Trains May Be Slow In Sochi, But The Snowboarders Are Flying High

The first day of competition at the Sochi Olympics took place Thursday on the slopestyle course, as snowboarders took part in qualifying runs. Crowds tangled with logistical issues, but for the most part, the day was a success.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Enough talk about whether or not Russia is ready to host the Olympics, it's time. The competitions have begun. Snowboarders and figure skaters took to the snow and ice today, even though the Opening Ceremony doesn't happen until tomorrow.

NPR's Robert Smith traveled with Russian fans to the first event to see if years of planning have paid off.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: The Russians spent more than $8 billion on a transportation system. But apparently that does not make the trains come any faster.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

SMITH: A crowd of us have been waiting almost an hour for the train, from Sochi up to the mountains. That's the site of snowboard slopestyle, the very first Olympic event. Mikhail Rozhkov(ph) is convinced that he is going to miss the whole thing.

MIKHAIL ROZHKOV: I'm still waiting for train. I'm late, really. It begins 10 a.m.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: Now, before you go and make fun of Russia - again - know that logistics are always complicated in a Winter Olympics. Now one ever does these crazy snow sports in the middle of a big city where it's convenient. It's always up some narrow mountain road in the snow and getting thousands of people in and out is always a nightmare. That's why Russia spent so much money drilling Olympic train tunnels right through mountains.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The train is about to set off. The next station is Esto-Sadok.

SMITH: It's actually a pretty nice ride but there is no way we are going to make it on time. The Russians have a gift, though, for laughing off their troubles.

OLGA PEROGAVA: Yes. Yes. Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

PEROGAVA: I late. I'm late.

SMITH: Olga Perogava, from Moscow, says it's not all her fault. She had to pick up the tickets to the event.

PEROGAVA: Very difficult, big line, two hours to give tickets.

SMITH: Look, I'm just going to skip ahead here because there are more long lines, there's a bus, a gondola. But here is the trick of the Olympics. We forget it all, all of our frustration when the crowded bus hits the top of the ridge. And it is a bluebird sky day with a view of these craggy snow topped peaks. And the snowboarders are flying.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SMITH: Slopestyle is a new event at the Olympics, very TV friendly. Big jumps. Crazy tricks. It was going to be a chance for snowboard legend Shaun White to strut his stuff on the first day. But he dropped out, saying the course was too risky. He's going to focus on his half-pipe event instead.

This also could have ruined everyone mood. But somehow it did not. U.S. snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg came off the final jump, saying: You know, everything was perfect, totally sick. And he was kind when talking about Shaun White.

SAGE KOTSENBURG: He wants to save his body and he wants to do his best in pipe. And I want him to the best in pipe, too, because I'd be stoked to see him ride his best there instead of doing mediocre in both. You know?

SMITH: And you have one less competitor.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: Be honest.

KOTSENBURG: Yeah, right? It's one less person to worry about.

SMITH: You know, the athletes seem relieved to be getting questions about something other than security and bad hotels and all this Russian drama. Finally, they just get to talk about snowboarding.

SPENCER O'BRIEN: I went gat front lip on the marble edge to just 50, 50/50 back one, switch back five, front side three, backside five.

SMITH: I am about to ask Canadian Spencer O'Brien about that gat front lip on the marble edge when she spots someone she didn't think was going to make it.

O'BRIEN: Oh, I see my Mama. Sorry, that was my mom.

SMITH: Her mom, Dixie Johnston, had gotten lost this morning in the Sochi transportation maze.

DIXIE JOHNSTON: I was just like: Please, Lord. Don't let me miss out.

SMITH: She did get to see her daughter ski on the very first day of the Olympics. But oddly Johnston seemed even more happy about surviving the Russian train system. She asked her daughter...

JOHNSTON: Are you proud of me?

O'BRIEN: Yeah, I'm proud of you.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: Robert Smith, NPR News, Sochi.

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