SOCHI, RUSSIA – Three weeks ago Monday, I left the Twin Cities bound for Russia, beyond excited to cover my first Olympics but also a touch nervous about the unknowns that awaited.
Threats of terrorism dominated pre-Olympics conversation and left many wondering if something catastrophic could happen. As we prepare to return home, I’m grateful to report that these Olympics went off without any major disruption.
I leave thankful for this opportunity and in possession of once-in-a-lifetime memories. Here’s a snapshot of my Olympic memories:
I’ll remember standing at the bottom of the downhill course, staring straight up the mountain and thinking, “There’s no way any rational human being will come down this.” But they did, at 80 miles per hour. Around the two-minute mark of the run, spectators would roar and then a racer would fly over that last jump and down the hill. That never got old.
I’ll remember the noise and emotion inside Bolshoy Ice Dome for the U.S.-Russia men’s hockey game. The one-man shootout performance by Warroad’s T.J. Oshie provided a classic ending to a remarkable night.
I’ll remember my first ride on the gondola up the Caucasus Mountains and the breathtaking views. One morning, I sang along as Florida Georgia Line’s “Round Here” blared. That made this country boy smile.
I’ll remember walking around downtown Sochi the night of the Opening Ceremony, trying to find locals who would share thoughts about their hometown Olympics. Only two of the 40-plus people I approached could speak English or were willing to talk to me. I gave myself an “A” for effort on that column idea.
I’ll remember watching the sun rise and set over the Black Sea. Sochi certainly has its issues, but the views and venues inside the Olympic bubble were spectacular.
I’ll remember the bluebird skies, palm trees and temperatures in the low 60s. No polar vortex problems here.
I’ll remember the helpful volunteers who made covering these Games easier. Two in particular left an impression on me. There was the woman at the mountain media center who directed me to the wrong bus and then realized she had made a mistake. She came onto the bus, pulled me off and took me inside to find someone who spoke better English. Loved her for that. Then there was the young male volunteer who performed amazing card tricks for me one morning. I still wonder how he made my card disappear and then reappear inside a folder on a bench 5 feet away.
I’ll remember the stray dogs in search of food, shelter and affection. They seemed like good, friendly dogs. It was wonderful to see so many athletes bring dogs home.
I’ll remember joking about the possibility of a judging scandal in my first time covering figure skating. And then it happened. Russian Adelina Sotnikova’s stunning victory prompted accusations that judges gave her favorable hometown scores. That led to chaotic moments and confusion.
I’ll remember my overwhelming relief when the hotel down the street finally found my laundry at 1:45 a.m. one night. (Our hotel/dorm didn’t offer laundry service.) My laundry had gone missing for more than a day, which created anxiety as I looked at my dwindling supply of boxers and socks.
I’ll remember the absurd moments. Like when the restaurant at our hotel/dorm informed us after dinner that it didn’t take credit cards or give change when we paid with cash.
I’ll remember eating at least one meal at McDonald’s for 19 consecutive days because other options were unappealing or inconvenient.
Finally, I’ll remember just how much fun I had and the people who made this a great event. Sochi isn’t perfect, and you wonder what this place will look like five years from now. But I arrived with apprehension and leave with gratitude. I’d call that a success.