Athletes adjust to life at Sochi games

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Andrew Weibrecht had a tough time getting to sleep Wednesday night.

No, it wasn’t because the 28-year-old Lake Placid native is worried about the pressure of performing at the Olympic games. And it wasn’t because he’s still dealing with jet lag after arriving here just a few days ago.

It was those noisy U.S. snowboarders, probably Kaitlyn Farrington and Kelly Clark, who won gold and bronze medals, respectively, in Wednesday’s halfpipe competition.

“The snowboarders did well, which is great, but they were also screaming up and down the hallways all last night, so that didn’t help,” Weibrecht said.

Such is life at the Sochi, Russia games, where athletes from across the world have come to compete, and live together, for two weeks in pursuit of Olympic gold.

The U.S. athletes the Enterprise has interviewed about these games, particularly those who’ve been to previous Olympics, describe them as “very different,” with plenty of transportation and security hurdles, and cultural differences with the Russian hosts. However, very few athletes have said those issues or differences have soured their Olympic experience.

“Honestly, they’re doing a great job,” said ski jumper Anders Johnson of Park City, Utah, a three-time Olympian. “The (Mountain Olympic) village we’re staying in is nice. Everything’s really low-key and mellow. The only stressful thing so far was really just getting picked up at the airport, but only stressful because every volunteer wanted to help. It was a little overwhelming. Besides that, everything’s run smooth. Everyone’s friendly.”

Fellow ski jumper Nick Alexander, of Lebanon, N.H., said it’s taken him some time to get used to the language and the intense security surrounding these games, but there have been no big hassles, he said.

“It’s been perfect,” he said. “We’re staying up in the mountains. It’s a beautiful view. There’s plenty to do up there. There’s lifts going all over the place so we can get to the different venues to watch a slopestyle event or a downhill event. We have easy access to everything.”

One might think getting from place to place wouldn’t be easy to do at these games, given the heavy security and the logistics of moving around via bus, rail or gondola. Yet Bill Demong, a Vermontville native and five-time Olympian in nordic combined, said those issues haven’t been a problem for him.

“It hasn’t been hard to get around at all,” he said. “It feels safe, but not ridiculous. I have not really felt like it’s ever taken me 10 minutes to get through any security check since I got here. In some ways, it’s almost a good balance. There’s actually less security now than there was at the pre-Olympic World Cup last year.”

Biathlon athlete Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid said the stepped-up security hasn’t been a distraction.

“To be honest, it’s about the same as the last two Olympics,” he said. “I haven’t noticed too much of anything different. You still have checkpoints in different places, but that’s no different than any other places.”

Before the Olympics started, Weibrecht said he had a strange experience when he visited Sochi for the first time last year, calling it a “bizzaro world.”

“Just the culture and all that stuff,” he said. “No offense to anybody from there. Everything is just kind of quite a bit different, from the food to the amount of armed guards and things like that.”

Now that he’s spent a few days here during the Olympics, has his opinion changed?

“I would say that, if anything, it’s more bizzare now because it’s like a facade on top of a facade,” Weibrecht said. “It’s definitely not Vancouver. It doesn’t have the same vibe or anything. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because it’s sort of all business. We’re not out powder skiing or having fun. We’re just going to the hotel, doing our recovery, sleeping, coming out, training, coming back to the hotel, recovery. I’m just here for the ski racing, so it’s not a bad thing.”

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