Friday, March 7, 2008

Khanty-Mansyisk: outside the venue

We are staying at a hotel next to the biathlon venue. That sounds normal, except that it is guarded by police and even the trails have a strong military presence. There are metal detectors at the entrance to the venue as well, and I walk through one on my way down to the wax room. Oddly, I hesitated last night when I had to walk through the detectors at the grocery store because I had bullets in the pocket of coat. Obviously it didn’t go off, but there is a different air about this place that can make you be a bit on edge.

The streets outside of the venue illustrate the disproportionate spread of wealth in Khanty. In between newer tall apartment buildings there are “cabins” straight out of Dr. Zhivargo.

From what I understand there is an upper class and a lower class here. And by the looks of it, there is a huge gap between the two. Traveling with the Biathlon Circuit there is a myriad of different opinions about this place and from the outside I too would not want to live here.

I gladly stay within the biathlon bubble mostly because people enjoy the sport here, like everywhere we go really. It is reassuring to see people so excited and enthusiastic about their countrymen competing. The stadium erupts whenever a Russian is skiing through or shooting. And I am honored to sign the notebooks, flags and hands of kids who swarm the event – even sneaking around barriers and guards to get in to get our autographs.

Just a few more days here in Russia, then I fly to Oslo, Norway, then to Munich, Germany, then to on to Denver, Colorado. After a week visiting family in Colorado, I am off to Vancouver to finish the season with Canadian Biathlon Nationals.

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