Skip Navigation
Regional News
Jack Burke won't be traveling to Sochi to watch Olympic competitions. Instead, he spent time in Europe watching his son Tim compete on the World Cup circuit. Photo: Brian Mann
Jack Burke won't be traveling to Sochi to watch Olympic competitions. Instead, he spent time in Europe watching his son Tim compete on the World Cup circuit. Photo: Brian Mann

For Olympic families, anxiety about Sochi

Listen to this story
In these final weeks before the Winter Olympics in Sochi, there's growing of anxiety about safety and the threat of terrorism in Russia. The state department has issued a travel advisory for Americans traveling to the games. Some athletes in the US have been urging family members to say home.

Safety fears are only the latest complication for North Country families debating whether to make the trip to Sochi.

Hear this

Download audio

Share this


Explore this

Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Absolutely we'll be more cautious. But we're going to be surrounded by families and friends - and I'm sure we're going to raise a glass of Russian vodka
Be sure to bookmark NCPR's Sochi Winter Olympics page for the latest coverage in the weeks ahead as North Country athletes head to Russia.  Our reporting will include stories from correspondent and veteran sports photographer Nancie Battaglia, as well as Chris Knight from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

On a frigid afternoon, Jack Burke is coaching young skiers at Dewey Mountain in Saranac Lake.  His son Tim – who shoots and skis as part of the US biathlon team – got his start training here. 

Tim Burke at the 2006 Turin Olympics. Photo: Nancie Battaglia
Tim Burke at the 2006 Turin Olympics. Photo: Nancie Battaglia
Now, Tim is off to Sochi to compete.  But Jack – his whole family – they’re staying home, missing the games for the first time since Tim's first Olympics in 2006.

“The uncertainty certainly did weight into it.  And the cost – the cost was substantial.  And the cost seemed to be changing weekly.”

For a lot athlete families, the Winter Olympics are a kind of pilgrimage.  They've made the trip to Salt Lake and Turin and Vancouver.  But this year – with Sochi – it’s different, more costly, more nerve-wracking. 

Ed Mazdzer’s son Chris is a luge racer, riding one of those super-fast sleds.  Because Chris is a serious medal contender, Ed and his family ARE going to Russia, but the decision wasn’t easy.

“It’s 18,000 dollars for four of us in our family," he said, estimating that the trip would cost four times the amount they paid for their trip to Vancouver in 2010.

Luger Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, in the red jacket, with hometown fans in Vancouver. His family will be traveling to Sochi. Photo by Nancie Battaglia.
Luger Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, in the red jacket, with hometown fans in Vancouver. His family will be traveling to Sochi. Photo by Nancie Battaglia.
Marty Lawthers, Chris Mazdzer's mom, says the family had to borrow against their life insurance policy to pay for the trip.

Along with the cost of travel and hotels, she says, came the expense and headache of dealing with the Russian bureaucracy.

“I think the whole visa process was just crazy.  Just crazy.  There are so many fingers in the pie in this particular event.”

Even families who’ve paid thousands of dollars say they’ve had their reservations changed or canceled over and over.

“As recently as three weeks ago, we got an email from the organizers saying they were moving us again.”

Helen Demong will be going to Sochi, with the backpack she's carried to every Olympic games where her son Bill has competed.  But the trip has proved expensive and complicated. Photo: Brian Mann
Helen Demong will be going to Sochi, with the backpack she's carried to every Olympic games where her son Bill has competed. But the trip has proved expensive and complicated. Photo: Brian Mann
Helen Demong is the mom of Olympic gold medalist Bill Demong, whose sport – Nordic combined – combines long distance ski jumping and x-country skiing.

She says their hotel rooms,  reserved and paid for months in advance, keep evaporating.

"That particular hotel was run by Russian businessmen and he had double-booked it and he had no rooms set aside for us.”

It's hard to say how many American families are opting out because of these hurdles.

Jack Burke, who is staying home, says he thinks a lot of Olympic fans are also turned off by the impression that Sochi is remote from the rest of Russia – and just isn’t a known to Americans as a must-see destination.

“We felt that if we went to Russia, it would strictly being watching events…and experiencing the local culture and getting around would probably be limited.”

Art Lussi, who lives in Lake Placid, found out last week that his daughter Nina won't be competing in Sochi. 

But he says even before that decision was made, he planned to stay home for the games.

In part, that's because technology has made it easy to stay connected and supportive at a distance.

"The beauty of today's world with Skype and the ability to text and to email, really makes you feel a part of your child's athletic progress and you can be the support system that you are," he said.

Everyone interviewed for this story – those going to Sochi and those watching from home on TV – said worries about security and terrorism are constantly in the backs of their minds.

Especially after Vancouver four years ago, which felt almost like a home-town Winter Olympics, Helen Demong says these games will be nerve-wracking.

“Absolutely we’ll be more cautious.  But we’re going to be surrounded by families and friends – and I’m sure we’re going to raise a glass of Russian vodka and we’re going to celebrate.”

Demong points out that there were similar fears about security before the Salt Lake Winter games, which followed just five months after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Those games went off without a hitch and Demong is hoping Sochi will turn out the same.

Visitor comments

on:

NCPR is supported by:

This is a Visitor-Supported website.