Friendly volunteers welcome Olympians to Sochi |

Friendly volunteers welcome Olympians to Sochi

Ben Black
Aspen resident/Coach of the Canadian alpine speed skiers
Ben Black

SOCHI, Russia — Well, I didn’t see any captive orcas or protesters and surprisingly, the security was really no different than your standard airport screening.

Really, the biggest logistical hassle was waiting for almost 3 hours for all of our gear to get off-loaded from the plane and make it onto the belts for us to collect.

So far, I’m impressed.

The number of volunteers we encountered to help us get where we needed to go was staggering. They all spoke very manageable English and had come from all over Russia.

I spoke with a nice gentleman who had come from as far north in Siberia as you could possibly get. He was all smiles, and as he helped me load a few 80-pound ski bags, he said that this was almost like a vacation for him because the weather was so nice here in Sochi compared to the arctic temps he was used to.

In fact, everyone I have come across has been more than helpful, very outspoken and extremely eager to help with anything and everything. It’s quite the change from the oppressed, non-English speaking, no-smiling-allowed labor force that I remember from my last trip here about a year ago.

I, along with a sports physiologist and four of our alpine athletes, spent the last two days at the coastal village for some relaxation time before heading to the Mountain Village to get down to work. It was really quite nice.

Everything is brand new, as you can imagine, but also very tastefully done. From the athlete village to all of the ice-related venues and the main Olympic Village, everything was, for the most part, at completion.

A few people setting the last few bricks or performing some last-minute clean-up was really all that I was able to see in the way of work still to be completed. The buildings that house most of the venues are impressively massive sports arenas.

Each one has a completely different design, and yet each one complements the other while tying the whole place together.

The main plaza housing the torch sits in the middle of all of venues and is surrounded by the flags of every single country.

It’s amazing to realize how many different nations are here for the common goal of sport. It was nice to take a day to walk around and check things out because the alpine teams don’t normally have a chance to see this side of the Olympics.

Our accommodations in one of the three buildings assigned to the Canadian Olympic team was, for the most part, a glorified college dorm but more than adequate for what we needed.

I was in the last building in the athlete village and no more than 100 feet from the Black Sea coast. The view was beautiful and one can see all the way from the Georgian coast to the other end of Sochi.

The only activity in the water was a cruise shipped docked at the main pier and a Russian gunship 100 feet off the shore, moored and ready for action.

The weather was awesome and it was hard to believe that we were at the Winter Olympics while I was outside tossing a medicine ball to one of our athletes during a conditioning session in athletic shorts and a T-shirt.

The food was good and the main dining hall featured local cuisine as well as multiple stations serving anything from Asian food to pasta and anything in between.

Everything was healthy food fit for any athlete, except for McDonalds. I still don’t understand how this qualifies as adequate nutrition for athletes, but it seems to be a common theme for the last few Olympic games, and hey, McCafé makes pretty good coffee.

Never having been to an Olympic Games, I really didn’t know what to expect, but the one thing that really stands out is how nice everyone is.

Everyone I have met, regardless of what nation they are from or sport they are a part of, seems so excited to be here.

Everyone wants to know who you are, where you’re from, and what your sport is.

It’s so easy to strike up a conversation with anyone. It kind of makes you wish it was that way all of the time.

I get some confused looks when I tell people that I’m an American working for the Canadians. It feels a little weird to me as well, but I’m actually really proud to be here with Team Canada,

I guess I always figured I would be attending the Olympics with Team USA.

But hey, life happens.

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