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Whitelines' contributing editor Nina was out in Sochi for the entire duration of the Games, working for a broadcast company. Her six weeks in Russia taught her a thing or two...

As I waited to board my plane to Sochi a month ago, I overheard an American ask his friend if this was his first time in Sochi. He said yes. “Four weeks in Sochi is like four years anywhere else," replied the American. How true this is.

So, how was the whole experience of the Sochi Winter Olympics? When I arrived, it was a ghost town. A week later, I was fighting for a place on the 8am bus. If there's ever a true example of "the people make the place", it's the Olympics.

While working here, I've had a few strange experiences, drunkenly danced my way through some good nights out (one ended by hitching a lift home in a police car) and learnt much more about the Russian culture and Olympics than I ever thought I would.

I arrived nervous. I've left feeling like I've got Russia sussed. Well, Sochi at least. So what exactly did I learn? You'll have to read on to find out...

[part title="Always Expect The Unexpected"]


I saw some strange things in Russia. These included:

  • A man washing his armpits with snow up at the cross-country stadium.
  • Tinned horse meat in the supermarket.
  • “Beer cocktails" in an Irish pub. A phenomenon we should bring to the UK?
  • Female police officers wearing thigh-high leather boots and mini skirts –and no one batting an eyelid.
  • Stray dogs everywhere. In the stadiums. Sunbathing outside the media centre. Inside hotel lifts. On roofs. These creatures get around.
  • A bearded bloke on rollerblades outside the main media centre, with three husky dogs on a single lead, holding a GoPro on a stick.

[part title="Cigarettes cost the same as chewing gum"]

Photo: Wikipedia

Cigarettes are cheap in Russia. So cheap. In one supermarket, a packet of chewing gum was the same price as a pack of fags – roughly 60p for 20. They’ve recently brought in a law to stop people from smoking in public places i.e. the street, but it’s clearly not working as I’ve definitely seen a couple of cheeky fags being smoked around corners. Oh, and apparently Russians think Western cigarettes taste like crap. Who knew?

[part title="Russian teenagers know more about English literature than we do"]

Chek-who? Photo: Hulton Archives

I just thought my roommate was particularly well-read when she reeled off the English books she'd read. It turns out most Russian students have know their Dickens, the Brontes, Jane Austen, Shakespeare. They actually read them in their spare time. I know... Interestingly, George Orwell doesn't feature very highly in Russia. But it put me to shame when they started asking me whether I preferred the works of Chekhov or Dostoyevsky...

[part title="Big Brother Is Watching You"]


When it came to hosting such a high profile event, there was no doubt that Russian security were going to be all over it. We were told before we got here that everyone's correspondence would monitored - but we didn't realise how extensively. Let's just saw on two separate occasions I've heard of calls being tapped. One person was having a conversation with a friend in Sochi about certain touchy security subjects. The call was immediately cut off. And not reconnected for a long time. You can take Russia out of the USSR...

[part title="Russia Is Not Cold"]

Casual bit of topless filming from one camera man. Photo: Nina Zietman

Contrary to popular belief, Russia isn't cold. As I'm sure you've all heard on countless occasions, Sochi was hot. I never thought I would be sat watching the slopestyle qualis in a t-shirt, but I was. After all, it's not Siberia - it's only a stone's throw from Turkey, so it wasn't exactly a huge surprise when the halfpipe started to droop like an Easter Egg left on the windowsill too long.

[part title="You've done six Olympics? That's nothing!"]

Giuliano rockin' the umbrella hat. Photo: arrakis.es

I met an Italian sports photographer called Giuliano who is on his 24th Olympics. Yep, 24. 12 Summer and 12 Winter Olympics. He's now nearly 70-years-old and he's still hiking up slopes and jumping into photo pits with all the photographers. He told me he liked the early Olympics the most, “because I was young then!" I asked him where he’s off to next. He said the World Cup in Rio later this year. I mention that England aren’t likely to do very well, even though we’re always hoping for a re-run of 1966 – does he remember that? “Oh yes," he says, “I was there."

[part title="Snowboarders Have The Most Fun"]

Aimee and Billy

OK, so this isn't news to us. We already knew this, but the rest of the world didn't. I think this was one of the most important things I learnt about the Olympics - that it brings people together who've never even watched a slopestyle competition and gets them excited about snowboarding. Even my mum was getting into it. She was texting me updates of the tricks Jenny Jones' was stomping when I wasn't there! The vibe up at the Extreme Park was the best out of any venue, because the riders are all mates and at the end of the day, they're here to have fun.