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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