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Road to Sochi: Skier Holly Brooks looks back at her Winter Olympics

  • Author: Holly Brooks
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published March 12, 2014

You read about the stray dogs, the rust-colored tap water and the hotel rooms with wet paint, but what about the good stuff in Sochi?

With the Olympics over, I've had a bit of time to reflect about three weeks of life and competition in Sochi. In complete honesty, we came up shy of some of our result-based goals, but I tend to be a glass-half-full person and there were many amazing things about our Russia Olympics.

First of all, there was the weather. While Vladimir Putin was able to buy most everything he desired for the Games with his record $51 billion budget, he couldn't buy blue skies, but they appeared nonetheless. The views and photos from the venue were spectacular, and the sunset behind the biathlon stadium was like a painting.

As an athlete, I struggled with temperatures that reached upward of 55 degrees on some race days. I think I even suffered a small bout of heat stroke in the 10-kilometer classic race when I opted to wear my black, one-piece ski suit. Some of my smarter teammates wore tank tops and landed in the international spotlight because of their bare shoulders. From an athlete's perspective it was too hot, but it was impeccable for spectators, Putin and TV viewership.

The accommodations in the Endurance Village were fantastic despite the initial horror stories.

In Vancouver our rooms were so small, duffle bags had to be stored in the hall. Moving around the room required a do-si-do with your roommate, and bathrooms were shared entities down the hall.

Our rooms in Sochi were palaces. Apparently the chalets that we stayed in were pre-sold for top dollar before the Games even began. We had huge rooms with 15-foot tall ceilings, common rooms with microwaves, hot pots for tea and coffee and cupboards stocked with peanut butter and jelly, courtesy of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Just a stone's throw away was Medvedev, the prime minister's mansion. I suppose you know you're in good company when you share a view and locale with someone of that stature.

Some complained about the lack of McDonald's at our mountaintop village, and I missed the opportunity to get standard bean-based coffee as opposed to grain-based coffee, which seems to be standard throughout Russia.

The food itself was edible and completely different from our pre-Olympic World Cup experience in Sochi the previous year.

Yes, it was still a buffet, which we liken to eating out of a trough, but the trough was relatively good. We had fresh options in addition to borscht (a traditional beet soup), and when all else failed four types of oatmeal were available 24 hours a day.

My favorite things were the options that are hard to find in Europe -- sushi, wasabi, sweet chili sauce, barbecue sauce and bleu cheese. It became a game to make inventive meals from the buffet ingredients. This included "Mexican Night" when I brought my own cholula and salsa. On days 15, 16 and 17 of the Games, the overall consensus was although the food looked different, everything started to taste the same.

One of my favorite moments was my day in the NBC television booth, where my husband Rob worked as a researcher-statistician for Al Trautwig and Chad Salmela, the NBC cross-country announcers. I was in the booth on the day of the sprint race, when my teammate Kikkan Randall was favored to take the gold medal but came up short. I had to contain my disappointment while sitting four feet away from the live broadcast. I certainly shed a silent tear for her, but I was so impressed by her composure and the good-luck hug that she gave to our other teammate, Sophie Caldwell, who ended up skiing to a sixth-place finish -- the best Olympic result in history for an American woman.

Other highlights were painting Russian Matryoshka Dolls under the tutelage of Russian-speaking women whom I befriended. My doll will certainly be my most beloved keepsake from Sochi.

Another favorite moments was standing at the top of the biathlon bleachers during Russia's gold-medal performance in the men's relay. Kikkan, Liz Stephen and I joined the crowd in cheering for the home team and chanting, "Russ-i-a!, Russ-i-a!" The Russian won a dramatic sprint finish and the crowd exploded in enthusiasm and energy.

During the Olympics there is always a huge focus on the overall medal count. America loves "winners" and is obsessed with gold medals. The truth is, most people who compete on the world's biggest stage go home empty-handed, myself included. While it may be disappointing that the cross-country team didn't earn a medal in Sochi, there will be many more opportunities for success. The Olympics are just a snap-shot of our careers, and luckily they mean much more than who placed first, second or 29th in races X, Y and Z.

Sochi was an experience I'll never forget. I was proud to represent my country, Alaska and the Anchorage cross-country ski community. Thanks to everyone who supported us on the road to Sochi. Time will tell where the next road takes us.

Holly Brooks is a two-time Olympian from Anchorage. She is a member of the Alaska Pacific University nordic ski program.

Welcome home, Olympians

A reception for Alaska Pacific University's four Olympic skiers and their coach will be held Thursday, March 20, at APU's Grant Hall from 6-8 p.m. Olympians Kikkan Randall, Holly Brooks, Sadie Bjornsen and Erik Bjornsen and coach Erik Flora will be participate in a question-and-answer session. The public is welcome.


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