Sochi on a shoestring? Canada's hockey teams to bunk in basic, dorm-style rooms
Exterior view of hotels and shops at the Rosa Khutor hotel complex are pictured ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics on Feb. 4, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, February 4, 2014 3:48PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 4, 2014 4:52PM EST
SOCHI, Russia -- It's not a Motel 6, but it's a far cry from the Ritz-Carltons and other luxury hotels Sidney Crosby and his teammates are accustomed to.
The men's hockey team will have stunning views of the Black Sea. But their accommodations at the Olympic village in Sochi are basic -- two or three players to a room, sleeping on twin beds and sharing a bathroom.
There is no special treatment for these NHL superstars. When they arrive next week, they'll bunk in the dorm-style rooms, just like the rest of the Canadian athletes.
"I don't see any reason why anyone should get any special treatment," said women's hockey player Gillian Apps. "The rooms are great and very accommodating."
All of Canada's 110 athletes in the coastal village are getting what chef de mission Steve Podborski called "a similar experience.
"One of the things that we discovered in our exit interviews from the previous Games, and particularly out of Vancouver, is that the athletes wanted to be part of a team," Podborski said before Canadian media members got a guided tour of the village. "They want to really feel not just my team but our team, all together. And that includes the hockey players."
On Tuesday, members of the media were given a tour of the building that will house the men's hockey team. Rooms featured three beds all in a row -- perfect, possibly, for goaltenders Carey Price, Roberto Luongo and Mike Smith to grow very close.
"We rearranged our beds so they weren't side-by-side," women's goalie Shannon Szabados said. "I think mine's in the kitchen right now."
Breakfast in bed would be easier that way, as Canada's village is a significant walk from the athletes dining hall. The so-called "mayor" of the athletes village, 2006 Russian gold-medal speedskater Svetlana Zhurova, said there had been no complaints about the food so far, but that didn't extend to the travel necessary to get to it.
"I ride the bike as much as possible because it's a long walk between our building and the dining hall," women's forward and opening ceremony flag-bearer Hayley Wickenheiser said. "That's the only thing that's different that we'll have to manage, it's the time it takes to get places."
For competitions, that time is miniscule. All six "Coastal Cluster" venues are a very short walk from the athletes village and specifically that of Canada, which got one of the better locations very close to the hockey arena.
As Podborski stood in the middle of Canada's courtyard, he mapped out the short walk to Bolshoy Ice Dome.
"You walk out that little walkway there, hang a right, and if you've got a good lacrosse stick going, you can bounce one off the men's hockey and women's hockey gold-medal-game (arena)," Podborski said. "How good is that?"
Proximity is easily the best part about Canada's athletes quarters, though the views may be a close second. In one direction is the Black Sea and the other the picturesque Caucasus Mountains.
"When you're out looking this way, you see the Black Sea," Podborski said. "But on the other side you got amazing views of the park, the Olympic Park, and the flame when it's lit will be going off. It's all pretty spectacular."
Before the men's hockey players arrive Monday, other athletes got to enjoy their spectacular views and the building they'll inhabit. The Canadian Olympic Committee has made it something of a landing pad for athletes to stay for a bit after arriving in Sochi and before making the hour-long trip up to the mountains.
Snowboarders and alpine skiers got to give the eventual men's hockey rooms a test sleep or two this week. They left impressed.
"One thing I've learned even from competing in sport and travelling to different towns and different villages and things like that, it's best to not have any expectations and then be pleasantly surprised when you get there," alpine skier Jan Hudek said. "We were literally right on the sea, right on the edge, so it's been incredible."
Long-track speedskater Denny Morrison, who stayed at his Richmond, B.C., apartment during the Vancouver Olympics, got a familiar feel from Canada's place this time.
"This village is reminiscent of Torino, just the finish and the style of buildings -- four to six stories," Morrison said. "The distance between the apartments and the food area and stuff like that."
Wickehneiser, who played softball at the 2000 Sydney Games, said this reminded her more of a summer village than winter because it is "big in radius and spread out."
There's a good distance from end-to-end, but Canada has a prime spot close to the venues. That didn't happen by accident, as winning the most gold medals in Vancouver helped out in what Podborski called the "chess match" to lobby for the best location.
"That helped us a lot dealing with the Russians in terms of where we got to live in the buildings," said Podborski, who won a bronze medal in downhill skiing at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. "People love winners, that's what we are. Everything matters.
"If you're not doing very well and haven't hosted the Games in a hundred years, it's not as easy, for sure. When I was ski-racing and when I started off we were in the bad hotels and we were winning by the end, we were in the good hotels. It's the way it works."
Being in a good place doesn't mean everything was perfect. Amid admissions from organizers that three per cent of hotel rooms in the area were not ready as people arrived before the Olympics, Canada's digs had some minor hiccups.
"There's always things that need to be kind of massaged at the end, and certainly although things haven't been perfect, we've had great co-operation and they're getting done," Podborski said. "I will say our staff in there, some of them don't sleep very much because of that, but it's quite functional."
Functional though perhaps not super-modern. Women's hockey coach Kevin Dineen played for Canada at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo and called Sochi's lodging "pretty similar."
"I saw something in the paper about two toilets being right next to each other and I'm like, 'Really? Are you serious?"' Dineen said. "I took a snapshot in the dining room today and I sent it off to my daughter and she said, 'Geez, it reminds me of 'The Hunger Games.""
Dineen then went on to compliment the facilities and the people he has dealt with so far in Sochi.
"I can only speak for the Canadian women's hockey team, but, boy, they've nailed it so far," Dineen said. "It's really been impressive. They've really been hospitable and I think that's how you judge something, how people are."
How things are for Canada is very much not Canadian -- a change from Vancouver when it was the host and in lifestyle. This is Podborski's sixth trip to Sochi, so he knows just how drastic it is.
"It's kind of different here," he said. "People, when they come here, they really think it's just an overlay of Canada stuck into a different country. But this is just Russia and it's just not Canada in almost every way. They walk around on two feet but they really are different people."
The difference between the Coastal village and Mountain village isn't quite like being in another country, but Podborski said it was "profoundly different up there." Most of the 110 mountain athletes are living in one building that's reminiscent of a ski chalet.
Just like on the coast, some athletes are close to where they're competing.
"You can actually just walk up the hill, go through security and climb up ladder and be at the top of the slope style," Podborski said. "It's really close, it's crazy. You don't even need a lacrosse stick for that, you've just got to toss a good snowball and you're into the venue."