First look at the Sochi downhill | Skiing | CBC Sports

SkiingFirst look at the Sochi downhill

Posted: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 | 03:54 PM

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The view from the start gate for the women's downhill at Rosa Khutor, site of the 2014 Olympics competition. (Kelly VanderBeek) The view from the start gate for the women's downhill at Rosa Khutor, site of the 2014 Olympics competition. (Kelly VanderBeek)

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Since returning from a World Cup stop in Russia I've been bombarded with people hungry for information. Everyone wants to know what Russia was like and how preparations look for the 2014 Olympics.

Sadly, we never made it to Sochi during our stay in Russia. However, we did get a good week in Rosa Khutor, which is to Sochi as Whistler was to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics.
Since returning from a World Cup stop in Russia I've been bombarded with people hungry for information. Everyone wants to know what Russia was like and how preparations look for the 2014 Olympics.

Sadly, we never made it to Sochi during our stay in Russia. However, we did get a good week in Rosa Khutor, which is to Sochi as Whistler was to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics.

That being said, if Whistler had to build an athletes village for 2010, Rosa Khutor is building the equivalent of Whistler itself for 2014. It's not surprising, then, that the sound of construction resonated throughout the village 24/7.  

During our week in Rosa Khutor, everyone was taking in as much information as possible as we looked for anything to help us better prepare for the Olympics. The athletes' primary focus during our stay was on the course itself. We asked ourselves questions like, did it speak to me? How can I find an edge? And what will I have to do in order to best prepare for 2014? 

All athletes want to return to Russia with the best possible chance to take home an elusive Olympic medal. This trip gave us some of the information that will help us prepare for that possibility. 

Russia: The bad

The most challenging parts of our Russia and Rosa Khutor experience were, without a doubt, the travel and the levels of bureaucracy that we faced around every corner.

Simply put, the logistics of moving around Russia were anything but smooth and efficient.  Surprisingly, the distance of travel wasn't the hard part, nor was the three-hour time change from Europe (a 12-hour time change from Vancouver). It was the fact that every step through the process took much longer than it normally would. I believe this was due to the levels of security at every checkpoint. It was never just a simple process of scanning a passport - everything appeared to be more complicated and time consuming. 

For example, in Moscow, we had to collect our bags and sprint across to the airport to re-check in for our next flight. With only 90 minutes to work with, we were unable to make the connection.  It then took another three hours to get into a hotel and another hour before we ate dinner at 11:15 p.m. The basic act of checking into the hotel took 45 minutes. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

Little challenges began to add up over time. Like the elevator at the Sochi airport being too small for our carts with baggage. Yes, that's a small challenge, but it was the cumulative effect of these challenges that made Russian travel unpleasant. 

Russia: The good

Now, onto the positives. The best part of our experience had to be when the mayor hosted a welcoming event that showcased exceptional traditional singing and dancing. Since my great grandfather was a Russian singer, it spoke right to my heart. I felt this surge of power and connection to roots long lost in my family tree.

I was blown away by the performers' skill and enthusiasm. It was a great introduction to Russian culture and one that left everyone asking for more.  

As for the hill, I think everyone was pleasantly surprised. Other than the mandatory passing through metal detectors to board the gondola, I was truly impressed with our on-hill experience. The lifts and lodges were all very good (though the bathrooms left something to be desired). The hill was well built and interesting - one that will host great events and entice any freeskier to make the long journey to its peak.

When the skies were clear you could see the Black Sea from the top of the mountain. What a view! The top gondola not only takes you to the men's and women's Olympic tracks, but also lets you access countless first-track possibilities on a good powder day.

The hotel was also nice. A good size room with a well laid out bathroom is more than we see on many of our European stops. The food was also pretty good, although we may have to introduce them to chocolate. Their desserts of choice were all cake-based and lacked any hint of chocolate. With 72 female athletes there and no groceries in sight, there were a few unanswered chocolate cravings that week!

We'll be back

I started my career being terrified of jumps on a downhill course since I was so sketchy.  Now, they are my favorite part of the course. I simply love flying through the air and look forward to the sections with jumps. What once held such fear for me is now my favourite element in racing.

This is a good reminder that nothing about our present state is static. We simply never know what the future holds. I'm sure Rosa Khutor will change and evolve drastically over the next two years. It will be interesting to see its evolution.

Our next trip to Sochi will be for the 2014 Olympic Games. With the Canadian alpine team racking up several fourth- to sixth-place finishes in Torino and Vancouver, I hope Sochi will hold the magic to help us stand upon that podium.

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