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My favorite posts of 2014: The Olympics experience

I am spending the next few weeks looking back at 2014, recapping the best stories I watched or read while also reflecting on my favorite blog posts of the year.

A cool thing happened last week:

I posted my 200th entry to the Telling The Story blog.

I continue to truly enjoy the experience of writing a blog, hosting a podcast, and communicating with storytellers and journalists worldwide. This platform has allowed me to share my own experiences in the field and provide a window into my day-to-day life.

No experience this year stood out quite like my month at the Olympics.

I flew to Russia on February 1st and didn’t get back to America until the 26th. During that time, in addition to my primary duties reporting for my TV station and others, I wrote 15 blog entries that saw significant traffic.

Here are my five favorites, with excerpts from each:

Arriving in Sochi, awaiting sleep (2/3/14): 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. This is a truly exciting opportunity, one that I cannot wait to tackle.

But first, somehow, I have to get my body right. (more…)

PODCAST EPISODE #14: Dave Schwartz, sports anchor, KARE-TV

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“What is it like to cover the Olympics?”

I have heard this question from virtually everyone I know since I came back from Russia three weeks ago.

But before I answer, I generally need to ask a question of my own:

“Which part?”

Reporting from the Olympics combines an array of unique experiences for any journalist. On the list:

  • covering a massive international event
  • corresponding from a foreign country
  • working extremely long hours, with zero days off, for nearly a month

In the case of the 2014 Winter Olympics, you can throw a few more items onto the list, such as concerns about security and privacy in what many consider a hostile country.

I documented my experiences through my numerous on-air stories as well as fifteen blog entries from Russia. But I promised I would use this space, soon after I returned, to showcase the viewpoint of someone else.

Enter Dave Schwartz.

The sports anchor and reporter for KARE-TV in Minneapolis/St. Paul worked several seats down from me in Sochi, but in some ways he experienced the Winter Games far differently. He covered numerous local athletes and events, where I typically focused on the Olympic atmosphere. He worked with a partner from his station, while I mostly worked by myself.

And on a personal level, Schwartz spent three weeks in Sochi, ten time zones away from his wife and kids.

Schwartz joined me on the latest episode of the Telling The Story podcast.

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The value of “thank you” (with help from Bill Plaschke)

The expression is as old as time (or at least as old as “How I Met Your Mother”):

Nothing good happens after 2 AM.

Allow me to offer an exception, starring a budding TV reporter, a veteran newspaper writer, last month’s Winter Olympics, and an easy expression of gratitude.

It is the result — but, I hope, not the end result — of an action I took ten years ago.

In 2004, I had not yet received my current job as a reporter in a major city. I had not yet covered an Olympics, a Democratic Convention, or any major news event. I had not yet achieved many of the successes to which I aspired.

I had barely passed my first year as a professional.

And I was struggling.

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MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: Food, glorious food (or at least edible)

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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