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Kurth shares experiences from Sochi Olympics

Women's soccer student-athlete served as NBC intern for recent Olympic Games

March 20, 2014

Kurth shares experiences from Sochi Olympics

Senior soccer player Emma Kurth in Sochi

Four-year soccer standout Emma Kurth worked as an NBC intern during the recent Sochi Olympics. The following is a firsthand account of her three-week Olympic experience.

By Emma Kurth

Do I want to apply to work as an intern for NBC at the Olympics in Russia? Yes.

As February came closer, the questions became harder. Have you heard about the security concerns and threats? Are you nervous? Yes.

I had a chance to go to Russia and be a part of the Olympic tradition, one that has greatly influenced my life as a competitive athlete. Although I was nervous, I was not going to pass up this opportunity. So I went to Russia for twenty-four days and had one of the most amazing and life-changing experiences I could have ever imagined.

I was fortunate enough to be a guide intern with NBC’s Olympic Hospitality Program and although I worked very long days, I can say that I never felt like I was working.

If there is one thing that I want people to know about my trip it is this: Sochi, Russia did an incredible job with 2014 Winter Olympic Games. It saddens me to come back to America and see #SochiProblems trending on social media, because no, my hotel was not unfinished and I did not feel unsafe.  It was the exact opposite actually; I loved every minute of it.

My fellow guides and I stayed in a hotel in Rosa Khutor, a town in the beautiful mountains of Russia.  Every morning I woke up to the most amazing view as I prepared for the day, which mainly consisted of escorting guests to Olympic Events. 

On February 6, I attended the Opening Ceremonies, which was a spectacle that I will never forget.  The history, the technology, and the performers were all unbelievable.  I cannot even imagine how much time and effort went into those few hours. It felt as if I was watching a dream.

When the athletes from each country entered the stadium, it turned into what felt like a big party, especially when the Russian competitors made their appearance. Everyone in the stadium was up on their feet cheering and dancing with the athletes, whether you were Russian or not.  The party atmosphere did not stop there.

Atmosphere at Olympic Park was exhilarating
Olympic Park was always full of activity.  At any time of the day you could see people waving different flags and taking photos with people that they had never met before and would probably never see again.  People would constantly run over to me and ask for a picture, speaking in different languages.  There was an excitement about never knowing what country the next person you would speak to would be from.  Whether it was by pointing or using sign language, I felt a sense of accomplishment through communicating with them without words. In a strange way, it was as if I had experienced a new part of the world with each conversation.

I was extremely lucky to not only be able to experience the Olympics in general, but to see numerous sides of the amazing event.  I spent the first part of my trip working with NBC, and then joined my dad and sister to spend the last five days of my stay as merely a spectator.  During my three weeks with NBC, I stayed in the mountains, was given a schedule every day, and was always working while at Olympic Park.  It was quite a change going from that lifestyle to being just a fan and staying at Sochi Port in downtown Sochi.  After hearing all of the security protocol as an intern, I would be lying if I said I was not nervous to walk through Sochi.  That faded quickly, though, when I realized what a beautiful city it was.  Suddenly I was on my own schedule, walking around and noticing parts of the park that I had not noticed before, and not really seeing parts that I was exposed to as NBC personnel.

Growing up an avid sports fan and competitive athlete, I admired the Olympics as an unmatched showcase for the best athletes in the world.  I always looked forward to watching every event that NBC covered and keeping track of the medal count.  After being there, I now know that is so much more than just that.

All of these things helped me realize how funny and unique the Olympic tradition is. Every four years, people from all over the world come together in one city and celebrate their top athletes.  However no matter how spectacular the celebration is, the competitiveness between countries is inevitable.  Olympic park brought people together in a sort of worldly reunion, but once you entered a venue, it was all about your country winning.

Olympic athletes display emotions of long sacrifice, journey
It became clear to me early on in my experience that the Olympics come with varying emotions.  There is one particular event that showed me that the most. While there was music, dancing, and people chanting outside as usual, I watched our women’s ice hockey team lose the gold medal game in overtime and witnessed the heartbreak.  Having former teammates of my sister and family friends on the team, I had an even more personal investment in this event than any other.  I had heard about their training, their dedication, and their four year long sacrifices. I also knew how much they truly believed that they would win a gold medal this year.  To see them lose the way that they did put a lot of things in perspective for me.  It was these types of moments that helped me realize why the Olympics are such an incredible tradition: it is the unity and competition combined, as well as the heart and soul that goes into every single event, that make the games so unique and so special.

Another amazing event that I was able to see was the men’s ice hockey game between USA and Russia.  Not only is it an incredible rivalry, but Russia was the host country. I have never been in a louder building, nor have I ever felt so out of place.  As I sat there in my Team USA clothing, we were clearly outnumbered.  There were moments when I actually forgot to watch the game and caught myself looking around the arena at the massive groups of Russians chanting and screaming. In that moment it was hard to not share in their excitement. 

Meeting world-class athletes was a thrill
I love watching hockey and always have as it has always been a part of my family’s life.  That said, one can only imagine my excitement when I ran into members of the USA hockey team eating lunch.  Right there in the same spot as me was Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick, TJ Oshie and Ryan Suter.  These are not just ordinary hockey players, they are the players that I sit at home and watch play on the television every night.  Thanks to the magic of the Olympics, though, they were just ordinary hockey players that day, representing their country like every other athlete there.

I think that pride is a big part of the Olympics. Whether a country had two athletes or two hundred, the country rooted just as hard.  I witnessed American snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg win the gold medal in Snowboarding Slopestyle.  A few days later I met him in Olympic Park and congratulated him, because during those three weeks we were all Americans on Team USA. 

In addition to hockey and snowboarding, I was fortunate enough to attend figure skating, skiing, speed skating, and ski jumping events.  At each event, I quickly learned that Americans were rarely the crowd favorites.  This was a very humbling revelation for someone like me, who has never traveled abroad before. 

Speaking of being abroad, it was sometimes hard to remember that I was in Russia. I realize that this might sound ridiculous, but when I was in Olympic Park or up in the mountains, I felt like I was living in an Olympic bubble, participating in one long party.  Other than the Russian writing and language barrier, I did not have much time to explore the culture, which is something that I wish I had done more of. However, I was there long enough to see how beautiful Russia is, both the mountains and the city of Sochi exceeded all of my expectations.  I also spent my last few days in Russia staying on the Black Sea, which was yet another breathtaking view.

When a city is declared the host for the Olympics, it is an incredible building process.  Many of the villages, venues and courses that I went to did not exist before the Olympics.  It is an indescribable feeling to know that you are taking part in such a one and done thing.  These places will forever be known in Russia as the 2014 Olympic Perimeter, and I will forever be able to say that I was there for that.

Witnessing such an incredible event makes you a fan for life
Going to Sochi, I expected it to be a once in a lifetime experience, so I was shocked when I met numerous people who were attending their fifth or so Olympics.  People were trading pins that they had received at Olympics twenty years ago.  I realized that there are people who, like me, look forward to the Olympics every two years.  However rather than looking forward to watching it, they go to it. After experiencing one I can understand why. I really believe that the Olympics can become addicting, between the different locations around the world, the unbelievable athletes, and the electric atmosphere. If I never go to another Olympics, although I very much hope to, I would still consider myself newly addicted to the tradition.

I have learned so much from my trip to the Olympics.  As an American, I want to experience more of the world than just my own country and be less afraid of the unknown.  As an athlete, I have the utmost respect for the amazing individuals and teams that work endlessly for four years to represent their country. Overall, I feel blessed to have been a part of the untouched international tradition that is the Olympics, an event that words cannot describe.  As I think back on the experience now, I am still in awe of all that I have witnessed.  I could never possibly describe twenty-four days in Russia in just one story; I can only say that it opened my eyes to athletes, cultures, and traditions from all around the world.

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