A fellow event planner, Evan Howard, had the opportunity to work the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Read all about her behind the games experience!
The 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia was definitely one to remember! It took me a total of 27 hours, including lay overs, to get there. When I finally arrived I was on a 10-hour time difference - Exhausted is an understatement. I am one of those people that does not sleep on planes. At that point I had been awake for almost 48 hours. The city did not look like there would be an Olympic Games happening in 3 weeks. We had so much work to do and I knew that there would not be any rest. I was nervous and excited to start my projects.
I had heard all of the news about the Black Widow and the terrorist attacks, so I had major anxiety and was on high alert. We stayed in a hotel that had already been built in Adler (right near Sochi) so it was completely finished. Some of the people I knew, stayed in hotels that did not have walls, or electricity. One photographer told me that he did not have heat so he would sleep in a jacket, gloves, and vest. I was lucky that one of my only issues was that I had a bloodstain on the wall; very minor to other people’s problems. Our hotel was right on the Black Sea. That was always a beautiful view when I would wake up. Every now and then we would see the US submarine pop up and then go back down. I did feel safe knowing I was an American, because we had specific instructions if there was to be a terrorist attack. The Russians really embraced us and made us feel very welcome. You could tell they were excited that such a global event was happening right there in their city. The Olympic Park was nowhere near being finished. Houses around the park had tarps over them with houses drawn on so that in case any media was taking footage it looked like the houses were finished. There were rollercoasters built in the middle of the park that were never used.
The program I was working on was specifically for athletes and their families. I was able to meet so many Olympians, past, present, and future. A 17-hour day was completely normal for us. In the 6 weeks I was there I had one day off. We did not have weekends. Of course on my day off I had to go to as many events as possible. We were working on such adrenaline that you would not feel tired until you finally stopped moving. The first three weeks we were there, food had not yet been brought to the park. Many times my first meal would be at 11pm at night. If we wanted to walk to the cafeteria (after one meal I would NEVER recommend it to anyone) it was a mile away. At one point we finally made it to the cafeteria and one of the Directors I was with started crying because the pasta we were given tasted like sweat. Needless to say we never went back.
I would sneak crackers and Twix bars into the park. Entering the park during the security checkpoint was nothing like I had experienced before. We were searched VERY thoroughly by security. They would pat down every single inch of you. In America they use the back of hands and some areas are not allowed to be touched. Nothing was off limits in Russia and they used the front of their hands. Sometimes if they were confused by what they were feeling they would continually grab until they decided it was nothing. What is worse is that they did not speak any English and none of us spoke Russian. After the first molestation we were very much used to it. It soon became routine and no one budged when we were being grouped by the Russian security.
Our job for the first three weeks was to get the venue set up. The venue was built from the ground up so it was incredible to see all of the progress by the time the games started. There were odd rules put in place by the SOCOG (Sochi Organizing Committee of Olympic Games) for the Olympic Park. We could only use a forklift from 4am-6am but yet products could only be delivered between the hours of 12am-4am. We were working weird hours trying to get all of our products into the venue. The venue was a place for the athletes and families to get away from the media. We had TVs in every room with live footage from all events. We had food and a number of parties through out the two weeks of the games. Our food was limited and by the end of the two weeks I could not eat any more of their meals. I was craving fresh fruit and vegetables, and meat that I did not question where it came from. Setting up the home was definitely a challenge, but extremely rewarding when we saw the finished product.
One of my favorite memories was getting up in the middle of the night to watch the Super Bowl. I was staying at the NBC hotel that evening. There was a huge group of Americans sitting in the lobby at 4am cheering on their teams. Everyone was dressed either in pajamas or workout clothes. It took me a minute but I soon realized I was sitting next to Bob Costas. I have grown up watching him on NBC with the Olympics so I was beyond excited. He was a great guy! We chatted all during the game and through breakfast. Unfortunately it was time to go back to work. I remember walking to the park watching the sunrise over the mountains thinking I am extremely lucky to be here right now!