Sochi_Security

Sochi Olympic blog 1: Learning the rules of the road at Sochi

All Photos: Chris Wellhausen

Chris Wellhausen and I landed in Sochi Tuesday and so far we’ve had none of the problems other journalists are experiencing. Our room was ready, the hotel is decent even though it feels more like a dorm, the Wi-Fi is fast, and I had some good Russian herring for dinner last night. The side panels on the tub in our room are fractured but it’s cosmetic really.

The security presence is crazy. Surveillance blimps dot the sky and military personnel poke their heads from the tops of walls and stand around at pillars under bridges. There are fences surrounding our hotel and you have to go through a checkpoint to access the grounds. So although I feel safe that’s definitely been traded in for any super-happy-fun-times Olympic vibe. When we pulled up to check in security kept a close eye on the car and wrote down the license plate number, I assume to run a check on it. Cops were pulling people over in the middle of the road on the way from the airport, which was kind of sketchy, because I mean they were searching vehicles in the actual middle of the road, not on the shoulder. It wasn’t like a roadblock either, that’s just how they pull people over here I guess. We came around a blind curve to find them tossing one transport van and had to hit the brakes pretty hard. We have a rental car so unless parking is a huge issue at the mountain we will use that to get around instead of public transit. Really I wonder what will happen to this place when the Olympics are done. Our hotel room is okay for now given some of the horror stories out there but it’s not a place I would ever recommend anyone to stay. Give it a few more years and I can only imagine it will deteriorate more.

Sochi_preparations

Workers are sweeping the streets everywhere here trying to get things cleaned up a much as possible before the Games start. Just feet from this lady a Porta Potty was leaking a steady stream of piss that made us gag from the stench. Meanwhile piles of construction rubble peek from behind fences.  It’s like being on a Hollywood set. Don’t look behind the iron curtain.

Sochi_Security

Like anywhere you go in the world, some people are stoked and others are dicks. This guy was stoked.

On Wednesday we set off to Krasna Polyana and the Olympic Mountain Cluster to take a look at the slopestyle course and figure out where our credentials would and wouldn’t get us. Aside from the security rules are pretty tight about where you go here.

I don’t know if it’s because the roads have changed so much here recently or if Apple Maps just sucks, but we ended up driving around Sochi in circles for two hours following directions from my phone only to discover the onramp to the freeway about a mile from where we originally started. Near the Main Media Center and train station groups of workers were half-heartedly turning over clumps of soil, looking for explosives or something. That’s the only thing that seemed to make sense because they sure didn’t look like were seeding the grass.

Once we finally got on the freeway we started cruising towards the mountains. The road was in good condition and we could see huge snow-capped peaks meeting the sky farther up the valley. It looked sick up there and we’d been seeing the Instagram feed clogged with pow riding shots from riders already here.

Sochi_Mountains

The Caucasus Mountains are sick.

Here is an interesting fact about driving in Russia. A single broken white line in the middle of the road does not mean two lanes of traffic are moving in the same direction and you can pass. I hadn’t seen any oncoming traffic so I assumed were on a freeway similar to back home and pulled out to leisurely pass a row of busses. As I neared the final bus a car appeared from around the corner coming at us head on, full speed. A wave of dread washed over me like you can only get when you know something life altering is about to happen and all I could do was punch it to barely squeak past the bus. Hesitation is devastation they say. So, yeah, single broken white highway lines here are actually like our broken yellow lines back home. Duly noted.

At the Mountain Cluster we ran into Sal Masekela, Mark Sullivan, and Hailey Caruso who said the mountains here have some of the sickest inbound terrain they’ve ever ridden. We didn’t have a chance to strap in since were still dealing with all the details like the fact the wireless internet is useless in the main media center so we had to run around the maze of offices guided by the friendly but mostly non-English speaking volunteers, each of whom passed us from person to person as we searched for Ethernet cable upgrades. The scale of what it takes to operate the Olympics is mind blowing. But things like Ethernet cables are minor issues. And we think we’ve found a loophole in the parking system so we can drive up from Sochi everyday instead of taking transit, which saves a ton of time.

Sochi_Media

#mediafrenzy.

Sochi_Construction

The slopestyle venue getting the finishing touches.

Tonight we’re to the opening ceremonies. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty nervous about an attack of some sort. Everyone keeps trying to reassure me but as tight as security is in some areas it seems really loose in others, like it’s just there to make us feel better rather than truly being effective.

More Sochi 2014 Olympic stories here