Arrived Sochi: First impressions and thoughts

A sign pointing the wrong way to the media centerWhen watching the Olympic news coverage, one of the first things that struck me was the journalist complaints about accommodation. I have had no such problem.  It is fine. The toilet works.  There are no dogs in the hallway.  The door is on my hotel room.  If there were kinks at the Olympics, they are all gone for me at the Paralympics.  I don’t have any complaints.

 

My issues would be elsewhere.  Whine whine.  Complain complain.  There has been a huge amount of media attention given to how the Olympics (and Paralympics) were supposed to show case Russia, and sell it to the world.  With the current political situation with Russia, one would think this might be even more key.

But I don’t quite feel it.  I have only the London Paralympics as a member of the media to baseline my experience from.  Everyone I talked to said the London Games were potentially the best Games ever.  The best.

In London, there were volunteers at the airport.  There were volunteers at the train station.  They were bubbly and enthusiastic.  They wanted to help you.  My media accreditation lamination process was handled in Heathrow.  I came into Sochi via plane in Moscow.  (And then I took a train down to Sochi.)  There was a special line at the airport, but that was the visa and special ended there.  (Though to be fair, my flight got in at 4am.)  No help, no volunteers, no one there.  I saw signs that indicated they might possibly have such assistance, but no luck.  (Then the metro in Moscow and the train station where you catch the train to Sochi had poor English language signage.  Few to no people spoke English.)  When I got to the Adler train station, no real sense of volunteers and I got a free ticket to get to Olympic Park.  No enthusiastic volunteers,  No yellow line directing you where to go.  No clear signage.  They assume you knew which way the train route went.  When I got to the Olympic Park Train Station, assistance was again non-existent.  The extent to which I had it was “Not this line.”  A taxi driver eventually pointed me at the direction of my hotel.

Media bag.  I like it.I’m staying at an official media hotel.  There was an accreditation help desk in the lobby.  The person could not tell me 1) where the main press center was, 2) how to get there, 3) where to go to get my accreditation laminated.  Joy.  I wandered back to the Olympic Park area, looking and looking for signs.  None.  I saw a sign for accreditation but it was not really media accreditation.  They did help me get it, no explanation.  And then no follow up as to where the Main Press Center was, or no opportunity to ask this.

I know media accreditation lets me into venues pretty much unfettered.  I took advantage, wandered on in, and started looking for signs for the main press center.  I stopped volunteers, security and others asking where it was. Most responses I got were “No English”, or people pointing me in the completely wrong direction.  This was hugely different than London, where volunteers who could not answer got on the walkie talkie and asked to find some one who could answer your question.  It is hard to enjoy where you are when you’re walking around lost, cannot find assistance, have no map of the venue and have people pointing you in the completely wrong direction.  Welcome to Russia eh?


With assistance of two people, I was gradually pointed in the right direction.  This took up a lot of time and energy. Also, unlike London, there were few cheap food options around walking around the area outside the Park.

There was a lot of talk about security for the Olympics.  I thought there would be a lot for the Paralympics.  To be honest, outside the train stations where bags all go through metal detectors, I am not getting a sense of it being very high.  It seems no different than London, possibly even more laid back at this point.  In London, I felt like I was forever having my badge checked.  Here? Outside when I entered the park and exited, no one seems to want to see it or verify it.

The major advantage I see right now to Sochi is the internet is free for journalists.  There was a 100 GBP charge to use the Internet in London.  Sochi has wifi in the MPC and it is free. This is great, and there does not appear to be a charge for special access to a journalist information system where the exact same information appears on the Sochi 2014 website for free.

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We’ll see how thing progress as we go along.  I’m trying not to be pessimistic, but my first gut feel is things will be different than London, and not as great. Putin’s grand vision of winning over the world hasn’t personally won me over yet, even if the Ukrainian situation could be forgiven.

Current published Wikinews stories about the Sochi Paralympics:

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