SOCHI, RUSSIA —
Sochi isn't the best-connected Olympic host city. Most visitors have to travel through hubs like Moscow or Frankfurt to get there. And in a country as huge as Russia, some of those sports fans are undertaking treks of several days and thousands of kilometers - by air, road, rail and sea. People are taking epic journeys to see the Games.
They’ve travelled about 10,000 kilometers from the American Midwest to Sochi; Sean Gushing and Steven Lunsford are two of the self-proclaimed "Singing Men of Oklahoma."
“The Singing Men of Oklahoma are a group of 90 men, we’ve paid our own way to come to Sochi, to pray for the people of Sochi, to share goodwill, to enjoy the Games," said Gushing. "We’ve sung all over the city. On the buses, we’ve sung in the train station, in the trains, anywhere we could find people who would listen.”
The 90 Singing Men of Oklahoma are staying three to a room on board one of cruise ships docked in Sochi harbor.
The liners provide a quick fix for the shortage of hotel rooms in the city. Also on board are Sevgenya Marozava and Anastasia - two dancers who won a Russian competition to come and see the Games.
“We are from Irkutsk, near Lake Baikal in Siberia,” said Marozava. “We went by plane to Moscow, that took 6 hours. Then we took the train from Moscow to Sochi, which took 24 hours.”
For most international visitors the first experience of Sochi is the sparkling new airport terminal, staffed by dozens of smiling volunteers.
But for many Russians eager to cheer on their heroes, there is a cheaper, albeit slower option - the infamous Russian railway.
Riding the rails
Trains arrive at Sochi’s ornate station from across Russia. There are several trains a day from Moscow - a 24 hour, 1,500-kilometer journey. Others come from Siberia in the east, and St. Petersburg in the west.
Yuna Salavyova described her family’s Olympic odyssey.
“We have come from the Western-most point of Russia, from Kaliningrad. It took me two times 24 hours, so 48 hours to come here. You know our Russia is a great big country. So guys, I wish you were here, it is splendid, the sun is shining brightly, people are smiling everywhere,” said Salavyova.
The train also brings arrivals from the airport - like Linda Want and Kimberley Moss from the United States.
“I started in Minneapolis. She started in San Francisco. We met in London,” said Want.
“So we left the States last Saturday, arrived in London on Sunday, and then went on to Finland, spent a day in Finland, spent a couple of days in Moscow seeing the sights, and then arrived here today,” said Moss.
Canadian Brad McCallum has made a pilgrimage of thousands of kilometers from Toronto for one thing only - the ice hockey. “It’s in our blood as Canadians, so we’re here to support the team.”
As the travellers emerge into the warm sunshine of Sochi, many of them agree on one thing: The incredible journey is all part of the Olympic adventure.