Sochi so far: Freeskier checks in, halfway through 2014 Winter Olympic experience
When we last checked in with a “Sochi so far,” it was one day before the men were set to face off in the slopestyle course, and you’re surely aware, Thursday’s contest made news the world over as Park City’s own Joss Christensen led fellow teammates Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper to a clean sweep of the podium; it marked only the third U.S. podium sweep in the history of the Winter Games.
The winning trio has since been swept into the grip of a massive media storm, and the sport of freeskiing is making waves on a grand level.
We covered the slopestyle final in detail, here, but I’ll touch on it quickly, once again: the happenings of that afternoon will live clearly in my mind for many years to come. To have been a part of such a massive crowd, full of flags, face paint, noise making devices and the like, it was an amazing feeling. For the contest to have played out the way that it did—and sure, I’m a bit biased, proud to be repping the Red, White and Blue—well, there are no words, really. In short: I’m so happy to have been a small part of the big show.
Following the contest, Abbott and I sat in on a mini-press conference, inside of the press center located at the base of the Extreme Park, and immediately following—while Christensen, Kenworthy and Goepper were whisked away to the coastal cluster—set to work producing a recap and photo gallery. By the time the contest was through, it was early morning in the States, and we certainly felt pressure to get our work done in a timely manner, so as to provide readers with some news and entertainment as they woke up, and as so many folks do, consulted their phones and laptops to see the latest and greatest, well before showering, or eating breakfast.
For a good stretch, the on-hill press center was jam packed. The world’s media doing its darnedest to report on the big day. Hours later, Nate and I were the last two who remained. A big, quiet, empty space, save for the two of us discussing how we were, “almost done.” Thirty minutes later, “I think we’re almost there, dude.”
Finally, we closed our laptops, hopped on one of the various media buses, and cruised back down to the village for a quick regroup before joining friend and sports agent Tom Yaps, and gold medalist in snowboard halfpipe, Kaitlyn Farrington, for some debauchery.
Drinks in the lobby of the Golden Tulip hotel segued into a bus ride down the road to the much-talked-about Sky Club. A lineup to enter, and the awaiting security detail were quickly passed by. It’s amazing what a dangling gold medal will do for your street cred around here…
Inside, there were three floors: Down below, a rowdy dance arena and circle-shaped bar in the middle of it all. At the head of the room, a large stage, where nearly one dozen go-go dancers [insert hearts-for-eyes emoji here] moved to the music. One story up, a VIP lounge. Farrington’s gold medal led us straight up a stairway and into our own private booth, where abundant vodka soon arrived. From there, we had a great view of the floor (and the stage) below. And up another flight of stairs: private rooms, where some of the aforementioned dancers put on a show of a slightly more intimate nature, should you request.
The party raged for hours. A handful of skiers joined us on the second floor: Dara Howell, PK Hunder, Elias Ambühl, to name a few. Come 6:00 a.m., we decided to pack it up, and made our way to McDonald’s via taxi. I craved a cheeseburger, and was upset to find the breakfast menu posted in the window. “Hash browns will do.” I was in bed at 6:45 a.m.
When I woke, my phone told me it was 6:44. Confused, I sat bolt upright. 6:44 p.m.
I couldn’t believe it. I’d never slept so late in my entire life. Having rested very little since arriving in Russia, though, I understood it was well needed. Determined not to let the entire day go to waste, I showered, and quickly jumped onto TM13, and next onto TM10, and began the hour-long descent to the Olympic Park. On the docket, men’s ice hockey pool play: Canada vs. Austria.
As I arrived, a bit late, I was informed of the current game score (1-0, Canada), via a vast network of lights that adorn the roof of the Bolshoy Ice Dome. The lights are utilized in such a way to form the flags of the nations currently battling inside, with the lights dimming on occasion to create the illusion of waving fabric. The current game score was incorporated, as well. Impressive, indeed.
Canada skated to a 6-0 victory. The crowd was very much on the underdog’s side, though, and many were cheering loudly each time the Austrians earned a scoring chance, hoping for at least one goal. The spectators would have no such luck.
As I walked out of the park, with friends Jake Largess and Robin Macdonald, who I met at the game, we strolled in a swarm of 10,000. We passed the various nations’ “houses,” glorified boxes scattered about the Olympic park; highly difficult to gain access to, and a spot for athletes and VIPs to relax.
We neared the exit gates and off to my right, I admired a magnificent hotel, reminiscent of Saint Basil’s Cathedral, washed in colored lights. The hotel all green, then blue, then pink. Beautiful, but I was told that it was unoccupied—not completed in time for the Games. Next door, a massive amusement park. Rollercoasters, skycoaster, space shot and more. The park is also unfinished for the time being.
The next day, after logging some solid computer time in the morning, we arranged to meet up with Kenworthy and Christensen for some Q&As.
Abbott and I found Kenworthy outside of the Gorki Media Center (GMC). A small fleet of CNN cameras documented freeskiing’s new poster child as he played with the famed family of strays, who are currently living underneath a security tent stationed outside of the GMC.
I spoke with Michael Spencer, Gus’ agent, about the media madness that follows a top-three showing at the Games. Then, after CNN was through, I sat down with Gus to discuss his silver medal and his experience in Sochi, thus far. The sound byte is available here.
We were happy to have caught up with the duo, given their current media obligations, and also given the fact that before long, they’d ship off to the U.S. where Letterman, Ellen and Anderson Cooper await. Christensen and Kenworthy were soon shuttled down to the coastal cluster, where they attended the much-talked-about USA vs. Russia men’s ice hockey game.
Abbott, Spencer, Largess, Macdonald and I soon joined forces with Luke Van Valin, among others, and posted up in the lobby of the local Marriott Hotel to watch said game on television. The group had become quite large by the time the third period rolled around, and as the game dwindled to its final minutes, and later went to overtime, followed by a shootout, emotions ran so high that it felt as though we were watching the gold medal game.
The place went nuts as the St. Louis Blues’ own TJ Oshie banged home his fourth goal of the shootout, securing a 3-2 victory for the U.S. In minutes, #TJSochi was trending on Twitter. Ms. Howell tweeted a nice spin on it, as well, writing, “#TJwifeme.”
Later, some sort of electrical fire (at least, that’s what we deemed it to be) triggered the sprinkler system in one segment of the lobby. A problem with the internal plumbing (speculation, again) ultimately led to a heavy flow of water spilling out from light fixtures, and cracks in the ceiling. Cameras and cell phones captured the scene, but before long, the managerial staff herded us away and shut off the lights to avoid further documentation.
Nate and I then made our way up to the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center to soak in some ski jumping. Why not?
En route to the venue, a Russian policeman offered us each—completely out of the blue—a fancy looking pin, to be tacked onto our media credentials. The “pin culture” here at the Games is certainly entertaining. Athletes and fans alike offer to exchange pins, with each individual hoping to assemble a mass collection. This has become a tradition at the Olympics.
I hadn’t expected to join the bandwagon, but after receiving this token from the man in uniform, I’m suddenly keen to see if I can muster up a few more before our time here is through. At this stage in the Games, you look around at some of the lanyards around folks’ necks, and it’s clear: these people are pin hunting machines.
The next day, after the usual morning computer session, I met up with Howell in the village where we discussed her gold medal performance. The humble Canadian felt that this experience marked only the beginning of an exciting ski career. She expressed she was already hungry for another Olympic contest. And so begins the #RoadToPyeongchang.
Later, while going through one of the routine security checkpoints, another policeman pointed to our pins, indicating they signified high rank, and he questioned whether we might give him one to tack onto his chest. That humorous encounter occurred as Nate and I headed back up onto the mountain, this time to the HAM (halfpipe, aerials, moguls) center, where halfpipe practice was set to get underway, under the lights.
Amid some fog, and warm temps, the boys and girls enjoyed their first nighttime training session here at the Games. Nate snapped a handful of photos, available here. We also spoke to the athletes about the general condition of the pipe, which, was less than perfect during the men’s and women’s snowboard finals, held earlier in the week. We assembled some notes; they’re also available via the link above.
Later in the evening, we made our way to the popular Modus, a pizza joint in the village. It was packed. The service was slow on account of the heavy head count, but with the company of Largess, Abbott, Christensen, Jossi and Beau-James Wells, Macdonald and Kenworthy, we were happy to relax, knock back a few glasses of Bitburger, and exchange the various Olympic gossip.
Even with two medalists at the table, it felt like we were back to a state of normalcy. This dinner could have been taking place one year ago in Breckenridge, Park City, Aspen, or any mountain town. Despite the newfound fame for some of the sport’s individuals, and despite freeskiing enjoying time in the spotlight, it was nice to reel ‘er back in for a few hours.
All felt normal, I should say, until Miley Cyrus began following Kenworthy on Twitter in the middle of dinner, and shortly thereafter tagged him in a tweet. I guess, going forward, things might just be a little different after all.
Tomorrow, we’ll be on site at the HAM center for the men’s halfpipe qualifier and final. Stay tuned to freeskier.com/olympics for continued coverage from Sochi.