Joel Reichenberger: The best and worst of the Olympics
February 23, 2014
Sochi, Russia — Let's do some Olympic re-capping and clean up some odds and ends I've meant to write about while I wait here in Sochi for our flight.
We had dismal luck with events. Or we bought dismal luck to events.
Either way, I actually only covered one American medal, and that was the most depressing bronze medal, earned by Hannah Kearney, who was upset in her bid for a second consecutive gold in women's moguls.
Justin Reiter didn't make the bracketed portion of his race. Taylor Gold didn't make finals. The U.S. Nordic combined team didn't crack the top 20. Arielle Gold didn't compete at all.
We were a dark cloud, I tell ya. The only American we saw win a gold medal won them for Russia.
So, the highlight had to have been the U.S. versus Russia hockey game. The 11,000 seat arena isn't exactly designed to be extremely loud as about 25 percent of the seats are set aside for the media. It roared that night, however. It wasn't quite as loud as a jam-packed college basketball game, but there was a passion in the crowd that's difficult to match.
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Add in the fact that the United States won in a thrilling shoot-out and it was difficult to beat.
Of course, we also went to the U.S. vs. Canada men's hockey game, a 1-0 loss in the semifinals. It wasn't just the result that the Russia game better. The Canada game was filled with Russians who largely sat on their hands. The few Canadian fans and fewer United States fans barely seemed to register in the arena.
Our best night on the town:
Beers at the vast majority of restaurants in the area were ridiculously expensive — $10 to $15 — so we set out at about 10:30 p.m. after finishing our work "early" one night intent on finding a cheap option.
We succeeded, stumbling into a Team Australia party in the lobby of a hotel in the Rosa Khutor hotel and shopping cluster about two miles from our hotel.
The beers, in fact, were free, at least after Luke approached the Russian waitresses serving them and asked, with a fake Australian accent, for two.
We were party crashers in a big way. We spotted U.S. Olympic Team snowboarder Danny Davis at the bar — he sticks out, with his wild hair — and took a picture with him.
A real Aussie saw through our Crocodile Dundee act on our second pass at the bar, but he allowed us one more beer, because, we explained, we WERE a part of Team Australia because we were reporting on several of their athletes who had Steamboat connections.
While we were nursing that good fortune, another confused Russian waitress serving the party set a pizza down on our table. Then, moments later, another one. We didn't say a word. We just grinned.
We got caught one more time, an Aussie wryly quizzing us about what part of the continent our not-so-Australian accent came from. (In my head, he sounded like this: "By crickey, whereabouts Aussieland you be from, mate? Wanna go for a walkabout?")
We lucked out again, however, as the questioner was the parent of one of the Australian athletes we would be covering.
Free beer, free pizza, a fun conversation with the parents of one of our athletes and a picture with Danny Davis? That was a good night in Sochi or anywhere.
Best thing I obsessed over in preparing for the Olympics/Stupidest thing I did in Sochi:
One of the last pre-Olympics headaches we dealt with was cell phones. Everyone you asked, every Google search you followed had a different suggestion about what would be best way to ensure we had cell phone service in Sochi.
We ended up taking a tip from Nordic combined athletes Bryan and Taylor Fletcher and opening an account with TMobile. We got an $80 a month plan, covering the both of us, that we can cancel at any time. We used old iPhones, popped in new TMobile SIM cards and had free texting and data overseas. It was fantastic … at least until I lost my iPhone on my way to Opening Ceremonies.
A volunteer actually found it probably as we were walking away, and she tried to give it back. She tried to call Luke's phone, but he didn't notice the call. She then called my fiance, Jacki, who was sleep at 6 a.m. in Steamboat Springs. Luckily, she answered and even got directions as to where the phone would be left.
Jacki sent me an email with that information.
Unluckily, I wasn't able to capitalize on that good fortune.
Without a phone — remember, I lost mine because I'm an idiot — I didn't get the message until after Opening Ceremonies about six hours after we had passed through the area where I likely set it down.
I made several trips through the area in the ensuing days, trying to follow the vague directions given to Jacki, but came up empty.
I gave up, subsisting by using WiFi on my regular American iPhone whenever I could.
The volunteers manning the lost and found station in the area were incredibly helpful. They really seemed to have tried to help, so much so that when I stopped in for one final check the day before we left, they all knew my story and said they'd kept up the search.
The longer they worked on it, however, the more managers got involved, and there we seemed to begin to hit brick walls. I finally discovered a small tent that fit the volunteer's description almost exactly, but couldn't get in to check it out. A manager assured me there was no cell phone there, but I got the impression she just didn't think it was there, and that she never literally went and physically looked.
Either way, I survived. Turns out, you don't die without constant cell service. Who knew?
And, the phone plan worked great for Luke.
It could have been worse. Losing any of the camera equipment I had on loan from Nikon would have been worse. Losing my own camera equipment or my computer would have been worse and losing any of our travel documents, wallets or our "wear-it-everywhere" press credentials would have been worse.
Best piece of equipment
I'll rule out the amazing Nikon gear I got on loan. That high-end equipment will have the negative effect of spoiling me, big time.
The best equipment I brought was Black Rapid camera straps a Christmas gift from my parents for hauling two camera bodies at once. Maybe they're not "cool" as few other photographers used them, but they were a huge help to me. They made hauling my massive amount of equipment up and down the slopes much easier.
Worst thing I obsessed over before the Olympics:
I'm a bit of a finicky shopper, especially online. I spent about a month scouring the web to find a warm, comfortable, well-fitting down jacket the trip. I finally found one I liked at the Go Lite store at the Silverthorne outlet mall.
I spent about 100 times more time looking for that jacket than I did wearing it. It was very rarely cold enough to require a warm jacket and a fleece and one of the last, best things I packed, a North Face soft shell hoody, got me through just fine.
Oh well. It's been awhile since I've been there, but I assume it still gets cold in Steamboat Springs, so a warm jacket may yet come in handy in my life.
Best thing I ate at the Olympics:
The vast majority of our food came from a free and magnificent breakfast buffet that came with our hotel. We devoured the food there on a daily basis, picking from stacks of Danishes, loads of fresh bread, fruit, large plats full of meats and cheeses, eggs, sausage and — because Russians REALLY seem to like hot dogs — chopped up hot dogs.
The idea was to eat as much free food as possible because we frequently didn't get the chance to eat again until much later.
When we did eat later, we often ate at the press centers, each of which had a small kitchen with fresh food, usually some kind of noodles with chicken or beef.
Other than that, we didn't eat much interesting. We had some bad pizza from the restaurant and bar right next to our hotel. Then we had some descent chicken wings there and a pretty good burger there.
The best, though, was probably pizza from a place in the Rosa Khutor area. It was comparable to any many sit-down pizza places in the United States, similar in style and quality to Slopeside in Steamboat.
I also ate McDonalds about five times. There wasn't a store in our main mountain press center, but there was in the coastal cluster press center, and it was always packed.
I'm not hater of McDonalds and I could eat pizza today and every day for the rest of my life, but it was a little disappointing that our best meal was so American. It did cost four times what a happy hour pizza does at Slopeside, so maybe that helped it taste better.