SOCHI, Russia -- Ready to become an Olympian, Zach Lund had already laid his Opening Ceremony uniform out on his bed when he received the news. Two hours before the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games officially got under way, he was notified that he had tested positive in doping control. He would not be participating in the Opening Ceremony, or any of the 2006 Games.
The substance he had been taking to prevent thinning hair – which has since been removed from the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list – put an end to his run before it even began. His Games were done, but as a Team USA athlete, they were not quite over.
Former USOC CEO Jim Scherr invited Lund to a place athletes have been calling their home away from home now for 12 years. In Torino, Scherr invited Lund to USA House.
"That was the first time I went to USA House and I watched the Opening Ceremony I was planning on being in," Lund said this week at the Sochi edition of USA House. "They let me keep all my team gear and told me I was an Olympian. That meant a lot to me."
The first USA House sprang up at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. The house has been used as a celebratory space for U.S. athletes and their loved ones. In Sochi – just steps away from the Medals Plaza in the Olympic Park – it has become a place to unwind, eat, play and spectate. For Lund, on that day in 2006, it even became a place to seek solace.
"It has such a good atmosphere," said Alan Ashley, chief of sport performance for the USOC and U.S. chef de mission. "Athletes and their coaches and our guests all mingle with each other and it's kind of a home away from home."
USA House in Sochi has even garnered a visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin who told a reporter the experience was “fantastic.” President Putin added in English, "Good people and good results ... good party."
For Alex Izykowski, a current assistant coach with the U.S. short track team who won bronze in the men's 5,000-meter relay in 2006, USA House has become a living room of sorts for these Games.
"I've gotten to see this place at different times. I came here to watch the Opening Ceremony," he said. "It's a great place to come after the day to unwind and get something to eat."
For two-time Olympic long track speedskater Jilleanne Rookard, USA House has served as an extended arena.
"When everybody is watching and cheering, it gets me pumped," Rookard said of the rallying support at USA House. "Because then I know they're also watching and supporting me."
Since 2008, USA House has also become the site for presentations of the Order of Ikkos. Ashley and others at the USOC created the medal presentation as a way for U.S. Olympic medalists to recognize the coaches and individuals who supported their careers in sport.
"A lot of time, coaches aren't recognized," Ashley said. "The athletes are the ones who go out there and perform, but behind them is a team, and the team is often led by the coach who is instrumental in helping the athletes reach their absolute full potential."
The Ikkos medallion, which is customized for every Olympic Games, is named after the first recorded Olympic coach in Ancient Greece. Ikkos became a renowned coach for leading two Tarentine athletes to gold in the sport of pentathlon.
In Sochi so far, coach Skogan Sprang is the winningest Ikkos recipient with three total medals from slopestyle skiing silver medalist Devin Logan and two athletes from the U.S. set that swept the men's podium.
"Getting two Ikkos awards from Joss [Christensen] and Gus [Kenworthy] representing gold and silver and another from Devin is the coolest thing hat has ever happened to me as a coach," Sprang said. "I am so proud of their accomplishments and am very honored to be recognized by them in this way."
Lund, who made his Olympic debut at USA House eight years ago, on Sunday also received an Ikkos award. The now assistant coach of the U.S. skeleton team – who formally became an Olympian at the 2010 Games – was awarded the medal from Sochi silver-medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace.
"When she won, she came down and she told me beforehand 'I'm going to win a medal today,'” Lund said.
Pikus-Pace continued, “’and it's our medal.'”