Final Sochi preparations full of unknowns for USOC, Olympic athletes and families

By: matt steiner
January 27, 2014 Updated: January 27, 2014 at 11:31 am
photo - United States' Brianna Decker (14) chases the puck in front of Sweden goalie Sara Grahn (1) during the first period of the Four Nations Cup women's third-place hockey game Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, in Lake Placid, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
United States' Brianna Decker (14) chases the puck in front of Sweden goalie Sara Grahn (1) during the first period of the Four Nations Cup women's third-place hockey game Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, in Lake Placid, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll) 

For U.S. Olympic officials, the final months leading up to the Winter Games aren't the mad scramble that some might think. But for parents of athletes, getting ready for a trip across the globe can be a bit more stressed and unpredictable.

The move to Sochi, Russia, began Jan. 19 for the U.S. Olympic Committee. And according to Doug Ingram, the USOC's senior director of international games, the final weeks before the 2014 Winter Olympics are like the days before moving into a newly built home.

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"We're putting the light fixtures in and tightening up the door knobs," Ingram said. "Everything else is in place."

The first flights launchedJan. 19, bound for Munich, where officials will leave behind commercial airlines and board the first of 13 charter flights headed for Sochi.

Ingram said this month that more than 900 officials, workers, athletes and coaches will make the journey over the next couple of weeks for the Olympics and the Paralympics that follow. Competition begins Feb. 6 with the pageantry of the opening ceremony scheduled for Feb. 7 at the recently built Fisht Olympic Stadium.

"It's like moving a small town," Ingram said of preparations that the USOC began seven years ago when it was announced where this year's Games would take place.

About 1,000 people nationwide will make up the contingent by the time the athletes begin heading to Sochi on Thursday,

The USOC has spent the past seven years scouting the region, preparing 21 40-foot shipping containers for transporting equipment and other essentials, and ironing out logistics related to scheduling, transportation, housing and any other bit of minutia that will help Team USA bring in as many medals as possible.

Ingram, who has been with the USOC since 1992, said his organization has been preparing for Olympic events for so long that "there's really no new surprises." The USOC finished housing and travel details about two years ago, Ingram said, noting that once athletes are accredited, their accreditation serves as documentation needed to compete in other countries.

The only thing left for the USOC and the individual sports' national governing bodies to do, Ingram said, is pay close attention to the details.

"To us everything matters," he said, noting that each move is aimed at preparing athletes to win for Team USA. "Everything we do at the Games is a performance issue."

Marilyn Decker, mother of first-time Olympian and U.S. women's hockey player Brianna Decker, said the work of the NGBs and Ingram's team at the USOC headquarters make it easy for athletes to focus on their performance in the Olympic arena and ignore the stresses of logistics that go along with the global event. USA Hockey's headquarters is in Colorado Springs across from the World Arena.

"Brianna will tell you she doesn't think beyond the next day," Marilyn Decker said.

Ingram said U.S. Olympic officials tend to some of the most quirky requests to make athletes as comfortable as possible.He gave examples of demands for certain types of shoelaces and for "favorite pillows." Ingram remembered sending personnel on a mad search at the Turin, Italy, Winter Games in 2006 in search of a snowboarder's violin that had been left on a bus at an airport.

"That was their way of relaxing," Ingram said, chuckling about the thought of an "extreme" snowboarder playing the violin. "Everybody has their idiosyncrasies."

While athletes and officials have been coasting toward the Sochi Olympics, Decker said the last few months for her and her husband, John Decker, have been stress-filled. After all, the parents of the former University of Wisconsin hockey star didn't know if their daughter would be on the team until Jan. 1.

"There definitely were some challenges with not knowing," Marilyn Decker said. "But we felt she had a good chance to go."

Brianna, who won the 2012 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the top player in NCAA Division I women's hockey, has been playing internationally since she was 14, her mother said.

"That's when we realized she was at a pretty elite level," Marilyn Decker said, noting that in the fourth grade her daughter watched the Olympics and said she'd one day be an Olympian.

Despite the life-long Olympic aspirations and elite athletic ability, the Deckers still had to wait for the announcement by USA Hockey before knowing for sure. But that didn't stop Marilyn Decker, who booked flights and accommodations for her, John's and Brianna's two brothers in the early autumn of 2013.

"We kind of took a gamble," Marilyn Decker said.

Marilyn added that other, more experienced USA Hockey parents have been a huge help. After scouring travel websites and talking with agents about hotels and other possible housing for her family, Marilyn Decker decided hanging close to the other "hockey moms" would be best. Many of the USA Hockey parents will stay on a pair of cruise ships just off the coast of Sochi, which is on the eastern shore of the Black Sea.

"We'll be all together and kind of move as a group," she said.

Decker said since the Jan. 1 announcement, she's been scrambling to make sure her family's passports, visas and other documentation are in order. She said all that's left to do is learn more about the culture, the language and tickets for the opening ceremony..

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