Graduates of MGIMO-University visited the XXII-Olympic Winter Games in Sochi to support the Russian team. Among them were not only representatives from Russia, but also from the USA and the UK – the members of the global MGIMO Alumni Association Marina Babaeva (USA), Leila Megrelidze (USA), Olga Pavlenko (Russia), Vladimir Peretolchin (UK), and Alexei Andreev (Russia). Upon returning from this historic event, they decided to share their unique experiences.
Here is Marina’s story.
A first time visitor to Russia and Sochi would be impressed by the exciting atmosphere and genuine hospitality, something you don’t often see at international destinations. I arrived at 5 a.m. after a long flight from the US. Passport control was staffed by Cossack militiamen dressed in traditional uniforms. The Cossacks were very helpful providing information about bank and currency exchange and even returning my a bag with my identity documents. I accidently left the bag at the metal detector control and was about to depart to Sochi on the “electrichka” train when two militiamen, who had followed me from the airport, very generously returned my bag that also contained quite a large amount of U.S. currency.
Sochi was crowded with tourists and volunteers supporting the Olympics games, including MGIMO volunteers. About 200 MGIMO students were volunteering for the Winter Olympic Games accompanying members of the Olympic and Paralympic family, and assisting with IOC and Protocol functions. Thousands of young Russians in the streets dressed in beautiful Olympic outfits were actively greeting the Olympic visitors and providing them with information about the event and logistics in the area. They even helped me to charge the battery for my phone. They also assisted the visitors in obtaining tickets and transportation to the sports venues.
Transportation and security was very efficiently organized. Free electric trains “Lastochka” connecting Olympic sites made commuting very convenient. Aboard one of the trains travelling to the Olympic Park and other venues along the beautiful Black sea we saw swimming dolphins and stunning views of the local nature.
I was really amazed by the beautiful new infrastructure, facilities, entertainment and exhibition centers. In Sochi, all the streets were decorated with Olympic symbols and illuminated by huge screens broadcasting the games. The Olympic venues were remarkable: novel stadiums and arenas, including Fisht Olympic Stadium, Adler Arena, and the Bolshoi Ice Dom. At the center of the Olympic Park was the enormous and artful Olympic torch lighted in space from the rays of the sun on the international space station. The Olympic Park was especially gorgeous at night.
In addition to the sports venues, the Olympic Park contained a number of exciting museums and exhibitions. There were displays of not only Russian traditional folklore such as singing and dancing, but also exhibitions displaying the culture of very rare minor nationalities from remote regions like Siberia and far North. For example, there was an exhibition and performance by people from Yamal. They had built their traditional tents and displayed their crafts as well as cultural decorations, attire and their beautiful regional music. Another museum located in the Olympic park had a collection of torches from previous Olympic games. There were many other shows that represented the cultural variety and authentic character of the country.
There were several stores in Sochi and the Olympic park where visitors could buy souvenirs. They were very crowded, and people swept up everything without regard for the price. Practically all of the visitors were dressed in Olympic clothes, just as was I. As a result, it was difficult to differentiate visitors from volunteers. Several times, I asked for help from people I assumed were volunteers who turned out to be visitors from other countries. Luckily, even these people wanted to help.
Of course, there were the Olympic mascots – the Polar Bear, the Hare and the Leopard. They greeted guests in the Park, and took pictures with the guests. Many of the fans had their faces painted with the flags of their countries.
I went to several Olympic events, and had a chance to root for the Russian ski jumpers and speed skaters. It was great to see Elena Isinbayeva, the famous Russian pole vaulter, invited to the ski jumping. This was the first year that women were allowed to participate in the ski jumping events so it was appropriate that Elena, a trailblazer for women in Olympic pole vaulting, was there. I really enjoyed seeing the awards ceremony in the Olympic Park followed by a gala concert and fireworks.
It was a lot of fun seeing patriotic spectators from all over the world singing their national anthems, carrying their flags and cheering wildly for the fellow citizens. Russian fans turned out in great numbers to support their home country’s athletes. Probably the only complaints I had were the crowded facilities and waiting in long lines to get tickets due to the limited number of locations to pick them up.
I was lucky to speak with several Sochi locals, and hear their opinions about the games. Most of them said that it was very hard work to prepare and build the infrastructure for the Olympics. They had many hurdles with local beaurocracy, and most of the work was accomplished during the last year. There were also complaints about the large inflow of guest workers from other former Soviet republics, and the increased traffic jams. In general though, the locals saw positive results for Sochi from the Olympics, and they were happy and proud to hold the games in their city.
During my stay there, I was able to meet with two other MGIMO graduates, Leyla and Olga, which helped to make the visit even more fun. Overall, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’m happy I took this trip to Sochi. It really made me proud to be Russian, and to see our home country do an outstanding job of staging such a meaningful, but challenging event. Despite the very short trip, I am very glad I found the opportunity to visit this important historical event that will be remembered for a lifetime!
As a MGIMO graduate, I am very proud that our university won the nationwide contest and was awarded the right to be the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee’s partner; MGIMO volunteers did a great job supporting the Olympics! Thanks everyone who participated and supported our team; Russia won, and it is a delight to know that we are the winners of the Olympic Games at our home country! We are the first and the best! Thanks for the victory at the Games, which are really HOT, COOL, YOURS!
Class of 2011 of International Economic Relations faculty of MGIMO