Sochi by Two Blog #15: Mixed Feelings

By Adelaide Ponte Usdin and Wendy Ponte
We flew back from Moscow to JFK on Wednesday the 19th, and have spent a flurried last few days getting settled back into our “normal” lives (what skating life is really normal?). Both of us suspect that a month or two down the road we will have a clearer and more objective picture of our adventure in Sochi, but a few days removed from it have already brought some reflections.
Adelaide: What stands out for me, when I think about the time that I was in Sochi cannot be summarized in just a few words. First and foremost, I am so thankful that I was able to experience the Olympics firsthand. However, it was a crazy experience and at times I didn’t want to be there. Everything from the lack of sleep to the food to the language problems and to the intense security –it was a difficult experience.
My favorite part of the whole thing was the ice dancing. I loved watching the competitors giving their all. I felt really influenced and inspired by the whole experience and since then I’ve been working harder as a result.
Thinking back, I am starting to feel actually thankful that I stayed because I learned a lot about patience, time management, and how to be grateful for my life here in this culture.
Wendy: Everyone that we have seen, since we got back says the same thing—“So how was Sochi?” It’s such a difficult thing to answer. I usually say, “It was a mixed bag!” And then I proceed to tell my stories, both good and bad, and go on talking for a half an hour.

There are many Russian coaches and families at our rink, and they tend to nod their heads and say that none of the difficulties we experienced there are particularly surprising to them. Even some of the things that upset us, like all of the dogs we saw all over the place, can be seen in a different perspective. One Russian coach told me that people aren’t in the habit of registering, collaring and leashing their dogs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have loving owners. And it is true that I don’t recall seeing any that looked like they were starving—there were no ribs showing and none looked markedly unhealthy (with the exception of one dog that had goopy eyes).
This trip has caused me to question my adventurous spirit, something I always prided myself on having. There were many nearby sites, from museums to a famous arboretum, to waterfalls and prehistoric dolmens that we just could not bring ourselves to try and do. We got to a point where we just focused on eating a good meal and getting back and forth to our events.
I think there was a difficult combination of things going on in Sochi for the foreign traveler: adjusting to a new culture, experiencing an unorganized and unfinished city, daily friskings and scrutiny by security officers, fast food living and the challenges of any large-scale event that just sent us a bit over the edge—so to speak. We might have handled a couple of those challenges with aplomb, but all of them at once became overwhelming for us.
I certainly learned that my “it will all work out and we will figure it out as we go” attitude doesn’t always work. I think I learned to ask a lot of questions, and then even more questions! It is also kind of funny that the Russian tendency is also to understate the distance and time it takes to get around. “Right next to the water” could mean a half-mile walk, for example! “Fifteen minutes” is generally a half an hour!
I can’t quite say that I regret going. That’s not my way, and I try to learn from everything I undertake. If one could magically go back in time and I could chose again, between staying home and saving the money, or going to Sochi, I could possibly choose to stay home! But that is not how life works!
And the skating…there is just nothing like watching skating in person! You see so much more—more than just the TV crew wants you to see. You get the flavor of the event and see how the coaches and skaters react to each other. It really is special!
Thanks for sharing in our experience with us through this blog. See you all soon at a skating event—or maybe in Pyeongchang!