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:
1. The weather has indeed been amazing. I feel guilty bragging about this. My friends and colleagues in Atlanta lived through an ice storm this week. Meanwhile I enjoyed 60-plus degrees in both the coastal and mountain clusters. Few of us here in Sochi can quite believe it … but we certainly won’t turn it down.
2. The presence of security feels just right. I have to say I have been both impressed and pleasantly surprised. Coming into the Olympics, visitors had two major security-related concerns: (1) Would Sochi be unsafe? (2) Would security be so overbearing that it dampened the spirit of the Games? So far, no and no. Security workers and police definitely make their collective presence felt, but they do so in a relatively calm, passive way.
3. The music choices have been curious … and limited. Let’s just say this: I have heard the same Bruno Mars, Nicki Minaj, and Kesha songs roughly ten times apiece. It feels like someone cued up an iPod playlist from two years ago and hit “Shuffle”.
4. We haven’t seen a whole lot of fans. Olympic officials have been dogged by these questions every day: Are they giving tickets to volunteers? Why have so few non-Russians bought tickets? Especially in the early days, the Olympic park felt dead at times compared to those of previous Games.
5. But the number of fans is growing each day. As the events get more meaningful, the crowds get bigger. And much like myself, the Sochi Olympics seem to have settled into a groove. The venues are terrific; the bands and team houses have put on good shows; and the overall vibe has seemed positive.
6. The fans who do attend are loving it. An experience earlier this week heartened me. I went to interview American fans about why so few of them came to Sochi. They instead wanted to talk about how they keep getting approached by Russians who want to take their picture. I witnessed several exchanges where a Russian resident and American spectator held up each other’s flags. And I loved it.
7. The beauty of Sochi is growing on me. Sunny days mean few clouds, which mean farther views, which mean beautiful backdrops. One cannot walk along the Olympic venues without admiring the Caucasus Mountains towering behind. One cannot take a bus around the park without noticing the richness of the Black Sea.
8. The mountains are particularly beautiful. I traveled to the mountain cluster each of the past two days, and each time I became spellbound. The air is clean, the snow is fresh, and the peaks are everywhere. I cannot help think about potentially coming back in the summer to hike.
9. The sunrises and sunsets are endlessly unique. I realized it earlier this week: I keep posting Sochi sunrise photos on Twitter, and to someone not in Sochi, those pictures must look almost entirely the same. And yet each one feels new and glorious.
10. As a journalist, frustrating lows can turn into the most joyous of highs. I have written quite a bit about my experiences reporting on the Olympics, but I leave you for the weekend with a wonderful story from Thursday’s visit to the mountains.
At one point, fellow reporter Casey Nolen and I took the wrong bus. Instead of reaching the main resort area, we wound up in the extreme park, home of all of the snowboarding and slopestyle events. We had gone 20 minutes out of our way, we learned, and would have to take a bus back where we started.
But that bus, we were told, would not arrive for 15 minutes.
We also noticed, at that point, the men’s slopestyle skiing finals were taking place right across the street.
Seeing a narrow window, and very few other chances to actually watch Olympic events in person, we popped over to the media zone and arrived in time to see one slopestyle run.
But that run wound up being the best of the day.
We witnessed Joss Christensen’s 95.80 run that won the gold for the American. Seeing it with our own eyes was an absolute thrill, one that immediately put us in a happy mood for the foreseeable future.
Each day at the Olympics is filled with seemingly endless examples of frustration and elation. I try to stay even-keeled and keep any of them from affecting me too much.
But that moment was, for sure, a winner.
FOR MORE ON MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Food, glorious food
FOR MORE ON MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Savoring the “small” moments
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Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.