Sochi 2014: Perspectives


Visitors to the Olympic Cauldron and rings at the Olympic Park in the coastal cluster of Sochi / Adler.

It’s great to be writing one of my last 2014 Winter Olympics blogs from the comfort of my own bed in the United States. So what if it’s 2:40 pm? Judge lest ye be judged! After going nonstop for three weeks, this time to recharge my batteries was much needed and earned.

I initially set out to do a blog per day while I was in Russia, but things during the last week started to get really tiring. Late night finishes followed by early morning wake-ups for the next event left me with a choice of getting four hours of sleep, or getting two and posting a blog. To keep my health and sanity in check, I chose the former.

While I had to forego a few interesting tales and images that I would have shared in those skipped blog entries, there is one story that I do want to share with you here after the fact. It’s one that gave me a new perspective on covering the athletes, as well as a renewed appreciation for the skill they possess as Olympic athletes.


Yours truly, learning how to ski for the very first time on the Olympics Alpine Course (albeit in a very, very flat area).

After days of watching course workers and athletes alike glide past me on skis, I decided to ask Nick Carter, our network administrator, to take me up for an introductory skiing lesson. Nick, who’s very laid-back and patient, is a lifelong skier who’s grandfather managed a ski hill. Conversely, with my upbringing in the rust belt of the Midwest, I’ve never had skis on once. What better place to learn then at the Winter Olympics?

Nick took me to a fairly flat spot on the Alpine course where I’d be able to slowly glide around for a few hundred feet at a time. I’m proud to report that I only fell once, and I found the skis to be far more stable than ice skates (the only other remotely similar winter sport that I’d tried previously).

Skiing was a lot of work. While gliding down inclines is pretty much gravity’s responsibility, there is a lot of muscle use involved to stay upright and to keep yourself going in the direction you want to go. Moving across flat ground (like the cross country skiers do) can be flat-out exhausting. I left my skiing experience humbled and appreciating the prowess that the Olympics athletes demonstrate each time they take the course.


Anais Caradeux (FRA) in the ladies freestyle ski half pipe during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. (This image was created by rapidly rotating my camera in my hands, set to a slow shutter speed, at the same time the athlete rotated out of the halfpipe.)

Later that evening, when I arrived at Extreme Park to cover the Ladies Freestyle Ski Halfpipe event, I was excited to pay closer attention to some of the techniques the skiers would use that I’d gotten to try earlier that day. I got in position up on the halfpipe deck to photograph the competition up close, where I’d come within ten feet of the competitors as they performed their tricks.

While the ladies put forth the same amount of effort and drive as their male counterparts on the halfpipe, it quickly became apparent that they weren’t getting as much air as the guys did a few nights prior during their competition. Some of the ladies were barely leaving the pipe, prompting a few photographers shooting alongside me to laugh out loud as the athletes passed them.


Despite their best efforts, many of the ladies did not get as much air on the halfpipe as their male counterparts I’d photographed previously.

I felt embarrassed as those photographers carried on like immature youngsters. First of all, I know the athletes can hear us on the pipe if we can hear every grunt and yelp from them as they pass by. Can you imagine being a 17-year-old athlete at the Olympics, having a bad run, and hearing people laugh at you on top of it?

Secondly, with my fresh perspective on how difficult it was to ski, I remember thinking that even the worst of the athletes that day still had far, far more skill that I’ll ever have with a pair of skis, and that made watching even the smallest scoring runs that night impressive. It was a sobering dose of perspective (and also a reminder of what professionalism isn’t).


The sun sets over the Sochi Airport.

My time at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was peppered with these doses of perspective. From being thankful that (for the most part) clean, running water isn’t a rarity in the United States, to realizing that the rudeness I sometimes experience from people back home in “The Region” doesn’t necessarily reach across oceans.

06_022714_sochiVisitors to the Olympic Cauldron at the Olympic Park in the coastal cluster of Sochi / Adler.

I learned that the world is filled with many more friendly, helpful individuals than the opposite – Olympics volunteers greeted us daily with huge smiles and hello’s. I learned (or re-learned) that the American media tends to hype-up and sensationalize things – I felt safer in Russia than I do on the streets of Chicago. I re-learned that critical planning and people skills are responsible for some of my best images – my full moon through the Olympics rings wouldn’t have happened without them.


Visitors to the Bolshoy Ice Dome at the Olympic Park in the coastal cluster of Sochi / Adler.

Having a front-row seat to athletes making the runs of a lifetime, and being able to share those moments captured through my lens with the entire world, is something that I don’t take lightly, and something that never gets old. I still get the chills when I photograph a flowers or medals ceremony, seeing athletes in tears of joy at accomplishing their life’s work. And, in some ways, I’m accomplishing mine right alongside them.

08_022714_sochiAlena Zavarzina (RUS) reacts after her second run of the ladies’ parallel giant slalom small final during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Zavarzina won the bronze medal.

09_022714_sochiAnders Soedergren (SWE, 21) and Noah Hoffman (USA, 22) lead the field as they approach a tunnel in the cross country skiing men’s 50km mass start free event during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center.

10_022714_sochiIivo Niskanen (FIN) leads the field in the cross country skiing men’s 50km mass start free event.

11_022714_sochiA technician disassembles a gyro-stabilized rail camera system following the cross country skiing men’s 50km mass start free event. Some of the gear at the Olympics used in my other disciplines fascinates me, and (over the years) I’ve managed to figure out when I’m one question away from being annoying when pestering these crew members about how things work!

12_022714_sochiThe USA Today Sports crew wraps up operations on their final day of work. (From left) Editor Shanna Lockwood, network administrator Nick Carter, editor Bob Rosato, photographer Jack Gruber, editor Angie Walton, and photographer Nathan Bilow all put in many long hours to make our coverage a success! Any Olympics images you saw in USA Today from me flowed through this office and team.

13_022714_sochiA cableway enshrouded in fog is illuminated just above the Rosa Khutor village we called home.

14_022714_sochiColleague John David Mercer photographed me having a delusional episode featuring visions of ice in drinks, constant-temperature showers, and of forgetting my credential back home where it isn’t necessary. I came to shortly after this image was taken and finished packing.

15_022714_sochiMy colleagues waiting for our airport shuttle at 1am along with enough baggage for a party more than quadruple our size.

Olympics: Feature-Mountain Cluster ViewsElena Osmanova of Russia cries while watching the closing ceremony at a live site in the mountain cluster.

Olympics: Feature-Mountain Cluster ViewsFireworks explode in the sky over a live site in the mountain cluster.

Posted in Photography, Photojournalism, Sochi Winter Olympics, Sports, Thoughts On Life, Travel by Guy Rhodes on February 27th, 2014.

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