In the days leading into my departure for the Sochi Olympic Games I was beginning to experience a certain level of distress that I was unaccustomed to feeling. My fears felt very real and were mostly dictated by the stories the media was sharing of terrorist threats, unfinished hotels, and countless other unknown dangers circling the city of Sochi.
When I landed in Sochi and navigated my way quite easily to my hotel located in Sochi on the coast of the Black sea, I found a completely different version of Sochi than what I had expected. The palm trees were plentiful and the temperature was closer to a balmy Florida afternoon than the Winter Olympics. I didn't see any rabid dogs roaming the streets and the Russian people were friendly, excited, and extremely helpful.
I arrived less than 12 hours before Chris' first day of competition in 2-man Bobsleigh and had a busy day picking up my 'workforce accreditation', volunteering for a couple hours at the Canada House inside Olympic Park, then hustling the 2 hours on the train up to Krasnaya Polynana where the Sanki Sliding centre was located.
A lot of people have asked about the jet lag and what not, but if you don't give yourself a second to think about it, it never quiet sets in. Or at least that's what I tell myself.
I got to the bobsleigh track a couple hours ahead of the first heat and walked right up to the top. At most World Cup when I am there to watch I always head back to behind the start and will see Chris in between heats and give him a good luck hug. I decided the Olympics were no different and walked with an air of confidence and authority past several security check points and up into the start house where the athletes were warming up and prepping their sleds.
It was great to see Chris in the flesh! The last time we had seen each other was December 27th! He was sitting in 7th spot after the first heat and with this track anything could happen. I continued my quest for a prime viewing location and ended up taking a sled truck down to the finish ramp with the two spares Graeme and Luke. That's why I got so much camera time during the first race! It was so exhilarating to be down on the finish ramp! Erica 1 Sochi Security 0.
I took the train back down into Sochi that evening and got back to the hotel around 2am. After catching a couple hours of sleep I had to be up again and back to the mountains the next morning to put in a couple hours at the Mountain Lodge which was a Friends & Family support centre located in the mountains. The daily commute up to the mountains became a chance to relax, reflect, nap a little. It wasn't ideal to commute 1.5-2 hours one way every day but it's a part of the experience.
The final day of 2man ended well but not as well as we had hoped. Canada finished 6th, 7th, and 9th.
The boys had a day off and we met up and hung out in the mountains. It was nice to just hang out and relax, grab a bite to eat and watch the women's bobsleigh event at the Mountain Lodge. The energy from the guys was relaxed but anxious and ready. The team came here with such intensity and focus and I couldn't wait to watch them tear it up! I try not to gush too much but there is something about watching 4-man bobsleigh that is so beautiful. I love watching the starts and seeing how four giants can work in unison to create such an explosion of precision and power.
There is a week separating the 2man and 4man competition to allow the athletes one day to recover and 3 days to complete the training runs. During this time I volunteered at Canada Olympic House in the coast, toured around Sochi, got in some training of my own, and caught some other Olympic events. Without question the hockey was incredibly exciting but for me, any true amateur Olympic sport ignites this intense roller coaster of emotions as I watch them leave it all out on the line. I loved watching the 5,000m women's speed skating and can connect with the exhausted bliss that was wrought all over those women's faces. I also caught the men's ski cross event and watched as we were just inched out of a medal!
As I had blogged previously, with just one day left of training the coaches made some significant coaching decisions. I felt helpless and confused but was there for Chris throughout this period of time. I personally was a little disappointed with the actions and behavior of the Canada 3 driver who going into the race took on a win at all costs attitude and treated former teammates with (in my opinion) a level of disrespect that was undeserved. But alas, sport can be a cruel world and the hundredths of seconds that dictate Olympic Champions in bobsleigh don't include how many teammates you step over along the way.
The final days of the Games were spent cheering along the side of the bobsleigh track supporting a team that needed it more than ever. The boys performed honourably and Olympians were made. When the Canada 3 sled crashed in it's second run, the sled in whom the coaches had given the best crew and the best equipment and even tried to give the best starting position, it was the final straw for our small contingent of Canadian fans who had travelled across the world to support the team. It was a sad, quiet night for us all and I can't begin to imagine the emotions of the team.
The next day, despite the circumstances was extremely positive. The spares who had worked tirelessly on tour all year got to slide. Through the crash, the boys were all okay but two chose not to slide and allowed their teammates to step in and solidify their positions as Olympians. I once again snuck down to the finish ramp (this time security was a little tighter) but I got onto the finish dock and watched as Chris came down for his final Olympic run. I was so proud of him in that moment and throughout the weekend. He exemplified the Olympic spirit despite it all!
That evening the guys marched into the closing ceremonies and afterwards we came back to Canada Olympic House. It was not at all what I imagined my Olympic experience to end like but how can you ever forsee what it going to happen at the Olympic Games!! My coach, Leigh Vierling always says at the Olympics, something you could never ever think possible happens and you have to deal with it. I definitely saw it first hand at both Olympics I have attended and in my pursuit to compete in Rio 2016 it is definitely something I will keep in the back of my mind.
I feel as though this has been overall a tad negative but without the darkness of the night, the beautiful morning sunrise would never look as radiant and that is exactly what the Olympics is. I had many discussions with the volunteers working at Canada Olympic House and their incredible spirit is one small aspect of the power of the Olympic movement. It was hard to stay down for too long in Sochi because everywhere you looked there was excitement and pride.
My time there made me so proud to be Canadian and not just because we had a beer fridge that opened with our passport...Russians were dying to trade for Canada gear because of the symbolism the maple leaf portrayed. Even the Canadian tourists and fans felt like celebrities because we would get asked on the street to take pictures every 5metres!
In my own pursuit of excellence, the Olympic Games remains the pinnacle upon which I am solely focused on achieving. But that doesn't mean it is free from it's own controversies and criticisms. I think Duff Gibson (Olympic Champ & Cdn Skeleton Coach) has an interesting blog on his own perceptions of Sochi that is worth a read! Check it out at http://sportatitsbest.com/
This was a long winded one and is only really a small glimpse into my own Sochi experience but thank you for making it this far. All the best and stay tuned as I compete in Sweden in a couple days!!! Yikes. I know!
As I watched the fireworks burst into the night sky last night above Olympic Stadium I reflected back on my journey there and the last 16 days. I left for Russia on Valentines day to watch and support my boyfriend of two years. On his first full season of the World Cup he had a blazing year powered by a stellar crew. They finished 4th overall in 4man and were competitive all the way through.
I was ecstatic and tense. I knew going into it Chris has high expectations for himself. It was a type of pressure he felt he had earned over the course of the past season. He was driving well, in peak physical form, and had moved into Canada 1.
Now the Sochi Olympic bobsleigh track is a tricky one. It is the longest refrigerated track in the world and had three tough uphill sections. If you go into those sections without the right velocity or making a mistake turning into the corner, it can be disastrous for a pilot's medal chances.
Unfortunately, Chris faced the toughest uphill sections before he ever jumped into that sled. I can't explain nor justify the decisions that were made but what I can say is that despite it all, the boys rose to the occasion and competed like champions.
For now, that is all I can really say without becoming too overwhelmed with waves of emotion that transition through frustration, disappointment and anger. I will write a full re-cap of my times here in a couple days as everything becomes absorbed.
Being at the Olympic Games is an experience like no other. Going through this process with Chris and his team has been an opportunity to watch and learn what it takes.
The boys had a saying all season and that was "being olympic". They literally approached every situation these past months with this motto firmly dictating their course of action. Being olympic encompassed so many things and ultimately led them to where they are now.
Watching this process for me has been huge component of where I am today. Their commitment, intensity, and professionalism has translated directly into my recent success in the mat.
Being at the Games is getting me so fired up to make the big push. This is my time.
Hey!!?? For anyone who has been to a major games experience, it is crazy with sports, events, parties happening almost very hour of the day sleep is often not given a high enough priority. Since I am flyin directly to Sweden to compete on Monday I have tried to keep things in check but still gotten the most out of my games experience!
This has included so far watching live bobsleigh, speed skating, and men's hockey and today in a few hours I'm heading to ski cross!
I'm staying in Sochi but most of my events (and the most important one, bobsleigh) are located in the mountains which is about a 2-2.5 hour trek one way!! It is long but sometimes the down time on the bus is welcomed I just need to make sure I don't fall asleep and miss my stop...
The atmosphere is amazing here and everyone is cheery and passionate! It is a little different from London only in terms of there's not a pub (or more) on every street corner so some people are disappointed by the lack of options of late night adventures.
I have gotten a grasp on the train and bus situation and feel quite comfortable sorting myself out getting from venue to venue.
I feel like it has been very easy to 'stay fit' at the Games because there is lots of walking and usually I'm so busy I forget to eat three meals a day...
Food has been an issue around here as it is not uncommon for the different cafés and what not to run out of different things. Even at the hockey game last night I was going to treat myself and have a beer and pizza but they weren't selling either.. I found a granola bar in my bag and that tided me over until I got back to the hotel.
So far, it's been amazing but for me things are just ramping up as Chris prepares for 4man on Saturday & Sunday. It was my one purpose here to be a presence and support him and it's been great sharing this time together. We got to spend the day together on Monday but other than that I have only seen him once between heats on the first day of two man. We knew it would be tough to see each other, that comes as a second priority right now to winning medals but just being in the same city and experiencing the same Olympic fever together has been awesome!
He is feeling confident and ready going into 4man. The track is tricky as evidenced by the wide distribution of times in both men's and women's 2man but I'm having good feelings about 4man!!
That's all for now, tweet at me if there's any questions or if you want me to blog on a certain topic!! Honestly I could go on for days about every single moment because it's so fascinating and if you're reading this still that means you're remotely interested... So yes.. Please let me know if there's something you want to see or hear from SOCHI 2014
First day at the Games lived up to the expectations and much much more. There is an overwhelmingly large Russian fan base here and the foreign supporters are few and far between. Say that I have met some of the most amazing people on buses, trains, and street corners than I ever thought possible. I think there is something in the air here in Sochi.
Whirl wind of a day which was highlighted by getting "back stage" at the bobsleigh event. It was great to feel the energy. First time in my life having big legs paid off... I fit right in.
Coverage of the Olympics is everywhere and whether you are watching our athletes whizz by on the ice and soar high on the half pipes, you may notice there is a strong presence of Canadian supporters on the sidelines!
Attending the Olympics Games as an athlete is the stuff dreams are made of but in my own personal experience attending as a spectator can cause headaches, empty bank accounts, and vomiting. The Sochi Olympic Games came with a number of unprecedented organizational hurdles to overcome. Arranging tickets, hotels, flights & transportation can be difficult but across the world and in a difficult foreign language only adds to the struggle.
I began planning my trip to Sochi just over six months ago and determined that attaining the trifecta of flight, accommodations, and visa were my top priorities. You see, to enter Russia as a Canadian citizen you need a special tourist visa that requires a letter from your hotel or travel agency declaring you have accommodations. Some longer stay Russian visas have several other hoops to jump through including a HIV test… but luckily all I had to do was come up with a piece of paper stating I wasn’t go to couch surf. I got my declaration letter from an external Canadian based agency which cost extra but was more reliable and time effective. Shortly before I went to apply, the Russian Embassy announced that you would also need to register for a ‘spectator pass’ and this would be an additional form of accreditation and security measure to allow spectators to enter any venue with their accompanied event ticket. A week later the announced again you would not only need your spectator pass, declaration letter but also proof of Olympic ticket purchase to apply for a tourist visa. The visa process was a scary one and I applied in person to a very nice Russian lady at the Russian Embassy when I was home in Ottawa over Christmas. My heart was pounding when a not so nice looking Russian man took me into the back room but alas, he handed me back my passport complete with my new shiny Russian visa!
Meanwhile I was working with the Friends & Family coordinator at Bobsleigh Canada who was able to secure me a hotel room for the first four nights of my stay at a reasonable price and also booked my flights through Moscow. Through connections I have made with the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and with my status as a ‘local volunteer’ I got hooked up and will be staying at the Performance Centre in Khosta for the second part of my trip. This is a COC organized hotel which they will use as the Canadian base away from the Village to allow athletes, support staff, and volunteers to rest up.
Despite flights on Expedia coming in just over $4,000 when I first looked back in September, I felt I got a good deal and came away with an Air Canada flight through Moscow for just under $2,000. I will be flying on a small Russian airline to Sochi from there.
Inevitably with travel, things go wrong and more often than not luggage gets lost…. I was really hoping to take carry-on only to Sochi but all flights internally through Russia have a strict no liquids policy now! Part of me is relieved they are taking extra security precautions, the other part of me
is annoyed because I just want some toothpaste!
I leave for Sochi in just under 48 hours…not like I’m counting down the seconds or anything…and my bags are half packed and my adrenaline is going full swing. I am excited and ready for whatever will happen at the Games. Will Sochi 2014 will be remembered as the ‘gay games’, construction havoc, rampant corruption, bobsleigh beards or Canada’s domination… only time will tell.
For me it will be a once in a lifetime adventure. Please stay tuned for what’s next.
This past weekend I coached the Alberta Winter Games Zone 3 (Calgary) wrestling team! I could not think of a better send off to get my pumped for my trip out to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games… It was an amazing weekend that truly inspired me and these young athletes to ‘reach for their peak’ (conveniently that was the AWG’s official motto).
In many ways, the two weekends were polar opposites of one another. Over in Sochi, The Cayman Islands walked into the opening ceremonies with sandals and shorts …while we froze our extremities outside in the -40 degree weather! The Opening Ceremonies was a truly remarkable event held ‘Block Party’ style on Banff Ave. We cheered loudly for our zone and were greeted by past Olympians and encouraged on in a video tribute by former AWG athletes who are in Sochi competing! My highlight was the performance of one of my favorite Calgary-based artists, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald who really can do no wrong.
We huddled back to our luxurious accommodations and got some shut eye before the big weekend. Unlike the controversial #Sochiproblems that have been rampant, our accommodations were ready and welcoming, it wasn’t 4-star but sleeping on mats in a kindergarten classroom at the Banff Elementary School with 15 pre-teen girls was entertaining if nothing else.
The competition was held over two days. The team competition was a dual meet format with teams going head to head earning points for a cumulative score. My favourite dual of the weekend was against Cochrane who are our zone neighbours, familiar opponents and training partners. There was an electrifying intensity between the two teams and throughout the dual and we fired it up … After 18 matches, it came down to our last heavy-weight to pull up the big win, and that he did! I have never been more proud of my team for putting in such a massive team effort but also for winning with poise and dignity. We went on to win Team Gold the next day and later that afternoon we had an individual competition and once again wrestled like champions. I was impressed with the technical skills of these athletes but more so their passion and maturity on the mat. It was an honour being a part of such a great group.
The atmosphere of these Games was no different than my past Games experiences (as a training partner at the London 2012 Olympics, and as a bronze medalist at the 2013 FISU Games). There is something so powerful when you bring together such a large array of people. There is a special magic in the air and that is what truly makes me believe in the power of sport.
I returned home late on Sunday and my focus immediately shifted to my own preparations to depart for Sochi this upcoming Friday. Amid the swirls of controversy, corruption, and human rights abuses, there is an Olympic movement that transcends it all. At the intersections of politics, economics and sport, there are the dreams of athletes from around the world on the line. As an
athlete who shares those dreams and proud fan, I firmly believe in the power of sport to transcend social, political, economic boundaries and provide an arena to celebrate and embrace those differences. Oh yah and …. Go Canada Go!
This year the women's tournament of the Dave Schultz Memorial was bigger than the men's! We had a huge turnout of international teams with athletes from Kazakhstan, Switzerland, China, India, Hungary, Peru, & Argentina all representing. Most categories were massive with 15-25 athletes however as the athletes feel out different weight classes and adjust accordingly, it seems that 75kg is just too big of a jump for some. My 'new' category had only five people which was terribly small but on the bright side, meant I was guaranteed four matches in a round robin format rather than the usual double elimination bracket.
Not cutting weight for a tournament will continue to be a new experience for me however I was able to train and lift all the way up until the day before the competition. It feels nice to be able to pump out some fast and explosive 'light' 65kg cleans the day before. I also wanted to get on the mats to break in some new boots which I had to quickly purchase the day before after I busted my boots the day before...
So as you see in the picture, here is my new flashy boots with my Gold Medal! Typically I don't worry too much about the hardware but this weekend it was a little different. I put in a solid effort and came away with a big win. I was happy to go out there and have the opportunity to wrestle the 2013 World Champion and just get in there and battle. It wasn't my most exciting wrestling but I wrestled a smart, tactical match and scored when I needed to. I am starting to see the years of hard work paying off and I can only continue to keep pushing forward!
Tomorrow we start a training camp here in Colorado Springs with Team USA and some of the other international teams so it will be great. The camp will be at the Olympic Training Centre here in Colorado Springs and it is a top-notch facility. Need to put in a solid couple days of training with this wide variety of training partners here. Can't wait to get on the mats!
Erica Wiebe is a Canadian freestyle wrestler and Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Calgary. Her passion for wrestling and writing combine in the words of this blog, sprinkled with a strong opinion on certain matters and a hint of feminist thrown in for good measure.