Dispatch from Sochi: Does the city come with instructions?

Anchorage skier Holly Brooks is with the U.S. Ski Team in Sochi, Russia, for races this week on the cross-country ski trails that will be used for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Brooks, a 2010 Olympian, shares some of her impressions as Sochi prepares for its moment in the world’s spotlight.



I just returned from an afternoon jog and much to my amusement, there is literally no where to go.  We are stationed on top of a mountain surrounded by fences, cameras, barbed wire and cranes working 24 hours a day.

Funny story: My coach from senior year at Whitman College, August Teague, is here as the head coach of the Australia team. His flight was delayed and he arrived in Russia in the middle of the night. A bus dropped him off at the base of the tram at 4 a.m. and left him standing in the rain. The gondola (which is the access to the venue) opened at 6:45 a.m., but without his credential (which he couldn’t get until the office opened at 9 a.m.), he was not allowed to get on. 

Instead,  August and his assistant coach sat at the base of the tram from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. watching scores and scores of Russians in snow camo board the gondola with machine guns and semi-automatic rifles.  

Where are all these men with guns? Where did they go? We don’t know. I have seen plenty of security guards but not to the extent that he told us about. Curious.

Earlier on twitter, I likened our Sochi experience to be “a fun board game that came without instructions or someone to teach you how to play the game.” 

 So far I’m loving the cultural experience and the opportunity to scope out the Olympic venue a year before the real deal. Russian culture doesn’t permit much smiling and no one seems to have any answers as to what’s going on but I’ve found the people I’ve encountered to be friendly and good-natured.  

The English-speaking volunteers that I have spoken with are very nice and seem concerned about whether we are having a good time or not. The accommodations are new and spacious, and with the exception of coming home to water pouring out of the ceiling this afternoon because the boys were taking showers upstairs, everything is great.  

The food is better than last year in Russia when one of our coaches resorted to (only) eating giant neon gumdrops and it sounds like soon we may have an opportunity to descend the mountain and lift weights at a facility in town. 

Despite the bumpy landing of our charter flight, which prompted audible screams, we survived the journey here and our team received all of its luggage, which was lucky because 90 bags didn’t make it onto the plane.