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Rio reminds me of Sochi

It was a great experience to volunteer at Sochi, meet new people, and ride cable cars to work

Richik Sengupta
Mon, Jul 7 2014

About Richik

Born in Moscow to Indian parents, Richik’s interest in Mathematics drove him to study the subject. He enjoys playing chess and watching Barcelona play football. At ease with Russian and Bengali, Richik is equally fond of ‘Luchi’ and ‘Blini’

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The soccer world cup is a major event for any country, so is the Olympics Games. One needs to be present during such events to understand their significance and grandeur.

The world cup matches in Brazil remind me of Sochi – the Russian city on the Black Sea coast which hosted the Winter Games early this year. I had the rare opportunity to work as a volunteer there. I always wanted to go to Sochi and do something for the country that has served me well.

We reached Sochi sometime in late January. As I looked out of the window of the bus taking us to the volunteer village ‘Morozko’ – named after a traditional Russian fairy tale, Sochi gave me an impression of a newly built city of the future. The people in the bus seemed to have been teleported from the past.

I got out of the bus following instruction from a ‘babushka’ or an elderly Russian woman. She said that we reached ‘Gorkygorod Two or Hill City Two’. There I got lost, entered a hotel and was mistaken for a new recruit. I managed to contact my team leader, who told me to follow the volunteers to reach ‘Morozko’.

I successfully located a couple of volunteers and trotted through muddy roads that showed no sign of the upcoming games to ‘Morozko’. Soon the roads would be rebuilt. A roommate of mine had remarked that probably on the day of the opening the earth would crack open and a new Sochi would replace the old one.

‘Morozko’ was a cluster of newly built houses that had all the necessary elements to be called a volunteer village. I called it ‘Zombie land’. Due to the closed environment of the village when one person fell ill others faced the same fate. This was like the spread of 'zombies' - one zombie turning other people into zombies.

Eight people stayed in each apartment and my roommates were doping control officers. They had access to all Olympic objects and could gather beverages meant for sportsmen. Their job though was to keep an eye on the sportsmen and stop them from consuming beverages out of turn. 

If people in a village usually have access to fresh and healthy food, we in ‘Morozko’ had to live on frozen stuff and only two spoons of soup a day. This reminded me of the story of Oliver Twist that I had read in my childhood days. My roommates and I managed to buy ourselves a heater and the utensils were ‘borrowed’ by the officers from the cafeteria for the sportsmen. That meant freshly prepared food and constant flow of guests in our apartment during the stay in Sochi.

In a couple of days, I got the accreditation and the uniform. The uniform was of good quality, and its sale would later become a source of income for the many hungry volunteers in Sochi. After getting the uniform and accreditation I was ready to work. My accreditation read that I was the VMO (Venue Medical Officer) Assistant (in Russian, assistant to the head doctor). Technically though I was a translator and had to help in communication between injured sportsmen, their teams, injured spectators and the medical crew.

There were eight of us in ‘Rosa Khutor’ or Extreme Park - my workplace. Extreme Park had two stadia depending on the sports held there, namely HAM (Half-pipe, Acrobatics, Mogul) and PSX (Parallel Slalom, Ski-cross, Parallel Giant Slalom, Slope Style, Snowboard-cross). People said that the most visually entertaining sports were held in Extreme Park.

I can say that the sports, especially the Slope Style, held in Extreme Park were very humane, as sportsmen who fell down received more applause in support than those who performed well. It was very clear from the ‘fun jumps’ that the sportsmen are enjoying their performance, rather than trying to win. The view of the mountains in the Extreme Park was spectacular.

My work wasn’t the best job one could ask for, as I always had to communicate with badly injured sportsmen and see their dreams of participating in the Olympics shatter. From the medical team I learnt that the only thing that helps a sportswoman lying with broken neck and tearful eyes is sense of humor and usually it works better than painkillers.

On February 7th, my team leader told me that there might be a possibility of getting tickets for the opening ceremony in the Olympic Park. There was a lot of running involved in finding the right entrance and I saw long queues of volunteers wanting to be a part of the opening ceremony. Finally, we reached the right entrance but the team leader told the guard that there were four of us instead of five.

Two of my teammates were not in uniform, so the guard didn’t want to allow them in. Thanks to the multi-layered uniform I was able to share, and the guard seeing our interest to get in finally allowed us. The opening ceremony was truly ‘mind-blowing’. The unopened ring didn’t affect it a bit. Probably, it was the best thing that had happened in Sochi.

After the opening ceremony I fell ill. I worked for a few more days, had to change my workplace from the Extreme Park to the Alpine Ski Centre and met many new people in my apartment, who would come late at night for warm food and company.

Finally, the time to depart came but I was very ill. I will always remain grateful to one of my roommates for helping me during my illness. Ironically, the one I talked the least went out and bought medicines for me. The world isn’t without good people, even in a place like the volunteer village ‘Morozko’.

It was a great experience to volunteer at Sochi, meet new people, and ride the cable cars to work. The atmosphere was very lively and friendly and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Though the facilities weren’t the best but the experience was.

When I see and think of people volunteering at the football world cup in Brazil, memories of Sochi comes to my mind. Young volunteers in Brazil must be having great fun.

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