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Final dispatch

February 26, 2014 - Chris Knight
I couldn't stop laughing. I was sitting on the couch with my wife Sunday night, just minutes after walking in the door. The closing ceremonies were on TV, the closing ceremonies of the Olympics I had just returned home from covering.

There was a huge animatronic polar bear on the screen, standing in the middle of the Olympic stadium. He looked back and forth a few times at his friends, the leopard and the hare, then blew out the Olympic torch. The camera then zoomed in to the bear's face, and a tear ran down his cheek.

I don't know why, but I just laughed and laughed. I couldn't stop. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, the jet lag or just the pure exhaustion of three of the craziest and most fulfilling weeks of my life. Or maybe it was just the ridiculousness of seeing this massive fake bear crying. I should probably have been crying, too, but I was too delirious. Whatever. The games were over. I was home. That's all that mattered.

Our trip through Kiev, which had given us plenty of cause for concern before our departure, proved to be largely uneventful. We did miss our connecting flight to Frankfurt, but thanks to a friendly Lufthansa ticket agent, we were re-routed through Munich. Elapsed time in Kiev, about 90 minutes. That was plenty.

The layover in Munich was about eight hours. Lou got a long nap in, I finished up a story and we had a good lunch before beginning the final leg of our trip, a nine-hour cross-Atlantic flight to Montreal. It was one of the smoothest flights I've ever been on.

We touched down in Montreal, made it through customs and were greeted by Enterprise Managing Editor Peter Crowley, who drove up to pick us up in the Enterprise van. We had a lot to talk about on that van ride home. Many of Peter's questions were the same as those I've been asked by just about everyone I've run into since arriving home.

What was it like over there? In short, it was amazing. Yes, there were problems when we first arrived, particularly with our hotel and many others, not being finished. Workers were still planting shrubs and building an outside deck near our gondola a few days before the games were over. The "Coming Soon" signs for a mall that never came to be still covered the windows of a building in our hotel cluster. But none of that really affected us. The venues were spectacular, the scenery was unbelievable, and every competition went off without a hitch. I didn't hear a single complaint from an athlete about their experience during the games, and it was the same for me.

What were the people like? Overall, most of the people I interacted with were extremely friendly and helpful. Most of the time those people were the younger, college-age volunteers and hotel workers whose job it was to be friendly and helpful. But they felt genuine to me, and they were excited to show off their country. I got a slightly different impression from some of the older Russians we encountered who at times seemed a little cold and distant. Among the younger people, however, there seemed to be nothing but warm feelings. They were the ones who also seemed to speak the best English.

How tough was it to get around? It was like clockwork. I can really only speak for the transportation system for the media, which was reliable and efficient. I traveled typically by bus from venue to venue, and I don't think I ever had to wait more than 10 minutes for a bus to show up. It's true that fewer spectators showed up to these games than organizers hoped for, and I wonder if things would have been as efficient if they got huge crowds, but my experience and understanding is that it was very easy to get around.

Was the security over the top? There was a ton of security for the games, but it never felt like it was slowing me down. Typically, to get to an event, I'd walk to the media center, go through metal detectors and get a pat down to enter into the so-called "clean zone." Before boarding a bus, a security guard would scan my credential. When the bus doors closed, they were sealed with a strip of tape so no one could get on or off until the bus reached its destination. When it entered the venue, the bus would go through a checkpoint where security guards looked underneath it with mirrors and scanned your credential again. The system was thorough, but I never had a reason to complain. I was grateful for the tight security. Given the threats to these games and the fact that nothing happened, I think the Russians did a commendable job.

How long did it take to get a venue? I spent a lot of time covering biathlon, so here's what I'd have to do to get to the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center. From our hotel, it was a five-minute walk to the top of the gondola, then a 10-minute gondola ride down to Gorki Plaza. From there, it was a 10-minute walk to the media center, where the media buses were based. After going through the aforementioned security, it was about a 10-minute bus ride to the base of the Laura Center gondola. The ride up the gondola was roughly 10 minutes. From there, I'd jump on a smaller bus that would drop me off in front of the biathlon stadium, about a five-minute ride. So all in all, it was about 50 minutes to get to the venue. That may seem like a lot, but Lou and Peter told me their bus rides to get to the venues in Vancouver were often 90 minutes, if not longer.

What was the food like? The breakfast in our hotel was a must every day. It was a huge spread of basically anything you wanted – eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, danish, fruit, cereal, juice, you name it. Beyond that, I had a few restaurant meals, including at our hotel, but most of my other meals were at either the Gorki Media Center or at the venues. It was a cafeteria style set-up and the food was decent. The fish, schnitzels, potato dishes and soups were often the freshest meals, and I tried the borscht, too. I found the American-style food they tried to make – lasagnas, ham-and-cheese sandwiches – were the worst. I stuck to the fresh stuff after I figured it out.

Did I ever get that slice of pizza? For those who followed this blog, I wrote last week about how I badly wanted a slice of pizza but never got it. The ironic thing is, I wrote that and filed it from the Main Media Center in Sochi during my first visit to the so-called coastal cluster. Ten minutes later, I walked down to the media center and there was an Italian-style restaurant serving, you guessed it, pizza! It was mediocre, but it was pizza.

I can't even begin to describe what an amazing journey this was. It was the experience of a lifetime for me, and I'm incredibly grateful to the people that helped make it happen. My trip was funded by a grant from the Charles Decker Memorial Scholarship Fund at Adirondack Foundation, administered by the Saranac Lake Rotary Foundation. If you enjoyed this blog or enjoyed reading the articles I wrote while in Sochi, please consider a donation to the Decker fund. Visit www.generousact.org and click on the "Give Now" button in the top right corner. You can also send a check to Adirondack Foundation, P.O. Box 288, Lake Placid, NY 12946. Put "Charles Decker Memorial Scholarship Fund gift" in the memo line. Your donation will help support aspiring and current journalists in our community.

I'd like to thank all of you who've encouraged me and given me such glowing feedback about our coverage of the games, whether it was through your Facebook posts, your email messages or the comments you've made to our staff at the Enterprise. It's special to know that so many people back home were following along so closely.

I'd also like to thank my amazing wife, Kate-Lyn, who held down the fort at home with our three young kids – Ethan, Ryan and Emily – for three weeks while I was gone. Without her love and support, I couldn't have done it. She had a big team that helped out along the way, including her mom, Patricia O'Keefe, and lots of friends and local parents who watched our kids, helped ferry them to or from hockey practices and even shoveled our driveway (Mike Lynch!). Thank you all so much.

My final plug is for the Enterprise and the Lake Placid News. There's a long list of people who helped to make our coverage of the Olympics possible. Lou and I were just writing the articles and taking the photos, but back in the Enterprise offices, Peter Crowley, Morgan Ryan, Steve Bradley, Brittany Proulx and Andy Flynn were the ones getting our stories online and in print. They deserve as much credit as Lou and I. Our editorial, advertising, circulation and production staff were all on board with this and they all deserve a big thank you as well. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the leadership and support of our publisher, Cathy Moore, to whom I'm forever indebted for giving me this opportunity.

People like to talk a lot these days about how the newspaper industry is dying, but I hope what Lou and I were able to accomplish by covering our local athletes at the Olympics shows that great journalism is still alive, well and relevant at community-based and community-supported newspapers like the Enterprise and the Lake Placid News. If you enjoyed our coverage and you're not an Enterprise or Lake Placid News subscriber already, please consider a subscription. There's a subscription link on the Enterprise home page.

 
 

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