Sochi Notes: A day to explore the Olympic scene
Editor’s note: In Notes from Sochi, Vail Daily Managing Editor Ed Stoner documents the behind-the-scenes adventures, mundaneness and miscellany of his Olympics assignment.
SOCHI, Russia — After more than two weeks covering the Olympics, on Saturday I finally had a free day to explore the town.
I arrived to my hotel after 2 a.m. following Mikaela Shiffrin’s historic gold, got some rest and headed out in the late morning to take the train to the coastal cluster.
I walked into the brand-new train station in Krasnaya Polyana, just a short walk from my hotel, and went up the stairs to the track. The train was right there. It took me a second to figure out how to open the doors — there is a green button you have to press.
The train was pretty empty, and it moves at a good pace down the valley. I had taken this trip several times, but always on the media bus.
This state-of-the-art train, along with the accompanying road, cost more than $8 billion to construct. It even has power outlets to charge your phone or laptop while you’re riding along.
It stops at a few stations headed down the valley, and then arrives at the Olympic Park and the Olympic Village.
But on Saturday I stayed on and continued to the town of Sochi, and took in the Black Sea as it appeared out of the left side of the train traveling up the coast through the city of Adler.
When we arrived in Sochi, it was a bit of a shock to be suddenly in an urban environment after spending the past two weeks up in the ski village. There were people everywhere, and it definitely felt more like a “real town” than the brand-new village of Rosa Khutor.
I walked around for a bit, into some busy retail areas, and also into some neighborhoods. On one street, women were selling pets — dogs, hamsters and parakeets. There were lots of banks, lots of pharmacies.
I headed back to the train station and went to the Olympic Park, via the train in the opposite direction. I took the long walk through the park, stopping early on to grab a tasty donut with chocolate filling from a vendor.
On the first part of my walk I passed by all of the exhibitor “houses” — Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Volkswagen, Samsung, etc. There was also one for the Russian fans, and one for the Pyeongchang 2018 Games. All of the lines to get into these houses were super long. A lot of Russian fans come to the Olympic Park, but don’t have tickets to events. They just walk around and check out the flame, the houses, the medals ceremonies and the concessions.
I headed over to the Adler Arena Skating Center to check out speed skating for the first time. The team pursuit was happening. I watched the Netherlands destroy Japan by about 12 seconds. The Russians also competed to the pleasure of the home contingent, but they lost to Poland. There was definitely a more international feel in the press area — not a lot of American press.
In the “media lounge” (read: cafeteria) at the venue, I actually had a pretty good meal — schnitzel with rice and cherry pie. Those coastal cluster chefs really know what they’re doing.
After a short time at the event, I left to go to the Main Press Center, where I had to mail some letters from the post office there. The MPC has all kinds of things in it for the working journalist such as myself, including a gym, a hair salon, a souvenir shop, a mini-mart, a food court, a McDonald’s and massage chairs.
My next stop was the bronze medal game at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. This stadium is the best-looking one of them all, in my opinion. It’s meant to resemble a frozen ice droplet. The roof actually doubles as a scoreboard. When I arrived, it was still showing 0-0 between Finland and the United States.
A few minutes later, Finland scored one goal, then another. The Finnish fans were out in force. There were also a lot of Russians there, and they cheered like crazy when speedskating triple gold medalist Viktor Ahn was shown on the big screen.
I stayed through the early third period. By that time it was 4-0, and as I was walking in front of the stadium, the roof flashed to 5-0.
As I was getting ready to head home, I swung by the Olympic flame to take some photos, and then ran into the medals ceremony for men’s curling. It was the first medals ceremony I’ve seen — in the mountain cluster, they just do flower ceremonies. It was cool to see these guys receiving their gold medal and watching as their flag was raised.
After a long day, I headed back to the Main Media Center to catch the bus back up to the mountains. The woman at the transport desk said it would be 53 minutes until my bus arrived, but the guys at the curb said it would just be 10, and they were right.
I arrived home at 11 p.m. — another long day in the books. I’m headed back down to the coastal cluster tomorrow to interview Mikaela Shiffrin and attend closing ceremonies. I can’t believe the finalday is already upon us!