Postcard from Sochi: Rachel Blount, staff writer

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

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– 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.

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Chicago 17 FINAL
Detroit 34
Philadelphia 23 3rd Qtr
Dallas 7
Seattle 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Edmonton 7:00 PM
Nashville
ULM 54 FINAL
Robert Morris 71
Santa Clara 57 FINAL
Tennessee 64
Oklahoma 59 FINAL
Butler 46
Austin Peay 79 FINAL
Brown 58
Princeton 56 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 62
Coastal Carolina 67 FINAL
Chattanooga 78
Kansas 76 FINAL
Rhode Island 60
Wisconsin 68 FINAL
Georgetown 65
FIU 53 FINAL
USC Upstate 68
Long Island 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 73
San Diego 67 2nd Half 0:55
Xavier 79
Illinois 53 2nd Half 14:28
Indiana State 27
Cal State Fullerton 9 1st Half 11:47
Wright State 15
Western Ky 5:24 PM
Saint Josephs
Michigan State 5:30 PM
Rider
UCLA 6:00 PM
North Carolina
Marquette 7:30 PM
Georgia Tech
Long Beach State 7:30 PM
Western Mich
Stephen F Austin 8:00 PM
Prairie View
UAB 8:30 PM
Florida
Rice 8:30 PM
Mercer
San Jose St 10:00 PM
Washington
Washington St 10:59 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Baylor 10:59 PM
Memphis
LSU 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(6) TCU 6:30 PM
Texas
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
UCF 12/4/14 6:30 PM
East Carolina
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Calgary
Hartford 43 FINAL
Furman 53
Clemson 77 FINAL
Ohio State 86
Idaho State 53 FINAL
San Diego State 68
East Carolina 58 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 69
Santa Clara 0 Cancelled
Texas-El Paso 0
Florida State 68 FINAL
Washington 80
Wichita State 39 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 56
Wisconsin 44 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 67
Kansas State 0 Cancelled
LSU 0
BYU 28 1st Half 8:18
BYU-Hawaii 13
Charlotte 10 1st Half 10:06
Montana 16
Illinois 18 1st Half 9:56
(9) Kentucky 18
Central Michigan 7:00 PM
Richmond
Oklahoma 7:15 PM
South Florida
Princeton 7:30 PM
Wake Forest
(19) Oregon State 8:00 PM
Butler

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