Sochi 2014 Look-Back: A Day at the Park

Welcome to Sochi Olympic Park!
Welcome to Sochi Olympic Park!

Each day during the Sochi Paralympics, I’ll share some of my favorite memories from my Olympic experience that I had while working for NBC as a Production Associate. 

Sochi 2014 was heavily promoted by its organizing committee as the “most compact Olympics ever”. If there was anything that can be labeled as successful from these Games, it’s the convenience and compactness that organizers had promised. While venues in the mountains were, for the most part, easy to get to, the Coastal Cluster was literally like a theme park. But instead of paying to go on the rides, you were watching athletes that were on the ride of a lifetime.

Venues were walking distance from each other. I could go from curling to ice hockey to speed skating within minutes. And that’s exactly what I did.

First stop. The Ice Cube for that mystical and odd sport known as “Chess on Ice”. Curling, ladies and gentlemen.

Inside the Ice Cube.
Inside the Ice Cube.

And unlike on TV, during the preliminary group stages, spectators get to see up to four sheets in action at once. This might be great if you’re a die-hard curling fanatic. But if you have no clue what’s going on, you might be more lost than a New York tourist stuck on Staten Island. Luckily, I had a decent idea of what was going on. The main point is to get the rock closest to the center of the circles. If you watch with just that basic knowledge, the rest eventually comes to you. But if you get bored, there’s always the funny Swedish outfits to amuse you.

The Scandinavian vikings were in attendance.
The Scandinavian vikings were in attendance.

While I appreciated the sport of curling, I wasn’t that much into it to stay until the end. I think it was the idea that I had been there for an hour and I saw just three ends of curling with at least four left to go. I decided to explore more of Olympic Park, the first of its kind for a Winter Olympic games. Usually, venues for the ice events are spread out around the city. It’s the first time a host has built a park from scratch for a Winter games.

I gotta tell you though, it didn’t feel like winter at all. It could have easily been the Summer Olympics in Sochi. Temperatures were in the upper 50s and lower 60s. I was wearing a light jacket and I felt overdressed. But coming from the arctic tundra of Wisconsin, I certainly wasn’t complaining.

The Olympic Rings that are in virtually every visitor's new profile picture.
The Olympic Rings that are in virtually every visitor’s new profile picture.

Next stop. Bolshoy Ice Dome. Home to Olympic Ice Hockey. There are actually two arenas used for the ice hockey competition. This is the bigger of two arenas. Notice the nice white top of the venue. That actually lights up at night and tells the score of the game that is going on at the time. In the daytime though, it looks like a frozen water droplet, at least that’s what the organizers say.

Bolshoy Ice Dome.
Bolshoy Ice Dome.

Inside was a nice and intimate venue for ice hockey. I don’t think there was a bad seat in the house (unless you were press, where I sat. I couldn’t really see the near side of the ice.). 

My view of the men's preliminary game between Finland and Austria.
My view of the men’s preliminary game between Finland and Austria.

It was the first game of the day so the venue wasn’t very packed yet. The seats did get filled towards the end of the second period, which was pretty surprising considering that Russia wasn’t playing. The capacity is just 12,000. I definitely noticed a few broadcasters taking advantage of their “ALL” access pass since they were coming in just to watch the game and didn’t really know where to sit.  As long as you didn’t sit where the photographers are supposed to be. Because there’s an American volunteer (one of the few I’ve seen at these Olympics) whose sole job is to make sure the people who are in the photo area are those who had access there. He didn’t really know where to send the troublemakers to. This guy just runs a “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” policy.

The game itself was pretty entertaining. Plenty of NHL stars and lots of goals. I saw eight of the 12 goals scored between the two teams. I left the chilly arena back to the warm sunshine of Olympic Park. Directly across from Bolshoy is the Iceberg Skating Palace, home to figure skating and short track speed skating. Within ten minutes of leaving ice hockey, I was in my seat to catch the quarterfinals of the Ladies’ 500 meter competition in short track.

From the steps of Bolshoy, the Iceberg Skating Palace can be seen in the distance past the Olympic Cauldron.
From the steps of Bolshoy, the Iceberg Skating Palace can be seen in the distance past the Olympic Cauldron.

Unlike the other venues, I didn’t feel very close to the action at the Iceberg. The seats go up pretty high, making spectators and journalists look down at the action. It has the same amount of seats as Bolshoy, but press seats are located on the second level as opposed to the first inside the ice hockey venue. Short track speed skating looks like roller derby without the funky music.

I didn’t stay inside the Iceberg too long since I had to stop inside the International Broadcast Centre. While the IBC is within walking distance, it’s outside of the main park area and takes about 20 minutes to walk from the Iceberg to the main doors of this enormous broadcast center.

The IBC houses the Olympic Broadcasting System (OBS) operations as well as the broadcasters who hold the rights to televise the games to their respective nations.
The IBC houses the Olympic Broadcasting System (OBS) operations as well as the broadcasters who hold the rights to televise the games to their respective nations.

The IBC is huge. Apparently it’s supposed to be a mall after the Olympics and Paralympics are complete. It has everything from a place to drop off laundry and dry cleaning, to a McDonalds if the choices in the food court aren’t to your liking. There’s also a bank, a post office, a small grocery store and a gift shop. And if you aren’t sick of producing or reporting on the Games, there’s a place where you can watch all the events as it happens.

So many television monitors.
So many television monitors.

I had one more venue that I wanted to step inside to before I left the Olympic Park. I was like a kid who wanted just one more ride at Disney World.

Adler Arena houses the long track speed skating events. It’s where the Dutch had a party almost every night with the success that they had on this ice. They won silver and bronze in the event I got to see — the Ladies’ 1000 meters.

What I loved about this arena, and pretty much every venue at the Olympic Park, is that everything is brand spankin’ new. The billions of dollars Putin put into these games definitely showed in the venues that were built. But in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help think about what the future of these venues holds after Sochi 2014 concludes.

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