Team Celski Blog: From Russia with a lot of love

By Bob Celski
2-23-14
Here are some comments on some other subjects I feel necessary to cover. Volunteers. I very fondly recall the volunteers in Vancouver. There were many of them helping direct us to venues, around the trains, in town. They were all warm, friendly and helpful despite what the Pacific Northwest weather was doing. They were definitely making a difference by being outstanding ambassadors. I leave Sochi with the same fondness for the volunteers here. They went out of their way to make us feel welcome, were similarly helpful, and tried hard to communicate despite the language barrier. The difference between the two was the volume of volunteers. Vancouver had many, but in Sochi, there were legions of volunteers. They were literally everywhere, in quantities at every post. Not only did they man the security checkpoints, they were stationed throughout the park, outside the park, in the train stations, bus stations, etc. Where they were needed for specific instructions or guidance, many spoke good English. We were the beneficiary of these helpers a few times during our travels.
Security forces. We had heard there would be 30,000 security forces stationed in and around the games to protect from any type of threat. While we did see armed and unarmed security forces, they were the exception rather than the rule. They were stationed at strategic points, and at symbolic locations. I don’t believe the reported number of anticipated security forces included volunteers. So, I highly doubt that there were nearly 30,000 security forces. That was perhaps reported to help defray the threat. As of when Sue, Chris and I left, it worked. No incidents, and a great feeling of security the entire time.
Friendly Russian people. We experienced random acts of kindness by Russian people as previously discussed.
The final act occurred at the Sochi airport as we were just waiting in the gate area. A young girl, turns out she was 16, and her father came up to me, somewhat invading my personal space as I was seated. He was a kind, smiling guy who spoke no English, but his daughter spoke a little bit – enough to get out some basic conversation. I could tell he was prompting her to talk to us to practice her English. He is a geography teacher, she a student studying foreign languages.
They live somewhere in the greater Moscow area. It was fun – he was prompting the questions including: what do I think of Putin (I gave a few positive comments), what I think of President Obama, my favorite Olympic sport, whether teachers are paid well in the USA, and other random thoughts. He said something, and she said as a teacher he makes $700 per month. Wow. I said teachers in the US make more than that. I could tell he was so proud of her, he was beaming as she spoke in English and then would translate back to him in Russian. I gave him a thumbs up and said how proud he must be, she translated and he gave her a big hug in pride while looking at me. It was just a fun, random interlude with a curious man who loves his daughter.
I am now writing this last piece on the plane somewhere over the North Atlantic flying Aeroflot Airlines. Today is a very long day. We flew out of Sochi at 10 p.m. on Saturday night, arriving in Moscow about 12:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. Our flight from Moscow to New York was scheduled to leave on Sunday morning at 10:50 a.m.
That’s a 10-hour layover. As it turns out, everyone I talked with had a similar layover. With the Olympics ending, they were turning added jets around between Moscow and Sochi to accommodate the exodus of people leaving Sochi. The wait comes at Moscow because it seems no additional flights, or at least not as many flights, were scheduled to other points around the world to handle the influx from Sochi.
In retrospect, flying out of Sochi on Saturday night at 10 p.m. turned out to be poor planning on our part. The medal ceremonies are scheduled at around 8 p.m. at the medals plaza the evening after the medal event. So by winning a medal on Friday, our short track team’s medal ceremony was going on while we were screening through security at the airport. We were saddened by this mishap in planning. However, there was no way we could have known better.
As I mentioned, we made flight plans way back in September, long before we knew when the relay would be scheduled, or that the event would occur so late Friday night, or that medals would be presented the following night versus at the venue right after the event, which they are for some sports.
Anyway, we spent the night between TGI Fridays and a coffee shop, having coffee and small eats with our friends the Alvarez’s from Miami, the Dudek’s from Milwaukee, and a few other friends. It was a long night, but we made it through. I was able to catch up on this blog – boy did I catch up. It seems like I can’t stop writing. It was strange that almost all coffee shops, restaurants and shopping areas in the airport were open and staffed for sale even though there was hardly anyone there. Chris did some duty free shopping, and we exchanged what rubles we had left at about 4 a.m. Even the currency exchange booth was open. Glad for that, I’m not sure when we’ll be visiting Russia again.
Going back to the medal ceremony, despite everyone’s best efforts trying to manipulate Wi-Fi at the Moscow airport, we weren’t able to see it. For some reason, that content wasn’t allowed on the Internet while we were there. It was driving us crazy as everyone was itching to see what happened after we read on NBC Olympic coverage that the boys did some funny demo AT THE AWARDS CEREMONY. I became a little nervous when reading about this. Medal ceremonies that I have seen either live or on TV have been very rehearsed, and somewhat “stuffy” with elder statesmen of the IOC hanging the medals around the athletes necks and handing the ceremonial flowers.
Finally we were able to see the ceremony during our short layover in New York on Sunday afternoon. The boys all jumped on the stage, then sat down on the front of the stage, doing a short synchronized routine with their arms and legs. I believe this is the first time in the history of medal ceremonies at the winter or summer games that something like this was done. The commentator got a chuckle out of it and commended the guys for having some fun. He took it all in stride. So, my son is involved in something like this and I missed it. I know exactly who on the team was behind this little production.
It had to be Jordan Malone, the ever practical joker. He’s always coming up with funny stuff like this. You can see the ceremony, and the little skit, at this link: http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/medal-ceremony-mens-short-track-5000m-relay
Now on the final leg of the trip from New York to Seattle on Sunday afternoon, I’m putting the finishing touches on this. Here are some final thoughts:
Our impression is that the Russian people in general care for their visitors, want them to have a good time, and hope to leave a good impression. Chris related a story about when he and his group were coming down the mountain after spending a day there. They were confused about when to get off the train. A Russian man, in broken English told them they better get off the train right now, or they would go back up to the mountain. They got off just in time; when the train moved next, it was going back to the mountain. A small gesture that was of great help to the visiting Americans.
Without trying to be political, Russia extended its best foot forward by putting the Sochi Olympic Games on the world stage. Their efforts, and the results, have been nothing less than extraordinary. In my humble opinion, they have set the model for future winter Olympic Parks. This experience is totally different than what occurred in Vancouver. Not better, not worse, just different. It was much more convenient to have the venues all in one location rather than spread out throughout the city as was Vancouver. However, Sochi just isn’t Vancouver in terms of shopping, dining, nightlife, and just general things to do.
We have talked about our experience with many other Americans and Canadians. To a person, everyone has the same comments that we do. All very positive, feeling safe and secure, great response from the locals in terms of extending goodwill, everything going as planned, maximum enjoyment. I haven’t heard a single negative by anyone here.
The Russian authorities have gone way out of their way to make these games special for the athletes, families and guests. From what I saw, the media tried to bring the games down long before they even started. Even while the games were going on, I was reading media reports focusing on insignificant negative instances. Despite their best critical efforts, these games were a huge success for those of us attending. Russia pulled these Olympic Games off, in a big way. We are proud to have been a part of it representing the USA.
Thanks to Casey Olson and The Federal Way Mirror for printing this blog. I will be glad to answer questions on the blog, time permitting. I appreciate you reading this, and sincerely hope you enjoyed it.
Sincerely,
Bob Celski

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Team Celski Blog: J.R. celebrates silver medal in the 5,000 relay

By Bob Celski
2/22/14
Since Thursday night was so late, we slept in Friday morning to catch up on needed sleep. After a gingerly morning, we caught the shuttle to the train station at 12:40 p.m. and went to the Olympic Park.
Here are some observations about Russians in general and Russian youth, at least from the perspective of our visit around the Sochi area during the Olympics. Suffice it to say, they are not much different than Americans.
We saw the youth texting on iPhones or Androids, talking on the phone, kidding around, and teenage rough-housing going on. They all dress upscale casual. We really didn’t see many in ratty jeans or baggy clothes. Much more orderly and nice looking.
Toddlers and babies would cry aloud on the train or bus, and moms would try to shush them down. The atmosphere on public transportation was rather quiet and respectful – no one seemed to want to stick out by being loud and intrusive. This made it easy for us as visitors – they just treated us like anyone else.
Just as I write the statement above (while on this train ride to the Olympic Park), I must contradict it because one isolated incident just occurred. We witnessed a scene that could have occurred in any American setting. A sleep deprived looking early twenty-something decked out in his volunteer outfit came on the rather open train with a small boom box; probably going to his volunteer position for the day. He was playing some hip-hop song, very, very loud. Chris told me the artist is called “50 Cent.” For all readers my generation, that is pronounced
“Fitty Cent” as I’m told by my kids who are into hip-hop. I heard some elderly Russians complaining behind me, but the kid was ambivalent to them. The complaining grew louder, but the young man just closed his eyes and was in his own world. Luckily, the train soon stopped at another station, and the train filled up. The young man finally turned his music off when he was totally surrounded by people. A tense situation diffused. This was a completely isolated incident during our entire trip and hopefully not the direction youth are taking in the society. I think not – this seems a very disciplined society that polices itself.
One of the elderly men who boarded the train near us, accompanied by his elderly family, let out a huge, embellished sneeze. It startled everyone. The wife straightened up very surprised, and looked at us. Chris, my ever-comic son, immediately looked at them all and with a big grin, said “Bless You” very loud. The place cracked up. It was just a very funny moment on a boring train ride. I was looking at the sneezer’s wife and we both couldn’t stop laughing for the longest time. Me in English, her in Russian.
This was a tense day. All of the team parents came to the P&G Family Home to sit, talk, get some work done, and generally be nervous together. Sue and I were doubly nervous as J.R. has two events to skate tonight – the 500m individual and the 5000m relay. It is the most exciting night of all for short track during the Olympics because both men’s events are fast and furious, and both are medal rounds.
The short track events up to this day have all been in the afternoon. For some reason, this one is scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. with a full slate of races. After what seemed an eternity, we finally left the P&G Family Home at 7:30; it was dark. While on the 15 minute walk to the Iceberg Palace, we walked over the colorful “bridge” leading into the opening of the venue plaza. While ascending it, I looked up far ahead and noticed the Olympic Torch in full glory. It was large, fiery and bright. I had a flashback as we were making our way toward the torch.
It took me back to June 2007.
Making a long story short, in June 2007 I was driving a fully filled U-Haul to Long Beach, Calif. with J.R. to bring him back down so he could return to short track after taking a 15-month break. We drove the entire trip through the night and into the early morning before stopping in a rest area south of Sacramento for a short sleep break.
It was very dark on I-5, and the near-full moon had risen straight ahead of us, about halfway up in the sky. The moon was shining bright directly over the interstate. It struck me as a beacon calling J.R. back down to his coach, to where he previously lived for two years with his older brother when he first started on the ice at age 14. The moon stayed directly over the interstate for what seemed almost an hour. It was a strange and attractive, a definite symbol to me that we were doing the right thing sending him back down there. I pointed this out to J.R., who had not fallen asleep yet though it was after midnight. I told him my thoughts on the symbolism, and he agreed this was definitely a symbolic calling. It reinforced his decision to return back to short track, a decision made about six months earlier. We refer to this beacon periodically when we reminisce.
Back to the Olympic Park. Seeing the fiery torch in the distance brought me back to that scene with the moon.
To me, it was symbolic that something good was going to happen tonight. This didn’t relieve my tension though, I was still as nervous as ever.
We made our way into the Iceberg Palace. The place was pretty packed, and already rocking. Before the event, the Russians were loudly chanting “Rush-ee-ah” over and over (similar in cadence to the “U.S.A” chant that has been used over the years). This was definitely a home town crowd and gave a home town advantage.
For those interested, here is some insight into short track. It is one of the most popular sports in the Olympics due to the speed, unpredictability and variety of athlete personalities.
As is normal, the 500m is fast right off the start, and gets faster as the skaters gain speed. Within a lap, the skaters are at an all-out sprint. J.R. had a manageable heat, though he was starting in lane 4 of four lanes. Lane 1 is the best as it makes for the shortest distance to the first corner. Being in lane 4 is tough because it makes for the longest distance to the cornier. While J.R. is a good sprinter who developed a good start over the years, he doesn’t have a great start like some of the skaters. Though he owns the world record in this event, it is not even his best event.
At the starting gun, J.R. ended up in third place at the first corner. Within two laps he passed up into second and had a lock on first place. The better the finish in a race, the better the placement on the line in the next race. It builds on itself. Soon after gaining second place, he inexplicably fell, and was out of the race, a certain continuance of the bad luck he had in the 1000m race. As luck may have it, a skater in the race who finished in the top two qualifying spots interfered with another skater and was penalized out of the race. This means J.R., who crossed the line third, actually took second due to removal of the skater with the penalty. So he qualified for the next round, the semi-finals. Periodically, skaters benefit from the misfortune of others. J.R. was the beneficiary this time.
Since he fell, he had a slow time even though he had qualified. Because of this, and an advancement, he was in fourth position on the line with five skaters in his semi-final. Getting to this level is tough enough, and not to mention in the fourth position. He skated well, but just couldn’t overcome his start position against top sprinters in the world. The top two from the semifinals go to the “A” Final, the medal round. The second two go to the “B” Final, which is where J.R. ended up. No chance for a medal, rather, racing for final positions. In the B final, he took second leaving him with a ranking of 6th
In the end for individual Olympic races, J.R. took 4th at all where he wanted to end up. So this begs the question, with this result, will he continue in short track for the next Olympics. Please don’t ask me that question if we meet around town. That decision, which is totally his, won’t probably be made before a year from now, one I won’t approach him with, and one I’ll have no influence in . He will figure out where he goes from here on his time schedule.
For the men, after the 500m races, the last and marquis event of the entire meet is the men’s 5000m relay final. Typically there are four teams of four men each participating for a total of 16. Defined as “organized chaos,” there really is a systematic process that works quite well as long as the skaters mind it. However, in this particular final, there were five teams which, if they are all of equal ability makes it very difficult to maintain order.
Earlier I explained that the USA was advanced to the A Final because of unintentional interference by the team from South Korea in the semi-final. The five teams participating in the relay are USA, Russia, China, The Netherlands, and Kazakhstan. Both Canada and Korea, the gold and silver medalists in the relay from the 2010 Olympics are in the B Final as neither made it out of the semi-finals for the medal round.
The USA started in Lane 5, but this is not a disadvantage as it is in the 500m race. With 5000m to cover, there is plenty of time to work your way up. The race started, and something I’ve never seen happen before occurred at the end of the very first corner. Somehow, miraculously, both the Chinese and then the Dutch skaters fell without any interference or cause. It was unbelievable. This small event, at the start of the race, took them out of the race for gold and silver right off the bat with strong teams like the USA and Russia out in front. When a team falls, the leading teams exploit the misfortune by skating hard to keep them out of the race. Kazakhstan is an up-and-coming team, and was never even a threat. So, that left the USA and Russia to complete for the gold, and the remaining three teams to compete for bronze. That, of course, assuming the two lead teams can stay on their feet! Which is never remotely guaranteed because the corners gets so chopped up and broken out during relays from so many skaters on it going full speed.
The USA and Russians were favored to compete for gold anyway, but I would never count out China or Holland.
They are quality teams with outstanding skaters. The USA is known for outstanding teamwork, strong skaters, and has J.R. as the anchor. Russia has the same reputation, and has the most decorated skater in the history of short track as its anchor. Viktor Anh is a living legend in the sport, and J.R. loves to compete against him. J.R. always says “To be the best, you have to beat the best.” They have a tremendous mutual respect because they are a lot alike in terms of personality and ability.
During the race, there were a few lead changes, and when the USA took the lead for about 8 – 10 laps toward the end of the race, the Russian crowd quieted down a bit. But during a simultaneous push with eight laps left to go, the strong Russian starter had a great exchange and pushed Anh just ahead of J.R. So the race was on. Not many can stay with An. J.R. is one who can. The anchor skates the last two laps in the race (final 200 meters). The last time they raced in the final world cup of the season in December, J.R. just beat Anh with some miraculous skating. However, this time there was another factor. Early on the final lap, the teams lapped the team from Kazakhstan. When this happens, the lapped skater is supposed to move to an outside track to not interfere with the lead teams. Their skater didn’t do this. Anh, slightly ahead of J.R. was able to squeeze by the lapped skater on the inside right in the corner. J.R. never had an opportunity to get by on the inside because the lane closed even further (more interference). With J.R. having to skate on the outside, the race for gold was over. It was Russia. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the USA won the silver medal.
This is the first silver medal the USA men won since 1998, and only the fourth medal ever won. The USA never won gold in this event which is why it was bittersweet for the team. They were that close to it. But relay teams would give anything to win a silver medal in the Olympics. In perspective, Russia set a new Olympic record in that race. The USA, in second place by a mere split second, also broke the old record with their performance but that statistic is mute since our guys didn’t win the race.
This relay race ended the 2014 Olympics for short track. While he didn’t meet his objectives he set for himself going into the meet, J.R. brings home a silver medal to complement his two medals earned in Vancouver. With three Olympic medals, he is now the second most decorated USA short track Olympic medalist. Not a bad position to be in. But J.R. doesn’t think in those terms; that is a proud dad talking. J.R. still owns the senior men’s 500m world record (one of four distance records) that will stand for a long time, and also holds a world junior record in the 1000m that has stood now for over five years. He has won gold medals at the world senior and junior championships, gold in world cups, and national championships. At age 23, what eludes him is Olympic gold. Leaving Sochi, he is happy to have won a medal, but not at all satisfied.
Here is a bit more perspective of these 2014 Olympics in short track. For the men, there were about 55 men from 19 countries participating in the meet. Of these skaters, exactly 15 of them won one or more medals between the individual and relay events. For the USA to have four skaters in this total is an accomplishment, especially a silver medal. Bear in mind, there are hundreds and hundreds of skaters in the sport around the world who never even qualified for the Olympics, many of whom are quality competitors.

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Team Celski Blog: I’m glad I’m not a figure skating judge

By Bob Celski
2-21-14
It is now Friday and we have only today and tomorrow left.
Yesterday (Thursday) was a very long day. It started with moving hotels from the Yuzhny to the Hotel Zelanaya Roscha in Matsesta which is about another 20 minutes away from the Olympic Park. A bit of a hassle but in the grand scheme of things, not a big deal. We have so much luggage we used a taxi instead of public transportation. It was interesting getting the cost of the ride from the taxi driver. I finally pulled out my phone and brought up the calculator so he could type in the price! What a way to communicate. It was a higher fee than I thought but not too out of line.
Sue and I stayed in the village yesterday so I could get caught up with some work items, update the blog and my Facebook posting, and rest a bit. Chris and Andrea went up to Krasna Polyana in the mountains with the girlfriends of some of the other short track team to see a snowboarding event. We have been interested in going up there, but have been so busy doing other things we have stayed in and around the P&G Family Home and USA House.
Last night, we had the opportunity to go see the women’s figure skating free skate. Never did I imagine I would have an opportunity to see the women’s free skate figure skating at the Olympics. Growing up in Minnesota as a youth hockey player, I have been watching this particular Olympic event on TV with great interest since I was just a kid. The style and grace of women figure skaters is like no other. This is why I was so excited to meet Kristi Yamaguchi a few days ago! She was one of the most graceful figure skaters I ever watched.
As is common, the end result of the event produced a huge controversy as to who should have won the gold medal, and that the American women were judged out of the medals. This morning, the questions and criticism are posted all over the Internet. The Koreans, whose skater was the favorite for gold, are outraged as she won the gold medal four years ago in Vancouver.
I’ll admit I am no expert on judging figure skating, but having watched it for decades I know a little bit. As I saw it, the judges got the first three places right – the Russian, the Korean and Italian skaters were clearly the medalists. They got the top two places right – the Russian and the Korean skaters were clearly the top two.
As to the gold medalist, to me the skaters were equally as strong. Obviously the judges favored the Russian skater which to me wasn’t a stretch. What I thought an injustice was placing Ashley Wagner in sixth. To me, she should have finished fourth. So goes the ambiguity and controversy of figure skating, it is still the same as it was decades ago . . .
The event let out late, so we moved quickly across the entire park to the train station. We had to catch the train to the hotel shuttle in Matsesta, the last one of which left at 1:30 a.m. It was a long day with miles and miles of walking through the park.

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TEAM CELSKI BLOG: Quite a day in Sochi — shopping and a spa treatment

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By Bob Celski
2-21-14
This blog is written to keep the proud people of Federal Way informed about one of the city’s sons, short track speedskater J.R. Celski and the experience of his parents, Bob and Sue, during the Olympics.

Yesterday – Wednesday — the sun came back out and it was another great and busy day. We started out by taking the bus from the hotel to the Adler train station and took some pictures of the Black Sea again.
Then we took a bus to downtown Adler, a quaint little town center. The massive Olympic Coastal Park is located at the South end of the town. Looking past the Olympic Park to the south is the country of Georgia, not five kilometers away. You would never know we are so close to Georgia.
We shopped, and shopped. I’ll admit, I’m not a shopper unless I’m looking for souvenirs. This was an enjoyable experience as there was booth after booth to check out the wares. We found absolutely everything we were looking for, and filled my backpack with stuff. Probably way overpaid, but prices were cheaper than at the Olympic store in the park.
We took our time in the nice weather. Next thing you know, Chris says, “Hey dad, isn’t that Lester Holt over there?” Sure enough Lester Holt was shopping too, along with a camera crew. Lester is one of the news anchors of NBC Nightly News along with Brian Williams. We watch him all the time.
Not being bashful, Sue and I went up to Lester and introduced ourselves, saying we are the parents of J.R. He knew of J.R. right away, so we started a nice, long conversation about how our experience here is NOTHING like it was supposed to be as portrayed in the media prior to the games.
He too has really enjoyed himself here when breaking away from the NBC Nightly News cast. Before we knew it, his crew chief Kim asks us if we wouldn’t mind being interviewed for an NBC Nightly News segment they will be airing in the next few days. We were totally willing, in an effort to tell the true story of what is going on here in Sochi.
It was a spur-of-the moment thing but a lot of fun.
After shopping, I packed all our stuff in my backpack and we took a train back to the Olympic Park. We went straight to the P&G Family Home and met up with J.R. It was great to see him, he was relaxed and calm, saying the ice is much better and he’s feeling great on it. This is awesome news.
He was there for a sponsor event – P&G sponsors J.R. as many have seen in the P&G/Braun commercials. So he got a spa treatment. Now get this, so did I.
P&G has this spa set up for the moms, but even the dads have one chair (out of about nine chairs on site). Now, I must admit I’ve never had a spa treatment before, ever. I was encouraged to do it by Sue.
In the end, I really enjoyed it and may return again. Sue and Andrea had a Cover Girl spa treatment before an event that happened here on site. It was the rollout of an inspirational P&G commercial that aired worldwide last night (Wednesday) regarding the Paralympics that will be held here in Sochi in two weeks. I will say that even I almost needed a Puffs tissue watching this. Perhaps you saw it on TV Wednesday night? Quite an inspirational story.
After eating dinner, Chris, Sue, Andrea and I went to see the U.S. men defeat the Czech Republic in hockey by 5-2 in the quarterfinal at the Shayba Arena. It was fast and exciting – these players are serious about playing for their country.
Most are NHL players, and therefore why the Stanley Cup showed up the other day at the USA House. Several of them will earn this trophy later in the season playing for their NHL team.
It was a late night, and we didn’t get back to the hotel until after 1 a.m.
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Team Celski Blog: We are finally getting in the grove of Sochi

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By Bob Celski

This blog is written to keep the proud people of Federal Way informed about one of the city’s sons, short track speedskater J.R. Celski and the experience of his parents, Bob and Sue, during the Olympics.

2/19/14
It’s now Wednesday morning at 7:45 a.m. here in Sochi. After two days of cloudy, rainy weather, we are waking up to another beautiful day. It’s so strange to think that while we are getting ready for breakfast and a day full of activity, it’s evening time back home and people are watching The Olympic Zone and soon to watch NBC coverage of the Olympics for the first time – events that happened here yesterday.
Very strange.
I’m now sleeping about 5 to 6 hours a night, normal for me. My body has adjusted to the time zone change, so I feel much more rested. It took me about eight days to normalize to the time here, which is 12 time zones apart from home.
A couple of interesting stories.
When we were deciding long ago – way back in September where to stay – there were not many options. It’s not like we could call Marriott, Ramada, Best Western or any other hotel chain.
Most of these brands don’t exist here and once again, there is a huge language barrier. So Sue searched for weeks for places to stay. She emailed different agencies that advertised on the Internet. One or two emailed back that we “are reserving your room” but it just looked flakey.
They wanted a deposit of a large sum of money for the 13 nights we were staying. Concerned about a scam, we didn’t follow those leads. Then, there was an advertisement to stay on cruise ships that were to be harbored near Adler.
We didn’t feel comfortable with this arrangement either; what if they never showed up? How were they going to be secure? How big would cabins be? Of course, all funds had to be paid up front so we wanted to be sure our accommodations were going to be ready for us, comfortable (at the prices we paid), and complete. So we went with the contractor to the International Olympic Committee, and we have been very pleased so far.
Last night we talked at length to our friends from Milwaukee, Rob and Mary Dudek, whose daughter Alison is on the women’s short track team. They are great, positive people who are just like us: supporting their daughter over the years to try to accomplish her dreams. They did go with the cruise ship, and have been very happy with the experience albeit the room is very small. Who would have thought . . .
As Americans, we have low priority to the hotels guaranteed by this contractor called CoSport. Because of this, we are having to move hotels today. The one we are going to is another 20 minutes further from the Olympic Park than we are at now which is an easy 20-minute bus ride.
Our adventure is going to grow with this new place. So for the last three nights, we will be there. More about this experience later.
Having lived in Europe for 3 ½ years while I was in the Army back in the 80’s, Sue and I learned that as Americans, we are under the microscope. We learned to try to be ambassadors for our country by being quiet, kind, polite and courteous. We continued to follow that philosophy in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics, here in Sochi in 2014 and whenever we travel internationally. We also try to give a small reward those who help us out.
For many years we have supported the US Olympic Committee by donating funds for them several times a year. When donating, they always offer give-aways for donor’s funds, like pen/pencil sets, t-shirts, windbreaker jackets, small backpacks, etc. These all have the USOC and Olympic logo emblazoned on them, and the shirts will have other lettering like “Go USA” and the like.
So we collected about 40 items over the past four years, and brought them all with us. We seek out people who have been kind to us or helped us in some way, and give them an item or two. So far, we have found five or six people to give them to, and when we do, they are so appreciative. They don’t expect this gesture. Being ambassadors is a fun thing to do.
A huge hobby of many, many people at the Olympics is trading pins that people put on their lanyards holding their accreditations, on their backpacks, etc (we have several lanyards because you need accreditation for about everything you do here).
While I did trade pins in Vancouver, I never really got into the pin thing here in Sochi, but Chris and Andrea have. It’s fun to trade, bargain, and negotiate though not a word may be spoken due to language barrier. Some traders are very aggressive, getting in your face and pointing to a pin on your lanyard they may want.
The bargaining is fun and exciting, and can be quite rewarding. Chris has three lanyards full of beautiful pins with various themes from all over the world which will be a great souvenir and memory in the future. The pins are getting heavy and starting to wear him down. The more pins one has, the more “bragging rights” they seem to carry.
One morning, on the bus ride from the hotel to the Olympic Park, a gentleman with his wife and son caught sight of Chris’ many pins. He came to Chris and offered him a pin – a rather unsightly pin. Chris just kind of shook his head and turned his head away (gesturing he wasn’t interested in this particular pin).
The man put the pin in Chris’ hand, and returned to his seat just across from us. The pin was of a Russian nuclear power plant. Normally pins carry a theme of some product brand, a country logo, the Olympic rings with a particular sport, etc. But this was of a nuclear power plant. I’ve never seen something like this before. We assume he worked at this plant and just wanted someone to see that.
Well – in our ambassador role, I wasn’t about to let this go. I pulled out a USA logoed thin backpack (for the son) and a shirt, gave them to Chris and had him give them to the man and his son.
They were reluctant at first, but then delighted. When we exited the bus, they wanted a picture of Chris together with the three of them. So I took the pictures with their camera and with Chris’ camera. All of this with few words spoken, and no words understood by either of them. To me, this is the fascinating side of human interaction though cultures may be worlds apart and language barriers hold back deeper interaction.
Yesterday (Tuesday), J.R. skated just one race, a qualification round for the 500m race series which will continue on Friday. Short track events take place in the Iceberg Skating Palace, the same venue where figure skating events occur – these two sports share the space on opposite days.
Ice conditions for short track are critical to the skaters. The ice needs to be smooth, fast, hold the blade edges (at the deep angles the skaters must have when cornering) and very cold.
There are five tracks used on the ice with blocks used to mark the course. After each race, the blocks are moved to a new track, and water is poured on the previous track that is all cut up from the blades. Normally, the water freezes on the prior track to fill in the cuts and get the surface back to normal, in time for the next race.
For some reason, the water has not been freezing to recreate the desired surfaces needed for the next race. The ice has remained cut up, choppy and wet which is hard for the skaters to grip at full speed, especially at full-speed like what happens in the 500m sprint race. The ice is also bad due to the figure skating events – figure skating really takes a toll on the ice.
Because of the poor ice conditions, yesterday the best sprinter in the world, Charles Hamelin from Canada slipped and slid out to the pads unexpectedly when he was way in front of the other three skaters in his heat. He’s now done.
Same thing happened to J.R.’s friend and teammate Eddy Alvarez in his heat. Eddy, also a very good sprinter is done. There is no second chance when this happens. Others had the same thing occur. J.R. had a serious slip in his heat but caught himself enough to come in second and qualify for the next round coming up on Friday (first and second places qualify to move on).
One may think that J.R. has an easy shot at a medal in the 500m race because he holds the world record in this distance. He set the world record 18 months ago in Calgary, Alberta Canada.
The ice there is known to be the fastest in the world. Different rinks have different ice reputations, and the skaters love when meets are scheduled for Calgary. The ice conditions there are perfect. I witnessed it first-hand as I was there when J.R. set the record.
J.R. loves fast/smooth ice, and it was proven there. The ice conditions here are not good. But in the end, all skaters have to skate on the same ice and some skaters are more sensitive to the conditions than others.
After the race yesterday we went to the USA House and had dinner and watched various events. J.R. couldn’t join us again because the coach has them on “lockdown” at the Athletes Village to get mentally and physically prepared for the next round of races on Friday: the men’s 500m quarters, semis and finals, and the 5000m relay finals. J.R. is in both races.
Of all things, while at the USA House, suddenly a large and very secure looking foot locker rolled by us to the center of the huge room. It’s opened up, and out comes the Stanley Cup. This is the Holy Grail of hockey – the winner of the National Hockey League (NHL) is awarded this cup every year. Actually, they get their team name placed on the side of the cup – it stays at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
I’m not sure why it came there, but here it was. It’s probably there to be shown during the gold medal hockey game on Sunday. Anyway, what a great photo-op, and like many others, Sue and I obliged.
We finished the day at the P&G Family Home meeting up with friends including Janet Fletcher who is the director of the whole P&G Family Home as well as the coordinator of worldwide P&G Olympic activity. Small in stature, Janet is a giant at P&G and a great friend who goes way out of her way to accommodate the families of all US Olympic athletes (about 230 of them), as well as international athletes.
Her and her staff tirelessly and energetically work 24×7 during the event and have made a huge difference in the experience for all of us.
After leaving the P&G Family Home, we made our way back to the hotel room in a steady rain. Just like back home . . .
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TEAM CELSKI BLOG: J.R. doing fine after hitting block in 1,000 meters

unnamed-21By Bob Celski

This blog is written to keep the proud people of Federal Way informed about one of the city’s sons, short track speedskater J.R. Celski and the experience of his parents, Bob and Sue, during the Olympics.

2/17/14

It’s been a busy few days with a lot of activity.

Many are wondering how J.R. is after the fall he took on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the 1000m race. He hit a block that was out of position when he was cranking up to pass back into first place and race to the finish line. When unexpectedly hitting the block, he fell to his knees on the ice and both of them. We were heartbroken that this happened – he was a favorite for a medal and was looking so good. Our biggest concern was whether or not he was OK. Short track is unforgiving with regard to injury to the athletes, and J.R. has had more than his share of them. Luckily, he is fine and didn’t hurt them enough to hinder him in the competition.

On Sunday, we had a family day, all day long. J.R. didn’t practice to rest his sore knees. This was the day that we visited J.R. in the Athlete Village

Like much of the process in making your way to various attractions in the Olympics, coordination to get the passes for the village was done by Sue via email way back in December. She did this coordination as directed, but as part of the process, she never received any kind of written confirmation.

So, with uncertainty, we went to the village having faith that the process worked and we would get in. We went to the processing desk at the entrance of the village, gave them our names, and presto – a pass for each of us was produced. It worked. Once again, success thanks to all of Sue’s hard work long before the start of the Olympics.

We took the train from Adler to the Olympic Park, then boarded another train to the Athletes Village. It was another long walk. The day was cooler and cloudy with periodic drizzle, much like the weather in Federal Way all day long. Quite a change from all the other days

Andrea called J.R. once we were done processing, so J.R. rode his bike to meet us. The athletes village is just an area of many apartment buildings – one for each country participating in the Olympics. Many were decked out with national flags and banners, but not the USA. In my mind this is not due to a lack of pride in the US, but of good operational security so as to not give a target to those who would do harm.

The room was huge, and very Spartan. There was nothing on the walls except for an Olympic flag that J.R. put up. J.R. acquired the autographs of several Olympians on the flag and is quite proud of it. We took some pictures in there, and mainly hung out for a few hours. While there, J.R. did laundry. Sue, who takes charge of laundry for her boys, was told no, that he would do the laundry together with Andrea. Never saw this happen before. Anyway, J.R. had to get treated by the physical therapist for his knees so while he went to do that, we made our way back to the Olympic Park and on to the USA Hospitality House.

On the way there, we visited the Olympic rings at the Athlete’s Village, and also the rings between the Olympic Park Train Station and the park. Both are huge and impressive. The rings located around the entire region are placed in very scenic and impressive settings.

We finally arrived at the USA Hospitality House in the middle of Olympic Park. Not long after we arrived, J.R. showed up. He has a huge advantage of biking on a straight path from his apartment through an athlete-only access point, and directly through the park on his bike. It took us about 90 minutes, him about 10.

The USA Hospitality House is where the USOC hosts athletes, and large donors and sponsors. Athletes who medal are honored there the night of their victories. It isn’t much unlike the P&G House for families, but much more exclusive. Many former Olympians show up to meet with the donors and sponsors.

Great food, plenty of refreshments. So far we have met up with Bonnie Blair there (we have become friends with Bonnie over the years), Kristi Yamaguchi (who sought J.R. out to take a picture with him), Dan Jansen (who is a huge fan of J.R. – never did we think a speedskating legend would be a fan of our son), Scott Hamilton, Bode Miller, and so on. They all make their way into the USA House. There are huge big-screen TV’s there to watch US athletes compete. The TV’s are 15’ x 10’ or bigger, and there are four of them side-by-side. A great place to watch Olympic sports.

Today (Monday) I went with Andrea to J.R.’s practice. He looked good, fast, ready. He is feeling good. He has put the 1000m behind him. The practice was for 50 minutes, together with the team from The Netherlands. When it ended, we returned to the USA House to eat and hang out. It is Andrea’s birthday today so we celebrated it there. With J.R. competing tomorrow (Tuesday), he left early at about 4:30 or so. No celebrating for him tonight with his girlfriend on her birthday, duty calls.

But Andrea understands completely, she retired from the Canadian short track team last year and would have it no other way this evening.
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TEAM CELSKI BLOG: Olympic break means a tour of Sochi

unnamed-22By Bob Celski

This blog is written to keep the proud people of Federal Way informed about one of the city’s sons, short track speedskater J.R. Celski and the experience of his parents, Bob and Sue, during the Olympics.

2/15/14

We took a break from the Olympic Park action yesterday since J.R. had no short track events. Rather, Sue, Chris and I caught a train from Adler up the coast to Sochi, the namesake city of these Winter Olympic Games.

I have always been curious about the Black Sea, a huge body of water on which Sochi, Adler and the Olympic Park lie. Based on the Black Sea’s distance from the U.S., and the countries that border it, I never thought I’d see it. But here we are, able to set our eyes on it because of the 2014 Olympics.

We arrived in Sochi on the train and walked from the station to the river, and then upstream to a huge mall which was much bigger even than Southcenter Mall. We stopped and sat down at a pastry shop and had pastry and coffee / tea. The pastry was as good as we’ve ever had and the green tea was by far the best I have ever tasted. Among other souvenir shops etc., we found a huge grocery store in the mall which would make a Super Walmart jealous. There were many, many brands recognizable in the US in the well-stocked shelves such as Tide, Safeguard soap, Oral B, Crest, American brand beers, candy bars, etc.

Browsing by the candy shelves, we noticed the variety of chocolate bars at very good prices. Some had quite interesting  packaging. We couldn’t resist and bought about $30 worth of chocolate to bring back home.

The infrastructure of the city reminded me of cities in the US from back in the 60’s or 70’s. From the broken down, man-made riverbed to the huge metal power poles to the old style heavy truss bridges, it was definitely old style. But there are modern aspects to the city with a very efficient rail and bus system and nice, modern looking high rises.

This was also a day to rest and recharge our batteries after several long, intense days. 

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