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A Colorado Mom Shares a Fascinating Glimpse of Her Son’s Olympic Journey and the Cost to Get There

Four years ago after a whirlwind contest and painstaking selection process, I was honored to be the the Grand Prize Winner of Microsoft Office’s Winter Games Contest and was their accredited blogger at the 2010 Vancouver Games. As an avid winter sports enthusiast, this was a dream come true! For a stroll down memory lane, be sure to read all my behind-the-scenes adventures including how The Today Show’s Matt Lauer stole my moment in the spotlight, what it was like to hang out with Bonnie Blair (the most decorated woman in winter Olympic history) as Apolo Ohno broke her longstanding Olympic record and how I put my foot in my mouth when meeting”The Great One” Wayne Gretzky.

Vancouver was my third Winter Olympic Games. I grew up in Calgary and was thrilled to attend several events at the 1988 Winter Olympics and several years later I lived in Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympics. If you’ve never been to the Olympics, I’m here to tell you there is nothing like it and the host country is on fire as it showcases the world’s best competitors. 

Do I wish I was going to Sochi, Russia? You betcha and I’ll be glued to the television Feb. 6-23, 2014. During that time, we’ll hear a lot of athlete profiles but what about the mom behind these success stories?  What does it really take to get to Sochi? There are a lot of difficult questions for the families, particularly since most athletes do not make the Olympic team until a month prior. As a mom, how do you plan and what kind of a financial investment is it to see your child fulfill their dream at the Olympics?

So I asked my friend Allison Scott from allisonscottColorado Springs, the mom of four-time U.S. Figure Skating Champion Jeremy Abbott.

Q: What does it really take to get to Sochi?

For the families, that’s a difficult question. Let’s break this down. Flights: Back in August, “on the cheap” flights through Kayak were about $1,700 US each round trip with two stops taking a  total of 24 hours.

Hotels (because that’s your only choice) for 10 days: You can’t even GET a price over the dates of the Olympics. Every hotel says “call.” I am in the hotel business so I can tell you they are all holding rooms in a block and they will be well over full rate. Hotels at the parent’s rate was $750 per night but we managed to lower that to $500 per night.

Food: Plan on $75 to $100 US per person per day, unless you live on nothing but peanut butter you bring over yourself. Drink: Of course. It’s a requirement.

Event Tickets: Each Olympic figure skater is aloted two family/friends tickets but they are in the nosebleed section so many families pay to upgrade. Opening ceremonies are anywhere from $1,500 US per ticket to $200 per ticket for the nosebleed seats. Figure Skating Team Event tickets are roughly $500- $600 per ticket for good seats and $100 per ticket for the rafters.  Figure Skating medal events average $600+ per seat for a decent location. And to get into the Gala with a good seat will set you back about $700+ per person. 

Q: This is overwhelming. How do you navigate everything?

Even though we didn’t know if our son would make the Olympic team until a month prior, U.S. Figure Skating has been doing webinars with parents since August and we were given an 80-page chaperone packet. It is not an easy situation. There are transportation issues and it takes a lot of time to get the required Visas but in order to do that you need to have your hotel reservations so it is complicated. Last fall, we found a good rate on airfare and ended up booking it on blind faith that Jeremy would make the team. 

A tremendous help is Procter & Gamble with their “Thank You Mom” campaign and their sponsorship of the incredible Family Home. This building in Sochi literally becomes our home base where Olympic families meet, relax, get our hair and make-up done, have snacks and connect with other Olympic families. P& G’s support is not an empty gesture. Together, these programs can save literally thousands of dollars for a family and is a significant and much-appreciated foundation of financial and emotional support.


Jeremy with his mom and sister Gwen

Jeremy with his mom and sister Gwen

Q: When did Jeremy start figure skating?

Both my kids were born and raised in Aspen so they skied and skated from an early age. Jeremy was on the ice when he was 2 years old.  Like most kids, he started out with a cone for balance and after two minutes he pushed it aside. We enrolled him in basic skills classes and when he was 4 1/2, we took him to Winter Skate in Aspen and in that show was Robin Cousins, the 1980 gold medalist. Jeremy sat transfixed for two hours and when it was over  he said “I want to do that” and he has never looked back. When he was in eighth grade he surpassed the level of training his coaches could provide so he moved to Colorado Springs to live with a host family.  We were working three jobs to pay for his training center and we eventually followed him to the Springs. Now 20 odd years later,  Robin Cousins has choreographed Jeremy’s short program so everything has come full circle.

 Q: How does Jeremy feel about his Olympic chances?

He feels very focused and prepared. This will be his second Olympic Games. In 2010 he had just won the U.S. Championships but he had very limited international skating experience so his performance in Vancouver was overwhelming and disappointing (he placed 9th overall). This year, he is in the best shape and the best place mentally. At 28 years old, he is the oldest on the men’s U.S. Figure Skating team and their second-time Olympian.

Q: After all the sacrifices to get Jeremy to the Olympics, what will you expect to spend in Sochi? And is it all worth it?

Jeremy AbbottAfter the generosity of our federation and our major sponsor, you can expect to be conservatively in the neighborhood of $10,000 per family member or $1,000 per day for 10 days to see your child compete in the Olympics. I’ve spent my life turning a blind eye to the cost of my kids’ sports and schooling because they all excelled, and the experiences they gained along the way far outweighed the leaking pipeline of dollars it took to make it happen. I have one Olympian. I have one former X-Games competitor who now owns and operates her own business.I have one Mensa Society member who is a brilliant young general manager of a hotel.

I also have a house in need of serious repair; I have two mortgages and seemingly more debt than the federal government. I have a husband of 25 years who has stood by through all of this with (mostly) unquestioning support, taking the good with the bad and re-defining “for richer or for poorer.” I am wealthy beyond my wildest imagination because of it.

Sochi is not a destination; it’s another stop along the way. However, for so many athletes and their families, the road to Sochi is the ultimate journey. And for those families who looked at a life map all those years ago, purchased their E Ticket and charted a course, it is yet another highway with bumps, potholes and detours where the expense will be far outweighed by the experience.

Allison Scott is the Director of Communions at The Broadmoor and blogs at Life on the Edge of Skating. Follow her behind-the-scenes adventures in Sochi at the Colorado Springs Gazette

NBC’s 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics: viewers’ frequently asked questions

The 18-night TV binge known as the Winter Olympics starts Feb. 6, for the first time launching one night ahead of the Opening Ceremonies. It’s starting early because there’s much to cover and, really, because NBC can.

The prime-time view of these Games will be tape-delayed, unlike, say, the Vancouver Games that lined up well for live TV in the Mountain Time Zone. Still, there will be plenty to live stream in real time across laptops, tablets and phones.

Strap into the vicarious luge that is the couch and enjoy.

Sochi XXII Olympics FAQs:

Q.What will air live?

A. When it’s noon in Denver, it’s 11 p.m. in Sochi. What you see in prime time will have been taped earlier, but online access is greater than ever. Expect more than 1,500 hours of coverage across six NBCUniversal platforms (NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network and NBC and more than 1,000 hours of live streaming coverage — “more than Vancouver and Torino combined.”

Q.What’s new?

A. A record 98 events are scheduled, including a dozen new sports events aiming for younger demographics. New technology includes a camera that flies into the 22-foot high half-pipe with athletes. “You’re going to see more specialty cameras than ever before,” said executive producer Jim Bell. “And many of them really single out some of these action sports like the snowboarding, like the aerial skiing and the moguls.”

Q.How do I watch live events on my various devices?

A. First, “verify” your subscription to a cable/satellite provider. For that you’ll need your username and password. (Watch Ryan Seacrest explain: You can download the NBC Sports Live Extra app to cellphones or tablets.

Q.How much did Comcast-NBCUniversal pay for the exclusive rights to broadcast/stream the Olympics from 2014 through 2020?

A. A cool $4.38 billion. For the 2014 Winter Games alone they paid $775 million. Past ratings suggest it’s worth it. Cumulatively, more than 217 million Americans watched the London Olympics across the NBC Universal networks, the most-watched event in U.S. television history. NBC expects to earn $1 billion in ad dollars from the Sochi games.

Q.How worrisome is security, given the terrorist threats that shadow the Games?

A. NBC officials claim they’re “confident” their 900-some employees are safe. Gary Zenkel, president of Olympics operations and strategies for NBC, said, “We have never seen the type of security that we are now seeing in Russia at any prior Olympic Games in terms of the credentialing, surveillance, and amount of resources that have been committed to this area.” NBC employees are required to have escorts (ie. bodyguards) outside the Village and have been warned not to wear clothes identifiable as American.

Q.Will NBC’s ratings suffer without the presence of Lindsay Vonn in Sochi?

A. Vonn will be present on the air, as a “correspondent” for “Today” and NBC Sports. Her absence from competition will hurt, but the network will make do with Vonn’s comments via satellite from the U.S.

Of course NBC is on the lookout for telegenic personalities who could become ratings drivers as the games proceed. Executive producer Jim Bell said the coverage plan is fluid enough to accommodate a rising star: “Maybe a sport or an athlete suddenly becomes hot…we’ll react to it.”

Q.How much attention will NBC pay to Russia’s anti-gay laws and the surrounding protests?

A. The network’s news division has been reporting on the gay rights issue in Russia and will be present when the games begin. If gay athletes unfurl a rainbow flag, Bell has said he will cover it. Encouragingly, NBC hired The New Yorker editor David Remnick, who has reported extensively from Russia, as an analyst. He’ll offer context beyond the scope of athletics.

Q.Who will be there for 9News?

A. The local contingent is Cheryl Preheim as anchor; Anastasiya Bolton (who was born and raised in Moscow and now holds dual U.S./Russian citizenship) as a reporter; Matt Renoux, mountain newsroom correspondent who covers alpine, Nordic and snow sports training in Colorado and Utah, and Tim Dietz, VP-interactive services, handling all technical and logistical matters, now working his eighth Olympics.

Q.How much locally produced coverage is planned?

A. KUSA News Director Patti Dennis expects live reports from Sochi in all newscasts, 14 newscasts per weekday, plus Drew Soicher’s “Ozone” show at 6:30 p.m. each night. Past ratings have demonstrated an enormous appetite for Olympics coverage in the region, where many Olympic hopefuls train.

Joanne Ostrow: