SOCHI, Russia -- Three weeks ago Monday, I left Minneapolis bound for Russia, beyond excited to cover my first Olympics but also a touch nervous about the unknowns that awaited.
Threats of terrorism dominated pre-Olympics conversation and left many on edge and wondering if something catastrophic could happen. As we prepare to return home, I'm grateful to report that these Olympics went off without any major disruption.
I leave thankful for this opportunity and in possession of many once-in-a-lifetime memories. Not just the athletes and the events that we covered, but the entire experience. Here's a snapshot of my Olympic memories:
I'll remember standing at the bottom of the downhill course, staring straight up the mountain and thinking, 'There's no way any rational human being would come down this.' But they did, at speeds exceeding 80 miles per hour. Around the two-minute mark of the run, spectators would begin to roar and then a racer would come flying over that last jump and down the hill. That never got old.
I'll remember the noise and emotion inside Bolshoy Ice Dome for the U.S.-Russia men's hockey game. The one-man shootout performance by T.J. Oshie provided a classic ending to a pretty remarkable night.
I'll remember my first ride on the gondola to the top of the Caucasus Mountains and the breathtaking views that greeted me. One morning, while waiting for a cross-country race, I sang along as Florida Georgia Line's "Round Here" blared over the loudspeakers. That made this country boy smile.
I'll remember walking around downtown Sochi the night of the Opening Ceremonies, trying to find locals who would share their thoughts about the Olympics being in their hometown. Only two of the 40-plus people that I approached either could speak English or were willing to talk to me. I gave myself an A for effort on that column idea.
I'll remember watching the sun rise and set over the Black Sea. Sochi certainly has its issues, but the views and venues inside the Olympic bubble are spectacular.
I'll remember the bluebird skies, palm trees and temperatures in the low 60s. For the Winter Olympics. No polar vortex problems here.
I'll remember the helpful volunteers that made covering these Games easier than expected. Two in particular left an impression on me. There was the woman at the mountain media center who directed me to the wrong bus and then realized she had made a mistake. She came onto the bus, pulled me off and took me inside to find someone who spoke better English so that I got on the right bus. Loved her for that.
Then there was the young male volunteer at my hotel's bus stop who performed some amazing card tricks for me early one morning. I'm still puzzled by how he made my card disappear and then re-appear inside a folder that was on a bench five feet away.
I'll remember the abundance of stray dogs that wandered the streets in search of food, shelter and affection. They seemed like good, friendly dogs. It was wonderful to see so many athletes step up and bring some of the dogs home with them.
I'll remember joking about the possibility of covering a judging scandal in my first time covering figure skating. And then it happened. Russian Adelina Sotnikova's stunning victory in ladies figure skating prompted accusations that judges gave her favorable hometown scores. That led to some chaotic moments and confusion after the competition.
I'll remember my overwhelming sense of relief when the hotel down the street finally found my misplaced laundry at 1:45 a.m. one night. 1/8Our hotel/dorm didn't offer laundry service so they sent us to another one.3/8 My laundry had gone missing for more than a day, which created some anxiety as I looked at my dwindling supply of boxers and socks.
I'll remember the absurd moments. Like when the restaurant at our hotel/dorm informed us after dinner that it didn't take credit cards or offer change when we paid with cash.
I'll remember eating at least one meal at the McDonald's inside the main media center for 19 consecutive days because the other options were unappealing, inedible, or inconvenient.
Finally, I'll remember just how much fun I had and the people who made this a great event. Sochi isn't perfect and you wonder what this place will look like five years from now. But I arrived with some apprehension and leave with gratitude. I'd call that a success.
(c)2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services