Sochi Scene is a daily dispatch from Associated Press reporters about happenings in and around Sochi during the 2014 Winter Games. Follow AP journalists covering the Olympics on Twitter.
A head of the game
Now that's headgear.
Check out this image of 10 different helmets, taken by various Associated Press photographers during various skeleton training runs at the Sochi Olympics.
Iouri Podladtchikov has delivered the stunner of these Sochi Games, besting American snowboarding icon Shaun White in the halfpipe to win the gold medal.
The 25-year-old from Switzerland, who was born in Russia, figures to have his name all over the news in the coming days after beating the two-time defending Olympic champion. So you better learn how to say it.
It's pronounced YOU'-ree Pod-LAT'-she-kawv.
You know what? Come to think of it, probably just best to call him by his nickname: I-Pod.
-- Jon Krawczynski -- Twitter @APKrawczynski
Spartan by choice
When the American basketball team went to the London Olympics, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the rest of them didn't stay with the rest of Team USA in the Spartan accommodations of the athletes' village. They were put up in a posh hotel with heightened security, large, soft beds and gourmet breakfast.
It's the kind of setup that NHL players are used to having on the road as well. But here in Sochi, Zach Parise, Patrick Kane and the rest of their teammates are eschewing that lifestyle to hang with everyone else in the village. They did the same thing in Vancouver, preferring the camaraderie that comes with it.
"It's part of the games, being around other athletes," says Parise, a Minneapolis native. "We don't mind it. It's fun. It's kind of like college dorms, all the other athletes in the same building."
So it's no California King bed. Just a tiny twin.
Full continental breakfast? The Americans can't even get their yogurt.
Marble tile in the bathroom? In Sochi, luxury comes in the form of a shower curtain. And Parise wouldn't have it any other way.
"I like getting the full Olympic experience," Parise says.
-- Jon Krawczynski -- Twitter @APKrawczynski
She'll be back
President Vladimir Putin had just watched his country's ice dance team take Russia's first gold of the Sochi Olympics. What better way to celebrate than by heading to one of the top party venues in town?
Putin headed over to the Holland Heineken House briefly Sunday night and even cozied up to Dutch gold medal winning speedskater Ireen Wust, who was there to be honored by hundreds of fans for her victory earlier in the day in the 3,000-meter race.
"I got a cuddle from him," Wust told Dutch national broadcaster NOS. "He congratulated me and asked if everything was OK in Russia and I congratulated him on (Russian speedskater) Olga Graf, of course, for her third place (in the 3,000 meters). He was happy to see me, but then he had to leave again. But I cuddled him."
Holland Heineken House is renowned at recent Olympic Games as a great place for a party, drawing thousands of fans with a cocktail of live music, the chance to see a Dutch medal winner and perhaps a couple of beers.
A series of incidents have strained relations between the Netherlands and Russia in recent months, including a diplomat being arrested by police in The Hague and Russia's detention of a Dutch-flagged protest ship and its crew. But there was no sign of any lingering tensions as Putin made his way out of the house and spoke to a reporter in English.
"Fantastic," he said of his brief visit. "Very good. Good people and good results ... good party."
-- Mike Corder -- Twitter @mikecorder
Into the net
Goalkeeper Jennifer Harss of Germany reaches for the puck as Johanna Olofsson's of Sweden shot gets by her for a goal in this photo captured by the AP's Mark Blinch.
Alpine skiing coaches are also expert tree climbers.
That's because lofty perches provide better and more expansive views of lengthy downhill courses, letting them see the best lines down the mountain for their skiers.
Coaches from most of the big teams at the Sochi Games have claimed a tree along the Rosa Khutor course. On some trees there's even room for more than one coach.
U.S. men's head coach Sasha Rearick explains the process.
"You first go up, put the rope up, and do the old telephone pole technique with spikes on your feet," he says. "Then the next days, you put your fixed line up and you just (climb) up, like you're doing a big wall."
Rearick's spot is on the Big Pan section of the course, midway down and just above the key Bear's Brow jump. He estimates that his perch is about 100 or 120 feet above the ground.
"There's advantages and disadvantages," Rearick said. "The advantage is I can see a lot more of the course. ... You can see the difference in line relatively well. The disadvantages are you don't see the angle when the athlete comes in and picks the ski up. So that's what we actually changed today, we put some different video spots to look at where you pick the ski up before the roll. On the ground. Coaches on the ground."
-- Andrew Dampf -- Twitter @asdampf
AP photographer Ivan Sekretarev catches Meagan Duhamel spinning in the air as she and Eric Radford of Canada compete in the pairs short program figure skating competition.
It's probably the most important moment Olympic athletes can have besides competing: Walking in the opening ceremony for their country.
But imagine waiting for your grand entrance and getting your cue: "Independent Olympic Participants."
The equivalent of the International Olympic Committee saying it's not you, just your country.
No wonder the athletes' parade at the Sochi Games wasn't so fun for Indian luger Shiva Keshavan, who said he spent the moments beforehand talking with the other two Indian athletes about why their flag wouldn't fly.
"That enthusiasm wasn't there that I generally feel at the opening ceremony," he said.
But India's back after resolving a dispute over its Olympic governance, setting the stage for its flag to immediately fly in Sochi along with the rest of the nations represented.
"The whole world is watching and when the Indian flag doesn't fly, people know that it's because of corruption and it's not a nice image for the country," Keshavan said. "So although there are real problems, still, symbolism is really important at the Olympic Games."
Now, he thinks the fixes — the first in history to lead the IOC to lift a suspension during an Olympics — will give him and his countrymen a boost: "You have a lot more behind you when you go with your country's flag."
-- Oskar Garcia -- Twitter @oskargarcia
Russian star power
The main news conference room at the media center in Sochi has seemed comically oversized for most of these games, with a couple dozen reporters filing into the 530-seat hall for various question-and-answer sessions.
Why build it so big? Why so many seats for an Olympics that isn't as high profile as the Summer Games and isn't as well attended by media across the world as, say, the London Games were in 2012.
Then the Russian men's hockey team arrived. Suddenly this great, expansive space seemed almost claustrophobic. Hundreds of reporters piled into Pushkin Hall on Tuesday to get a look at the stars of this Sochi show.
Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and the rest of the team squeezed on to the stage, along with three-time Olympic champion Vladislav Tretiak to talk about playing in their home country and trying to restore some pride to the hockey program after a poor showing in Vancouver. Here's what they were looking at as they spoke:
— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) February 11, 2014
And like big stars do, the Russians made everyone wait. The initial press conference was scheduled for 1 p.m. Sochi time, but just as everyone was sitting down a press officer announced that it would be another 20 minutes.
When they finally did enter the room, they received a hearty ovation — a big ethical no-no for American media. Tretiak was cheered when he responded to a question about the loss to the Americans in 1980 by pointing out that the Soviets did redeem themselves in 1984.
No big deal, guys. Just an entire country hanging on your every word.
"There is a certain pressure," Ovechkin says.
The Russians open Thursday against Slovenia.
-- Jon Krawczynski -- Twitter @APKrawczynski
AP photographer Dmitry Lovetsky captures Bryan Fletcher of the United States jumping through the air during a men's nordic combined training session.
To U.S. figure skater Jason Brown, everything on the ice is a blur.
He prefers it that way.
Brown wears eyeglasses, though he says his prescription is not that strong. He eschews them when skating, however, and it works.
"It really helps me block things out," he says. "I see the audience and the rink as a whole."
Brown had tried skating with glasses years ago, and then with contacts last year at the Junior Grand Prix event in the Iceberg. He soon realized that wouldn't work because it made things too vivid.
"I had to ask Kori (Ade, his coach) why the lights reflected off the ice," Brown recalls.
Brown believes he concentrates far better by not being able to focus on people in the crowd and their reactions. Ade also sees that as an advantage for the 19-year-old skater.
"We've termed it calculated oblivion," Ade says. "It's a strategy. Jason is such a pleaser and doesn't want to let anyone down. If he could see someone in the crowd with a sour face because he just bit into a cold hot dog, he would take it personally."
-- Barry Wilner -- Twitter @wilner88
Mind the snow!
"Attention, Olympic snow!" Now that's an eye-catching sign.
Sochi Games organizers planted this one beside an absolutely immaculate patch of snow, groomed like a Japanese garden, next to the ski jump venue. Olympic snow, clearly a posh relation to the white stuff you and I are familiar with, cannot be walked on with dirty shoes, the sign instructs. And "if you need to do a job near or on the snow surface area - please, clean up thoroughly after yourself!"
The sign concludes with this gem:
"Please, remember, this is our Olympic Snow. It is a treasure for us all, please, take good care of it!"
Which, of course, made me just want to lie down on the pampered stuff, do a giant starfish and scribble "John Woz Here" on it with a big stick.
But being a good boy ... Click. Tweet. #Sochiproblems, this one's for you.
See the sign here:
— John Leicester (@johnleicester) February 11, 2014
-- John Leicester -- Twitter @johnleicester
— US Olympic Team (@USOlympic) February 11, 2014
Hours before the start of any cross-country skiing or biathlon race at the Sochi Olympics, the wax cabins next to the courses are already a hive of activity. It's here, inside the barrack-like structures, that gold medals can be won or lost before the skiers even get to the starting line.
Finding the right wax setup is a difficult science, and the top teams have more than a dozen technicians preparing up to 30 different pairs of skis before each race. Different snow temperatures require different setups to get the right amount of glide and grip, and getting it wrong can ruin even a strong favorite's chances. With about 500 different wax products to choose from, the combinations are endless, and getting it right requires years of experience.
"It can make or break a medal performance," American cross-country skier Andrew Newell says. "That's on the shoulders of a wax tech."
Teams have their staff test the skis on the course, and each skier could get a unique setup depending on his preferences. The best setups are guarded like state secrets, with technicians speaking in code to each other over the radio so other teams can't copy them.
Depending on the conditions, the technicians will also grind the skis in different ways depending on whether grip or glide is a priority. Running a finger along a waxed ski can feel a bit like a sticky lollypop with grooves.
"It basically comes down to three things," Newell said. "The flex of the ski, the grind of the ski, the kind of structure that's pressed into the bottom of it, and then the wax."
-- Mattias Karen -- Twitter @mattekaren
Amid fans, the dead
Stadiums, the Olympic torch, food stalls - what else can you expect to see in an Olympic park? In Sochi: a cemetery.
A small graveyard of Old Believers, a purist sect that branched out of the Russian Orthodox during the 17th century, is smack in the middle of Olympic Park in Sochi. It goes completely unnoticed by passers-by who walk along a round plot of land surrounded by a tinted glass fence and lined with almost identical and impenetrable fir trees.
Guarding the entrance to the cemetery are four police officers from Moscow and a police van.
"Why should we, Russians, bother?" said one, who wouldn't give his name when approached. "We always turn a funeral into a wedding."
Before construction for the Sochi Games began in the Imeritinskaya Valley, the area that is now Olympic Park was home to a community of Old Believers, with a cemetery next to it. The Old Believers have been relocated to a village nearby, but they insisted on leaving the graves of their forebears intact.
The cemetery has been open for a century, the Sochi organizing committee's chief, Dmitry Cheryshenko, said last year. He said not moving it was a necessary concession to the community.
Most spectators who come to see Olympic competitions pass the tree-lined circle unaware of what is inside it. Many say see nothing wrong with preserving the place of eternal rest amid the Olympic festivities.
"The most important thing is that they kept it," said Nadezhda Muizhezemnik. "One should treat death calmly. We will all have to go through it."
-- Nataliya Vasilyeva -- Twitter @NatVasilyevaAP