Spread across the snow-capped Caucasus Mountains, the venues for skiing, snowboarding, and sliding are somewhat precariously perched along hairpin, turn-filled access roads. Or, if you want a more scenic route, you can take a gondola. But for reporters, getting to events such as women’s bobsled or men’s giant slalom, it’s just part of the adventure. Once you arrive, it’s often a climb or hike or both to the “mixed zone,” where interviews with athletes take place.
Mixed zones are infamous for their crowding and chaos, but out in the elements, the scene is even more entertaining and chilling. The Sochi Games may be the least wintry Olympics yet, except when you’re standing in a mixed zone for two hours at night in temperatures near freezing.
It makes the Games a unique, if sometimes painfully cold or wet or both, reporting experience.
So, what happens when Ted Ligety or Mikaela Shiffrin or Hannah Kearney or Shaun White or the women’s bobsled team goes for gold?
Well, at the Alpine skiing venue, a skiing lane wraps around in front of the mixed zone. Coaches and course workers carrying gates and snow-grooming equipment ski past. Once you dodge the skiers, you follow zig-zag fencing into the actual mixed zone. The fencing is marked with the flags of different countries, mainly countries with skiers who have large press followings. Athletes stop at the sections marked by their flags, though the uber-successful Austrians are always eager to chat with American reporters.
Over at bobsled, it’s about a half-mile uphill climb along a sharply curved road from the press center to the mixed zone. Then, the much smaller media crowd spreads out on two levels. The upper platform overlooks the area where the athletes exit their sleds after each run. At the Extreme Park, it’s a roughly mile-long trek between press center and mixed zone. And the mixed zone drew large crowds for marquee extreme events such as the men’s snowboard halfpipe. So, when White blew past without talking on his way to a drug test after a disappointing fourth-place finish, the tightly-packed mixed zone corral was cold and angry.
When athletes come by and stop, it’s often a mad crush to get microphones in front of their faces. In fact, when Shiffrin spoke after her first giant slalom run, one reporter lost her balance as the crowd rushed forward on slick, slushy snow. Shiffrin started her comments by saying to the media, “OK, find your feet.” Not always easy in the mountains.
Humor helps Kerrigan heal
Twenty years later, Nancy Kerrigan tries to chuckle when she recounts the plots against her as the 1994 Lillehammer Games approached. She does that, she says, because she has to.
Kerrigan suffered a badly bruised right knee when an associate of Tonya Harding’s ex-husband whacked her with a baton after a practice during the national championships. Kerrigan recoverd in time for the Olympics, where she earned a silver medal.
It was later learned that some of the plots from the group had a lot more sinister intentions. FBI transcripts that Kerrigan reviewed showed that they discussed myriad ways to keep her from the Olympics, including hitting her with a car, tying her up and slashing her Achilles’ tendon and killing her. But the group proved to be a bumbling one, getting lost on the way to her practice facility and generally bungling the operation.
‘‘I’m so lucky for bad guys not knowing what they’re doing,’’ Kerrigan said Friday after a screening of the NBC special ‘‘Nancy and Tonya.’’ “It’s not funny because they still did attack me and there’s nothing really funny about getting attacked. But I had to literally try to find some humor. That helps heal.’’
After crossing the finish line on her first slalom run, Lebanon’s Jacky Chamoun, 22, waved her ski poles as if she had just won a medal.
Turns out, a race was just the distraction she needed after topless photos surfaced of her on the Internet.
Chamoun wasn’t the fastest in her opening run Friday but Chamoun made up for it in gusto as she celebrated making it through the tricky course setting.
‘‘I'm so happy to be here. It’s a great feeling to participate,’’ she said.
Chamoun said after her run that she didn’t give the off-the-slopes drama a second thought. Shortly after she arrived in Sochi, behind-the-scenes footage from a calendar shoot three years ago was posted online.
That prompted a Lebanese government official to order an investigation. The implication was Chamoun had harmed the country’s reputation.
‘‘Small things aren’t going to disturb me, even if it was a big story in the country,’’ Chamoun said. ‘‘For me, I just continue. It’s not a big obstacle.’’
Chamoun talked about the video incident with photographer and calendar organizer Hubertus Von Hohenlohe, the German prince and skier who will compete in his sixth Olympics for Mexico on Saturday. She said he apologized but that it’s ‘‘not his fault.’’
She also said many in Lebanon have offered support through Facebook.
‘‘They’re telling me, ‘We don’t need you to medal. We don’t need you to win. We’re just glad you represent the country and you do it very well,’ ’’ Chamoun said.
As the number of positive tests for doping at the Olympics has dwindled in recent years, the age-old debate has only increased. Are drug enforcement officials winning? Or are the athletes and those around them just finding more advanced throw the dogs off the scent?
On a day two athletes became the first announced drug test failures of the Sochi Games, that conversation is being had once again. It should come as no surprise that Arne Ljungqvist, the chairman of the IOC’s medical commission, sides with his guys.
‘‘Who knows who is the smartest, the athletes and their entourage or our scientists,’’ Ljungqvist said earlier in the Sochi Games. ‘‘I put my money on our scientists are probably smarter than those around the athletes.’’