Russians top podium on second day of European Deaf Swimming Championships

Russians top podium on second day of European Deaf Swimming Championships is an article I got published yesterday on English Wikinews.  Also, Spanish Wikinews.  It was one of those exercises in disaster.  I originally wrote the article based on preliminary results.  In between submitting the article for review and the article being reviewed, the preliminary results changed to final results.  This completely screwed the article text, because it made it all inaccurate.  Erk?

The event is a world championship for deaf sport, which is not aligned with International Paralympic Committee in the sense that deaf sport just isn’t.  (The politics of this is actually quite interesting, in why deaf sports didn’t join the Paralympic movement.  Also, there is apparently a fear in some places that deaf sport will completely disappear because the technology is much better, and hearing problems are becoming much more fixable. )  What does this mean in terms of writing Wikinews articles from faaaaaaar away in Spain for a competition in Russia?  It means finding secondary sources to verify facts is PITA and not actually very doable.  The results seem pretty newsworthy to me, but verification.  Verification.  Verification.  Erk. Erk. Erk.

Errors were all eventually addressed, and the article got fixed on English Wikinews and then published.  😦

Advertisements

Sochi Return on Investment Analysis

Return on investment analyses is really easy: ROI = (Net Profit / Cost of Investment) x 100. The problem with doing this for the Sochi Paralympics is I did not make money. I knew going in I was going to lose money. This is more about understanding the relative performance metrics of what I did when trying to assess the value of doing other reporting on my own dime (or with grant money on some one else’s dime) and the potential outcomes.

Based on my previous blog post exploring Sochi costs, the total was €551.05 / US$766.18.

The actual ROI becomes complicated as it is a question of what my expected return is. This is actually a difficult question, especially when it comes to measuring media impact because it isn’t just page views that matter: there are a large variety of factors that play into the effectiveness of media story telling and measuring ROI.

For the moment, let’s assume pure costs against pure page views is all I care about: 10 articles producing 14,078 views from March 1 to March 23 puts the cost per view at €0.039 a view.

Let’s make this a little more complex. In order to get to Sochi, I did a fair amount of reporting. There were 18 other articles mentioning the Winter Paralympics, including 11 from Copper Mountain, 2 right before I left for Sochi, 2 from La Molina, 3 internet based articles a few months before the Games. Let’s weight these a bit assuming the Sochi costs are born out for these articles based on the Sochi period (because they probably got page views they would not have had otherwise). The Sochi articles account for about 75% of all 2014 Winter Paralympics news coverage during that march period, and the other articles account for about 25% of all traffic. In this instance, total views Sochi value goes down to €0.029 a view and the non-Sochi value is €0.069. The bump while much smaller pays off more by having large volumes of news stories in the archives. On an average views per article, it goes from average total views per article for non-weighted for Sochi at €2.554 to €3.406 for weighted, versus non-in person Sochi €0.457 to €0.811. The €0.039 number views seems the most rationale in this case.

Let’s assume that pure production is the number that is cared about. Total cost per article is €55.105 an article for each article published while I was in Sochi.

While in Sochi, I wrote one blog post the day I left, seven while there and so far two after that excluding this one. I’ve written effectively 19 blog articles about preparing for, going and the follow up to the Sochi Paralympics. For me, this was an important part of my reporting and it complimented my reporting. It talked more about the process and the experience in a way that my pure sport reporting in a journalistic style did not. These ten articles had 8,496 views, syndicated and to my blog, between March 1 to March 23. The value of each individual view is €0.084. While I had the same number of blog entries, I had a lot fewer views.

From a pure money aspect, if only counting blog entries, it cost me €78.72 per blog post. Expensive. Let’s assume for a moment equal weighting of blogs and news articles. I produced 17 pieces of long form content. Each piece cost me €32.414 to write. If I combine the page views across both my blog and the published Wikinews articles, the average cost per total view is €0.024. Cheaper and cheaper per view. Combined views, this is not bad.

These numbers feel fine, but they are rather non-compelling. Yawn yawn.

There are other metrics to assess ROI in this case. The official English Wikinews account on Facebook linked to every article published from Sochi. These posts for the Sochi reporting combined were views 7,636 times. Seems pretty good. Of the ten articles, there were 25 times where they were linked to on Twitter. Twitter reach for these links exceeds 100,000 twitter accounts. The links were seen by a lot of people, the views were decent both to the blog and the news articles.

ROI might have been stronger had there been more Wikipedia work and Commons. Wikipedia allows no original reporting, and is thus useless in an original reporting context. (Journalists should not be going places as Wikipedians reporting for Wikipedia.) Commons was also off limits, because of two factors: The agreement as a member of the press is none of your photos can be uploaded commercially. This meant no event pictures could be uploaded to Commons. Second, Russia has no freedom of panorama. I tried to upload a photo anyway, and it got nominated for deletion. In this particular context, Commons content creation is not a factor in ROI.

So using pure page views, the answer is each view costs less than €0.10 each. The articles averaged €32.414 to write. I’m not actually sure how much more this ROI analysis adds. There really needs to be a formula to better figure this out.

Actual Sochi Paralympic budget

Armenian team at the Opening Ceremonies.

Armenian team at the Opening Ceremonies.

Before going to Sochi, I tried to budget and discussed this more in depth than people probably cared to know.  Budgeting is very important when you’re doing citizen journalism and you want to possibly get money to support your efforts.

Transportation involved two trips on the Russian metro at 40 rubles each, airport express train at 640 rubles, and a round trip train ticket from Moscow to Sochi at AU$125.  I got zapped with 116 RUBs for the train twice for sheets. Plane tickets were bought using frequent flier miles.  Retail price is showing me US$331. Do some converting: €0.78 + €12.59 + €81.12  + €4.564 + €238.06 = €337.11.  Not bad. About €100 if you subtract the plane ticket part out.

Hotel expense was €33 a night for five nights.  That equals €165.  Food was… That’s a bit harder to calculate.  I took with me €200 that I converted to rubles with no commission at €1 to 40 RUB.  la la la la.  Let’s go with €160 on for food and postage, with about €25 of that at the airport on the last day, including a breakfast that was 760 RuB / €14.87 from Burger King that included lots of stuff I did not want including a disgusting breakfast roll thing with a tomato in it.  Sbarros for lunch was much cheaper at 220 RUB / €4.328 which included two slices of pizza and a very large drink. Two bottles of Pepsi each ran 70 RUB / €1.377.

IMG_5223I screwed up and converted USD to RUB and did not convert it before I left Russia.  Ooops.  Add US$75.

All told, assuming actual cost of airline tickets, going to Sochi cost me €551.05 / US$766.18.  That isn’t that much.  Going to the London Paralympics, the cost was around AUD$7,500.  Costs were lower because I did not fly to Sochi, because I did not attend the whole games, because I missed meals, because I bought fewer souvenirs.   (It was AUD$15,000 for two people. This included everything from airfare to food to internet.)

What did this get me? Page views for all 2014 Winter Paralympics articles from 1 March to 14 March 2014 on English Wikinews total 14,685 views.  To be fair, I produced only 10 articles while in Sochi.

In London, myself and my fellow report produced around 50 to 60 total articles. That’s a huge volume.  My reporting partners in Sochi were Ukrainians, who were primarily writing in Ukrainian and doing their own work.  It wasn’t so much a partnership of working together to support each other’s English Wikinews reporting.  The page views for London original reporting around the Paralympic period total 78,943 views.  That’s about 5 times as many views.  The costs for London were 17 times higher: €9734.25 / €551.05 = 17.  I think reporting wise, I got my money’s worth here.

I think, when I do a better metric analysis, some of the breakdowns will be interesting.  Where this reporting project fell down was background research and background writing for English Wikipedia… but I think the Ukrainian project will demonstrate why that matters and how useful that particular aspect can be.  I know that they had zero articles about the Paralympics before 1 March 2014 on Ukrainian Wikipedia.  They now have 53 pages with 23,803 total views from 1 March to 14 March, the fifth most visited Wikipedia for articles about the 2014 Winter Paralympics found in that category.  But that’s another analysis to look at Return of Investment for another time.

 

And then oops, I took a train through the Ukraine

Ukrainian passport stamps

Ukrainian passport stamps

Because I needed to travel this weekend, I needed to leave the 2014 Sochi Paralympics early.  Given my budget issues, I took the train from Moscow to Sochi, because it was cheaper than flying to Sochi from Madrid.  I had an enjoyable train ride from Moscow to Sochi.  It was one of those interesting experiences, and I had a grand time that involved Russian train passengers I was traveling with giving me alcohol for dinner and breakfast.  Fun times.  Great views.  Not a bad night’s sleep.

When booking my return to coincide with my flight, I opted for a slightly longer 36 hour return that involved two nights on the train.  My guess at the time was this train just made more stops.  I know on the way down that we didn’t stop at every station.  I also figured there would be less needs for express trains from Sochi to Moscow during the actual Paralympic Games.

Live and learn.  I had a lovely unexpected 12 hour train ride through the Ukraine.  Okay, not so lovely.  You know those moments where you think in blind panic, “ZOMG! I’ve fucked up! Eeek!” Yeah, it was one of those when the train car steward said something to me in Russian, then said to me in English “Passport control.”  I stared blankly at him like he lost his mind.  The other guy in my section said, “Ukraine.”  I looked out the window and sure enough, passport control.

I wasn’t avoiding the Ukraine: I just had no intention of going there.  The United States government specifically advises Americans not to go there right now, especially the eastern parts. There was no reason for me to go to the Ukraine.  Besides which, how would I get there anyway? Well, by train by not understanding things.  So while not avoiding the Ukraine but having no intention of going there, I ended up there.

More Russian passport stamps.  One can never have enough Russian and Ukrainian passport stamps.  They compliment my 22 Australian ones.

More Russian passport stamps. One can never have enough Russian and Ukrainian passport stamps. They compliment my 22 Australian ones.

The Russians appeared just as confused as me as to why I was there.  There were five of them I dealt with.  Journalists are not high on their list of people they love at the border, and I tried to make clear: I was not in Russia to write about politics but about sport.   Sport.  Sport.  Also, I was leaving Moscow the day my train arrived in Moscow.  Also, the train ticket SEE! LOOK! does not say UKRAINE! anywhere on it.  Also, when I went Moscow to Sochi, I did not not go through the Ukraine! I was there for the Paralympics!  It was hard to babble when they spoke no English and I spoke no Russian.  I showed them my papers.  They photographed everything, including my return ticket.  They used special glasses to look closely at my accreditation. They radioed a guy, who spoke English, who talked to me.  Apparently, foreigners do what I do occasionally and it was not a big issue.

The Ukrainians were not that fussed because I was not getting off the train.  They were more concerned about the guy in my compartment bringing camera equipment and a television.  Besides which, there were only two. And unlike the Russian side, the border guys had few guns and less overall personnel.

So onwards intrepid reporter who plans poorly. Did I mention I was a bit hungry? When going through security in at the Olympic Park Train Station in Sochi, they took my fuet. They also took my can of corn. I bought ramen in the train station, which was fortunate on my part. Unlike my trip to Sochi via train, this train had pretty much no food for sale. My bottle of coke I had leftover from lunch, a bottle of water from my bag, and tea made on the train was all I had to drink. Food was ramen, Oreo cookies and store band Starburst candies. woot woot. 36 hours on the train.

Anyway, while in the Ukraine, I kept looking for Russian flags.  My perception from the news was this area had become defacto Russia.  Russian nationalism should be on display.  There should be a feeling of tenseness in the Ukraine that I should feel having accidentally wandered through it.

Except there was none of that. Ukraine along the eastern rail line I took felt poorer than the Russian parts I had traveled on. The trains on the Ukrainian side appeared to be older, and more rusted. People appeared to be going about their business, riding bicycles here and there, carrying bags of what looked like groceries and other supplies. The towns felt empty, but no emptier than other small towns in the USA I have taken the rail through. There were no Russian flags, but at the same time, there were very few Ukrainian flags. I saw them occasionally at what appeared to be government buildings. Sometimes, I saw blue and yellow painted poles that looked more like store advertising (and no real Russian colour equivalent). No one on the train seemed overly concerned. The Russian Railways staff seemed not that concerned. There were people of all ages and genders trying to sell stuff on the train in the Ukraine, which did not happen on the Russian side. There were fewer passengers, a lot fewer, than in Russia but that was it. A bad part of me wondered, “Why does Russia want this part of the Ukraine that feels so poor compared to the Russian side?”

Traveling in Ukraine, I was taking train.

Traveling in Ukraine, I was taking train.

Near as I can tell, the train entered Ukraine close to Donetsk and left around Kharkiv.

Going back into Russia, again a repeat of accidentally leaving Russia. This time, no English speaker at all and this time, every single page of my passport was photographed.  No problems getting through customs, but a bit scary nonetheless when your government is telling you not to go there and the news says they are on the brink of war there.

By the way, did you know that Russia is amassing troops on the border with Ukraine? Before hitting immigration control, I saw a train with at least 15 tanks and at least 15 troop carrier trucks. If I had to make a stupid mistake, I am glad I made it Wednesday and not later.

Welcome to some of the surreal and weird experiences I have had thanks to my involvement with Wikimedia.  I think this tops what I have gotten myself into on my own.

Thoughts before leaving Sochi Paralympics: Reporting issues and Paralympic news

Look! I'm media! So cool!

Look! I’m media! So cool!

I leave the Sochi Paralympics today. As a reporter, I met my publishing goals that I set before I left. I need to remember that: 1 article a day is a lot on many levels, and anything else was just bonus. Also, I’m not getting paid to be here, I’m a citizen journalist writing articles for a Wikimedia project. I do not have to answer to an editor “back home” or justify the expense of going to Sochi.

But at the same time, I would have liked to have done more. One of the inherent problems with not being able to dedicate yourself to the craft of journalism is there is a lack of contacts, sometimes a lack of knowledge, and a lack of practice. Reporting relies on contacts. Reporting also relies on boldness. Be bold. Ask the questions. Go where things are. I do not have the contacts, and I can get only 2/3rds of the way there on boldness. (I might have gotten more had I done more research.)

A selfie from the cross country on Sunday

A selfie from the cross country on Sunday

This is why at times I am frustrated by my reporting here: For a few things I wrote, I feel like 70% of what I wrote came from information sheets journalist are given, 25% from pictures I took on a journalist (not photography) accreditation. The color feels hard to come through when my knowledge of things like curling fails me. Plus, I feel like I should write about all four curling sheets, all four matches… not just one. One well placed rock in one end that does not appear like it had a result on the outcome. How do you write that well?

In the afternoon match of wheelchair curling, the United States threw some really bad rocks, weren’t playing aggressively to win initially against the Russians. They went to an 8th end down by three rocks. My understanding is after the 7th end, if you do not think you can win, no 8th end required. The United States wheelchair curlers played the final end much more aggressively. They were assisted in the 8th end by some bad Russian stones which shot the gap between US stones and left the scoring area. This could only be banked on so much, and the Russians did not always misplace rocks. Despite much better playing and having three stones in the scoring area with 2 rocks to go, Russia managed to place a stone the USA could not get out. The United States ended up short, scoring only two of the three points they needed in the 8th end. Unlike the game Canada was playing against Norway on the sheet next to them, there was no forcing an extra end.

Having done so much writing for Wikipedia at times, I struggle with how to write neutrally. I second guess and end up neuturing things. That felt like the case here.

When I get back somewhere (Spain or the USA), I will write more on some of

The United States enters during the Opening Ceremony

The United States enters during the Opening Ceremony

the issues involved with Sochi, better planning thoughts, how to be more successful at this sort of thing, and the metrics at the end of the day.

Let’s move on to other news agencies coverage of the Paralympics. In London during the Paralympics, the Associated Press was not to be found. I read the news often, and I rarely if ever any coverage of the Paralympics. I did not see any reporters on the ground. Here in Sochi, it is a different case. There are USA journalists, several of whom are based up in the mountains. There is media coverage. There is television coverage. (Though I have been told NBC has few people here, with most of the NBC people using OBS feeds and as a consequence being based in the USA.)

I’m not entirely certain I am happy with other United States coverage that I have seen. It appears to take three forms: 1) Ukraine. 2) Oscar Pistorious. 3) Crashes.

I feel tremendous sympathy for the Ukraine. That situation has to a degree impacted my ability to do my reporting here. It is horrible what is going on in the Ukraine, and I cannot imagine the additional stress on the Ukrainian athletes and officials. But some of the reporting appears to hugely political. Craig Spence and Philip Craven were right about things being about sport. So when journalists appear to use the Paralympics as a throwaway line to make a political point about Putin while ignoring the broader issues of inclusion and the elite sport going on, it gets annoying. This is especially annoying when the Paralympics are not contextualized and most USAians have no idea what the Paralympics are about. Many of these sportspeople here get little news coverage outside the Paralympic period, so taking away their moment in the sun by making their participation part of some political disalogue gets annoying. Did I mention annoying? Perhaps I would find this news coverage about the Ukraine aspect less annoying if for every mention of the Ukraine in a Paralympic context, there was a sports articles about the performance of sportspeople… you know, like the Olympics.

The other thing that is annoying is the Oscar Pistorious thing. I don’t know whether I should be blaming the IPC here or the media. Everything is fundamentally political on some level in decision making. The IPC embracing of Vladmir Putin was political. The IPC embracing Oscar Pistorious and chosing to highlight his accomplishments on the big screen was a political decision of sorts. The IPC is chosing to align itself with a man who killed a woman (murdered is to be determined, killed is not disputed), who allegedly cheated on another woman and who liked to play with guns. The IPC chose to align with some one who, after winning silver in the London Paralympics, protested that the person who won gold had an unfair competitive advantage because of his blade. This was a guy who went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to say his own blades did not give a competitive advantage. Hypocrisy, thy name is…

Anyway, back to Oscar and the media. The Associated Press was asking sportspeople about that. You’re a Ukrainian Paralympian. Your race ends. You have won a medal. A United States journalist asks you about… OSCAR PISTRIOUS! You are an American Paralympic medalist and your race ends and a United States journalist asks you about OSCAR PISTORIOUS! ZOMG. So awesome. Where was this during the Olympics? During the Olympics, I did not see a single Associated Press article where, following a person winning their medal in Sochi, the winner was asked, “Are you following the Oscar Pistrious situation? How does his actions impact your Olympic experience? How do you feel as an Olympian being connected to Oscar?” This feels like lazy journalism. Bold to be sure, but lazy. Maybe I have been too inside the movement, but I think the key to Paralympic success and disability access being improve is to focus on the sports. These are elite athletes. They train really hard. They give up a lot to be where they are. When their moment in the sun comes, when they become the best in their field, they get asked about Oscar. Their own accomplishments are ignored.

The last thing I have seen involves crashes and hospitalizations. That make news. I have a harder time faulting this one, though I would like to see more emphasis on success. Great Bitain can do that. Why can’t the USA media?

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.

Reporting day 1 of sports

IMG_5120

The Awesome team Canada takes to the ice for their first game of the Winter Paralympics.

Today was the first day of sports after last nights’ inauguration ceremony. Still having some small yet annoying issues that impact my reporting. The kettle in my room doesn’t work.  The Russians still do not know where things are.  The signage is awful in many places.  The bank is not open.  There is no currency exchange around.  Food options outside my hotel and the Olympic Park do not appear to exist.  The signs in the hotel say leave towels on the floor if you want new ones, and to leave them hanging if you did not: I left them hanging and the towels went away but no new towels. All I am eating is McDonalds, free cookies and Coca Cola. There was a sign in the bathroom at the hockey stadium that said do not put toilet paper in the toilet.  The USA embassy sent me an e-mail saying avoid certain parts of Moscow because of a protest. The host country is invading some one else. That’s the picky stuff.  Maybe I am obsessing because London built my expectations so high?

 

It is now time for sports. Because of waking up late and feeling sick, I missed the biathlon so I went to ice hockey instead. This time, everything went smoothly.  Buses were where I expected them.  They took me where I wanted to go.  The signage for sledge hockey venue for the media was better, so I was able to easily find where I needed to be.  Happiness.

I had three sports I wanted to see while in Sochi: Sledge hockey, cross country or biathlon, and wheelchair curling.  Since I’ve been interested in the Paralympics, I have been living in countries where these are not the winter Paralympic sports of choice and I have not seen them live.

Sledge hockey was awesome, though a bit disconcerting at first because the sledge the players sit on has two parallel blades under at most a third of the sledge.  They are tall enough that the puck passes under them.  When watching, I had a few moments of whut? Where? How?  Mental processing.

I showed up to see the overtime shootout win of Norway over the Czech Republic.  I watched the Canadians just totally dismantle Sweden 10 – 1.  All fine, all awesome.  The fans were great in supporting both teams and supporting good hockey.

And then we hit the game where Team USA played Italy.  Since I’ve been in Spain, I have been a bit more conscious that I am an American.  It is just a fact of the language barrier.  I can’t feel Spanish like I could feel Australian.  In any case, neither here nor there.  I am an American. I love my country in my own special way.  People treat me like I am an American.

The wonderful view from my hotel room

The wonderful view from my hotel room.  Notice the Paralympic flame.  It is perfectly placed for me to look at from bed.

Thus the Russian fans worked to grate on my nerves.  Sir Philip Craven talked about how sports should transcend politics.  Some one should have told the Russian fans that.  They were openly partisan.  They cheered loudly every time the Italians got the puck.  They rocked the house and wildly waved their Russian flags when the Italians scored their lone goal in Team USA’s 5-1 victory over Italy.  When the USA scored, there was little applause and most of it came from the section where the American fans were sitting.  During the intermission, the person doing the big screen in house entertainment went to talk to fans of Team USA. The nice female presenter asked the pair of USA bedecked male fans to do the Team USA chant.  They did.  A number of people in the audience booed.  Booed.

They booed.  It grated hugely on my nerves.  I was in London for those Paralympics.  Those are my benchmarks for awesomeness.  They were truly awesome on multiple levels.  This includes the volunteers and the fans.  The huge numbers of fans and the locals cheering for high quality play, no matter the country: This was a standout of the London Paralympics.  In London, I did not hear this sort of political, partisan booing against teams Great Britain has issues with, including when Iran played Argentina before a home crowd.  Remember that little Falklands War? Yeah.

So I am clearly not impressed with the Russian fans here.  I was also less impressed with the opening ceremony, which at times felt slightly militaristic in tone.  I liked the inclusion of sexual orientation in things that should not be discriminated against during the Games. I liked less the personal public thanks from Sir Philip Craven to Vladmir Putin. (Hey! I saw Putin live in person before Obama! What a strange place this world?)  It felt uncomfortable, more uncomfortable when I woke up and read the morning news about Russian actions and statements regarding the Ukraine.

In London, I felt like I got a sense of place.  Everyone wanted to talk, including volunteers and other reporters.  It was awesome.  Everyone wanted to help.  I don’t get that here.  It is sad.  I don’t quite get a feel of Russia so much.  I have memories of watching Pat O’Brien during the Lillehammer Olympics, reporting from the International Broadcasting Center before a fire and getting this awesome feel every night that it was a small Norwegian ski resort town that felt homey and Norwegian, with the fireplace.  Now that I am at a Games on par with that, I kind of want and crave that Olympic feeling that Pat O’Brian gave me during Lillehammer as a kid, only in person.

How much of this is my own cultural baggage of growing up in the United States in the dying days of the Soviet Union, I do not know. I’d like to think I have transcended such bias, or at least am at a point where I can own and recognize it.

 

But hey the sport is good so far.

Articles published so far: