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Athletes are at the heart of each Olympic Games, so it is only natural that they are playing a leading role at the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s debrief of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games this week in Krasnaya Polyana, the area that will host the mountain events of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
At the opening session, legendary Russian swimmer Alexander Popov spoke on stage with compatriot Ivan Skobrev, a double-medal-winning speed skater at the Vancouver 2010 Games, to get his opinion on what makes a great Olympic experience for those participating at the Games.
“Winning two medals doesn’t hurt,” joked Skobrev, who won silver in the 10,000m and bronze in the 5,000m races.
Kidding aside, Skobrev later said that there were a multitude of factors that went into making a successful Games, but the one thing he was most impressed with at Vancouver 2010 that he hoped would be replicated in Sochi 2014 was the friendliness of the people he met every step of the way.
“It was a wonderful atmosphere in Vancouver, really great. It was like a festival,” he said. “As Dmitry Chernyshenko (Sochi 2014) said (in the opening session), it was the Games with a smile. Everybody really enjoyed the experience with each other. I hope we can create the same in Sochi - the same but in a different way, because Russians have a slightly different mentality.”
Skobrev added that his most memorable moment of Vancouver 2010 was the way the public got behind the Games, which in turn inspired the athletes to achieve greater and greater things.
One of the goals of the debrief is to encourage future host cities to learn from the successes of the previous Olympic Games and attempt to reproduce them in a manner that is unique to the culture and region in which the Games will be hosted.
Skobrev said the IOC’s Observer Programme allowed Sochi organisers to get a first-hand look at how to stage a successful Games, while also providing them with the impetus to do things their own way.
“We had many specialists in Vancouver during the Games thanks to the Observer Programme. We got an opportunity to communicate with the people who put on such a great Games,” Skobrev said. “To get the opportunity to see what we are working towards was the most important and inspirational thing for us.”
With the start of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore just a few short weeks away, Skobrev also remarked on how important the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi will be for children.
“After I won my medals in Vancouver, I got thousands of messages from kids who wanted to know more about me,” he said. “Sochi 2014, like the Youth Olympic Games this August, will bring sports closer to young people and get more youth involved. I want to see the results. I hope they will be real and deep.”
Young and old alike came out to cheer Skobrev earlier in March when the speed skater came to Sochi to be a flag bearer for the Olympic and Paralympic Flag Ceremony.
Skobrev was greeted by thousands of cheering fans as he made his way from the railway station to the main square.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I can’t even imagine what it will be like at the Olympic Games in four years.”
Having tasted both personal success and the success of an entire nation in Vancouver this February, Skobrev says his new dream is for his own country to follow in his - and Canada’s - footsteps.
His message as an athlete to Sochi organisers and his country in general?
“Now that I bear the title of No. 1,” Skobrev said, “I want my country to be in that place as well.”