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In Sochi, An Olympic Artist Sees The 'Possible'

The thing about Sochi and the surrounding area, and the sidewalks, and the roads, and the land around the train tracks, is the construction. It is everywhere — in places where some might see it and say, "Wait, it doesn't matter. This will not be on TV. No one important is staying here. Just let it go." Miles away from any venue or lodging or Olympic rings.

When I went up to the slopestyle course to interview an athlete, the sound of the music blaring over the loudspeakers was often drowned out by a bulldozer, making noise just behind the stadium seating.

It was in this state of construction, preparation, unfinishedness, that I found Marc Ahr, in the village at the Rosa Khutor extreme sports complex. I saw Marc sketching, looking very hip in black jeans, a gray beanie, and a faux-fur-lined leather jacket. He told me he's been sketching and painting Olympics across the world for 22 years now. He did Lillehammer, Nagano, Salt Lake City, Turin and Vancouver, all without pay. He just shows up and starts drawing. This one, Sochi, felt special to him, as Marc has lived in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the past 10 years. (He's originally from France.)

He was in the midst of finishing up some mountains and adding people to the little village beneath the peaks in his rendering. "I like to add real people to my pictures," he said as he drew. "Real colors, real people."

I asked Marc what he made of all the hoopla surrounding the games, how he dealt with a city still very much under construction just hours before the opening ceremony. I asked what he made of the talk of stray dogs being put down. We talked about his thoughts on the ongoing issue of LGBTQ rights in Russia. Basically, I asked him about all the negative press surrounding these games, which has reached a peak before they've even started.

He answered: "In Russia, everything is impossible, but everything is possible."

For Marc, the games will happen, and they will be good; things are better than they seem, no matter what the press narrative is, or even who wins or loses. "What the hell if they go down the slope one second before, one second after," Marc said. "I don't see the difference. I'm happy to be with people who are happy."

Marc did have some Olympic favorites. He said he most enjoyed drinking with the Japanese. The best transportation was in France. But they all had good and bad, he told me.

And that's the thing for Marc. Throughout all of the criticism of his country ahead of the games, he said every country, everywhere, has good and bad. "Each culture is different," he told me. "Of course we want everything to be our way. If you look through another angle, you will see that some of the things are not as bad as you think."

Marc acknowledged that Sochi — that Russia — still has some work to do. The construction in these parts might not just be physical. Perhaps the bulldozers and plowed-up ground and unfinished buildings are a metaphor. Things in Russia are changing, at least as far as Marc can see. "Each country is getting there," he told me. "Slowly, and slowly."

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