LAKE PLACID - The Olympic scene is nothing new to Dmitry Feld, who has been to four Winter Games during his 30-year career in coaching, recruiting and marketing U.S. luge, bobsled and skeleton athletes.
But this time it will be different.
"Absolutely," said the 58-year-old Lake Placid resident, who was born and raised in Russia and still speaks with a thick Russian accent. "It will be special for me to see the games in my native country. But I'm just happy for Russian people. I'm happy the Olympic games will bring them into what they want, to be part of the Western world."
LPN file photo
Originally from the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia, Dmitry Feld moved to Lake Placid in 1984.
Feld will be wearing several hats during next month's games in Sochi, Russia. He will be working as marketing manager for the Lake Placid-based U.S. Luge Association. He'll also be a tour guide, interpreter and chaperone to a large contingent of U.S. Luge sponsors and donors that he's taking to the games. He described himself as "an ambassador of good will.
"I'm taking 24 people with me," Feld said. "They are supporters of U.S. luge, families of the luge athletes, and one luge athlete, Andrew Sherk, who's an alternate for the Olympic team, and his mom. There will be some donors, too, people who donate a good chunk of money for luge."
Feld said his group will leave on Feb. 2, five days before the opening ceremonies, and spend three days in Moscow before heading to Sochi.
"If you're going to go to Russia for the Olympic Games and you're just going to go to Sochi, you will not see Russia," Feld said. "You will see a resort town. So what I did, I encouraged everybody I know who's going to stop in Moscow on the way out or the way in for two or three days, and then you will see Russia."
Feld was born on Russia's far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, which is about as far away from Moscow and Sochi as you can get and still be in Russia. He grew up in Kiev, Ukraine and came to the U.S. in 1979. Feld has lived in Lake Placid since 1984 and became a U.S. citizen in 1986.
"People ask me, 'Hey, when you go home, how do you feel?' They mean when I go to Russia," Feld said. "I say, 'You know, my home is Lake Placid, New York,' and they all get, 'What do you mean?' I say, 'This is my home now. Russia is my birthplace.'"
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Feld said he was often called a "traitor" when he returned home. Times have changed in the 20-plus years since then, he said.
"After the collapse, (Russian President Boris) Yeltsin came in, and the economy collapsed," he said. "People would get paid in sugar and bread. There was no money. So when you came back they saw you as an economic opportunity - how can we do business? Then Vladimir Putin came in (as president) and the economy started changing. Now they see us as equal. When you go into the Russian Moscow atmosphere, you're no longer looked at as a foreigner. You blend with everybody."
"I talk to people who I know in Russia and I say, 'What do you think of Putin?' They say, 'Look, we might not like him personally, and we want maybe more freedom here or there, but you know what, I get my paycheck and my streets are much safer. The roads are better. I can go to Turkey on vacation.' He brought stability and pumped a lot of money into the economy."
The Sochi games, which are expected to cost in excess of $50 billion, are seen as the capstone of Russia's economic revival. But they've been marred by allegations of corruption, controversy over Russian anti-gay laws and threats of terrorist attacks on the venues. In the past week, two deadly bombings took place within 24 hours in a town a few hundred miles from Sochi.
Feld said some of the people he's taking to the games have raised concerns about security.
"What I tell them is the good thing about this part of the region, it's always security alert," he said. "They've been doing this for a long time. When you come to the luge run, you see security cameras everywhere. They have heat detectors. They're going to bring in 15,000 trained commandos. I trust in them that they're going to provide us as much security and still welcome us."
The Sochi venues are grouped in two locations, the "Coastal Cluster" on the Black Sea and the "Mountain Cluster" in Krasnaya Polyana, about a 40-minute ride from Sochi.
Feld has been to Sochi each of the last four years and has witnessed the transformation of each site. He described Sochi as a seaside resort with a climate and atmosphere that's more like California's Laguna Beach.
"Sochi was ugly hotels during Soviet time, but people still flocked there," Feld said. "Now, it's no more Soviet Union, so money poured in. There are nice four- and five-star hotels, better food. I went there the first time because I wanted to see where the Olympic games are going to be. They took me to Sochi and I said, 'Well, I don't really care about Sochi.'"
"Then they took me for the first time to Krasnaya Polyana, and I knew there was nothing there. There was one T-bar to go up the mountain. It reminded me of the Adirondack Park. Untouched, few people, lots of trees, beautiful scenery."
What was a small mountain town of 500 people has now been transformed into an "Aspen alpine village that you will not recognize if you had been before," Feld said. "It can sleep 25,000 people now. It's a beautiful ski resort with high-speed lifts. It's a totally different place."
The bobsled, luge and skeleton competitions will be held at the Sanki Olympic Sliding Center in the Mountain Cluster. Uphill sections have been added to the track to prevent a repeat of the high speeds that contributed to the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritshvili during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Feld said the U.S. luge athletes who've trained and competed on the track have had no complaints that it is unsafe.
"They said it would be nice if it was more difficult," he said. "It's maybe not the most difficult - it's not like Lake Placid - but that's fine. I never heard any concerns."
Feld said the group he's traveling with will be staying on a cruise ship docked off the coast of Sochi. He plans to lead them on a tour of Sochi and bring them to Krasnaya Polyana to watch the luge events, which all take place during the first six days of the games.
Asked what the U.S. squad's chances are of coming home with a medal, Feld said that will be an easier question to answer in the next few weeks.
"I think the next four World Cups in Europe will show what the U.S. team is made from," Feld said. "If (Saranac Lake's) Chris Mazdzer can finish in the top five in every World Cup, I think his chances to do well in Sochi is very high. We have Erin Hamlin (of Remsen) who is a veteran. I think she can win a medal but she needs to kick it into that high gear. She can do it.
"I think Chris and Erin are probably our best chances for medals, and that would be fine with me. I'll be a very proud American."