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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Team Celski Blog: J.R. qualifies for finals in 1,000 and 5,000-meter relay

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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.

2/14/14 Happy Valentine’s Day
It is 3 a.m. (3 p.m. in FW) as I write this here in Sochi. I’m getting about three to four hours of sleep a night, still ravaged by jet lag. It’s so bad that I’ll be watching a competition around 6:30 p.m. here (6:30 a.m. in Federal Way) and suddenly doze off struggling to stay awake. Hoping to get into the time zone soon … sleep desperately needed.

The title of the last blog printed by the Mirror was “Is this Las Vegas or Sochi.” That was in reference to the glamour and glitter of the venues and other buildings on the grounds. But that comment could have just as well applied to the weather. It hit 63 here yesterday in a cloudless sky and has been beautiful all but one day here so far. I’m having to apply sun screen to not burn.

A bit more about security. The front gate of the entrance into Olympic Park not only has walking guards present, there are about 60 check-through doors. To enter the Olympic Park, we have to scan our Spectator Passes in a reader, and then scan our event ticket.

This gets us through the gate and into the security zone. For days we don’t have event tickets (J.R competes in five of the 14 days we are here), we had to buy “Park Passes.”

Once in the security zone, it’s similar to screening at the airport a few years ago. Our bags, coats, and metal items on the body go through the scanner. Once on the other side, the agents pat you down on most clothed areas. Then I have to open up all backpack pouches for a visual inspection.

I don’t feel violated because in my mind, if they catch one person with destructive contraband it will be worth it. It is very quick and efficient. With 60 stations, we get through rather quickly. Leaving the security zone doors opens you up to the wonders of this Olympic Park.

You may have read about stray dogs. We see them at nearly every bus stop, just kind of lounging around. They seem friendly, just seeking a handout. Some look healthy, others not so. But none look starving though as the transit riders probably give them scraps to live off of.

Yesterday (Thursday) we toured around the amazing Olympic Park more. The more we walk around, the more amazing it becomes. The beauty from every angle is impressive, especially around the Olympic torch plaza. It is massive. From the plaza, you can see five venues which surround it, each the size of a full-scale, 20,000 seat arena – or bigger. This is where all ice events are held.

On Thursday afternoon, the men had qualifications in the 1000m (individual) and the 5000m relay. J.R. easily qualified in the 1000m. The 5000m relay is known to be chaos. There are 20 skaters from four teams on the ice. Exchanges are done not with a baton like in track, but by a push of the next skater.

It is one of the most exciting events of the Olympics because it’s so fast, chaotic, with only centimeters between the skate blades going full-speed. The top-two teams qualify to go on to the medal round. J.R. is the team anchor in this 45-lap race. Team USA skated against Korea, Netherlands and Kazakhstan.

Things were going fine with about nine laps to go. Then, J.R.’s teammate Eddy Alvarez, while passing to first place was “impeded” by the Korean skater who pulled his skate from underneath him.

But things occur so fast, we couldn’t see this important detail when it happened. Both skaters went crashing into the pads while the Netherlands and Kazakhstan teams passed by. Our hearts sank.

Our team would not go to the medal round. When incidents like this occur, there is an official review where the judges have instant replay similar to the NFL. The close-up video also shows on the large venue screens. When that incident was played (over-and-over), immediately I felt relief because I knew there would be a call made which would advance Team USA to the medal round.

Whenever someone, or a team in a qualifying position is interfered with and doesn’t qualify, they are advanced to the next round. In the end, it appeared the Korean skater was slipping out and in desperation was trying to touch the ice to gain stability. While doing that, Eddy’s skate just happened to be where he reached so the Korean team wasn’t penalized. Rather, they will skate in the “B Final” which is a type of consolation round. So, Team USA will skate in the medal round in the last event of the short track competition next Friday night.

Whew!!!

For an interesting story on J.R and Eddy, go to this clip broadcast by KNBC in Southern California. It is a truly great story of two of the five teammates on Team USA short track and one of the big stories emerging from these Olympics.
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Team Celski Blog: Is this Las Vegas or 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.

Thursday 2/13/14
Sue, Chris, Andrea and I went to the figure skating event on Tuesday and had close-up seats. I have never seen live figure skating before. What a place to see it first-time.
The Russian team that was in first place after the night was flawless — they were in harmony and near perfect. Clearly ahead of second place. The place was packed and as in every event, the Russian-dominated crowd was loud and proud.
This was a fun night.
We left the arena around 10:30 p.m. and then walked the park for the first time at night. This place really comes alive after dark. I would compare it to the lights and glitter of Las Vegas. Every building is lit up.
But what stands out are the four main venues — short-track and figure skating, long track, and the two hockey venues all are covered in a massive, live video display. Words can’t describe how amazing this sight is, with the venues surrounding the enormous Olympic Torch plaza.
We could spend a full night at each building just watching the beautiful display. Speaking of Olympic Park – it is vast. It’s about a 15-minute brisk walk from the park entrance – where there about 50 secured entry stalls side-by-side – to the Opening Ceremonies venue. And three of the competition venues are on the far side of it.
The park is so big that J.R. bought a bike to get to the venues from the Athletes Village, or to meet with us at the P&G Home etc. – all in an effort to save his legs for competition. J.R. is donating the bike to a local Russian charity after Olympics are done.
An important aspect for the families and athletes is to have a place to meet and congregate. Luckily, we have such a place. Procter & Gamble, one of J.R.’s sponsors (you may have seen the commercial with J.R. and Sue) spends a fortune to support the USOC, and the athletes and parents through what’s called the P&G Family Home.
It is a large building with big meeting rooms where families can just hang out, eat lunch or dinner, meet with the athletes, and meet new friends. It’s where Sue and I met yesterday (Wednesday) with Chris Daniels of King 5 NBC to do an interview for the Olympic Zone coverage.
Meals, snacks and drinks are provided by P&G to help the families out. It is expensive enough to travel to and stay at an Olympic site, so the P&G Family Home is a very welcome gesture to the families. They did this same thing in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics. Lucky for us because we had over 50 family members and friends spend time with us in the P&G Family Home there.
We went to the long track competition Wednesday night. Similar to all ice arena events, this is very popular. It is a 400-meter track surrounded by a massive building. I heard yesterday that there are only about 30 indoor long tracks in the world, and 14 of them are in the Netherlands (it is their national sport).
Anyway, this is known to be a fun event, filled with rowdy, but fun-loving fans, particularly the Dutch. The reputation lived up to its expectation. It was indeed fun and exciting.
During the ice cleaning halfway through the event, there was a marching band entertaining everyone, similar to a half-time show at a football game. What fun. Luckily J.R. was able to break away and be with us for this because the event ended early enough for him to get back to his room and rest up for his short track event later on today.

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Team Celski Blog: Black Sea accommodations are very nice

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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.

Tuesday 2/11/14
To get our accommodations, we went through the International Olympic Committee’s ticketing and accommodations contractor. We are staying in a resort on the Black Sea, a very nice place. We went through them to guarantee a place to stay with a reputable provider.
After a morning workout in the resort fitness center, Sue and I took a bus to the Olympic Park to meet one of the US Speedskating staff. Our purpose was to deliver to him some special breakfast cereal, juice and supplements that J.R. asked us to bring from the states. Because he is staff, he can get through the gauntlet of security with such items much easier than us. As spectators, these items would be confiscated from us.
We are spending the afternoon in the P&G Family Home, together again with J.R. to after a light ice practice. As luck may have it, we were given four tickets to the Figure Skating Pairs Short Program tonight and are definitely going.

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Team Celski Blog: J.R. finishes fourth in the 1,500 meters, looking forward to next event

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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.

Monday 2/10/14
After an early breakfast, we caught a bus 20 minutes to the Olympic Park to pick up all the tickets we bought, and get our park passes. Getting into the Olympic Park was not much different than going through security at the airport, except that rather than English speaking TSA agents, we were dealing with Russian speaking volunteers. As expected, most of the communication was done with motions and gestures, but we muddled through.
Once in the park, we toured various sites and then queued up in the line for the Sochi Olympic store.
We waited for about an hour before entering but found some interesting souvenirs to bring home. It is a very photogenic place, and we took a lot of pictures.
Monday was J.R.’s first race – the 1,500 starting at 1:45 p.m.. Just before entering the venue – called the Iceberg Palace — we took pictures in front of the Olympic Torch. What a grand site that was. It is a huge torch.
The Iceberg Palace is one of several Olympic venues in the park. It is a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility.
By the time events started, the place was filled to about 90 to 95 percent. It is no secret now how things finished in the races that day. J.R. breezed relatively easy through the quarterfinals and the semifinals to get into the medal round. He looked good through those races. J.R. finished fourth, just missing getting on the podium. While disappointed in his performance, great athletes have amnesia because they can’t harbor on past successes or failures, but rather, concentrate on the next event.
After the event, our family party of five (Sue, Chris, Andrea – J.R.’s girlfriend, J.R. and I) spent the evening with J.R. at the Procter & Gamble Family Home. This is P&G’s sponsored hospitality house where athletes and families can get away from the busyness of the games to rest, eat and just hang out.
I was able to spend some time with J.R. and he feels confident in his upcoming races.

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