Postcard from Sochi: Rachel Blount, staff writer

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 24, 2014 - 1:15 AM
hide

A stray dog sat in the concessions area outside of the Iceberg Skating Palace before a figure skating event on Thursday night.

Photo: CARLOS GONZALEZ, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

– About two days after arriving in Sochi, I unlocked the door to my room at the media village and turned the handle. Snap. Broken in two, and the Olympics hadn’t even started yet.

So this is where it begins, I thought. Weeks before our group left for Russia, I had been checking on our medical insurance, making sure it covered emergency evacuation and repatriation. Friends already in Sochi had told me the water was undrinkable, the hot showers nonexistent, the bus routes endless loops of hell. Friends in the Twin Cities who usually ask if they can stow away in my suitcase for the Olympics instead told me they would pray for our safety.

Now, I’m a full-fledged member of the Cult of the Five Rings. The Olympics are my Shangri-La, my Disneyland, my Brigadoon; 17 days of wonderment, a world party staged around unforgettable sports moments. I didn’t want to believe the Sochi Games would live up — or down — to the predictions that they would be the Fearful Olympics, or the Repressive Olympics, or at the very least the Joyless Winter Games.

And guess what? They weren’t.

Our accommodations were Spartan but cozy, highlighted by a smiling breakfast crew that served up Russian blini crepes with sour cream and the cherry jam that is a Caucasus Region favorite. The buses ran like Swiss watches on direct routes that magically opened up days before the Games began. (The drivers, though, might have been the biggest health hazard in Sochi; they thought nothing of backing up 300 yards on a busy freeway when they missed an exit.)

The Russian security forces that protected the Ring of Steel around Sochi managed to do their work unobtrusively. At the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese parked a tank outside the Main Press Center; in Sochi, I barely noticed the security measures until a late night at the figure-skating venue. At 2 a.m., a large unit of police and military did a full sweep, turning loose a pack of bomb-sniffing dogs and using mirrors to check under every table and seat. I didn’t need to see them again to feel well-protected.

The volunteers were friendly and efficient. The venues were beautiful, the crowds exuberant, the Olympic Park atmosphere merry and the mountain scenery without peer.

Inside the Ring of Steel, these Olympics unfolded as they always do, in a bubble where you can learn a Dutch speedskating song one minute and talk to an Albanian in a U.S. team sweater the next. On a breathtaking gondola ride to the cross-country and biathlon course, two young Russian women chatted in their native language; then a Chris Isaak song came over a loudspeaker, and they immediately began singing along in English. On a walk to a hockey arena, a German reporter and an American one managed to have a 15-minute conversation despite knowing about six words in common.

My love affair with the Olympics does not blind me to their faults. I know that like Shangri-La and Disneyland and Brigadoon, they are an illusion that will last only 17 days, and they cannot change hearts that do not want to be changed.

I worry about the people being persecuted in Russia for being different or expressing dissent. I worry about the future of the sweet stray dogs. I worry that the workers who labored to build the venues will not receive the payment they still are fighting for.

But as any athlete will tell you, hope is the fuel of the Olympic flame. A couple of days before the Games ended on Sunday, I returned to my village room at 4 a.m.

The door handle was fixed. One last little gift from the Winter Games that defied expectations, and one final surprise from an Olympic Games that was full of them.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Cincinnati - M. Leake 6:05 PM
Pittsburgh - E. Volquez
Minnesota - T. May 6:05 PM
Baltimore - M. Gonzalez
NY Yankees - C. Capuano 6:07 PM
Toronto - M. Buehrle
Philadelphia - D. Buchanan 6:10 PM
NY Mets - J. deGrom
Boston - A. Ranaudo 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - C. Archer
Miami - T. Koehler 6:35 PM
Atlanta - E. Santana
Cleveland - D. Salazar 7:10 PM
Kansas City - J. Vargas
Detroit - J. Verlander 7:10 PM
Chicago WSox - S. Carroll
Texas - S. Baker 7:10 PM
Houston - B. Oberholtzer
Chicago Cubs - K. Hendricks 7:15 PM
St. Louis - S. Miller
Colorado - C. Bergman 8:40 PM
Arizona - J. Collmenter
Oakland - J. Lester 9:05 PM
LA Angels - J. Weaver
Los Angeles - D. Haren 9:10 PM
San Diego - A. Cashner
Washington - J. Zimmermann 9:10 PM
Seattle - F. Hernandez
Milwaukee - W. Peralta 9:15 PM
San Francisco - R. Vogelsong
Atlanta 24 FINAL
Jacksonville 14
Detroit 23 FINAL
Buffalo 0
Indianapolis 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 35
Kansas City 14 FINAL
Green Bay 34
NY Jets 7 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
St. Louis 13 FINAL
Miami 14
Carolina 10 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
New England 13 FINAL
NY Giants 16
Washington 24 FINAL
Tampa Bay 10
Baltimore 22 FINAL
New Orleans 13
Chicago 13 FINAL
Cleveland 33
Denver 27 FINAL
Dallas 3
Minnesota 19 FINAL
Tennessee 3
San Francisco 40 FINAL
Houston 13
Arizona 9 FINAL
San Diego 12
Seattle 31 FINAL
Oakland 41
(21) Texas A&M 52 FINAL
(9) So Carolina 28
Wake Forest 10 FINAL
ULM 17
Boise State 13 FINAL
(18) Ole Miss 35
Tulane 31 FINAL
Tulsa 38
Rutgers 41 FINAL
Washington St 38
Weber State 14 FINAL
(19) Arizona State 45
Temple 37 FINAL
Vanderbilt 7
BYU 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 9:30 PM
Arizona
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
UCF
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
UAB
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Virginia
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Navy
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Michigan
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Houston 7:00 PM
Sporting Kansas City
Ottawa 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Minnesota 9:00 PM
Phoenix

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Gophers in their season opener

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close