If you’re in a state of post-Olympic malaise, we’ve got just the cure. You see, while you were watching the games from the comfort of your couch here on the great plains, Prairie Village resident and Yahoo! Sports writer Jeff Passan was in Russia for three weeks, stationed for much of his stint up in the mountains to report on skiing and snowboarding events. We caught up with him this week to find out what it was like to be at the most-expensive games in history in person. Live vicariously, NEJCers!
PVP: A lot was made out of the accommodations for journalists in Sochi. Were they as bad as people made them out to be? I mean, were you missing a door to your hotel room or anything?
JP: For some people, they were certainly substandard, though it was media accommodations in a place built from scratch with funds siphoned off to the president’s friends, so people with expectations of luxury were fooling themselves. Because I was up in the mountains, and the hotels there expect business past the Olympics, my hotel was actually rather nice. The worst part was two minutes after I arrived. I put in my electrical adapter, then tried to plug in a power strip, which did not sit well with the wiring system. Fuse blew, and I sat in dark for the next 90 minutes before someone came to fix it.
PVP: You covered a number of the skiing and snowboarding events at the games. Which event sticks out to you the most or was the most dramatic to watch?
JP: There were so many great events. I saw Americans win six gold medals — and that’s not counting Vic Wise, an American competing for Russia who won two more. Listening to Sage Kotsenburg was a treat. Hearing Jamie Anderson practically one-up him a day later was fantastic. Maddie Bowman’s grandma was the best. So many families told great stories. Ultimately, though, it didn’t get better than Iouri Podladtchikov’s gold medal in halfpipe snowboarding. Not only did he beat Shaun White, he did so coming back to his homeland. His family hopscotched around Europe and settled in Switzerland, but his blood is Russian, and the crowd embraced him as one of its own even though he competed for the Swiss. I’ll never forget the hour after he won. After he finished the media obligations, a crowd started following him. He encouraged it along, and then it almost swallowed him, looking for pictures, autographs, anything. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an athlete so fully embrace a moment, and it was poignant not just because of where it was or who he beat but what it was: this counterculture sport drawing incredible support.
PVP: So, about Maddie Bowman’s grandma… Tell us more.
JP: So, there’s a woman who keeps yelling “Mad-dee B! Mad-dee B! Mad-dee B!” I figure it’s some relative of Maddie Bowman, the halfpipe skier who was about to win a gold medal. Right after Maddie clinched it, I went up to the woman and asked who she was. She told me her name was Lorna Perpell, and she was Maddie’s grandma. “I’ve got something to show you,” she said. She started unzipping her jacket. I immediately began worrying about what my wife was going to say when I told her a grandma was thrown into the gulag for lewd and lascivious. Thankfully, she was giving me the first peek at what soon would go viral: a T-shirt that said BADASS GRANDMA. The shirt, it turns out, was apropos. She was funny, sweet, caring — the sort of grandmother anyone would be lucky to have. And not only was Maddie Bowman lucky enough to have her, she left Sochi with a gold medal, too.
Welcome back, Jeff!