Katie Uhlaender

Athletes enjoy video games, basement tunnels, dental work in Olympic Villages

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SOCHI, Russia — U.S. bobsledder Dallas Robinson is talking trash, considering his dental options and biking outdoors and indoors in the days leading up to the Opening Ceremony.

That’s life in the Olympic Villages for the early arriving athletes — first dibs on video games, optional teeth cleaning and a little mischief.

“We’ve only been here a few days,” Robinson said Monday. “So I haven’t gotten in that much trouble yet.”

Robinson, who is also a U.S. Army Sergeant, made exploration a priority upon arriving in the mountain cluster at one of three Olympic Villages last week.

“I was like, hey, I heard stuff’s not done,” Robinson said. “I’m going to find stuff. And I did. In our basement, it’s completely not finished. It’s just tunnels. I was walking down there for about 30 yards with flickering lights, wires hanging down. A little worker jumped out. I think I scared him more than he scared me.”

U.S. bobsledders and skeleton sliders will spend a matter of minutes rocketing down the Sanki Sliding Center track over the next three weeks.

They’ve already spent hours and hours playing “Rambo,” a shooting game, steering-wheel and sit-down-bike racing games, pinball, pool, table tennis and Wii Olympics.

“My favorite thing to do is to beat [USA-2 bobsled teammates] Johnny Quinn and Nick Cunningham at everything,” Robinson said within earshot of Quinn. “It’s been really easy.”

When fresh air is needed, they’ve gone for team bike rides that turned into international affairs.

“It’s funny we’ll have two or three USA coats, and all of a sudden you’ll see one or two come from somewhere else, one or two come from somewhere else,” said Robinson, whose twang was complemented by a “God Bless America” silver belt buckle. “We’re trying the flying V, hitting each others’ tires. We probably rode eight miles [Sunday].”

Robinson said a group took their bikes into a media center lobby with hopes of riding up an escalator. They were swiftly kicked out.

“I don’t know what you’re allowed to do or not allowed to do,” Robinson said, pointing to his athlete credential. “They say this will get you anywhere. It didn’t get us in there. So we had to park our bikes outside, and then we wandered in.”

They found a media center McDonald’s — the restaurant had yet to open in their Olympic Village — where Robinson ordered a Big Mac, six-piece McNuggets, McFlurry, medium fries and a Coke.

“And I sat in a massage chair the whole time eating it,” said Robinson, who has poked new holes into his belt to manage a weight loss of 19 pounds this World Cup season.

Skeleton slider John Daly said he’s put in a couple of hours per day playing video games since arriving Jan. 31.

“I’m not much of a reader,” said Daly, “so I want to go play PlayStation.”

Daly was one of a number of athletes to visit an Olympic Village dentist. Having a translator helped, especially with instructions to put off any major work until after the Olympics.

“We don’t want anything drilled now,” Daly said, seeing as the biggest competition of his life is rapidly approaching.

Speaking of, Daly has watched teammate Kyle Tress break the skeleton track record three times in Wii Olympics, a possible omen for their Feb. 14-15 race for medals.

Fun and games are great — to an extent. Quinn is well versed in cycling from biking to work as a Green Bay Packers preseason wide receiver in 2008. But he drew a decent sweat in jacket weather over the weekend.

“My legs are a little tired,” he said.

Below are photos depicting Olympic Village athlete life:

J.R. Celski watches Super Bowl with Olympic champions

Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s first Olympic track and field medalist, has coronavirus

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s lone Olympic track and field medalist, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to World Athletics and an Iranian news agency.

“We’ve received word from several Asian journalists that Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi has tested positive for coronavirus,” according to World Athletics. “[Hadadi] trains part of the year in the US, but was home in Tehran when he contracted the virus.”

Hadadi, 35, became the first Iranian to earn an Olympic track and field medal when he took silver in the discus at the 2012 London Games. Hadadi led through four of six rounds before being overtaken by German Robert Harting, who edged the Iranian by three and a half inches.

He was eliminated in qualifying at the Rio Olympics and placed seventh at last fall’s world championships in Doha.

Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics, one year later than expected

Jordan Larson
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Whether the Tokyo Olympics would have been this summer or in 2021, Jordan Larson knew this: It will mark her final tournament with the U.S. volleyball team, should she make the roster.

“I’m just not getting any younger,” said Larson, a 33-year-old outside hitter. “I’ve been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason.

“I also have other endeavors in my life that I want to see. Getting married, having children, those kinds of things. The older I get, the more challenging those become.”

Larson, who debuted on the national team in 2009, has been a leader the last two Olympic cycles. She succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as captain after the Rio Games. Larson started every match at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As long as Larson was in the building, the U.S. never had to worry about the outside hitter position, said two-time Olympian and NBC Olympics volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.

“She played as if she belonged from the start,” he said. “They will miss her all-around capability. They’ll miss her ability to make everyone around her better. She’s almost like having a libero who can hit.”

Karch Kiraly, the Olympic indoor and beach champion who took over as head coach after the 2012 Olympics, gushed about her court vision.

“It’s a little dated now, but somebody like Wayne Gretzky just saw things that other people didn’t see on the hockey rink,” Kiraly said in 2018. “And I remember reading about him one time, and the quote from an opposing goalie was, oh my god, here he comes, what does he see that I don’t see right now? She sees things sooner than most people.”

Larson grew up in Hooper, Neb., (population 830) and starred at the University of Nebraska. She was a three-time All-American who helped the team win a national title as a sophomore. She had the opportunity to leave Nebraska and try out for the Olympics in 2008 but chose to remain at school for her final season.

She earned the nickname “Governor” as a Cornhusker State sports icon.

Larson helped the U.S. win its first major international title at the 2014 World Championship. She was also part of the program’s two stingers — defeats in the 2012 Olympic final and 2016 Olympic semifinals, both matches where the U.S. won the first set (and convincingly in 2012).

“It just gives me chills thinking about it now,” Larson said of the Rio Olympic semifinals, where Serbia beat the U.S. 15-13 in the fifth. “That team, we put in so much. Not just on the court but off the court working on culture and working on how are we best for each other. How can we be the best team? How can we out-team people? Certain teams have a better one player that’s a standout that we maybe didn’t have or don’t have. So how can we out-team the other teams? We had just put in so much work that was just heartbreaking.”

Larson and the Americans rebounded to win the bronze-medal match two days later.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t have their heart ripped out. It was just a soul-crusher of a match,” Kiraly said of the semifinal. “More meaningful was what a great response everybody, including Jordan, mounted to the disappointment of that loss.”

The U.S. took fifth at worlds in 2018 and is now ranked second in the world behind China.

Larson spent the past club season in Shanghai. The campaign ended in mid-January. She hadn’t heard anything about the coronavirus when she took her scheduled flight back to California, learning days later that LAX started screening for it. Now, she’s working out from her garage.

Larson is in line to become the fifth-oldest U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball player in history, according Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

Her decade of experience could go a long way to help the next generation of outside hitters, led by three-time NCAA champion and Sullivan Award winner Kathryn Plummer.

“If you’re coming into the USA program as an outside hitter, in the next year or the quad or the quad after that,” Barnett said, “the measuring stick is going to be Jordan Larson.”

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