The first time you cover the Olympics, it feels like someone dropped you in the ocean and told you to swim for it, have a great time, good luck. There’s just so much. Every Olympics feels this way, as it turns out, no matter how many you’ve done. There is always so much.
Someone told me early in my career that the Olympics are also the Olympics of sports writing, and it’s true. Sochi was my fourth Games; Beijing was the first. My job in Sochi was simple: cover Canada, but not just Canada. The Olympics is the one time you really get to cover the world, and when I go I want to cover the whole of it; the sports, the politics, the experience, everything.
So you work. In Sochi I worked about 16 hours a day, if I had to guess; that’s about average. I was so tired. We were all so tired. By the end, journalists are a hobo tribe. The Olympics are a barrel of exhaustion for the soul.
But it’s worth it. On one Wednesday in Sochi I got up at 6:15 on three hours’ sleep, was on a bus to the mountains by 7:30, covered slopestyle for seven hours, wrote it, ate a meal cobbled together out of apples and water and a cake-like yellowish thing with raisins in it, covered the half-pipe where Shaun White lost, ran out of the mixed zone and under the bleachers as White’s last run ended to get a Canadian cross-country coach on the phone after he’d given a ski to a Russian competitor, scrambled back, slipping on the snow, covered the half-pipe until White finally spoke around midnight, wrote one of the columns on the bus ride back down the mountain, wrote the other one in the Main Press Centre (MPC), missed the 3 a.m. bus, had a beer with a colleague in the media bar, caught the 4 a.m. bus, decided to have two more beers with the same colleague in the media village bar because at the Olympics you start to get punchy after a while, and went to bed 24 hours after I started.
Sometimes you will stumble on stories. In Sochi I walked into a press conference for the Dufour-Lapointe family the day after two of the sisters won medals and felt my eyes well up as their parents poured out their love and pride and regrets. It was beautiful. There’s a lot of crying at the Olympics.
And that’s why the Olympics are the best, too. It’s the widest possible canvas, the richest possible material, and it matters so much to so many people. People might cry because they win or because they lose or because their child just competed on the world’s biggest stage. But it matters, so much. You might even cry. It’s OK. Because the more you experience the Olympics, the more you work and grind and care, the better you swim in the ocean, and the more it feels like home.