Sochi Winter Paralympics continues with Russia sweeping podium in men’s cross country

Ooops.  Lost my pen cap.

Ooops. Lost my pen cap.

Sport continued yesterday at the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi. With four sports on offer, I chose to go to the cross country skiing as I’d never seen that sport live before. At 11 C at start time, it was a strange temperature for skiing. Looking at the course walking past it, I could see the snow conditions looked iffy because the snow was rather dark in spots. Bundled up, I was too warm. Ski socks,jeans, long under wear, a t-shirt and winter coat. Not the thing to be wearing to watch skiing while in Sochi. At least the waterproof boots came in handy…

It was a beautiful and warm day up in the mountains.

It was a beautiful and warm day up in the mountains.

There were two races on offer, the men’s sitting 15km in the morning and the women’s sitting 12km in the afternoon. Both were good races and fun to watch. The crowd was less problematic feeling than the one at the sledge hockey. Russia swept the men’s side, but the USA managed to pick up a silver medal on the women’s side. Ukraine also won a medal, continuing their dominance on the medal table. They currently rank second, behind only Russia. Spain is ahead of the United States, because while they have only one medal, it is gold. Jon Santacana won it in the men’s visually impaired downhill. The United States has five total medals, three silver and two bronze. This puts them ninth overall in the medal count. Despite the United States’s relative success at the Olympic Games, there is no history of medal dominance on the Paralympic side. Neither Australia nor New Zealand have medalled yet at these Games.

As a reporter, the day felt mildly disappointing.  Sochi does not feel like it is set up with journalists in mind. It is not easy to report from these Games.  I do not know if this is deliberate or not.  I talked to some other reporters.  Everyone appears to have had issues with their accreditation arriving late. The lack of English problem is a huge problem.  (Speaking Italian or German or Spanish does not appear to be any advantage.) Failure to understand in some cases leads to people speaking slower to you in Russian, as if that would help. I’ve done this to others as an English speaker a few times, and you know, I may think twice about doing that because it is annoying. No, I do not understand and speaking more slowly to me does not help.

I have tried to get my Ukrainians to talk to people for me, translate what they are saying and get a better feel for what is going on. Thus, we talked to some eastern Ukrainians who had been living in Russia for six years. The attitude apparently was why don’t I know Russian? I must have a problem. When asking for help, in Russian, I know on at least two occasions, my Ukrainian has been rudely asked, “Can’t you read? What’s your problem that you can’t read the sign?” Well, as we’ve learned, signs in Sochi often do not point you where you need to go at all. Buses that say they are going one place often end up in another place. You want to hit your head against the wall.

While trying to talk to others, I had the Ukrainian talk to a journalist from Kazakstan and just generally find out which “side” he was taking in the Crimea situation. Apparently, he wanted the side of peace, which was apparently implying with Russia. Following the press conference the other day, two Russian reporters asked one of the Ukrainians (tag teamed him, they did) why they would not accept Russia trying to bring peace to the Ukraine? Why did they reject Russian efforts to bring peace to their country?

Met some Americans yesterday and talked to them. They had similar issues that I’ve experienced in terms of the language problem and the getting around problem and the general vibe issue. In talking to the Ukrainian, they were more on his “side” and asked questions about how it was impacting him personally. This was completely different than the experience with others.

And this political thing hangs heavy over the Games. It does. No matter how much Craig Spence and Philip Craven would like to think otherwise or hope it would be otherwise, it hangs heavy. London political issues were flash in the pan, small stuff compared to this.

I doubt the Ukraine will leave the Games now. They are second on the medal tables, and their performance as sportspeople gives testament to their strength.

But that doesn’t mean all is good and outside the Ukrainians doing their thing, everyone else forgets. Apparently a 16 year old Russian competitor told the media he thinks the Ukrainians should accept Russia’s offer to try to bring peace. Erk?

Today is my last full day reporting on the Games. The strangeness of yesterday left me feeling unmotivated to write any news articles yesterday. I’m not connected with the United States Paralympic Team. I didn’t prep Wikipedia articles like I did for the Australian team before London. I don’t have the contacts. I’m the only one writing in English. While I managed about three articles the day before and met my writing goal for the Games already, I feel like I could have and should have done better yesterday by producing something. But no desks, the encroachment of the fans in the media section doing lots of Russian chanting, seating where I was worried about my stuff falling under it (lost my pen to that), the lack of power to plug things into, the tables in the press center being standing only for the most part, the smallness of the space, not being based in the mountain cluster and spending at least an hour trying to figure out the confusing bus system… just not conducive to writing news articles. (The bus situation is truly awful. There is no real special media transport, so you end up on busses where you are packed like sardines with lots of spectators while you have all your reporting equipment. You don’t know where you are going and finding people to help is near impossible. The buses were not running frequently despite the events for the day having just concluded.)

I am hopeful I can get something published about today’s events. I’m not optimistic. I am trying to remember the important thing was that as a Wikimedian, I made it here as accredited media. It took a lot of work and I succeeded. Arriving here was an accomplishment in its own right.

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3 Comments

  1. Well, regarding – “Thus, we talked to some eastern Ukrainians who had been living in Russia for six years. The attitude apparently was why don’t I know Russian? I must have a problem. When asking for help, in Russian, I know on at least two occasions, my Ukrainian has been rudely asked, “Can’t you read? What’s your problem that you can’t read the sign?”” it is very rare case. The last of two cases – they where not volunteers, but Ukrainian ex-compatriots from Donetsk that joined the conversation possibly having butthurt from mockings of their new Russian homeland for not organizing all things clear. The other case I don’t even remember. Most of the people are polite, friendly and welcome. They often does not have good English and does not always know the right direction or answer though.

      • Another correction- “Following the press conference the other day, two Russian reporters asked one of the Ukrainians (tag teamed him, they did) why they would not accept Russia trying to bring peace to the Ukraine? Why did they reject Russian efforts to bring peace to their country?” – actually they asked the president of Ukrainian paralympics team these questions. After there conference I came to discuss it with one of them. She was very rude, but two her colleagues expressed support for Ukraine.

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