From piping Canadian television coverage into the athletes’ village to locating soy milk for the lactose-intolerant Olympian, no detail is too small in pursuit of a gold medal.
That’s the philosophy of the Canadian Olympic Committee team currently in Sochi, Russia, inspecting the 2014 Winter Olympic sites.
The COC prepares Canada’s athletes for the Games environment and looks after their needs on the ground.
Chief executive officer Chris Overholt, chief sport officer Caroline Assalian and chief marketing officer Derek Kent are part of a group determining what Canada’s athletes will require to win medals Feb. 7-23 in Sochi.
Canada’s objective is to win the overall medal count.
“The difference between finishing first or second, or finishing off the podium and on the podium, it’s become so competitive that any athlete can win on any particular day,” Assalian explained Wednesday from Sochi.
“We know if we help that performance and it’s a fraction-of-a-second difference, it will make the difference between winning or not winning.
“That medal could make the difference between finishing first overall and not.”
This is the 11th visit by the COC to Sochi. This fact-finding mission concludes June 27.
Assalian hasn’t found security overbearing, even though the Boston Marathon bombings in April and the suspects’ links to the unstable Russian province of Dagestan sparked concerns the Sochi Games will be an armed camp.
“It’s not invasive. It’s normal,” Assalian said. “We feel very safe. We’re walking around and walking around on our own.”
The Sochi venues are located in two hubs — coastal and mountain.
The stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies, indoor sport venues and one of three athletes’ villages are located within the coastal hub in Sochi.
Their proximity eliminates the transportation headaches athletes often experience at Games, Assalian points out.
“The athletes worry about ‘where am I sleeping, is my room and my bed comfortable, what am I eating, am I getting the right food, how far is it for me to go to training and where is my competition site?“’ she explains.
“The big thing here is everything is so close. The athletes are living, eating, training and competing within walking distance.”
In addition to the athletes, the COC must also anticipate the needs of their coaches and families, sport-science and medical staff and sponsors.
“It’s being responsible for 600 people every day under any circumstance,” Assalian said.
“It’s as small and as critical as being able to watch Canadian (television) coverage in Sochi in a foreign land.”
“The figure skaters and hockey players will see each other in the village, but they also want to know how the boblsedders are doing and how the freestyle skiers are doing.”
Hotel accommodation is not as abundant in the Black Sea resort city as it was at the last three Olympic Games in London, Vancouver and Beijing.
Assalian foresees the COC going the extra mile to make sure Olympians’ families are taken care of, so the athletes don’t worry.
“It may be one step removed from the competition, but you know the athletes care about where mom and dad are staying and how are they getting to the venues,” she said.
The COC is also looking at airlines with direct flights from European cities into Sochi, in order to shorten travel for Canadians at training camps and World Cup events there prior to the Games.
Sochi is currently an enormous construction site and the COC team has experienced gridlock, Assalian said. She believes congestion will be eased with the completion of a train system.
She added that the COC will meet with the Sochi organizing committee starting Friday.
The location of Canada’s quarters in the villages and Canada Olympic House, where athletes meet friends and family, are among items to be discussed.