Ready Or Not, Olympic Events Begin In Sochi

Competition at the Winter Olympics gets underway on Thursday. Some of the events taking place are in figure skating, freestyle skiing and snowboard. The Sochi Games officially open on Friday, and the first medals will be awarded this weekend.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And at last, we can say this morning, let the games begin. The Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics will be held tomorrow in Sochi, Russia. But there were just too many sports to fit in, so a few got an early start, including a new Olympic event: slopestyle snowboarding. It debuted on a clear, beautiful day on the mountain of Rosa Khutor.

NPR's Robert Smith has been taking in the scene, and joins us now. Good morning. This is pretty exciting.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: Good morning. It is exciting because, you know, there's been a lot of complaints about the run-up to the Olympics. But once you seen these snowcapped peaks and this beautiful blue sky, you realize what we're really doing here. We're watching sports.

MONTAGNE: And what is it like on this first day of action?

SMITH: Well, the games are starting out pretty slowly today. There's just a few events. And they're not giving out any medals. These are basically qualification rounds, that sort of thing. But they're just sort of shaking out all the problems of the system right now. I took the train up, which is what an average Russian citizen would take to get to the games, and it was pretty slow. There was a lot of security checks. I took the bus after the train, and then I took a gondola up to the top of the mountain. And it takes a few hours, really, to get to the venue. But once you're here, it's a really exciting event.

MONTAGNE: List about a few more words to the problems that we were hearing about, a lot about construction delays over the past even few days - rooms not ready, that sort of thing, and hotels. Is everything ready, though, for the competition?

SMITH: Yes. Well, earlier today I was at the slopestyle event, and this is one of the courses that had had a lot of criticism, that the jumps were too high for the snowboarders, that it was dangerous. This is the course that Shaun White decided not to compete on. Yesterday, he gave that news to NBC. But that's the sort of normal thing that you see on these kind of freestyle ski events, which is there's a lot of last-minute changing of the hill and the size of the jump and the way the landing works. It's pretty common, people tell me here. And there's little things happening. You know, they're still putting up some fences. They're still trying to get some water drainage fixed on the mountainside. But in terms of the venues, like, this Olympics is ready to go.

MONTAGNE: When you talk about that slopestyle event, Shaun White, a famous American snowboarder, well, you know, if he thought it was dangerous, is it in fact safe? Have there been any problems so far?

SMITH: During the time I was at the event, it was really smooth. There were people making really big errors, they say. And, you know, it depends, sort of, your style of snowboarding. Some snowboarders really love these big jumps. They love the big air. They can do a lot more tricks. And those are the ones who were cheering this course. There are other snowboarders who are more technical snowboarders, and they may have been a little bit wary of the course. But it hasn't created a problem yet. There have been a couple of spills. But everyone's loving it. As one other snowboarder told me, the snow is sick. That's good. That's a good thing.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: OK. What about the other sports getting started today?

SMITH: Well, there's going to be a women's mogul competition that starts tonight. The moguls and aerials and those kind of freestyle events generally happen at night, just because it looks a lot cooler under the lights. And there's the team figure skating. They've expanded the figure skating slate so that there's not only the individual and the pairs and the ice dancing, but now there are team competitions. So, that's essentially double the ice skating. So they had to start ice skating before the official opening ceremony, just to fit it all in.

MONTAGNE: And tell us what you know about that opening ceremony, which will be tomorrow, when the Olympics officially open.

SMITH: Well, I was sniffing around the stadium, and there's a gigantic O - probably five, maybe 10-story door in the back - where they wheel in these giant figures. I got to see a giant snowboarder, a giant skier being wheeled in, and then as soon as they saw me peeking at it, they closed the doors. They want to keep it a secret. But, you know, we know it's going to feature, obviously, Russian history, Russian literature. There's going to be a giant Peter the Great ship that sails in. But people here are pretty excited here about it. I was talking to someone on the train who said it's just been impossible to get tickets for any price to the opening ceremonies.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Robert Smith, speaking to us from the mountains above Sochi, Russia. Thanks very much.

SMITH: You're welcome.

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