Andy Newell, a US Ski Team Nordic ski racer has competed in three Olympic Games from Torino, Italy to Sochi, Russia experiencing different venues over the years, seasons with high snow pack and others with none, and he's seen change both in climate and in attitude. Newell shared his reflections of the Olympics in Sochi, Russia with the Green Energy Times last spring.
Newell questions the extreme measures host nations and our world leaders are willing to go to not only to capitalize on the Olympics but, more important, turn a blind eye to our changing climate. His first trip to Sochi was a year and a half before the Games when he was introduced to the beautiful snow covered peaks in one of Russia's largest national parks. Fast-forward 16 months and several billion dollars later and Newell reported that there were hastily built resort towns, huge unfinished hotels, and thousands of acres of clear-cut forest and polluted waterways.
Newell remembered, "Upon arrival at the Olympics we were bussed to one of the six gondolas to access the Nordic and biathlon stadiums. Of course everyone was giddy with nerves and excitement over the upcoming competitions, but as we crept higher up the 8,000-foot peak to where the Endurance Village was located, we could get a true vision of the destruction below."
"A bad snow year had left the valley floor brown and muddy, highlighting all the construction debris. Looking across to the mountainside where the alpine and snowboarding events were to take place, we saw massive swaths of hillside clear cut to accommodate the new trails and lift towers of a future alpine resort. All of this was created to capitalize on the Olympics and to create what was envisioned as Russia's next big tourist destination, but at what cost?"
The underlying theme is that Newell feels we should expect more from our world leaders and the individuals accountable for these decisions. Why was this untouched land chosen for the Games? Why can't world leaders work together to find methods to take the environment into account?
The Sochi situation led Newell to start the organization Athletes for Action to urgently voice the need for change. Before the Games, Newell collected signatures from Olympic competitors urging world leaders to recognize climate change and work together toward solutions.
Newell feels that it is his responsibility and he wants to attract other outdoor enthusiasts who witness these changes, to voice concerns and put pressure on leaders. He'd like to raise awareness and, most important, encourage more climate-friendly decisions and legislation from government officials. Andy Newell has been part of the US Ski Team for 10 years and earned a spot on the 2006, 2010 and 2014 US Olympic Teams. He splits his time between southern VT and Park City, UT and has top five finishes at the World Championship and World Cup competitions.