Tag Archives: Sochi

Sochi, continued

Well who would have thought Russia would be like the French Riviera? On our first free day we took 
the train west, to Sochi City, and walked down a palm-tree lined boulevard to the harbour to have
lunch in a French themed restaurant - sitting outside! The temperature was 17 C and the sun shone
out of a cloudless blue sky. You would think we’d come for a holiday.
While our warm wooden hut in Banana Street was tucked in the expanding suburbs north of Adler, not
the resort city of Sochi, the mind-blowing venue of the Coastal Olympic park is yet another 15 kilo-metres east. Unfortunately it was only after a gruelling route march from Adler town centre to the
Olympic Village that we discovered all rail transport was free for the duration of the Winter Games!And the specially commissioned trains are smooth, comfortable and very, very frequent. The level of security however would knock spots off any international airport. Everyone is scanned before
entering the station then searched and scanned again before going down to the platform. And if you
make the mistake of leaving the station, because you are a tourist and get easily lost, you have to go through the whole sequence once again. At one check-point (and not even the first of the day)
Lynne had to volunteer (the officer’s polite term) that her tiny glass bottle of Chanel perfume wentinto the bin or we couldn't proceed.  

There is an overwhelming sense, when you first arrive at the Olympic park, that you have stepped
into Future World. The scale is unimaginable. Imagine if you took the O2 arena with five equally
large venues and set them in a circle around a monolithic torch spewing flames then at the periphery place a high-tech, building worthy of Heathrow's Terminal Three, and dot the grand avenues between
with brightly-coloured stages and sponsors pavilions containing state of the art exhibitions and
food courts and you might begin to grasp the enormity of scale. And at night everything becomes animated with light as waves of colour flow over every arena, patterning the surfaces with huge three
dimensional videos.

But it wasn't all rosy. Someone should shoot the person who designed the safety rails in the ice palace. Huge white bars obscured our eyeline. So, in order to see the skating, we had to bob up and down….well that's how we watched….unfortunately some people didn't care that the people sitting behind couldn’t see at all if they stood and leant over the rails. And depending on the event our seats cost between 250 and 350 Euros each!

However the experience of being at Sochi for the Winter Olympics was magical. OK the kids didn't get the marks they strived for, but they skated so beautifully they received a fantastic reception from the Russian skating fans and the on-line distinction of their triple twist being listed 13th of
sports photographs illustrating how elements of winter sports defy the rules of gravity. They’ve
also been voted one of the twenty best-dressed skater teams of all time by Cosmopolitan magazine and listed as one of the ‘hottest’ couples competing in Sochi! 

And what a thing to be, Olympians not once but twice. And that despite having very little funding or support from their association and, at their first event, 12 hours of jet lag. The article in the Guardian newspaper clarified those very facts, and concluded that the fact they managed to get to Sochi was down to their amazing self-discipline and love for the sport. How very true!

It’s not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred with the sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause and who at best knows the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, is he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.


Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th President of the USA and 1906 Nobel Peace Prize winner.



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Our Wooden Hut

Our Wooden Hut

Andrei at work. A master-craftsman he was meticulous with every detail.

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February 24, 2014 · 4:52 pm

Sochi Winter Olympics

We arrived at Adler/Sochi airport in the Krasnodar District of Russia at one in the morning, tired, fractious and more than a little anxious. It had been a very, long day. A 28 hour day in fact, due to the crossing of several international date-lines. But Sergey was there to meet us, one very pertinent success following a long sequence of uncertainties.


When David and Stacey qualified for the Olympics back in September 2013 our first plan was to book our tickets and accommodation through CoSport, preferred partners of the British Olympic Association. Eager to get our places we logged onto their website to buy the ‘figure skating package’ only to find it was going to cost €22,000, each! After recovering from the shock we decided we’d have to cancel all hopes of attending the Sochi Olympics, but then we found an on-line advert for ‘those seeking alternative accommodation’ – and we immediately booked what was advertised as a room in a ‘warm wooden hut’ near Sochi.


Our family thought we were mad. Actually to be honest I think we thought we were mad, going to a country we didn’t know, whose language we couldn’t speak and staying with an anonymous stranger we’d found on the internet. But we absolutely wanted to go and this looked like the only way we could afford it.


During the weeks running up to our departure we had a series of calamities, none of which boded well for Sochi, to such extent I felt my nerves couldn’t cope with the pressure. I was convinced it was going to be a complete disaster. I have never packed my suitcase with so much care, because I was so worried about Russian immigration or that our bags would go missing never mind what we’d need when we got there.


But as soon as I saw Sergey, holding a banana in the air so we could identify him, I just knew everything was going to be all right. Sergey wasn’t just a figment of the internet, Sergey was a real man, and one who kept his promises.


When arriving at a strange place in the early hours you’d expect to be shown the necessary facilities and then abandoned, but this was not to be. Russian hospitality demands a convivial reception. So the first thing we saw when we opened the door was a table set with several bottles of vodka, five shot glasses and platters loaded with bite-sized snacks. And handing them around with a beaming smile was Andrei, our in-house-keeper. Because, as we soon discovered, we hadn’t booked a single room to share inside a ‘wooden hut’ but a whole house, a beautiful, chalet-style house with en-suite bedroom, kitchen, dining room and spacious lounge, all kept at a constant temperature of 28 degrees. Well the advert did promise ‘warm’.


So began the most astonishing ten days of my life. Having braced ourselves for the worst we’d landed on our feet, and had a good solid base for the helter-skelter that is the Winter Olympics. Andrei cared for us like a mother-hen, tracking down taxis, waiting-up to make supper (delicious Russian-style fried potatoes with eggs) before we fell into bed (usually later than 1am) and kept the fridge fully stocked with vodka. It emerged, as Anglo-Russian communications improved, that Andrei was engaged to build the ‘hut’ (it wasn’t quite finished on the outside) for Sergey’s son, Axiom, who lives in Moscow, just over a thousand miles north of Sochi. This didn’t deter Sergey from ringing him whenever he needed an interpreter, and even when half asleep Axiom could communicate in perfect English. It emerged several nights and many bottles later that Axiom works for a company which imports whiskey (Irish not Scots) and was formally based in London. But the point I’m making is that Sergey did his very best to make our stay memorable, even providing a Russian mobile phone so we could reach him quickly with any problems. And the fact we didn’t speak any Russian and he didn’t speak any English didn’t deter his enthusiasm we should carry it at all times. Not that we ever needed it, wherever we went, whatever we did, someone always came to our aid, whether we needed them or not. Russia was open to all nations, and their motto – ‘Hot, Cool, Yours’.


To be continued…..


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Sochi 1

‘I’ve been waiting ages for you to come back Gran’ Reuben said as he flew through the door. I wanted to tell you I saw David and Stacey on tele’. Reuben’s eyes were shining as he wriggled out of coat and cardigan and tossed them onto the floor. Oscar, responsible older (by 16 months) brother interrupted with – ‘they did their very best’. But Reuben wasn’t going to be deterred, he had seen Stacey fall badly and wanted to be sure she wasn’t hurt. And he had worried until I got home. In fact I’ve never seen him so worried.


Because we were in Sochi for the Winter Olympics our local press couldn’t get hold of us so they went to my daughter instead. Sam was working that day so they asked if they could sit with our grandchildren as they watched David and Stacey’s perform their short pairs programme at Sochi. Now although my grandchildren know what David and Stacey do they are hardly experts (age 5 and 3 and five months) but babysitting them was my son-in-law’s mother, a retired headmistress perfectly capable of controlling a reporter or two.


But I do question the integrity. My grandsons were quoted in the newspaper word for word, words they repeated as soon as they saw me because they were upset. I am angry because the reporter made them feel David and Stacey did something wrong. While anyone unfamiliar with the skating world might consider they failed because they didn’t win a medal we always knew there was never any chance of that, not because David and Stacey haven’t worked their socks off, not because they haven’t got amazing skills, but because they have done it on a shoestring, taking one lesson a day instead of five, using a choreographer once a month (if they are lucky) when the top teams have the use of several choreographers every single day they train. And it all adds up. The top Russian pair (who won Gold) receive £30,000 per month to cover their costs! We manage to scrape by, just, on £200 per week. It’s a fact that David and Stacey are the only pairs team competing at International level not fully funded by their country. So how on earth are they expected to win?


I am so pleased that at long last the British press are beginning to direct their attention to the lack of funding rather than the lack of medal success. http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2014/feb/11/winter-olympics-david-king-stacey-kemp 


But ultimately it isn’t just the money directed towards training. The ISU is largely funded by television rights, therefore the countries where skating is popular inject the most capital. I don’t think it is any coincidence that British free skaters weren’t offered any Grand Prix competitions in the season running up to the Olympics. Taking part in a Grand Prix builds up points towards international standings. If you don’t do them you lack enough points to be at the top and worse, Grand Prix competitions make sure you are seen by the right judges? And if you haven’t been seen competing you can’t possibly score enough points no matter how well you skate, the more you are seen the better you are marked when half the marks are basically subjective!


If you are interested in the debate about judging read this article from the New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/06/sports/olympics/despite-revamped-system-for-judging-figure-skating-gets-mixed-marks.html?smid=fb-share


Of course I am proud of my son and his partner, they’ve fought hard every step of the way despite overwhelming odds. And just at this moment I’d like to shoot the reporter who introduced the idea to my grandchildren that their achievement is anything less than remarkable.

And I’m not the only person to think so, http://www.buzzfeed.com/hillaryreinsberg/olympics-photos-that-will-destroy-your-faith-in-gravity?sub=2996282_2429250




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