant Olympic rings that have become the preeminent photo spot for fans, athletes, and volunteers.

But while I comingle with the crowd, I miss whatever events are taking place. And when I get back to my workspace in the International Broadcast Center, I spend most of the time staring at my computer, logging, writing, and editing my stories (not to mention Tweeting, posting to Facebook, and typing blog entries like these).

This means I rarely get to look at a television and watch the action.


MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Ten observations from the first five days

Five days in Sochi have felt like both five minutes and five years.

Days fly along at the speed of a bobsled, with reporters and photojournalists – or, in my case, both jobs in one – churning out content for all forms of media.

And yet, because those workdays are so long, and because they are bombarded with so many new experiences, they make the recent past seem distant. My flights from Atlanta to Sochi seem many moons, and many stories, ago.

Here are ten observations from my first five days:


1. The Olympic sites are, in fact, quite gorgeous. Sochi has a peaceful charm, with the Black Sea on one side and the Caucasus Mountains on the other. The mountains themselves are stunning up-close, specifically around the Olympic village and ski venues.


2. But I’m still waiting for that kick of Russia. I lamented in Thursday’s entry the struggle to find authenticity in any of it. Other than the natural wonders themselves, the entire outfit seems both temporary and out of place. The many beautiful buildings and arenas have been built specifically for the Olympics; they seem ill-fitted for when the Olympics leave. I have a hard time admiring the buildings’ beauty without wondering about their long-term purpose.


MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Culture shock? What culture shock?

I like to travel.

A lot.

And when I do, I seek the authentic – often to an absurd level.

When I toured Japan, I walked around one village in a white robe because to do otherwise would have been considered impolite. (It felt wonderful.)

When my girlfriend and I visited Italy, I demanded that we stop in Naples for the sole purpose of dining at the world’s oldest pizzeria. (It was delicious.)

And when I hiked the Inca Trail in Peru, I got so sick from food poisoning and altitude sickness that I had to spend two nights in a Peruvian hospital. (This one was not intentional.)

So naturally, 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’m still itching.

To be sure, the Olympic venues in Sochi are remarkable in many ways. The mountains are both imposing and impressive; the coastal cluster is full of fancy, brand-new arenas that look every bit as expensive as advertised.

But those sites seem more Olympian than Russian.


MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: A look at Sochi’s mountain cluster

At the turn of the 21st century, the Rosa Khutor alpine resort did not exist.

In just a few days, it will host the Winter Olympics.

And it will look splendid.

Much has been made of how Russian organizers basically built the Sochi Olympic venues from scratch (and how they continue to build it even this week), but from what I have seen, nowhere have they done so more impressively than in the mountains. Giant luxury hotels stand with gift shops and restaurants, including the most authentic Russian meal I have eaten so far. (Spoiler alert: it involved borscht.) They maneuver alongside a fast-moving stream that gives the area some natural charm.

Above all, of course, are the mountains.

The slopes of the Caucasus feature less snow than similar ones in Colorado and Utah, but they shine with white at the top. If the resort town’s buildings and shops all seem a little too pristine — a product, no doubt, of their youth — the mountains provide a much-needed roughness, an imposing edge.

See for yourself some of the highlights:


MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Checking out Sochi’s coastal cluster

A little light goes a long way.

When I first rode the bus into the Olympic village outside of Sochi, Russia, I found myself thoroughly unimpressed. The buildings seemed spread out; the area seemed empty; and the energy seemed missing.

But one important element was also missing: sunlight.

I awakened this morning to a gorgeous sunrise: a pink-orange glow emanating above the horizon, reflecting upon the miniature ponds in front of the Black Sea. When I stood on my hotel balcony and looked right, I saw sunrise and the sea.

When I looked left, I saw the mountains.

And suddenly, I very much understood the majesty of the Sochi coast.

To be sure, the buildings in town are definitely spread out. Unlike most previous recent Olympic sites, the event venues are far removed from the city in which they are being held.

And to be sure, the area still seems very empty, even in the daylight. That will change when the fans file in for this weekend’s Opening Ceremonies.

But even without all that, this Olympic location is as picturesque as one might hope.


MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Arriving in Sochi, awaiting sleep

3:34 AM.

The clock on my computer is staring back at me, screaming, “GO TO BED!” in its non-threatening, tiny white font.

And yet, I am nowhere near tired.

Welcome to the road-trip life, nine time zones away.

I have officially arrived in Sochi, Russia, home of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Over the next few weeks, I will cover the Games for my current station, WXIA-TV/11Alive in Atlanta, as well as stations and newspapers across the country owned by our parent company, Gannett.

(As for what exactly I will be doing, that will be the subject of an entry in the near future.)

This is a truly exciting opportunity, one that I cannot wait to tackle.

But first, somehow, I have to get my body right.

WXIA photographer Jon Samuels and I departed from Atlanta Saturday evening; we arrived in Sochi three flights and 18 hours later. Technically, we got here Sunday evening, but I still felt like I was still living in the previous day, as if I was experiencing one super-long, mostly plane-bound day.

Six hours later, I have completely lost my time frame of reference. It’s dark; I’m not tired; I need to be awake in five hours; and I know, at some point, my body is going to re-synchronize with my mind and tell it to go to bed.

But not yet.

For now, I feel like I am stuck in some sort of time purgatory — no longer on Eastern Standard Time, but not yet on Sochi time.



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