I’m a Sochi Winter Olympics Volunteer: Dispatch from a Sochi Volunteer

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Andre (right) with fellow sled dog Joan Maguire

Andre is currently in Sochi, Russia, helping to set up and run Alpine Skiing events at the 2014 Winter Olympics. He hopes to send us more reports, but from what you have likely seen in the media, Internet access can be a bit spotty.

When I announced to friends and family that I was planning to go to Sochi, they thought I was nuts. I caught the Olympic bug after volunteering in 2010 at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and have worked very hard to get to Sochi ever since. I even took Russian courses thanks to great folks I met in Cranbrook, B.C., John and Nataliya Smorodinova. They taught me the nuances of the Russian language and culture.

I also felt that with 18 years of working at World Cup Races in Lake Louise, working at the FIS championships in 2005 in Italy and, of course, the 2010 Games in Vancouver, I bring some experience to the table. I am not at all trying to make it sound that I am some kind of official – I am not! I am just a ‘grunt on the course’.

Russians are great folks, but they do not have the volunteers to get alpine skiing events off that the world expects. I am here as an individual to do my bit to contribute to this fantastic global event held here in a part of the world that not too many people know about.

Security

Let’s get this out on the table now; this place is crawling with security, everywhere. I have never felt more safe anywhere else in the world and I have been to many countries. If you are planning to be here (or have clients who are), don’t change your plans. Just get used to lots and lots of police checking your bags.

The day before yesterday, we were being bused to a restaurant in Krasnaya Polyana (because, like many things here, the dining hall is not quite ready), which meant a two-hour process to have breakfast, and get to work, and included two bag checks (airport-style) and document and accreditation checks.

This is all done politely and is a fact of life here now, with the same routine everyday. Complete checks with pat-downs, no ifs, and or buts!

Accommodation

The Olympic committee is housing and feeding 25,000 volunteers, and in the mountain cluster, there are 12,000 of us. I am in a building that will eventually be an apartment complex. It is about 98% complete.

My apartment is a two-room flat and I am sharing the flat with seven other men. There are four Russians, two Italians and one Bulgarian and myself – the lone Canuck. We will be together for the next 30 days or so. We have set out the rules and so far we have all managed in a short period of time to resolve issues in a friendly international manner.

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Lunch tent on the mountain

Thank God I can communicate in Russian!

Uniforms

The uniforms that have been designed and provided to volunteers are unbelievable. Too many items to mention here. A lot better than what we received in Vancouver in 2010.

Food

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Russian cuisine

We have three hot and tasty Russian cuisine meals to look forward to everyday. I’ll take it the over the cold sandwiches that Whistler gave us in 2010 any day. The challenge will come when running a ski race, when nobody takes a break for lunch, always eating on the fly.

I’m a Course Worker. What do I do?

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Installing the nets

As a ‘grunt’ on the course, my job (like every other volunteer) is to follow the
instructions of the ROC (Race Organizing Committee). This includes building a track with safety standards established by FIS.

We have kilometre after kilometre of safety net to install. There are several hundred of us installing the net for both the men’s and women’s tracks.

I spent the last three days with other workers installing safety nets and hosing down the steep pitches of the track with thousands of gallons of water. Racers love a hard track and hate to loose snow. Mother Nature is not helping, with temperatures of 8 degrees in the valley this morning.

Climate

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Captain Canada

The media calls it the tropics – not true. It is a Mediterranean climate on the 43rd parallel north, the same circle of latitude as Toronto. Tropics? You tell me!

Final comments

The Russians have spent more than $55 billion to get this ready. There was nothing here and they now have world-class facilities. The average Russian is very proud to receive the world and to make it a better place. I have met Russians from all over who have come here at their own expense and given up a lot to be here.

They should be proud of what they have accomplished. Imagine in six years, going from nothing to having a Banff or Whistler. Six world-class arenas, a major high-speed train and multi-lane highway along with an infrastructure to support it all. I applaud the Russians.

For these 2014 Winter Olympic Games they will house, feed and transport 25,000 volunteers, 12,000 athletes, millions of visitors and keep the Games safe. They are almost ready. Even today I saw workmen laying down tiles in sidewalks and planting shrubs. I am proud to be a small part of it.

Go Canada!