Day Seven…

…began with Physio. I had slept fairly well on the hard sofa rather than the soft, painful bed. Adam insists I must have because my snoring kept him awake!

I headed over to my Physio follow up appointment and met another strong, albeit slightly less aggressive Russian who stretched and contorted me more than I normally would before I had a bad back! After this session I felt even better and embarked on a ‘normal’ schedule.

First event of the day was Speed Skating in the Iceberg Skating Centre. We had a few Brits in the races and a couple of medal chances so excitement was high. Sadly only one girl made it through the heats and she then got through to the semi-finals too. We had just watched the Men’s Final where there had been a crash. Then in the first corner Our Girl slipped, taking two other skaters out with her. She managed to get back up and come 2nd in the race so for a moment we celebrated a silver medal! But then the official scores came through and she had been disqualified for the fall! Such a shame.

Then over to the Bolshoy Ice Dome for Men’s Ice Hockey – Russia v Slovenia. Great venue, full of Russians! Exciting game which Russia dominated, but we were cheering for Slovenia who did look to have a chance during the second period! Not in the third, though, and the whole place erupted as the home team won!!

A new feature today had been pin swapping. Adam got hold of a bag of Team GB pins and stole half of them! Then, when I met someone from another country we could swap pins. I am an amateur and have no chance of matching some with vey heavy ribbons full of pins, but it is a fun sideline!!

After the hockey Adam and I headed to the Olympic Club for dinner. This is an exclusive club for IOC members and their guests. Very swanky, as you can imagine, and pretty good food too. We then went for a walk around the park, since Adam had not been in since before the games started. As usual there was a great atmosphere and much photo-taking!

We ended in the Medals Plaza to see Russia take a Figure Skating Gold and the Polish one for something else!? Then headed back to the hotel.

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Day Six…

…was another new Olympic experience. The Olympic patient.

Part way through breakfast I sneezed and my back immediately seized up and didn’t let go. I managed to finish breakfast but the walk back up to the room was painful and getting worse. The soft bed was no comfort so I managed to get flat on the floor. Getting up again was another matter altogether!
I spent most of the day trying to find a comfortable position. I followed Facebook suggestions like a hot shower, paracetamol/ibuprofen cocktails, and there was some comfort but clear no solutions. ‘Keep Moving’ was another common sentiment but it was just not possible!

By 4pm it was clearly not improving, so I tentatively and painfully made my way to the IOC hotel doctor. The info book directed me to the 2nd floor. As I arrived in the office there were six people, all dressed in the 80s shell suit uniform, crowded around a laptop watching the figure skating. I asked if it was possible to see a doctor at which point they all buzzed round and one of them stood to ask what the problem was. It is amazing how much confidence a white coat gives you, and how much doubt a lack of white coat produces!! It just did not seem right for this ‘volunteer off the street’ to be wielding a needle! I am sure he was a real doctor and since the syringe contained pain relief I wouldn’t have cared anyway!

The idea was that this would reduce the pain to allow me to walk to the polyclinic where they would give me some ongoing painkillers. After a couple of hours I felt up to it, as well as being hungry! We have breakfast at the hotel, but other meals we can pick up in the hospitality lounges at each venue. So for tea I needed to head to the Ice Hockey and planned to stop by the clinic on the way.

A short, painful walk through the Athlete’s Village and I made it. After filling in forms at reception I was taken up to the doctor. It was a familiar scene, with a group huddled around the laptop watching figure skating! This time, though, they were wearing lab coats!!

I saw a Doctor who pressed and prodded then prescribed me some pills! Great. Then on the way out my ‘guide’ explained the schedule. She would go and get my drugs whilst I had some Physiotherapy!!
I am not greatly experienced in this kind of stuff but it looked and felt more Chiropractic . I was hoisted up on this frame and bent in various directions. The guy was an aggressive angry Russian, who could speak a bit if French!! I don’t mean that he was at all mean or unfriendly. Just sharp and shouty at the staff, and me if I pushed a bit too hard or in the wrong direction!
After a couple of hours and some bright pink tape I was much looser and able to walk comfortably, if a little tentatively, again.

This meant that I could get to an event today after all. A short but slow walk to to the Bolshoy Ice Dome and I caught the last session of the Men’s Ice Hockey- Sweden vs Czech Republic. I am glad I did. This is Ice Hockey!! Plenty of smashes against the side and quick paced play.

Not the day I planned but since I hadn’t thought I would be going out at all, it ended better than it could have.

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Day Five…

If yesterday was unproductive then today could not be more different! And it was even a late start.
We slept late and only just made it to breakfast in time. Then a lazy time getting ready meant that I caught the Midday bus up to the mountain.
It has gotten a bit colder in town and much colder up top. I arrived to see the last part of the Ski Slopestyle at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. I didn’t quite get the snowboard version and I got this even less.

Then a short walk over to the other side of the park to the Ham Stadium for the Snowboard Half-pipe. How different from Slopestyle is this? Maybe I just don’t know enough about them, but I don’t see a huge difference. That said, it is impressive to watch, and very entertaining. It seems the Brit pushed it a little too hard and came a cropper.

Then down the mountain part way and back up a different part. We had a good medal chance in the Men’s Cross Country Sprint so I was heading to Laura. I would have had similar thoughts of this and Biathlon before coming, but after my biathlon experience on Sunday I was ready to be excited. It was the Men’s and Women’s Free Sprint, but they were not competing against one another. They just interspersed the heats of each, then the finals. One reason it is so exciting is the crowd. The Europeans love it, and there are loads of them here.
Sadly the British guy had a really bad race and didn’t make it through to the quarter final.

Then still up in Laura I headed over for a bit more Biathlon!! It did not disappoint.

Finally, close to the bus terminal, is the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre. And tonight was the first ever Women’s Ski Jumping! I was there to witness this ‘historic occasion’ and to hear them over-play that card a little!!

I have noticed something today, or at least I made note of it having noticed it a few times already. We are told not to judge on appearances yet the look up and down as one enters a room remains the first impression! Here it is slightly different. Here there is the ‘Pass Glance.’
When you get into a car, a lift or just meet someone at a function the first thing you both do us glance down at the accreditation pass. A bit like dogs smelling each others bum, this immediately lets you both know where you ‘fit’. For some this then affects how you are treated. I hope I do it mostly out of interest. My pass is an interesting one. On first glance you see IOC** which means ‘important’ so in many situations I am immediately looked after, given drinks etc. However, those more knowledgeable of the system then see that I am an ‘Accompanying Guest.’ This is usually a spouse of an IOC member, so for sports ‘politicians’ there is not much use giving me too much attention because I can’t do much to help them, like vote in their favour. If no one else is there, though, a couple have given me the hard sell in the hope I will pass on favourable thoughts!
Since I have no agenda other than enjoying the games I am enjoying two strategies. One is to hide my pass and leave them guessing for a bit, they hate that!! The other is to embrace the dignitary status and then to be as kind and servant-hearted as possible. That tends to throw people a bit too!

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Day Four…

…was not as ‘productive’ as it might gave been. I had planned to go up the mountain for the evening, but left it too late to be worth while!

The day started a bit earlier than usual as I got up to go ‘off campus’ for the morning! My first venture out of the Olympic bubble into Russia! Although, saying that, Adler is still very Olympic having all its hotels full of Olympic guests and all the shops selling Olympic stuff. There were, however, more locals milling about normal life and not wearing the 80s shell suit uniform. There were more stray dogs wandering around, not poisoned, but it was still mostly new and clean. At one point, as I wandered, l happened upon a group in traditional dress getting on a tatty old bus. I assume they do not go about daily life like that and were on the way to perform in the Olympic Park, but maybe not?
I met a Russian guy who basically became a host for the morning. He has travelled across the country to volunteer at The Games and was a great ambassador for Russia. Having someone to help me navigate the buses was a bug help and meant that I travelled on a real Russian bus with a plastic pot for the money, rather than the Olympic additions! It was also good to talk a bit about real life here.

Then I got to have a more familiar Olympic experience. I arrived at the park at the public train station, I wrapped my Union Flag around my shoulders and joined the crowds. Such a great atmosphere, as I have found at every Games. Everyone so pleased to be there, expecting to have a great time. Because we have such a great, distinctive flag people want a photo with it. Russians, Koreans, Dutch came over to pose with me, us both holding out our flags. The Park looks brilliant with people filling it, so colourful and bright.

Then I joined the crowds entering the Ice Cube; Curling Centre. Well, I slipped down the side of the crowd to the VIP entrance! Once inside, though, it was difficult to get round to the Family Lounge. Down stairs and through corridors and I found myself passing the team rooms! The British Girls were warming up in the corridor so I wished them all the best and continued! Then through another few doors and I found myself in the press commentary area! I did eventually manage to find the lounge just in time for the start!! I am glad I did because if I hadn’t there would have been no one for the BBC to show since I had the only Union Flag in the place. Over 100 emails and messages let me know that I had been spotted and ruined people’s breakfast across the UK!!
Now, I have watched Curling in the last few Olympics, but other than the general ‘boules’ principles I don’t know much more. So I asked the lady next to me, who turned out to be the President of World Curling, and she proceeded to commentate the rest of the match, explaining each play!! A very enjoyable sport to watch, but Sweden were apparently always going to be a tough opponent!

Then I bumped into Adam! Although I am his guest he is working most of the time so I only usually see him at night as we share a room. On the way out I detoured back to the media area to get photographic prove of my new friendship with CB!! All this delay meant I missed the bus up to the mountain, and another half an hour would’ve meant I missed the event so instead I headed back to the hotel.
After a bit of a rest I was ready to go again. Adam is invited to functions by the different country’s commissions and tonight it was USA. So I suited and booted, put on my Union Flag tie (made by my sister) and headed to USA House. As one might expect, dinner was burgers with Budweiser, which went down well. I met the BBC Head of Sport and the President of FIBT amongst other people. Also Jacque Roc, the ex-president of the IOC, and Thomas Bach, the new one.
It was a fun time, quite ‘political’ in who speaks to who, but there were enough people for me to talk to too! And thankfully it didn’t go on too late!

I have only just realised that the day starts and ends so late so that European TV can show events in prime time. I don’t feel so bad for getting up late after all.

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Day Three…

Is it really only day three!? Today was a Mountain Cluster day!
I aimed for the Alpine Downhill but by the time I got to the mountain it was almost finished so I headed straight for the Snowboard Slopestyle at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. This is another subjective scoring system that I couldn’t work out, but we won a medal so I am reluctant to write it off easily!! It isn’t so much an art either, though, is it?
Anyway, great atmosphere and great to be there for our first medal!! I got to celebrate with our Culture Secretary, although I had to ask Facebook who she was because she just introduced herself as ‘from the government!’

In the car on the way up I was with other IOC members, one of whom had visited the area during the bidding and a few times since. He said that even last year the towns we drove through and the road we drove on did not exist!! It all looks great now, but apparently inside is not as good.
The new town is called Krasnaya Polyana which apparently means Red Valley, as this was a scene for a particularly bloody battle once!

Since I was up in the mountains I thought I may as well stay, so hung on for the Women’s 7500m Biathlon at the Laura Biathlon Centre. What an amazing sport. My expectations were low, how interesting can long distance skiing be?
Well., throw in a staggered start, shooting with time penalties and a magnificent stadium and it was incredibly exciting!! We had a Brit in it and I think she did as well as expected. But the atmosphere was buzzing which made the event a great one.

I then found myself in the lift with guy who I think might be the a President of Finland!?

Then a decision. 830pm and still am hour to get home. Shall I go to another event: Luge or Ski Jumping, or head back?

I decided to year back down and I end the day now in the Medals Plaza. Sadly I passed Team GB on the way out having just accepted the Bronze fir Slopestyle!

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Day Two…

The sport begins. After Opening Ceremony festivities we woke up late this morning, so making it up to the mountain for the snowboarding was not an option!

Instead we started with Women’s Ice Hockey Heat 1: USA v Finland, in the Shayna Arena. One of the few sports I have chosen to watch before, well men’s anyway, so I had some expectations. Few of them were met! I gave no doubt these women are top class in their sport, but the whole feeling is very different. I am told it is a much more technical game than the men’s, which is hard for a novice like me to spot in the chaos of the game. It is no-contact, which means much less aggressive than the men’s game, so no fights! And generally a calmer experience!

Then we set off for a walk around the park to the next venue. This is was easier said than done. It seems the privilege of our pass assumes that we want to come out of the back entrance and take a car to the next venue. Things are just not set up for us to walk with the peasants!
We did manage, though, by crossing through staff and trade passages, and entered the park.

It is a great space, and having all the roads around the edge makes it very much a park. Each of the stadia is distinct and impressive. Then they have put fencing or marquees just in front, so you never quite get a full view of the building’s splendour. Even the big torch has a refreshment stand just under it!!

Onto Long Track Speed Skating in the Adler Arena. We had been in a car with some Dutch folk on the way in and they assured us that this would be a Dutch sweep. They weren’t wrong, although the way the seeding worked there were three Russians on the leader board until the last four races. Another great venue, spacious and good views all around the track. The crowd started off pretty thin, but when the Russians raced more arrived and again in time for the Dutch.

After a brief nap back at the hotel I headed out again to watch the Figure -Skating at the Iceberg. I was just in time to see our female short piece. Figure Skating is a dubious sport on my book. Again, I don’t question the skill levels or the difficulty, but when the scoring all comes down to subjective scoring it is more of an artistic performance than a sport- discuss!

I didn’t stay till the end and instead went for a walk around the park to enjoy the evening atmosphere. I wonder if it is just early in the week, but it is not that busy around. The park looks great lit up, though!!

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Day 1…

The expectation is palpable as the Olympics makes the final preparations. As part of my pass I get transport from the hotel to all venues, and it is great to see the drivers having to use a map on thus first day, where they will be fed up of the routes by the end of the month!
I woke to bright sunshine a bit earlier than preferred because Adam, my IOC friend and roommate, had a breakfast meeting.

After breakfast I met up with Adam’s parents and set off to explore the park.
Rather than start in the cars we walked the 15mins to the Olympic Park. The bright sunshine with snow on the mountains made for a pleasant walk round. It was actually warmer than the day I was in London for the summer games!

The stadiums look impressive and the roads, as you would expect for the cost, are good! The only immediate negative is the amount if barriers: everywhere, even once you are in the park. Some of them are to restrict access today because if the Opening Ceremony, but surely not all of them?

I managed to accidentally, yes that is possible with my pass, wander into the Broadcast Centre! An impressive set up and I intend to visit properly later, but a local SIM card was my objective so I headed out. On the way out I bumped into Claire Balding, almost literally!!
We had to be ready for the Opening Ceremony reception quite early, so I came back to the hotel to change into some of the Olympic branded kit we have been given.

My interest in sport has never been high, although I have always enjoyed attending events when I have been. The Opening Ceremony, though, is perhaps the highlight of a games for me. Also you can tell a lot about a country from it’s art, and I think that was true of this. I felt at some points they were trying a bit too hard to be ‘acceptable’ to a Western audience. Just before the televised part they had a Military Police Choir singing ‘Get Lucky’; it just seemed strange.
The atmosphere was interesting. The show was good, but the crowd was not especially enthusiastic. That is until the Russian team appeared! I remember from previous Olympics, but especially London, that we cheer and celebrate everyone- not here, it seems.

I enjoyed the big floating displays, and particularly the ballroom scene from War and Peace. The spinning doves was also effective, I think.
The welcome has been warm and generous by everyone I have met, but I did wonder where the IOC President heard of the Russian’s reputation for hospitality that he mentioned in his speech! I do, however, think he struck a good balance between accepting the effort and welcome the country offers whilst still including some challenging words on some of the political attitudes.

Whilst I admire the desire I find the expectation that a sporting event can bring World Peace is a bit over-reaching, but there is no doubt that there is a unique common peaceful expectation in the air, so it is a good platform to pray that this would extend to the political arena too.

Derek Spain is a guy I met in Vancouver in 2010 where he was a chaplain in the Olympic Village. He published a prayer on his blog for these games, which I think is great.
http://derekspain.com/2014/02/06/a-prayer-for-the-2014-sochi-winter-olympic-games/

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