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!
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.