The Olympics are my drug of choice.
I dabbled in them for six weeks in Russia, working for a wire service that provides quotes, news articles, sport reviews and other services for accredited journalists at the Olympic Winter Games.
It was amazing. But, like any drug, a good binge means a hangover will follow, and I’m working my way through a Sochi-sized doozy right now.
It’s painful, although not totally unfamiliar.
This isn’t my first time working the Olympics. I did the same job in Vancouver 2010, but being so far away from home and in unfamiliar territory, the experience was completely different. I was warned by friends I met in Sochi who are Olympic-coverage veterans that it would hit me like a ton of bricks just as the jet lag started to fade.
They were right. But, it was so worth it.
When I first arrived in Sochi there was hardly any media inside the beautiful 158,000 square metre Main Press Centre. The team of about 200 I joined were getting to know each other and the excitement of the approaching Games hung thick in the air.
Quickly I made a second home out of my office at the Shayba Arena practice rink, and started producing content that was shipped all across the globe and slotted into stories.
When journos finally touched down in Sochi, they changed the tone for a short while, sending out a torrent of complaints on social media sites about below par accommodation.
It only took attention away from the sports they were all there to cover for a short time.
We covered practice after practice getting to know the women’s ice hockey players on a personal level through interviews in the mix zone while the media presence was still scarce.
Then it all began, the flame was lit and it was go time. Sporting highs and lows rolled by at a manic pace, and the next thing I knew it was all coming to a close.
A horrible, horrible close. I know there are many Olympics skeptics, who say the games are a waste of money and resources. But experiencing it on the ground in front of the athletes is amazing.
Seeing the work and time they’ve dedicated to earn a medal is unreal. Being so close to the action we shared their emotions, both tears of joy and sadness.
I was in my dream job of living and breathing hockey with the best players in the world. I even hauled my goalie skates about 10,000 kilometres to Russia and skated on the Olympic ice, something not many can say they have ever done.
I met new friends from all over the world. But for me, the experience is not just about sport. It is an invaluable cultural exchange for both the athletes and everyone who goes along in tow.
I met many Russians, and at times was asked to reassure them I was OK with my accommodation.
I also had to explain, much to their relief, I made no judgments on the subject. In fact, many of my preconceptions were challenged in a country that offered what one colleague referred to as a strange mix of chaos and structure. One day there could be senseless barrier gates across the park and the next day they were gone. After a solid week of rain you may see muddied sidewalks, but the next day there could be beautiful flowers and freshly laid sod alongside sketchy looking manholes.
With such changing goalposts, it’s no wonder you would check in to your venue and get a slight grin from the Russian volunteer and the next day they say “you go hungry” at the canteen because you came in a bit late, knowing that you would be there until the wee hours of the morning.
They wouldn’t listen to any argument you put up because that was the rule, although they couldn’t necessarily explain the rule. Luckily our supervisors took care of us and got that all sorted.
I was told “there are no seat belts to stop the momentum” in our jobs at the Olympics. The experience is so intense, exhilarating and fast-paced that for much of your long days you run on adrenaline. I can only imagine what it is like for the athletes.
It hits hard when you return back to regular life and your brain and body want to keep going. Part of me knew this was going to happen and about halfway through the Games I stepped back for a moment and realized that 90 per cent of the people I know would kill to have a seat ice level at the Olympics or stand in a mix zone talking to the top athletes in the world. I needed to soak in what was happening but adrenaline is a funny thing. It is a rush that seems to bring this greater focus, makes you feel alive and as much as you want to take a breather you just can’t. It explains the extreme crash I am still walking around with having returned last Friday.
You may think, why do this then?
Simply put, it’s a life altering experience and I’m grateful for the opportunity and memories. I’m also holding on the edge of my seat hoping I will get the call again to experience it all over at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Kristi Patton is a reporter with the Penticton Western News.