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February 10, 2014

Americans at Sochi - Few and Happy

by James Brooke

President Barack Obama is skipping the Sochi Winter Olympics, American security officials have warned about toothpaste bombs on flights to Russia, and journalists have written about falling curtain rods in showers. So what do American visitors think about the Sochi Olympics? 
 
Leslie Carol Escobar closed up her massage studio in Washington, D.C. and flew to Sochi to experience an Olympics. Outside the Men’s Alpine race, Escobar was easy to spot: she was wrapped in an American flag.
 
“The Russians, they love us," she said. "Yesterday, they were taking so many pictures of us and a bunch of other Americans. My cheeks are hurting because we were smiling and just taking thousands of pictures."
 
The downside: her hotel reservation in the mountains was canceled and she had to take a room two hours away, on the Black Sea Coast.
 
“Everything has been great, but to be honest I expected it to be more organized,” Escobar confided.
 
Tyler Yarnell, an accountant from North Carolina, was cheering in the stands, also draped in a big American flag.  He said he has seen very few Americans:
 
“Handful. Sometimes you hear someone speaking in English and you will perk up your ears. Handful. Five or so,” estimated Yarnell.
 
Asked why there were so few Americans present, he answered, “it is a long way from home."
 
“The route was Charlotte to Atlanta to JFK to Moscow to Sochi; it took about 30 hours,” explained Yarnell.

He also thought the fear of terrorism kept some of his countrymen away, but personally felt safe.
 
“The safety concerns, I feel they are really overblown,” Yarnell said.
 
This is the third Olympics for Michael Vigil, a carpet restorer from New Smyrna, Florida.  Vigil recalled seeing more Americans at other Games he had attended.
 
“[The number of Americans is] down. It is down. Probably because of the threats, the security threats,” said Vigil.
 
However, even with fewer Americans around, Vigil was in good spirits.
 
“I am having a great time. Really enjoying myself,” he said.
 
Benny Ryerson, from Lake Tahoe, California, was not wearing the American flag because he coaches the national slopestyle ski team of Chile.
 
After skiing the Rockies, the Alps and the Andes, Ryerson said the Caucasus offered some of the world’s best slopes.
 
“This mountain, Rosa Khutor, rates among the best mountains I have ever seen, if not the best,” Ryerson said.
 
“As far as mountain terrain goes, this has as good terrain as anywhere you can find in the Alps, better terrain than anywhere I have ever seen in the United States," he explained. "The Chilean mountains are great, but this mountain, I was extremely surprised. I had no idea. This is one of the best mountains I have ever seen."

For the pioneering Americans who made it all the way to Sochi, a big reward is the thrill of discovery.