Sean Mooney reports from Sochi Winter Games.
2 weeks ago
Besides several matryoshka dolls (the Russian dolls within a doll), the multi-colored, must have Sochi Olympics mittens, the Russian vodka for mom and dad (I'm sure it will only be used for special occasions) and a number of other gifts that I still have no idea how I stuffed into my luggage, I am bringing a countless number of memories of my journey to Russia home with me.
While this may not make much sense, my trip was everything I thought it was and wasn't going to be. So, let me explain.
First of all, I knew security was going to be tight but nothing prepared me the endless and intense screenings that become part of everyday life within the "Ring of Steel".
Upon your arrival you were issued two credentials, one from NBC, the other a lamented placard, that identified your security clearance and served as your work visa. Lose it and you were going to be covering the Olympics from your hotel room. I practically showered with the the thing around my neck. I'm sure for the next few weeks I will experience seconds of panic as I leave my house and realize I am not wearing my credential bling.
There were metal detectors, ex ray machines, wands, dogs, and pat downs at just about every "zone" you entered. Once in, you could expect passing through at least one other security check point. NBC Senior Correspondent, Jay Gray, whose work station was next to ours said "I have been patted down everyday for the past month and I'm starting to like it." Funny but half true.
On the other side of this was all of the of misconceptions about Sochi. Sochi is actually a city about 20 miles north of Adler, where the coastal cluster is located.
Media outlets were strongly encouraged to not go to Sochi. I went anyway, banding with two other news crews to secure an unauthorized van that the driver actually took the tracking device out of for the trip. It was nothing like I expected. There were no check points, vehicle searches, no dogs, we never went through security. We actually just got out of the van and wandered unimpeded, shooting whatever we wanted.
What I discovered there was a vibrant, beautiful city. Colorful new high rises have appeared over the last couple of years, and other businesses line the streets. There are parks crowded with families and the seaport lives up to the it's billing as the "Russian Riviera".
But for me the people were the most fascinating part of my journey. Most of the young people speak at least some english and have few memories of communist rule there.
They believe they have real freedom here but I never lost that gut feeling of being watched.
The older folks either don't speak english or will tell you they don't. They clearly remember the old days and they all seem to possess a grimness they cannot shed. They may feel more free to speak their minds but old habits die hard and I think they figure why risk trouble.
Maybe it was the excitement of the Winter Olympics taking place in their country but optimism does exist. While they aren't fond of Vladimir Putin the people I talked to believe he is making things happen in their country and most of it good. When it comes to civil rights that's another story. And for another blog.
Now that I have had a day to reflect (and actually sleep for more than 4 hours) I can tell you when I touched down in Russia 25 days ago I had no idea what the hell I had gotten myself in to, I now know, that despite all I have done, this trip will remain one of the greatest experiences of my life.
I thank all of you who came along for the ride.
2 weeks ago
Mile 20 at the Winter Olympics
One of the other reporters here, who is an Olympics vet (Sochi is his 8th), likens covering the games to a marathon. After being here for three weeks I now realize it is a pretty good metaphor.
At the starting line you're anxious, apprehensive, not even thinking of the finish line, just hoping you can get on the course and keep up.
When I first arrived that was exactly what I was thinking, here I was on the other side of the world, alone, representing News 4 Tucson. As much as I and the rest of the team at KVOA tried to plan for the trip, we really couldn't. Arizona is not exactly known for it's Winter Olympians. Tucson has zero, Phoenix a few, but if you live in Tucson you know how much we care about any product from the valley of the sun.
The plan, then, was to deliver several slices of life from the 2014 Winter Olympics, convey through my stories, tweets, Facebook post, blogs and pictures, what it is like to be here, to bring the stories home you didn't see during prime time coverage.
I have to admit when I touched down here I still had no idea what the hell I was going to do, I had no net. I envisioned doing mindless stories on my work station and the NBC cafeteria ( Somebody here did actually do a story on the vending machines). But I digress.
In reality it has turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of my life. I have been set free in a playground of storytelling.
And I have met some amazing people along the way from stations all over the country.
Jordan Mason, from our sister station KOAA, teamed up with me here to provide stories for our stations and others in the group. He, it turns out, is as big a lunatic as I am, very creative and kept pace with me this entire race. I believe, working together made our stories better.
We have just passed mile 20 in this marathon in Sochi, I am exhausted, weary, beaten down...and have never felt more creatively fulfilled in my life.
I can now see the finish line, but honestly I am not ready to cross it. I have a few more things to show you before I make it home.
3 weeks ago
Sean ventured out beyond the confines of the official olympic area of Sochi.
Here are some scenes of what he saw:
4 weeks ago
SOCHI - In Sochi, Sean Mooney says the longest lines aren't for seats in the stadiums -- but merchandise on the shelves!
Located in the Olympic Park near Fisht Stadium, the superstore carries a variety of souvenirs from the Sochi Games.
The wait to get in stretched to more than 45 minutes while Sean was there.
Inside, customers jammed the area with jackets, hoodies and T-shirts, trying on items in the aisle and casting aside any they didn't want. Clothing piled up on shelves with sizes mixed together.
Plush mascots of varying sizes awaited buyers. There were coffee cups, towels, key chains, magnets, nesting dolls and suitcases to get it all home. White mittens with colored fingers and 'Sochi 2014' selling for 500 rubles (about $14) were piled in big boxes. A wall of cubby holes containing more T-shirts was being ransacked by customers checking out the designs and sizes. Women trying on charm bracelets circled the jewelry counter.
Surprisingly, the store didn't have a single Olympic pin for sale, unlike previous superstores that featured a wide variety of the souvenirs popular with collectors and traders.
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago
SOCHI, RUSSIA - The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies were definitely spectacular but the show is not what made it so memorable for me.
The singing, dancing, the virtual ship sailing on the floor of the arena...all that was happening inside Fisht Stadium. I was stationed outside in Olympic Park, and honestly there is no place in the world I would have rather been.
Mooney got to chat with Men's Snowboarding Slopstyle gold medalist, Sage Kotsenburg:
We brought our camera over to the area where all of the delegations entered the park to prepare to step in front of the world inside the stadium. I was literally backstage as they marched in, the letter on the signs designating each country JAM (Jamaica), KOR (Korea), MON (Monaco), TGA (Tonga, yes even they are here) and of course USA.
As they came in my first thought was, these athletes want to capture these moments as much as we do. Every single person seemed to have a camera, shooting pictures or video. And their excitement was palpable.
I have covered a lot of sporting events during my career, pro and college, but the collection of these people, from all over the world, each with their own incredible journey to get here gave me chills.
And I knew why. Not one of them had to tell me.
After all the trials, the pain, the practice when they couldn't, didn't want to, could't wait to...all the competitions, the set backs, the triumphs...they made it, they were here.
No matter what might happen from that point on they realized...I am an Olympian.
Sean got to try a Russian treat:
Sean passed by a seemingly lax security checkpoint:
Specators are sparse in Olympic Park:
1 month ago
More shots from the Opening Ceremony from Sean Mooney:
1 month ago
News 4 Tucson's Sean Mooney is in Russia for the winter Olympics!
Believe it or not, construction is still going on in the Russian coastal town.
Here's a shot of the rings at the Ice Dome:
Sean reports everyday to the International Broadcasting Center, the place where all the reporters go to send his stuff back home. Here's a video he put together of his commute to the IBC:
The first games are tonight, but the opening ceremony will be Friday. Sean took this video of a big surrpise that's expected:
1 month ago
Flying in to Sochi, which is right on the Black Sea, reminded me of a New England coastal town. Place has been around for a long time and of course several new coats of paint have spruced it all up.
The plane actually touched down in Adler which is a town between Sochi and the Olympic venues, where the Olympic Village is and all the hotels are located. The first taste of the level of security happened as soon as we exited the NBC charter. Right at the door was a man in uniform with a video camera shooting faces as we came off.
Not quite sure what capturing our smiling faces was all about but I can't imagine they plan to use it in the opening ceremonies.
The entire ring of steel surrounding the Sochi Olympics is incredible. I honestly believe you cannot walk more than fifty yards and not run in to a security person (police or military).
You pretty much can't enter or exit any building here without being checked out...thoroughly.
The hotel I am staying in is brand new, as are all of the other hotels, and there are many they are still putting the finishing touches on. One cameraman told me he found sawdust in his shower.
So far, most of my time has been spent getting set up at the International Broadcast Center or IBC. I break out the camera tomorrow. Many tales to come.
1 month ago
SOCHI, RUSSIA - Hopeless wanderer... after thinking about, this was a very appropriate song, by Mumford & Sons, to pop up first on my iPod to start my journey to the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Not to get too deep here but when it comes down to it, that is what I have always been. Not hopeless in a "giving up" sort of way but a "can't help it" way. I am very curious and can never sit still for very long. As a result I love to wander. All that wandering over the years has given me a different perspective than most (after you work for the WWE (WWF) trust me, you're never the same (and I mean that in a good way).
I provide this TMI in order to prepare you for what you can expect over the next few weeks from this blog.
Welcome to Mooney's world. Buckle up there might be some turbulence.
Give you a little example.
Flew out of Tucson this morning to Denver. Bronco Nation right? The flight I'm on is to Newark, NJ, Super Bowl 48 central. These folks are all headed to the game, duh. Let's just say the NFL cleaned up in Bronco merch with these people and the plane is packed. So when I get on, walking down the aisle "I can't help it" and I say loudly, "You folks all headed to Sochi?". Crickets.
Once in Newark, I am scheduled to connect with the NBC charter for the overnight flight to Sochi.
If Matt and Savannah think I'm taking the middle seat they better think again. See, I can't help it.