My name is SGT Dallas Robinson. I am a part of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Men’s Bobsled Team and will be competing in both the two-man and four-man bobsled events. I wanted to take a second and speak to everyone about what I have witnessed here in Sochi, Russia and at the Olympic Village. The U.S. bobsled team was one of the very first teams and nations to arrive. We were the first to experience many of the initial issues, whether it was food in the cafe, a weird smell in a dorm room or even doors locking people into their bathrooms. I have received over a dozen messages with news articles regarding safety concerns, horrible living conditions, stray dogs being killed, and I felt like it was time to give my input. So here we go. This is not political in any nature, just eyewitness testimony from nearly 10 days inside and outside the village walls.
When we landed at the airport we quickly noticed there were armed guards stretched for over a mile placed every 50 meters or so facing outward. This was both exciting and honestly terrifying. Outside of the Olympic village you see military personnel or police on every corner. Upon arriving to the village the security measures seemed a bit extreme, surrounded by razor wire and 10-foot tall fences. You must pass through numerous guarded checkpoints and your credentials will be "scanned" before moving further into the village. Your transportation vehicle, whether it’s a van or a bus, will have security stickers placed on every window and every door. If that seal is cracked upon arrival to the bus’ destination, the entire vehicle will be checked for security concerns. We know this from experience as one of my mischievous and also fun-loving teammates, Johnny Quinn, cracked a window once to get air. We unloaded from the vehicle once we arrived and entered security checkpoints on foot with our luggage. Both you and your luggage are scanned, just like in an airport. After getting through on foot, you then will load into another inter village shuttle to take you where you desire. As military personnel I could speak in more detail about security measures, here but I will not. This is what you need to know: the security, police and military here are very disciplined and very well organized. You can tell they have a mission and it's to protect us at all costs. I will say that I feel unbelievably safe in every Olympic village, venue and yes, even when we are outside of the walls and in town. I have been so impressed with how well manned and how professional the security has been. I would be honored to shake the person’s hand that has been in charge of security over here. There have been other write ups about myself, Nick Cunningham and Johnny Quinn’s adventures in the village and believe me, we have explored and tried to go places we cannot... these guys are good :). Feel free to read them online. Overall though, good job Russia!
I want to paint you a picture of the hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of Russian people we have come in contact with. They have been unbelievably happy, excited, helpful and downright good to us. If you stand in any one place longer than a minute you will have a rainbow clothed volunteer rapidly approach you in broken English asking you if they can help you in any way. I'm from Kentucky and people are friendly in Kentucky. I truly miss the southern hospitality on tour, but I'll tell you something-Kentucky doesn’t have a thing on these people. They have been the most hospital people I have ever been around.
In the game room there are upwards of 15 rainbow-colored workers walking around offering you water, tea or coffee. I'll tell you what else they are doing. They are sitting on a couch between Nick Cunningham and myself showing us on their phone where they live and asking us to show them. They are asking us to "tell them about America" and asking us "What sports we play" and "Do you want to play pool with me?" Last night even I was in the game center with a Canadian friend of mine, Chelsea Valois, and before I knew it she had made friends with one of the workers and he was showering her with magic tricks. They were laughing and carrying on like old buddies. After the game center we went to the village McDonalds, and it's amazing to see how proud they were to be serving us American food, how proud they were to stand behind the counter of a fast-food restaurant for 12-hour shifts! My Canadian friend got to witness nearly every single worker ask for my autograph and hug me tight for a photo with me. That's the kind of McDonalds I would love to eat at in America!
Most of the workers I have come across are very well educated and some were from as far as 9,000 kilometers away! We have met some that attend college in the United States and came back to Russia to be a part of these Olympics, to help in any way that they can. We have this idea that all these security people and staff live in this dark suppressed Russian country and I haven't seen anything but smile lines on their cheeks and pride in their eyes. I'll tell ya’ another thing- the ones we brush elbows with love, I'm talking absolutely love, America.
I have found it is nearly impossible in life to understand something if you don't spend time with it. This holds true with everything from learning to work on a car, learning a new language, prayer time with God and yes, even spending time with people. The more time we spend with these people and the more they spend with us the less we even think about our language or political differences. My uncertainty has quickly become familiarity and the fear of the unknown about Russia has become pride in getting to be here.
I’m sure you have heard that some of the facilities have not been completed. I was in Sochi last February and man, has it come along way since then. The venues are actually about 30 minutes from the city of Sochi and the mountain village is even further. I have explored as many unlocked and perhaps even locked doors as you possibly can. I have gone in a few building’s attics a handful of cellars and perhaps scaled a fence or ducked under a construction ribbon. Yes I am a bit mischievous, but I heard all the same things you guys have heard. That nothing is done!
There is a lot of construction still outside of the villages and even a bit inside of the villages. The hotels, rivers, bridges and towns were all built within the last couple years. There are three times as many buildings as when I visited last February. They plan to continue to build this region into a flourishing vacation spot for Russian people. The hard work and diligence of the Russian people have been tireless if nothing else. Ok, so what isn't done? Well, I can tell you this, no one is without a good-sized room (larger than Vancouver), nice beds, heat and running water, that's for sure. I am unsure why a few things here and there are unfinished, perhaps in the village itself they overestimated how much room will be needed so they halted construction in certain areas to focus on the more important ones? Or perhaps they decided 50 billion dollars was enough to be spent. Everywhere I have explored that is unfinished is clean, safe and orderly. There is a bit of construction dust and such, but it's not as if wires are hanging down and holes in the earth’s crust are going to swallow you whole.
The little things often get blown out of proportion. Example, my teammate Johnny Quinn managed to get locked into his bathroom. He actually came and got me to finagle the door open earlier in the day so he could brush his teeth. When we returned from breakfast he decided to shower, and the door got jammed. His roommate wasn't there and we couldn’t hear him next door yelling for us to come let him out. Ok, maybe I heard some muffles through the wall, but I figured it was just someone having a convo...besides I was napping. After an hour of being stuck in there, Johnny realized the bathroom door construction was very thin, a lot like doors in the U.S. So he started to hack away at it and made a hole he could climb out of. Of course this made national headlines and rightfully gained Johnny 10,000 twitter followers. It is such a funny story, but this has happened to myself and others elsewhere where we get locked in or our of a place and have to break in. We still laugh at it all the time, but this in no way shows that construction was less than ideal for a condo. The walls and hall doors are amazingly insulated and meant to be sound proof! Talk about a great perk to condo living!
I can speak for the bobsled facility, and there is not facility in the world that rivals its construction. The warm up area, the sled docking area and the track itself is completely covered from the elements with walkways along side of it. The construction and attention to detail is absolutely amazing and even the ice on the track is next to perfect.
Three days ago we attended Opening Ceremony. I am a first-time Olympian, but I can speak also for those who sat around me who weren't. The facility, the performance, the organization all was amazing! As we approached the stadium, we passed rows and rows of Russian people standing against the fence. We joked and spoke of movies like Rocky, etc. and we were awaiting the food and trash to be thrown on our fancy sweaters and us. We were awaiting the crowd to say "booo" but we were welcomed with "USA, USA, USA" chants with a distinct Russian accent. This made me so proud to be an American! This made me feel as if we had won the Olympics already. I truly was in awe during most of the ceremony itself, which may sound easy to do for a guy from Kentucky, but everyone else had the same commentary. They did an unbelievable job of mixing the old with the new, magic with machine and circus with ballroom. What an amazing production.
I want to recap my experiences here in saying that knowledge, grace and love can change the hardest of hearts. If we focus on all of the amazing things Russia has done to put these games on...if we focus on all the amazing Russian and non Russian volunteers, security, military and construction workers and look at all they have sacrificed to host this for us...if we focus on the purpose of the games and the unity of the rings I think we will all see the Good is in us and the people here. The hash tag #SochiProblems should perhaps say #Unapreciative. Most of us athletes have now realized these people are trying their hardest to show us love and show us how proud to be Russians they are. They are doing right by us and I hope everyone back home knows that these people are taking care of us as if though we were from their very families. Thank you all so much and I cannot wait to get back to the US.
SGT Dallas W. Robinson