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    Dispatches from Sochi: Loon ski patrolers lend hand

    Eddie Sacco and Gerry Brown have been on the ski patrol at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire for more than 30 years. Their expertise in mountain rescue has brought them to three Olympics: Salt Lake City in 2004, Vancouver in 2010, and now Sochi.

    At the Games, these are the guys who set the safety fences, spray the dye in the snow, and are the first responders to the athletes when they fall and get hurt. Sacco and Brown handle races on the World Cup circuit in Lake Louise, Canada, and throughout North America.

    As part of their job, they get to see the racing action closer than just about everyone except the racers themselves.


    “It’s heart-pounding,” Sacco said. “They’re doing between 85 and 100 miles an hour going right past you, and in total control and you’re just in awe.”

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    Teeming with teams

    When Yuka Sato and husband Jason Dungjen go to their closets, they need to be very careful.

    Imagine donning the wrong national jacket when accompanying your skaters to the rink.

    The coaches from Michigan are working with Olympians representing three nations: the United States, Italy, and Japan. It can get quite frenetic with practice sessions piling up one after the other.


    Have they worn the wrong apparel?

    ‘‘Not yet,’’ Dungjen said. ‘‘We’ve been doing a good job on the jackets, but I check the schedule five times before I put it on.’’

    Dungjen has found sizing the jackets to be more of a chore. He is wearing an extra/extra large Japan model — ‘‘beyond double XL’’ — and an extra large for Italy. Large did the trick for the United States, although Dungjen hardly is hefty.

    Both are former Olympic skaters, Sato as an individual for Japan, Dungjen in pairs for the US. Their athletes are American champion Jeremy Abbott; Japanese pair Marumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara; Italy singles skater Valentina Marchei; and Italy pair Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek — only Dungjen is listed as a coach for them.



    Standing tall


    US pairs champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir are from the Boston area. So naturally, they were eager to meet Bruins captain Zdeno Chara at the Sochi Olympics.

    Chara is captain of the Slovakia team, and the figure skaters tracked him down to take a photo and chat with them.

    Castelli stands 5 feet tall, so the 6-9 Chara towered over her.

    ‘‘He’s pretty big,’’ she said with a laugh Tuesday after the Americans finished ninth in the short program. ‘‘He’s a really sweet guy, but really tall.’’

    She should be used to tall. Shnapir is 6-4. He’s also a big-time Bruins fan and has a shirt that has been signed ‘‘by pretty much all of the Bruins here and the coaches who are here.’’

    ‘‘Getting Chara was huge for me,’’ Shnapir added, sounding just like a kid meeting his idol.



    Waxing down the boards

    Hours before the start of any cross-country skiing or biathlon race, the wax cabins next to the courses are already a hive of activity. It’s here, inside the barrack-like structures, that gold medals can be won or lost before the skiers even get to the starting line.

    Finding the right wax setup is a difficult science, and the top teams have more than a dozen technicians preparing up to 30 different pairs of skis before each race. Different snow temperatures require different setups to get the right amount of glide and grip, and getting it wrong can ruin even a strong favorite’s chances. With about 500 different wax products to choose from, the combinations are endless, and getting it right requires years of experience.

    ‘‘It can make or break a medal performance,’’ said American cross-country skier Andrew Newell. ‘‘That’s on the shoulders of a wax tech.’’

    Teams have their staff test the skis on the course, and each skier could get a unique setup depending on his preferences. The best setups are guarded like state secrets, with technicians speaking in code to each other over the radio so other teams can’t copy them.



    It’s all a blur

    To US figure skater Jason Brown, everything on the ice is a blur.

    He prefers it that way.

    Brown wears eyeglasses, though he says his prescription is not that strong. He eschews them when skating, however, and it works.

    ‘‘It really helps me block things out,’’ he said. ‘‘I see the audience and the rink as a whole.’’

    Brown had tried skating with glasses years ago, and then with contacts last year at the Junior Grand Prix event in the Iceberg. He soon realized that wouldn’t work because it made things too vivid.

    ‘‘I had to ask Kori [Ade, his coach] why the lights reflected off the ice,’’ Brown recalled.



    Resting in peace

    Stadiums, the Olympic torch, food stalls — what else can you expect to see in an Olympic park? In Sochi, a cemetery.

    A small graveyard of Old Believers, a purist sect that branched out of the Russian Orthodox church during the 17th century, is smack in the middle of Olympic Park in Sochi. It goes completely unnoticed by passersby who walk along a round plot of land surrounded by a tinted glass fence and lined with almost identical and impenetrable fir trees.

    Guarding the entrance to the cemetery are four police officers from Moscow and a police van.

    ‘‘Why should we, Russians, bother?’’ said one, who wouldn’t give his name when approached. ‘‘We always turn a funeral into a wedding.’’

    Before construction for the Sochi Games, the area that is now Olympic Park was home to a community of Old Believers, with a cemetery next to it. The Old Believers have been relocated to a village nearby, but they insisted on leaving the graves of their forebears intact.