14OWG-BlogDay8-00001by Adelaide Ponte Usdin and Wendy Ponte

February 11, 2014

Today the United States won its first ever Gold in Luge singles, and it was by a woman, Erin Hamlin of Remsen, New York. Woo hoo!

This has been a peaceful day with no mishaps, long lines, horrific cab rides, etc., and we are extremely grateful, albeit still tired.

We got up early–11:00 A.M.!! At this point we have decided it’s best to stay on this stay-up-late, sleep-in schedule because it will make the adjustment back in the States easier.     Breakfast was passable, and there were vegetables. We almost didn’t recognize them after so many days of carbs.

We took our leisurely time getting to the Park and finally had a real chance to explore it. We watched some Mongolian throat singers on one of the stages. The sound of this music is deeply soothing. There were also some super-energetic native dancers, using drums as part of their performance. To us their costume looks similar to Inuit garb, but one difficulty here is in discerning details of things like this. The announcements made at events are always in both Russian and English (and sometimes French), but around the park it is mostly only in Russian. At any rate, the various kinds of folk dancing have been a real highlight.

Next we entered the large building that contains exhibits of each sector of Russia. We loved this in Vancouver as well. The outside of this building is somewhat like the shape of the big stadium you see in Rio, where Carnival is held. To both of us, there is something a bit Hunger Game-ish about the look of this building, but the inside is full of examples of arts and crafts from all over the nation, and it is stunning.

We didn’t even get halfway through it yet, there is so much to see–hand-painted crockery, basket-making demos, gorgeous embroidered folk costumes and delicate flowers made from birch bark, just to mention a few.

After this, and a ubiquitous visit to one of the Crepe carts, we headed back to the Ice Palace to watch Pairs Short. When Adelaide was little, she shared a coach, Tara Modlin, with Felicia Zhang for a brief time and they were in Lake Placid at the same time for an ISI competition. We’ve been following Felicia’s skating career ever since and are thrilled beyond words that she and her partner, Nate Bartholomay, made the team–especially since the U.S. only had two spots for Pairs.

And wouldn’t you know, we ended up sitting right next to an old family friend of Nate’s and their off-ice trainer from their Florida rink. It was fun to share the experience with them and yell for Felicia and Nate, and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir. Felicia and Nate finished 14th, not bad for a young team and first-time Olympians. Their long program, to Les Miserables, is top notch and we think they will move up in their placement for that, which is tomorrow.

If we thought the Russians were loud in their support for figure skaters during the Team event…. we had no idea what loud could be! The stadium shook when the three Russian Pairs teams skated, in particular Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov.

They placed first in the event, breaking a world record in the process, the fourth one they’ve broken this season.

We remember seeing Volsozhar in Vancouver with her then-partner, and now assistant coach, Stanislav Morozov. In fact, they are hard to forget, considering they were dressed in incandescent blue jumpsuits! Everyone called them the Avatar couple. They placed eighth there.

We are betting on a first place here, as are Ludmilla and Oleg Protopopov, the two-time Russian Pairs Gold Medalists, who traveled here to see them. Adelaide was very fortunate to have had the experience of working with the Protopopovs this last summer in Lake Placid, where they live and train (yes, in their 80’s they still train several hours a day!) for part of each year.

After this we had a late dinner at Switzerland House, a highlight of the Games both here and in Vancouver. It was a nice break from the usual food. We spent time chatting with a man who hails originally from Yellowknife, Canada, up near the Arctic Circle and now lives in various parts of Asia with his wife.

He taught us a bit about Curling, an ice sport we know nothing about, because his brother is a coach for Sweden (yes, they do have to work out at the gym), and told us an interesting tidbit about the so-called Disney Castle, here in the Park. Right next to the Park there is an unfinished amusement park. That was meant to be complete in time for the Games, but didn’t quite make it. In its midst is a large castle-like structure that is beautifully lit-up at night, and everyone jokingly refers to it as the Disney Castle.

He told us that many of the judges and officials are housed here. He met a skating judge who is staying there and says that the inside is just as splendid as it looks on the outside.