Team Celski Blog: We are finally getting in the grove of Sochi

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.

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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