(I couldn’t bring my camera out on course for the 50 k, so this is a photo by my coworker Nat Herz/FasterSkier.)
We made it to the finish line! Sunday was the Olympic 50 k, the last race of the Games for nordic sports. They scheduled the competition for 11 a.m. which seemed a little cruel since nobody was used to getting up early, but I think the athletes appreciated it because the course was still icy and fast. We, however, were suffering when we staggered awake in the morning.
Immediately, some asshole almost ruined my day. His name is Johannes Dürr, and he is an Austrian skier. He’s had a good season, finishing third in the grueling Tour de Ski and eighth in the Olympic 30 k skiathlon. Yesterday morning, news leaked out that he had tested positive for EPO, the blood-boosting drug, and been kicked out of the Olympics.
A few days earlier, German skier/biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle had tested positive for a dubiously effective stimulant that she took accidentally in a supplement. We spent all day running around trying to figure out the story and what was going on. I was setting up for another day like that – and I was pissed. It was the last day, it was beautiful and sunny. All we wanted to do was watch the 50 k, write three easy stories (the nice thing about these long mass-start races is that the storyline is already there), and go home, be done, drink some beer, and celebrate having survived the Games. We did not want hours and hours of chasing down leads added in there.
Fuck you, Johannes Dürr. Not only are you a horrible person for cheating, but couldn’t I have a nice Sunday?
As it turned out, the story was quite straightforward. We gathered some information and quotes from other news sources. The IOC has not yet released its case files so nobody really has all of the details. After the first frantic push, trying to get something posted before the start of the 50 k, we mostly ignored young Mr. Dürr.
And luckily, someone else completely un-ruined my day. I will not name him or her for fear of getting them in trouble, but I was given a service bib for the last two days of racing. That meant that I could pretend to be team staff and actually get out to stand on the side of the course, not in the mêlée of spectators.
At the cross country venue, photographers can get on course but not journalists, and you can’t even see the trails from the mixed zone. So Alex and I had been running around in the crowds all week trying to get the best views, getting elbowed and jostled and sung at by drunk Norwegian, having crazy Russians hold up flags blocking our views just as the skiers were coming into sight, and being stuck behind tall people so we couldn’t see at all.
On Sunday, I just walked right out on course with the coaches. It was 50 degrees. I was wearing a t-shirt, short sleeves, and basking in the sun. I found a spot at the very top of the course where I would see the skiers four times in every 10 k loop, and I sat and enjoyed the race. Thank you thank you, unnamed friend, for giving me a bib!
The race was a great one, a very exciting way to finish the Games. There was a lot of drama – would Dario Cologna win his third gold medal? Answer: no, he broke a ski in the final 1500 meters, heartbreak. Would the Russians finally win their first gold in cross country skiing? Answer: better than that, they’d sweep the damn podium with a crazy and exciting and unbelievable final push up the hill and into the stadium.
We went back to the media center. I was sad to leave the sun.
We finished our stories and went home to our hotel. Nat and I went for a run. Then we all got dinner (which is another story in and of itself, maybe later), came back to our room, and drank some beer. We were so tired, so exhausted, that we got giggly and silly. The three of us worked well together all Games, although for sure there were times when we got frustrated with each other’s working styles and priorities. But to have an evening where we weren’t thinking about work at all, where it was all over, and we were just hanging out being friends – it was awesome.
We had been holding it together and pumping out stories because we had to. It wasn’t because we were even very capable of doing it. In one of my last headlines, I misspelled the word “Canada”. Nat really bungled “Sachenbacher” in another headline. We received an angry e-mail about a typo which said “skies” instead of “skis”. But more than the typos, my writing just way worse. The last report I wrote is one of the driest things I’ve ever published (luckily because of the storyline, it’s still received a ton of hits and a lot of comments).
Now that we don’t have to be holding it together, I feel crumpled and deflated, more like a corpse than a human being. You can live on willpower alone for a long time, but it does have consequences.
I can’t believe that Games are over. It’s been an exhausting, exhilirating, fun time. I want to do it all over again right now. No matter how hard it was, I don’t want to go back to normal life.