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Whitelines has been in Russia a week today, and in Sochi since Wednesday evening. But it feels longer. Much longer. So much has happened over the past few days that it's hard to believe that we're still only two contests in, with two more freestyle snowboard comps (men's and women's halfpipe) still left to go.
After all the excitement of watching Jenny Jones win her bronze medal (and the celebrations afterwards) yesterday was quieter, with just halfpipe practise taking place up the hill. So we thought we'd take advantage of the brief lull in the manic schedule to scribble down a few of our thoughts about the winter Olympics so far.
[part title="The Russians are Rad."]
Since we landed in Russia almost everyone we've met has been super friendly.
The Olympic volunteers, despite their hideous uniforms, are really helpful. People in shops, on trains and even taxi drivers all seem stoked to have foreigners here. And last night as one of the venue policemen (who are deliberately dressed down in un-threatening purple uniforms) was checking my ID he said: "Great Britain? I love your country!"
Having been to Russia before, we were kind of expecting the blossoming of vodka-fuelled bromances on nights out. But we definitely weren't anticipating everyone from the the urban camo-wearing Militsia down, to be so welcoming. The overwhelming impression we've been given is that whatever they think of the Olympics, the Russians are stoked to be able to show us their country.
[part title="Those Rumours of Unfinished Venues are Untrue. Largely."]
There's an insane amount of logistics involved in an Olympics. From the security systems (which involve every bus being inspected with mirrors for limpet mines when in enters a venue) to the signage.
Not only that, but at Sochi 2014 rather than build on an existing resort they've created what are basically entirely new towns to host everyone, as well as roads and train tracks to ferry them around, and the security depots and bunkers (yes bunkers!) to protect them. Literally every building is brand spanking new.
Given the ambitious scale of the whole project (my sister who visited Sochi last year while it was all still under construction described the scene as looking like "Saruman's orcs building their army") it's seriously impressive what they've managed to do. And about 95 per cent of it is actually finished.
It's just that every now and again you'll come across a work gang paving a pathway. Or walk up to a building and realise that while the facade is fine, the inside is in pieces. And then there are the bits that even if they were completed, would still be random as hell. Like the "My Russia" area at the bottom of the gondola, which has pavilions representing all of country's regions.
It looks like Disneyland after hours.
Only a bit shitter.
With empty shops selling fur coats at ridiculous prices.
And it's still half built...
[part title="The Crowds are Big and Friendly."]
Both the men's and the women's slopestyle qualifiers have attracted near-capacity crowds. Not everyone is there watching right from the very first run, but in both cases by the time the finals were underway, pretty much every seat was filled and stuff was starting to get rowdy.
Probably helped by the fact that in Russia, it's perfectly acceptable to drink beer for breakfast...
There are a decent number of foreign fans who've braved the ordeal that is applying for a Russian visa too. Including these guys from Team YOU-ESS-AYY (or as one witty commenter put it, Bruce Springsteen's embarrassing extended family)...
And several people repping the UK.
It is definitely noticeable however that the crowds at the Olympics are not your normal snowboarding fans. I mean what's this dude's connection with snowboarding?
Or this pair?
Or this old dear?
Still, it's cool they're all there watching.
[part title="Team GB Really Feels like a Team."]
For all that snowboarding isn't normally a patriotic sport, the natural pride that we feel about the UK scene is emphasised by the Olympic set-up, which sees riders and athletes allocated accommodation based on where they're from.
But although Stale Sandbech was apparently moaning about not being able to eat with his buddies from other countries, this has it's advantages too. Because the Park and Pipe team (ie. the UK's freeskiers and snowboarders) train and travel together, they're obviously tight anyway, but it's still seriously cool to see how much support they give each other.
Whitelines spent most of both slopestyle finals in the company of skiers Emma Lonsdale, Rowan Cheshire and Katie Summerhayes, who were leading the screams of support for Billy, Jenny, Jamie and Aimee.
Not only that, but the Olympic set up means you get people from totally different sports - like Skeleton Bob racer and gold medal hopeful Lizzy Yarnolds - coming down to support the snowboarders. Which is actually pretty rad, and helps create a proper team atmosphere.
[part title="There is a Lot of Pressure"]
Talking to the riders and watching their faces as they were about to drop it was obvious that a lot of them were feeling the pressure. More so than any other comp? Probably. After all this will only happen once every four years, and the audience is literally millions of times larger than anywhere else.
Apparently 3 million people tuned into the BBC's coverage, and that's just in the UK! Plus of course for most of the riders it's probably the only comp their nans would be watching...
It got to a few people. Riders we'd usually expect to put down solid runs like Cheryl Maas, or Sarka Pancochova were stacking, and pre-Games men's favourite Mark McMorris very nearly didn't make the finals - as Billy Morgan said: "He was fretting up at the top, you could see it in his face."
[part title="But That's a Good Thing."]
The best of course could handle the pressure however. And when it comes to the progression of snowboarding as a whole, the pressure was almost undoubtedly a good thing. The Olympic effect - and the idea that they wouldn't get another chance for four years - led to a lot of the riders really upping their game.
The men's slopestyle finals saw Sage Kotsenburg stomp a flat spin 1620 and Billy Morgan crank out a triple backside 1620, tricks which neither of them had done before. Jamie Nicholls also absolutely bossed it whipping out a cab 1440, a trick he'd landed only once before, in qualifiers, and then stepping it up again for finals by adding in a back triple.
Meanwhile the women's comp saw Sina Candrian stomp the first ever 1080 in slopestyle competition and Torah Bright going for a 900.
[part title="Everybody Loves Sage Kotsenberg."]
Snowboarding would really have struggled to find a more popular winner of its inaugural slopestyle Olympic medal than Sage Kotsenburg. The shaggy-haired American, who literally nobody tipped for gold in the lead-up to the Games, seemed as surprised as everyone else to have won.
But it wasn't that which got everyone - including his competitor and Nike team-mate Jamie - frothing. It was Sage's penchant for unusual grabs and slightly out there tricks (I mean who tries a 1620 for the first time ever with a Japan grab?!) "I'm so stoked for Sage, the creativity he showed." Nicholls said.
His good friend Halldor Helgason posted this on Instagram:
Meanwhile at the other end of the snowboarding age scale Todd Richards 'grammed:
And after the post-medal media interviews posted this amusing missive:
I love seeing mainstream media attempt to describe a "holy Crail" to the masses. Sometimes I think it will be better to call it a "thingy".
— toddrichards (@btoddrichards) February 9, 2014
[part title="Torah Bright is Seriously Cool."]
Torah's decision going into these games to try and take on three disciplines - slopestyle, halfpipe and boardercross - might have seemed like madness to some, but to her "they're all just snowboarding."
While her best chance of a medal might be in the pipe, watching her ride the slopestyle course is surely one of the best moments of the games. Along with Jamie Anderson, Enni Rukajarvi and of course our own Miss Jones she was one of the few women who looked completely at ease on the admittedly massive course, and the run she stomped - while not technical enough to get her on the podium, was big, clean and super-stylish.
Unfortunately she didn't manage to hold onto the 900 on her second run that would've put her in podium contention, but it was rad that she went for it. And the best thing about it all? She never stopped smiling the whole way through.
We'll turn once again to Twitter-fiend Todd Richards who said:
...and @TorahBright going for 3 disciplines. I want to ride as good as you when I grow up! Good Luck!!
— toddrichards (@btoddrichards) February 10, 2014
[part title=" Alexey Sobolev is a Lad"]
As the only Russian to qualify for slopestyle (and even then on the 'home rider' rule, which allows the host nation an Olympic place even if their guy hasn't done quite enough) Alexey Sobolev was always going to be expected to do something special. And while he didn't have the tricks to trouble those on the podium, he did have the personality to put on an incredible show. As Billy Morgan put it, "Alexey's a lad!"
From the start, he seemed to refuse to take it seriously, throwing crowd-pleasing backflips off the canon rail and lying down in a porn star pose while receiving his score. And then there was the fact that some people thought his Stepchild board graphic - showing a knife-wielding woman in a balaclava - was a protest about Pussy Riot, something he refused to deny, simply saying "anything is possible."
— Смерть неизбѣжна. (@death_is_invtbl) February 6, 2014
But the thing which made us love him the most? The fact that he wrote his phone number on his helmet and flashed it to the world at every opportunity. Apparently he was made to cover it up with black tape for his second run but by that time enough women had texted him pictures of themselves for it to cause his iPhone to meltdown...
Seriously, if that's not lad then I don't know what is.
[part title="Winning Medals is Amazing"]
Or as Jenny Jones put it when we saw her in the immediate aftermath yesterday: "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, it's so amazing!"
The sheer euphoria writ large across her face was epic. But it wasn't just that, it was infectious - literally anyone who had anything to do with the British team, and even a lot of the supposedly impartial British press pack, was floating around on cloud 9 yesterday.
Meanwhile the Twitter and Facebook storm surrounding her victory showed just how much it meant to everyone at home. So it's perhaps no surprise that a massive party was in order to celebrate. Yes there was vodka (for us, not her, she had interviews in the morning!) yes there was dancing, and yes, at one stage Jenny did end up on someone's shoulders on the dancefloor, both arms aloft and her medal round her neck, looking like the happiest person alive. And why the hell shouldn't she?