Athletes from around the world have descended on Sochi, Russia for the 2014 games, certain to enjoy some vodka, local fare, and celebrating after they compete.
We caught up with three-time Olympic athlete Elli Ochowicz to talk wine and to find out what it is like to be an athlete on the big stage. Ochowicz was a Team USA speed skater for the games in Salt Lake City, Utah, Torino, Italy, and Vancouver, Canada.
She said that for some of the first-timers in Russia, the Olympic experience will be amazing and wonderfully overwhelming. And she added that if those first-timers are anything like her, there will be a glass or two of wine flowing once the competition ends.
Read on for the full interview with Elli to hear more about her Olympic training and her favorite wines.
TDS: First, let’s talk about training. How rigorous is it for an athlete hoping to be at the top of their game? Can you describe it?
EO: It goes without saying that in order for an athlete to reach the highest level of competition, there must be an extreme amount of dedication and hard work involved. For many, this requires that their sport becomes a full time job. Speed skaters, for example, train eleven months out of the year, six days a week, two workouts a day ranging from two to six hours each. Our actual racing season stretches from September to April where we compete around the globe in World Cup and World Championship competitions, all in preparation for the big show that comes around every four years. Although training and competing at this level is incredibly taxiing on the mind and body, the life of an athlete is extremely rewarding. You not only get to travel the world and experience new cultures and people, but you make incredible friends along the way. I have been so lucky to do what I love to do every single day for the past twenty-five plus years and although there have been ups and downs, I wouldn’t trade the experiences I have had through sport for anything.
TDS: What's going through the minds of athletes about to compete in this year's games?
EO: For many of the athletes about to head to Sochi, especially the first timers, it probably has not sunk in yet. Many of the athletes from the United States will be heading to Munich, Germany, in the next week or so for team processing. During this time, they will be given all of their Team USA gear and credentials for the games. Many of first timers I have spoken with are expecting that this is when it will all finally sink in, but are they in for a surprise. Opening ceremonies is where it really hits you and is often the most memorable moment for any athlete who has competed in the games. The feeling of walking into the stadium at the opening ceremonies is indescribable. My first opening ceremony was completely overwhelming as I marched into the stadium in my home country with my friends and teammates beside me and my family in the roaring crowed. At that time it hit me that I was a part of something so much greater than myself and no one could take that moment away from me. I cannot wait to watch all of my friends in Sochi as the USA delegation marches into the Sochi stadium because I know how amazing they will be feeling in that moment.
TDS: When you competed in the past, when it was over, what was the first thing you reached for?
EO: After my last race in Vancouver, I finally had the chance to spend time with my family and relax. I remember we went to a really cool spot in Yaletown called Glowbal. As a family we really enjoy the experience of dining out for the atmosphere, the food and especially the wine. My parents are huge wine connoisseurs and so when we went out in Vancouver, I trusted that they would pick the perfect wine to celebrate the accomplishments we made as a family. I am still fairly new to the world of wine and I often use my parents as coaches to learn from.
TDS: Is it a zero wine-drinking policy leading up to the games?
EO: Leading up to the games I do not have a strict “no wine” policy, although many athletes do. A glass or two of wine is a great way to wind down after a hard training day or weekend of racing. For me, the best time to drink and enjoy a glass of wine is when I am with my friends.
TDS: What's your best wine memory?
EO: My best wine memory was about two years ago at my sister Katie’s wedding. The venue was the B.R. Cohn Winery and it was an absolutely breathtaking event. It was amazing to taste the grapes right from the vine and to observe their winemaking facility. That night we enjoyed their 2009 chardonnay and 2008 pinot noir. It was a spectacular event where we drank to love and family, celebrating right there among grape vines.
TDS: What kind of wine do you like the most?
EO: My favorite wines come from California, particularly the Honig Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley. This really is my “go to” wine. I not only love the crispness and freshness that it provides, but it is also affordable. My favorite restaurant in Salt Lake City, Valter’s, serves the Honig and lucky for me the restaurant is just below by building. And so, I often head down to Valter’s for a glass of Honig and a small bite to treat myself after a hard day at the oval.
TDS: When you travelled to different countries to compete, did you seek out local wine?
EO: Unfortunately many of the places I travel to for skating are not known for their local wines. However, I have traveled to and competed in Italy many times and never pass up an opportunity to taste something from the local region. Our competitions in Collalbo, Italy, are in the Veneto wine region and so I have tasted many delicious pinot grigios and Valpolicellas there. Undoubtedly Italians are my second favorite choice in wines.