FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – As the Winter Games get underway in Sochi, Russia, two gold medalists in northeast Indiana share their thoughts and memories of the Olympics.
Lloy Ball has gone to four Olympics with the U.S. volleyball team and they took home the gold in 2008. As people from around the world now gather in Sochi, complaints about accommodations have been common.
“I can tell you first-hand , it’s never great. It’s never the Hilton when you go to the Olympics,” Ball said.
He said it also isn’t uncommon for some facilities to be not quite finished.
“When we walked into Olympic Village in Athens, they were still rolling out the sod. The grass wasn’t all in yet. Our bathrooms were not done. We had to share a shower for a week until they got it ready,” Ball said.
Ball also lived and played in Russia for six years. He was happy to see Sochi get the games.
“This is a chance for Russia to showcase being able to hold a big event,” he said. “I shook Mr. Putin’s hand and he wouldn’t put the Olympics in Sochi if he didn’t think he could protect our athletes and his own athletes.”
Heighten security and growing safety concerns have been making headlines leading up to the games.
“We had an attack on our own soil in 1996. Athens was laden with threats after 9/11. Any time you have an event like the Olympics, where you have every country in the world represented, there’s going to be the possibility of it,” Ball said.
Sharon Wichman-Jones was 16 years old when she went to the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. She won the gold medal in 200-meter breaststroke and the bronze medal in the 100-meter breaststroke. She said she didn’t remember security being such a concern then.
“It’s sad that something that was supposed to bring the world together in harmony has the political pressure on it. But, you can’t not go because of that because then they win. The terrorists win then,” Jones said.
She said another big difference now is how athletes have sponsors.
“All our athletes couldn’t take money and we were just competing. Whenever you have money involved, you got a little bit of corruption and perhaps a lot. The innocence is gone,” she said.
Jones added the pomp and circumstance outside of competitions has also increased.
“It’s countries trying to show up other countries and have the best and most expensive Olympics ever and that’s silly. It’s supposed to be about the athletes and friendly competition,” she said.
But, the way Jones and Ball watch the Olympics has forever been changed.
“I sometimes cry when I see these girls win for the first time,” Jones said. “I remember that feeling. It’s a dream coming true and you have to pinch yourself. Is this really coming true,” she said.
Ball’s favorite moment actually wasn’t his gold medal ceremony.
“Even though winning the gold in ’08 was a great moment, an even better moment was in ’96 walking in for the opening ceremonies. There I am a 22-year-old boy from Woodburn, Indiana standing in front of the Dream Team, Scottie Pippen, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neil, with 110,000 Americans cheering us on. I’ve got goosebumps now just talking about it,” Ball said.
At the same time, the opening ceremonies make for a grueling day.
“It looks wonderful on TV, but it’s a nine-hour event by the time you bus over and get all the countries in order. It’s a taxing day and something some athletes might not even do,” Ball said.
“It was an exhausting day. We stood for eight hours in the heat of Mexico City. But, it was exciting,” Jones recalled.
Now all eyes turn to Russia to see who will be the next to make history.