Yesterday, “06880″ spotlighted Staples grad Susan Izzo, whose sports management firm represents 4 snowboarders at the Winter Olympics.
This morning, she sent this report from Sochi. Despite reports of roaming packs of stray dogs, poisonous tap water and athletes trapped in bathrooms, Susan is having a great time. She says:
Before my trip Russia I was a bit terrified, due to all of the negative press regarding safety. People in my industry were canceling their trips. They were not willing to risk their lives to support their athletes.
I completely understood. I own a house, a dog and a business. My peers have children and spouses to worry about. I respected their decision.
The flight to Russia was a bit a of trek. I flew from LA to Paris, then to Adler, Russia. As we walked out of the gateway I expected security guards, machine guns, bomb-sniffing dogs, the works. Instead I was greeted by incredibly kind and accommodating Russian volunteers helping us obtain our Olympic credentials and guides to get us to our hotels.
Booking hotels in Russia was difficult. Russia has been preparing for the Games for 7 years. They built a city from the ground up. Unfortunately many of the hotels were not finished in time. The structures here are beautiful. It is like walking around in Whistler, Canada. It is a village-type feel with shops and restaurants and hotels. It could have been amazing, but they ran out of time. Each day we see a new store or restaurant having a grand opening.
We ended up having to book a b-and-b about 9 miles south of the Mountain Cluster, the Olympic Village in the mountains. The accommodations are fine: hot, clean running water, clean beds, private internet, etc. We have visited friends staying at the Marriott, Radisson and other hotels in the mountain cluster that are brand new. They are the first people to stay in the rooms, and when they arrived construction was literally being finished.
I am disappointed in the American media and press. Russia has been amazing. The people are incredibly kind and happy to help. Yes there is a language barrier at times, but I refuse to be an arrogant American who expects everyone to speak English. We have used our iPhone translator and have lots of laughs with the Russians trying to figure out what we are both trying to say. The media scared all of us, when in actuality I could not feel more safe and experience such a wonderful vibe from the Russian community.
The mountain cluster/village is spotless. It has an Austrian vibe, with beautiful buildings on either side of a rushing river. There are a lot fewer people than the Vancouver games, but the Olympic spirit is alive and well.
I am aware of the people who were displaced to build these venues, the laborers who most likely were not treated well, and the absurd amount of money spent on construction. It is disheartening to think about these things, as I imagine this place will be like an empty Vegas strip 2 weeks from now. But in the meantime the media should focus on the athletes — their personal stories, the passion, dedication and perseverance that has gotten them to this place, to have this moment.
Russia, you definitely are not as bad as what the media made you out to be. And it feels good to be cheering for your athletes, as well as ours.