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Brian Shactman Headshot

Why I love Russia Right Now

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Here is something I thought I'd never say: I love Russia.

This is not some Edward Snowden-like plea for asylum.

The experience of being here is so different than anything I've known that I can't stop marveling at certain things. Now, it doesn't hurt that I am staying in a brand new hotel and have the supportive force of NBC behind me. But coming here is like going into that neighbor's house for the first time ever and you have spent your life imagining what it might look and feel like.

No matter what your imagination brought you, it never compares to the feeling of entering that living room and seeing that they have plastic on all the furniture and the smell of cats chokes you to a near-vomitous state.

That's Russia.

Well, maybe not quite the best metaphor, but you get the point: It's exciting to see a place you've always wondered about.

The two favorite coffee-shop topics here put a lot into perspective because the differences go beyond the type of coffee they drink and how little English they speak.

Security and construction -- discussed so much, it's almost cliché at this point.

Uniformed police and military, along with undercover officers, are ubiquitous. That has actually created a feeling - real or mythical - of safety within Sochi and nearby Adler, where the Olympic ice events really take place.

But go into the mountains and look closely in the woods as you drive on the brand-new multi-billion dollar road. You will see camouflaged outposts seemingly every quarter mile, usually with a lone soldier standing guard ... or smoking a cigarette.

Police and army in the city is one thing. Seeing random hidden guys in the woods with guns is eye opening, especially for a guy who lives in Northwest New Jersey.

The security theme is played out a bit, and if the games go off without any interruption, then good for the Russians. They deserve credit.

The fun parlor game right now though is whether everything will get done in time for the Games.

I want to share some anecdotes and then leave you with an observation.

Today, while I was at the slopestyle snowboard course, I ran into a member of the USOC. We swapped stories, and his trumped mine by a wide margin.

"I'm in my third hotel," he said.

You see, when he got to the first one in the dark of night after flying all night, it was not only unfinished but also unoccupied. He was greeted with hanging work lights and a security guard.

Off to hotel No. 2.

There, he was placed in a room that was double-booked ... by two people he didn't know ... and he had to stay one night there with them.

Finally, he hit the jackpot: The Marriott. (By the way, the USOC foots the bill, but he still gets the points!)

On our way down the mountain, my producer wanted to stop at the newly constructed mall to buy new boots for the mountains. We were told it was unfinished, so we expected frenzied activity and unopened stores.

The hysterical part? The only food outlets open were Subway and Cinnabon. Go USA!

The third anecdote brings me to the epiphany of the day. At the snowboard venue, building materials were strewn everywhere -- in plain site. Pipes. Wood. Barriers. Random concession machines empty and unplugged.

However, the snowboard practice session went off without a hitch.

Perhaps, the focus is off aesthetics and onto function. Ultimately, television won't show what it looks like behind the stands. The focus is on the athletes.

As Americans, we expect polish, and perhaps, the Russians simply expect the events to go well.

I have no idea if I am right, but it may explain why there doesn't seem to be too much stress among the hosts when it comes to the overwhelming examples of what's not done.

Top Medal Winners
1 Russia 13 11 9
2 United States 9 7 12
3 Norway 11 5 10
4 Canada 10 10 5
5 Netherlands 8 7 9
6 Germany 8 6 5
Latest Medal Results
Ice Hockey - Men
Bobsleigh - Four-man
United States
Cross-Country - Men's 50km Mass Start Free
Russia - Alexander Legkov
Russia - Maxim Vylegzhanin
Russia - Ilia Chernousov
© STATS LLC 2014.
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