January 29, 2014

Hello Olympic Fans      

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 2010 and worked very hard to go to Sochi. I even took Russian courses thanks to great folks I met in Cranbrook, 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 at Lake Louise, working at the FIS championships in 2005 in Bormio 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 like I am some kind of official…..I am not!! I am just a grunt on course. Some of you know that I spent a few weeks at the Olympic test events in Rosa Khutor (mountain cluster) for the Sochi Games.  The Russians are great folks, but they do not have the depth in volunteers to get alpine skiing events off the way 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. I do not know how many updates I will get off. I have been working on the mountain since 7:30 AM and it is now 10:45 PM (local) at the Marriott Hotel in Krasnaya Polyana, as the WIFI is not yet installed at my accommodations….more later.

Photo from BC Alpine website: www.bcalpine.com

When family, friends and fellow course workers found out I was coming here, they wanted to have a repeat of 2010 and the Test events from last year. So here goes update #1! By the way I set up a Dropbox link – just click on this link, https://www.dropbox.com/sh/3udz12enydzw82k/2FkvutEJiL

Photo from BC Alpine website: www.bcalpine.comSecurity:

Let's get this out on the table now; the place is crawling with security, everywhere. I have never felt safer anywhere else in the world and I have been to many countries.  If you are planning to be here do not change your plans, just get used to lots and lots of cops and having your baggage checked many times. The cops here do not screw around!!  The day before yesterday, because the dining facility was not quite ready (as are many things here), we had to be bused to a restaurant in Krasnaya Polyana, which meant a two hours process to have breakfast and get to work (two complete bag checks, airline
type) AND on my way to the gondola a policeman stopped me for a document and accreditation check!! This is all done politely and a fact of life here and now. Every day, even though the security folks know what and who we are, do complete checks with pat downs, no ifs, ands or buts!!

Photo from BC Alpine website: www.bcalpine.com


The Olympic committee is housing and feeding 25,000 volunteers; 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. The apartment is a two room flat which I am sharing with 7 other men.  There are 4 Russians, 2 Italians, 1 Bulgarian and me, the lone Canuck. We will be together for the next 30 days or so. We have worked out (without anyone stating it) how to keep our place clean, respect our limited privacy and enjoy some quiet time…..by the way we have one bathroom and one shower and very, very spartan kitchen facilities. So we have all managed, in a short period of time, to resolve issues in a friendly, international manner.  Thank God I can communicate in Russian. We have been able to find shower times that work for all; I am an early riser and therefore it’s not a problem for me. Everyone is clean and no one stinks!! Did have a snoring issue with one fellow, but it worked itself out………………………I explained the problem of my lack of sleep with his snoring, my ear plugs and his sleeping in a different position made a world of difference!!!

Photo from BC Alpine website: www.bcalpine.com


Three hot tasty meals every day, Russian cuisine. I will take this over the cold sandwiches that Whistler gave us in 2010. The challenge will come when you are running a ski race…nobody takes a break for lunch…you eat on the fly. I hope the Russians understand this. I explained this to them last year. The networks NBC, CBC will go nuts if they have to take break for the vollies to eat!! (Seriously this will not happen).

Photo from BC Alpine website: www.bcalpine.com


Course Worker; what do I do?

As a grunt on course my job, like every other volunteer, is to follow the instructions of the ROC (Race Organizing Committee) and build a track with safety standards as established by FIS.  We have kilometer after kilometer of safety nets to install. There are probably a few hundred of us for both the men’s and women’s tracks. During the Olympics the women and men run on different tracks. Sochi will be different – unlike Whistler, the two tracks led to one finish area; Rosa Khutor will have three tracks leading to one finish.  I spent the last three days with other workers installing safety nets and hosing down the steep pitches of the track with water…..thousands of gallons. Racers love a hard track and hate loose snow. Recreational skiers would hate us!! So this is “build-week”; we are working very hard but Mother Nature is not helping!! It’s 8 degrees C in the valley this AM…rain….fog…the Whistler Weasels would love it!! There is plenty of work ahead of us for other disciplines, but I think we are all up for the challenge. I was upset today when I saw volunteers being sent to hose down the track while standing under a winch cat….see photo below.  In my years of working on course I have never seen this. I blame it on inexperience and I told the "chiefs" what I thought of this decision. Some of you may ask why? Because if a winch cable snaps and hit folks…….serious injury is certain!!!

Photo from BC Alpine website: www.bcalpine.com

Photo from BC Alpine website: www.bcalpine.com


The uniforms that the Sochi 2014 Olympic committee have designed and provided to volunteers are unbelievable!! Too many items to mention here…a lot better than what we received in 2010!!

Photo from BC Alpine website: www.bcalpine.com

Final comments:

Six years ago nothing existed here that resembled international winter sports facilities. The Russians have spent $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. Image in six years building from nothing; Banff, Whistler, 6 world class arenas, a major high speed train and multi-lane highway along with an infrastructure to support it all. I applaud the Russians. Now, for the Olympics, they will house, feed and transport 25,000 volunteers, 12,000 athletes, and millions of visitors, and keep the Games safe!!  I am proud to be a small part of it. They are almost ready, even today I saw workmen laying down tiles in sidewalks and planting shrubs!! With only 9 days to go!! Thousands of workmen have come from all over Russia and the "stans" to make this happen.

I will try to take all of this "in" and I hope to send more updates later.

Go Canada!! There are many Canadians here, but in alpine ski racing we are only two so far, with more on the way. I met many other Canadians here playing all kinds of important roles to get the Games "off".
Last thing:

The media calls it the tropics…..not true, it is a Mediterranean climate on the 43 degree latitude – the same as Toronto – tropics? Now you tell me!!

submitted by Andre Labine