The Sochi Sojourn
There was a taste of Mount Washington Alpine Resort at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia this past winter.
Two athletes and a team of experienced Biathlon Officials, who have been together since Mount Washington hosted its first International Paralympic Committee Event in 2007, attended either the Winter Olympic or Paralympic Games.
Spencer O’Brien, who hails from Alert Bay but learned to snowboard at Mount Washington, broke ground in Sochi by competing in the first-ever Women’s Slopestyle Snowboarding Competition.
“This was Slopestyle’s debut at the Games, so getting to be a part of sports history was a really unique and incredible experience,” says O’Brien.
“My favourite part of the Games was getting to watch my friends realize their dreams. We're all very close on tour so I know what some people went through to earn those medals and it makes it so much more special,” she added. “It changed the Olympic experience for me, being able to root for people I knew on a personal level.”
O’Brien finished 12th in the Ladies Slopestyle Event, not where she had hoped to finish, but a proud moment for Canadians anyway. “I fell short of my goal and my potential, but it was an incredible honour to wear Canada's flag and represent my country,” she said.
Braydon Luscombe of Duncan first cut his teeth at Mount Washington in Para-Alpine Events, and with the assistance of grants from the Vancouver Island Mountain Sports Society, he earned his way onto the National Paralympic Team.
Luscombe finished 16th in the Men’s Standing Downhill and 25th in the Men’s Standing Super G in Sochi.
“Some of my greatest memories or things that impacted me the most [in Sochi] were the start gate and finish line,” Luscombe said during the Vancouver Island Mountain Sports Society Gala in April.
“In the start it’s such a crazy atmosphere to be in with everyone’s different pre-race routines… just feeling the energy and nervousness from everyone, with the mixture of hearing the crowd roar down in the stands when someone crosses the finish line,” he said.
“It was very difficult to capture and tame that atmosphere and not let it get you too worked up. It was a real challenge but one of the coolest things to experience.
The second thing was being in the stands after my race or watching the GS Race, which I didn’t compete in. I loved being in the stands taking pictures with everyone cheering and screaming and ringing the cowbells, then going down and congratulating teammates.”
Len Apedaile from the Strathcona Nordics was also in Sochi, as the Technical Delegate of the International Paralympic Committee for the Nordic skiing events at the Paralympic Winter Games.
Apedaile has been involved in IPC World Cup events since 2007 at Mount Washington, and in 2010 was the Sport Manager for VANOC for cross-country events in both the Olympics and the Paralympics. Since 2011 he made several visits to Sochi as a technical delegate for the IPC, assuring technical requirements were met.
“At the Paralympics Apedaile was head of the jury, “making sure competitions were run according to all the rules,” he said.
“The Paralympics in Sochi were a real success,” he related. “The Russians set a really high bar. The athletes really felt like they were at a big deal. The profile is now that much higher…Russians filled the stadiums with raucous cheering crowds.”
Joe Bajan arrived in Sochi about a week before the Olympic Games, this time as a contractor working with a team from Finland, to set up the biathlon range as well as a technical official for Canada. “Bajan’s knowledge from working with a number of IPC Cups and at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver were invaluable,” Apedaile said. “He was a big help.”
Bajan and his wife were both at the Games, living up top in an extension of the Athletes’ Village.
Francoise Ducret, also part of the Mount Washington team, boarded in the volunteers’ accommodation, while Apedaile roomed elsewhere within the Olympic facility.
Ducret volunteered for both the Winter Olympics and the Paralympics. She was supposed to work with the race office during the Paralympics but ended up pulling some security detail before she ran into Apedaile in the IPC building.
“We needed someone to help us with the commercial marketing management, because there are all these rules about commercial marketing and what logos athletes can and cannot have on their toques, suits, helmets, etc.,” Apedaile said.
“As a jury we were busy enough. We were able to grab Francoise and basically deputize her, so she was there at the starting area. She was a real contributor to the IPC. It was really nice to have this Vancouver Island team that started out with the IPC in 2007 also there at Sochi,” Apedaile said.
For each of these athletes and volunteers, Sochi was one step on their Olympic and Paralympic journeys. Apedaile has already made a site visit to PyeongChang in anticipation of the 2018 Winter Games.
“PyeongChang is definitely on my radar,” O’Brien said. “There are still other things I would like to accomplish in my sport besides competition, but I still really enjoy what I do and I want to continue on that path as long as it makes me happy.”
“I look forward to the next four years of my skiing journey leading into PyeongChang, South Korea in 2018,” Luscombe said. “After experiencing the Games as a competitor, over the next few years of training and racing I’m going to feel an extra bit of drive from being at Sochi.”