First-time Olympians take in ‘surreal’ experience
SOCHI, Russia — For months, even years, Torin Yater-Wallace has been dealing with Olympic expectations.
Expectations are one thing, but to fly into Sochi as an Olympian and see the venues ready for the opening ceremony is another thing all together.
“Realizing it’s all for us, the athletes, it’s mind-blowing,” Yater-Wallace said.
The 18-year-old Aspen halfpipe skier is considered a gold-medal contender in the Olympic debut of halfpipe skiing, set for Feb. 18. He was one of several Colorado freestyle skiers who arrived in Sochi on Thursday afternoon to compete in their first Olympics. Team members Yater-Wallace, Aaron Blunck, Lyman Currier and Annalisa Drew all live or train in Colorado, and they’ve grown up training with and competing against each other.
“I couldn’t imagine a better situation,” Wallace said. “There’s a whole crew of people here from Colorado that I’ve known for my whole life.”
The tight-knit team of eight skiers spent their first 24 hours getting settled, meeting athletes from other countries and attending a figure skating competition. They’ll stay in the coastal cluster — the group of stadiums, athlete housing and hotels beside the Black Sea that was the site of Friday’s opening ceremony — before heading up to the mountain cluster Feb. 9.
Drew, who trains with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail and is from Andover, Mass., flew in with the team from Munich, Germany, where they were fitted for their Ralph Lauren-designed uniforms for the opening ceremony. The star-spangled Team USA sweaters have drawn mixed reviews, but Drew said she is a fan.
“I’m so excited,” she said Friday prior to the ceremony. “I’ve been watching it on TV for so many years, both Summer and Winter Olympics. It’s really exciting to be part of it.”
As the 20-year-old Drew has felt nerves and excitement as she takes in her first Olympic experience. She enthusiastically took part in som pin trading — a staple for the Olympics — and said it’s been really cool to meet athletes from other countries and disclipines in the Olympic athlete village.
Drew won’t actually get on snow until Feb. 14, with her event set for Feb. 20. Until then, she’ll be hanging out, attending competitions and events, and maybe hitting the gym.
Her family — including her two brothers, her sister, her parents and her grandparents — are flying in the 17th.
Seventeen-year-old Aaron Blunck, who is from Crested Butte and trains with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail while attending the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy in Minturn, said the last 24 hours hardly seemed real.
“We walked around the village a little bit last night and kind of got perspective of things and how big it actually is around here,” Blunck said. “It’s just a crazy experience to be here. It’s still so surreal that I’m here.”
Blunck said that despite the celebrity status of being an Olympian here in Sochi, he is trying to keep a level head and treat it like another competition — albeit a “hyped up” one.
“At this point, after traveling, I’m really looking forward to skiing and getting some of the energy out,” Blunck said. “We’ve been traveling a lot and sitting down so we haven’t really gotten to do that much on the other side, to actually go skiing and start competing.”
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