It Wasn’t Horrible

It’s over and it’s a weird feeling to be working like crazy (though the last few days weren’t too bad) and then come to a screeching halt.  I must say it is awesome to not be lugging gear around with me.  Spent yesterday cruising around Sochi  with Paul, Scott, Jeff, Mark and Dan.  Mark and Dan took off today so it was Paul, Scott, AAron, Jeff and I.  We ran into photo manager Rich Lam as we were getting on the 125 bus for Adler, he has been here since the beginning of January – I know he is ready to go home!  I’m looking forward to seeing Linda, my family and friends and having the comforts of home.

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This is the first Olympics I have done where I can honestly say I have zero interest in coming back to visit.  I actually went with my family four years before the 2004 Olympics in Greece to visit Athens and the various antiquities throughout the country.  I would go back for sure.  Beijing in 2008, I went the year before to do pre-Olympic stories.  I would visit there again.  Vancouver – one of my favorite cities and Blackcomb is a great ski resort.  I think I had been there on vacation three times before the 2010 Olympics.  London, a very cool city and would love to explore it more.  Sochi – it’s really nice here, but I have no interest in revisiting.  The mountains are great and the city up there, Krasnaya Polyana, is quite impressive, like a mini-Vail, but the snow looks really bad.

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What worked:

Security:  The fact that there were no major incidents makes that, in my mind, a great success.  The “ring of steel” worked.  Apparently even if you lived in Russia you needed a visa just to get down to Sochi.  Only Sochi residents were allowed to drive in Sochi.  If you weren’t a resident then you’d be taking the bus or train.  Security at the train station was very strict – you weren’t even allowed to bring glass on the plane!  So if you bought a glass souvenir in town, like a shot glass, they would confiscate it at the station!  No one was allowed to drive near the Olympic Park, unless they were a bus driver or else in an officially marked “Sochi 2014” car or a taxi.  Lots of x-ray machines and security personal.  The amazing thing is that, besides the first day, I never saw a gun again, well besides the rocket launchers (or whatever heavy artillery was out by the Alpine Center).  Were the security concerns a overblown?  I think a tiny bit, telling people not to wear anything USA related around town was a little much.  Regular citizens seemed friendly enough, I wish I spoke some Russian because several wanted to strike up conversations.  But I guess better to be safe than sorry.

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Photo managers:  They have always been great and professional at all Olympics and this one was no different.  Rich Lam ran a great bobsled venue and Steve Dykes did great at hockey.  The other venue managers were great as well.

The buses (this was also negative):  The TM3 (the bus from the hotel to the MPC) was amazing during the day, I never waited more than five minutes – after midnight it was a disaster.

Venues:  For the most part great – Olympic Park was great to have so many venues right next to each other.  We would go through security once and we would be good anywhere else in the park.  you’d have to wave your badge while exiting and leaving a venue but you didn’t have to do an X-ray or metal detector.

Photo spots:  Pretty good, not great.  Some venues, like alpine skiing were tough, other venues, like hockey, were great, plenty of spots.  Figure skating was great.  I rarely had any problems getting into shooting spots or and never any problems getting tickets for events for the big events.  Bill Hancock with the USOC was as helpful as ever in getting me tickets for popular events.

US Photographers:  it’s always fun to see people you know in exotic locations.  I mainly hung out with Sean, Paul, Scott, Daniel, Mark, and Mark.  Teaming up to cover events really helps me to figure out what I can do and what I can’t do.  Ran into a ton of other people from other organizations – too many to list but it’s always great to see a friendly face.

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My coworkers:  Reporter Elliott Almond and columnist Mark Purdy and editor Mark Conley (in San Jose) and our picture editors back in Walnut Creek (actually I think they may be in Pleasanton now?) Jami Smith and Cindi Cristie.  My bosses Michael Malone and Nick Lammers.  It was great to hear from coworkers like Patrick Tehan.  It was also great to hear from reporters who said that we were doing a good job and even our executive editor let us know he was happy with our work – so that was great.

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And what didn’t work so well:

The food (caution some complaining will be done here):  Okay food is bad at every Olympics.  But this one was so bad it’s not even funny.  I ended up eating McDonald’s twice a day for a week and half!  Towards the end of that I literally gagged at the thought of eating a cheeseburger, amazingly I had reached my threshold of fast food.  We walked around and saw some great markets with amazing fresh fruit and food.  Wouldn’t it be great if local vendors were brought in to make fresh cuisine – instead they have a company like Aramark (not sure if that was this case this year, but it has been in years past) come in and serve cafeteria style food.  When you ordered food in the cafeteria they would place it on a plastic plate and then microwave the food – the microwave was sitting right no the counter!  Every drink, like a coke, was luke warm, I guess they don’t like cold drinks.  If the food wasn’t horrible I was so happy, I would actually say that – “this isn’t horrible.”

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The buses:  After midnight the TM3 showed up either every 30 minutes or an hour.  Often a TM3 bus would pull in drop off and then just leave.  That was frustrating after a long day when we just wanted to get back to the hotel.  The trip to the mountains took forever – what would normally be an hour trip to Alpine (if driving) would take four buses and 2 1/2 hours.  A lot of time the volunteers would take the media bus instead of their workforce bus – often making what would have been a decent ride into one where we were packed in like sardines.  One time, in a packed TM10 bus, about half full of workforce people, I had almost decided to place my gear in the aisle but decided to leave it on my lap.  Good thing I did because about 15 minutes into the trip a girl right behind me projectile vomited all over the aisle.  I felt bad for her but I would have been most unhappy she had done that on my camera!

Volunteers:  Well, don’t get me wrong, many volunteers were extremely helpful and friendly.  But there were many that would just shrug when you asked them questions.  Few seemed to know where anything was, not to sound like the ugly American, but English is a pretty universal language, and few spoke English.  I was often pointed in one direction only to be pointed back the opposite direction when I got there.  I remember waiting in line over 10 minutes to buy something and when I got to the front the lady says “we are very busy you must wait in line.”  What?  I just left.  Customer service does not exist here.

Lines:  Pure anarchy.  No one paid attention to lines, we’d get in line and once a bus arrived everyone would lose their minds and try and get on the bus at the same time.  We would be waiting in line and people would just walk in front and order.  UGH.

Overall – these Olympics were tough, we can only hope that the good outweighs the bad.  But I always appreciate the experience and I never take for granted the great honor it is to be asked to cover the Olympics for our paper.

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