Three weeks have quickly flown by here at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. It's been an interesting comparison between my volunteer work at the Vancouver Olympics and our work here in Sochi. It appears that the Sochi organizers who were sent to Vancouver and London for the 2012 Summer Games didn't bring back any established patterns and policies to help them in their planning.
From the experience I had in working in transportation in Vancouver, transporting people, and particularly volunteers, from the shortest routes from A to B is non-existent and transportation to date has been a real fiasco!
I am not sure how visitors are viewing getting around but it appears with the vast amount of pavement and plaza area, huge stairways and ramps, and strange queuing barriers, the designers’ intent was to accommodate only young and strong able-bodied people who are capable of walking miles.
From the Olympic Park entrance, and from the train and bus stations, the walking distance to the various venues is pretty lengthy for the average person. There is some provision for older people and children who are less mobile with golf cart type shuttles carrying up to eight people at a time but the wait time to get on these is horrendous. Bus shuttles are just not available except for the athletes and their staff people.
On the general public transportation side, my experience to date about getting to and from the Olympic Park from our volunteer residences had been pretty good until last evening when I attended the Norway-Canada men's hockey game which many of you probably saw Canada win 3-1. The game ended around 11:30 p.m. after a 9 p.m. start and the rush to the exit was something else. More than 50,000 people were trying to exit the park. Upon arrival after midnight, many of us discovered there were no more trains leaving for our mountain-cluster destination. After receiving some help from some young Russian students having a similar problem, it was decided that we take the train to nearby Adler and hopefully catch a train to our destination at Esto-Sadok. From Adler, we discovered there were also no more trains to our destination and our only hope was a bus. Fortunately there was a bus going to the main transportation hub at Krasnar Polyiana, which is beyond our village. We hopped on and then discovered that the bus goes by our village but does not stop there so that involved another stop and picking up another bus to get to our place. My student friend Nikkiti and I arrived back to our residence area around 2:45 a.m.
Needless to say, I had a ticket for the Canada-Finland mens’ hockey game on Sunday evening, Feb. 16, so I’m certain getting back to our residence should be another interesting experience.
I apologize for the digression on transportation but it severely impacts the volunteers’ role in getting back and forth to work.
As mentioned earlier in my initial report, some of our workforce people are spending between two and half to three and half hours to go to work from their various places of residence.
It seems a mystery to me with the three Olympic Villages and the various residences at each of these venues that those working in the coastal village and the Olympic Park would not be housed around the Olympic Park area and those working in the mountain villages would not be housed in the mountain residences.
Here in Sochi, the slogan is "no one knows" (nikto ne znayet). It’s a term I have become very conversant with. The other is "this is Russia," get used to it.
As a result of this transportation problem, many of our workforce mates that have had to endure the extensive travel time to and from work, report in very tired and are falling asleep during the day while trying to carry out their duties. Added to this, the shifts are six days on and one day off, which makes for a very tired workforce.
In comparison, in Vancouver, we generally worked five days on with two days off in between, and sometimes three days off if we were serving the full month as a volunteer.
I've come to the conclusion that the volunteer here at the Sochi Olympics is more of a second-class citizen with a lot of rules and restrictive policies that apply to us.
At our plaza at Endurance Village, we have certain elevators and building accesses we can't use for fear of mixing with the athletes, and shuttles to and from the cable car lift that are only for guests, media, and athletes and their staff. It seems that wherever there is a way to make the route from A to B longer, the volunteer is required to take it.
In my particular travel to work situation, I have a 10-15 minute walk to the bus, a 10-minute bus ride to the closest drop-off point to our work area, followed by a 25-35 minute walk to the Lauara Cable Car lift, through a security pat down similar to passing through airport security, a 20-minute cable car ride, check in, and another 15-minute walk down a steep hill to our village plaza. The total time to and from work is about three to three and a half hours.
I have not had to worry about going to a fitness centre with the cardio I am getting with all the walking and stair climbing I am doing. I've lost a couple of notches on my belt and I am hoping my arthritic knees will hold up.
As mentioned, our residential housing is very Spartan, with eight people to a two-room apartment, with one bath, one toilet and a small kitchen area with a table, chairs, and some cups. We have an electric pot to heat water for coffee or tea and we use the outdoor deck to keep things cool.
We recently learned too that alcohol is illegal in our residences as we were raided by the "beer police" and told to remove it. At any rate, most of us who favour a beer or a drink of vodka once in awhile have learned to get around things.
As far as food goes, there are two kitchens, one for the athletes and their staff and one for the volunteers and paid staff. From talking to some of the athletes, the variety of food served is quite different.
The volunteers’ breakfast is pretty basic, usually consisting of rolled pancakes that are either meat or fruit-flavoured, oatmeal of various types and recently, we have been getting some yogourt. There is no fruit or fruit juice. Tea or coffee is available without cream or milk. There is no toast and rarely any butter for the dry bread slices. Eggs, bacon, ham or sausage are not available. However, sometimes we get a form of hotdog-looking meat that has been boiled.
The lunches and dinners are pretty basic Russian fare, with soups and borsht, rice-type dishes, pastas, chicken and some beef.
We finally got the water situation resolved and Coca Cola has given us a ration of two bottles of water (or pop, if individuals prefer) a day. Prior to the opening of the Olympics, water was quite hard to come by and only available to buy at the village market.
Although the role of a volunteer here is quite different than my Vancouver experience, there is a positive side. The people we are working for and with are very nice, and in my case, where I am the only international English speaking person amongst 39 Russians in our workforce, everyone has been great and very helpful to make me feel a part of it all.
My supervisors have all been very understanding and willing to look at making improvements but often their hands are tied.
There is an apparent reluctance to change policies that were previously established, regardless of what seems logical. I am sure these Olympics will be quite a learning experience for many Russians, and for me as well.
Next time, I will provide some observations about Russians and their view of visitors and tourists to their country.
Canada is doing well here at the Olympics as you probably know. We still have high hopes in skating, hockey, curling and some alpine events. Go Canada Go!
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Stan Kochanoff is a Falmouth resident who is volunteering in Sochi, Russia at the 2014 Olympics.