Savoring Sochi

For Cottonwood native Larry Gee, the Olympics at Sochi, Russia, was “awe-inspiring,” he said.

Gee, who is the senior director of teaching and learning at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in New Richmond, Wis., spent last week patiently submitting to five or six security stops a day as he went from event to event. He took in the luge, men’s skiing, speed skating and women’s downhill skiing events.

“They were great events,” he said. “I always had pretty good seats.”

Gee said watching the athletes compete was made more meaningful “knowing what they go through.”

The Olympics in Russia was “very, very well organized,” he said. “You could tell they did a lot of advanced planning.”

Sochi was Gee’s fourth Olympics. He said he enjoys immersing himself in foreign cultures.

“I love traveling,” he said. “I love visiting the country where the Olympics takes place.”

Gee said he always tries to stay in residential areas when he travels. In Sochi, he stayed with a host family in a rental condo. One evening, the host couple invited him to share a meal.

“We had traditional roast duck with vegetables and hors d’oeuvres of shrimp, cheese and crackers with pieces of fruit for dessert,”?he said.

Gee said he “felt safe, felt welcomed by the couple.”

Walking through the downtown shopping district he felt that “everybody was friendly although they didn’t speak English.” About 50 percent of the shopkeepers did, he figures.

Sochi was an ideal place to have the Olympics, Gee said.

“Sochi is a resort town, on the shore of the Black Sea,” he said. “The village is right on the water so that is good for skating. The mountain venues are a 40-, 45-minute train ride. Gee said the train, tracks and railroad station were all newly-built. The temperature the week he was there stayed around 35 degrees with some fluctuation plus and minus a few degrees near the water and near the mountains.

Gee went to Russia by himself this year because the five or six friends who were planning to go dropped out because of security concerns.

According to news reports, there have been security threats aimed at Sochi. Russian President Vladimir Putin has responded by spending $2 billion in security at the games and deploying 40,000 troops around Sochi.

“There were guards all over,” he said. “I never did feel threatened at all.”

Before entering each new venue, facility or railroad stop, people had to submit to a security check.

“There were eight or 10 security guards, so the wait wasn’t long, about five or 10 minutes and the check was relatively un-invasive,” Gee said. “You had to walk through an X-ray and take your coat off, but you could keep your shoes on. Guards would walk the length of the railroad car prior to people boarding to make sure everything was fine.”

There were also many volunteers wearing distinctive, brightly-colored clothing, Gee said, so they would be noticeable in case visitors had questions.

He said he had a great time at the Olympics and would “absolutely do it again.”