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Hughes Olympic blog: A stroll through Sochi.Park

As London Olympics sizzle on, Russia paves path to Sochi

Sarah Hughes (right) smiles with sister Taylor at Sochi.Park in Kensington.
Sarah Hughes (right) smiles with sister Taylor at Sochi.Park in Kensington. (courtesy of Sarah Hughes)

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By Sarah Hughes, special to icenetwork.com
(08/08/2012) - No stranger to the Olympics, Sarah Hughes is in London to chronicle the 2012 Olympic Summer Games for icenetwork.com.

Tuesday, Aug. 7

First of all, I just want all of you to know how much I loved sharing my London Olympic experience with you. After full days of running around the city and trying to navigate out the best way to get from point A to point B, the first thing I wanted to do when I got back to my room -- no matter the hour -- was sit down at my computer and jot down some highlights of my day or an encounter I had that you may find interesting. Making the journey to London and being part of the Summer Games has been the most fun I've had in a while. Having you along for the ride has made it even better -- reading your comments, tweets and thoughts added another dimension of enjoyment.

I would be remiss not to finish my blog series without sharing my visit to Russia.Sochi.Park. Sochi.Park, right in Kensington Gardens, gives visitors a taste of what to expect at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games. There is a 4D chairlift ride up the virtual Krasnodar Mountains, a kid's zone with games, live music and a parade of Russian Olympic champions stopping by with their medals.

With the 2014 Winter Games only 18 months away, the park takes the "visitor experience" up a notch by featuring a makeshift ice arena in a tent with a live skating show every night. It's not just any skating show either -- it's 95 minutes of non-stop action. The show has live singers, instrumentalists, acrobats and a total of six Olympic champions and 18 world champions. World champion and Olympic silver medalist Ilya Averbukh produces this story told on ice.

Sochi: Small Stories of a Big City is theater on ice. The spectacle follows a series of intertwining love stories and couples trying to make sense of their relationships. The stories are told through the acting and performances of Alexei Yagudin, Irina Slutskaya, Tatiana Navka, Roman Kostomarov, Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, Maria Petrova, Alexei Tikhonov, Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas, Maxim Staviski, Albena Denkova, and Maxim Shabalin and Oksana Domnina.

"I really enjoyed the Sochi show," said Sinead Kerr, seven-time British ice dancing champion. "It was a very high-quality production, with, of course, great skating and innovative choreography."

One of Sinead's favorite parts of the show was rain, with all the skaters getting soaked during the finale.

"I liked the effect of having it 'rain' and the skaters skating around with umbrellas in a downpour!" Sinead says. "There were some fun, well put-together group numbers."

Playing the role of the inventor's daughter and the youngest member of the show is British skater Caitlin Gilmore, who was thrilled when she was invited to participate alongside so many skating champions. She is the only British skater in the cast -- and is adorable.

The arena seats over 1,000 people and was well attended the evening I went, with only the seats adjacent to the stage unoccupied. Sinead, who went on a separate evening, had a similar experience.

"The audience loved the ice show and gave it a standing ovation," she said. "It was very well attended, almost full! We even got recognized a few times so there were definitely some skating fans in there."

Sinead and her brother John Kerr found the Park served its purpose: getting people excited for the 2014 Games.

"Before the skating show, we visited the 'Sochi Experience' tent and it did make me want to visit," Sinead said. "The area looks beautiful.

"It was amazing to get so many world and Olympic medalists skating together under one roof, and the audience members I spoke to were very happy to have the chance to see them in such an intimate environment."

John added that he enjoyed his time in the Park and looks forward to Sochi putting on a great Games in 2014.

"Not as good as us Brits though," he joked good-naturedly.

For those of you who are in London or heading there for the last few days of the Games, tickets are available at the box office inside the park and online.

Also, directly across the street from Sochi.Park is the USA House. The evening I saw the show with my sister, Taylor, we headed across the street afterward and celebrated the gold medal USA's Kristin Armstrong won in cycling earlier in the day. There was a ceremony where she gave her coach a medal and thanked her team. Armstrong spoke of how she came back to cycling after having a child, was able to reignite her fire within and proved all the naysayers (admitting she was often down on herself during her comeback too) wrong. Of course, she spoke while the gold medal glittered around her neck and then allowed anyone who wanted to touch it. The London medals are heavy!

Like the medal and her journey, none of it is small. Making an Olympic team and winning a medal is a Herculean task. When Armstrong included all of us in her celebration that evening, she gave us another gift: inspiration.

Enjoy the rest of the Games, guys -- I know I will. Was a real treat to be able to share my experience with you!