SARANAC LAKE - Reporter Chris Knight held his 2-year-old daughter in his arms - blond pigtails bobbing up and down - and swayed to Inisheer's Celtic music at the Harrietstown Town Hall Saturday. He was making family memories at the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival two days before heading to Sochi, Russia, where he'd face unknown challenges, risks and rewards associated with covering the Olympic Winter Games.
On Monday, he hugged and kissed his daughter and two young boys good-bye before traveling to the airport in Montreal. Daddy's gotta go to work. He'll be back in three weeks.
Knight, the senior staff writer at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, is not alone in Russia. He and Enterprise/Lake Placid News Senior Sports Writer Lou Reuter has joined him. It's Knight's first time covering the Winter Olympics and Reuter's third, having traveled to Vancouver in 2010 and Salt Lake City in 2002.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise/Lake Placid News Senior Sports Writer Lou Reuter, left, and Enterprise Senior Staff Writer Chris Knight unwrap their credentials for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. They left to cover the Games on Monday, Feb. 3. (News photo — Andy Flynn)
"My approach is to absorb as much information as possible before the games as I can because I'm going into it from the ground level up," Knight said Jan. 30 at the Enterprise office, seconds after the two reporters unwrapped their Olympic credentials that had been stored in the company safe.
"I've followed Billy Demong. I've followed Tim Burke," said Knight, who mostly covers Saranac Lake news, politics and education, not the sporting events that Reuter covers on a regular basis. "I haven't had the one-on-one interviews with them until before the games that Lou has had ... so I'm a little bit at a disadvantage."
Knight is covering the Adirondack Olympians, and his trip is being funded by the Charles Decker Memorial Scholarship. Reuter is following the locals as well as Olympians from the rest of New York state, working on behalf of the New York Press Association newspapers. It's a natural fit for the Enterprise and News, which routinely cover international competitions and aspiring Olympians at the Lake Placid venues. Therefore, it's not surprising to Knight that people weren't shocked to hear the newspapers were sending two reporters to Sochi.
"It's more about the destination," Knight said. "Most of the conversations I'm having are about security and the trip."
For Reuter, some people were surprised he was headed to Russia.
"When I went to Vancouver and Salt Lake, I kind of got the same thing, except this time it's like, 'Have fun,' and everyone is saying, 'Be careful,'" Reuter said. "A hockey coach told me to keep my head on a swivel."
Reuter said the security concerns in Sochi are more elevated than his past two Olympic trips. It's a topic of conversation both reporters were unable to avoid before their trip.
"(Franklin County District Attorney) Derek Champagne offered to lend me his flak jacket, and I turned him down," Knight said. "That's the first thing I'm hearing from people, too, and it's nice to hear that people are concerned and they want to make sure we're going to be safe over there. But I'll admit, at the same time, it is starting to wear on me a little bit, not so much the people asking but just the hearing about the security concerns."
News reports about security issues were becoming a distraction to the reporters in the final weeks before the Olympics.
"It's important for us to be careful, but I want to focus on the games," Knight said. "It's really kind of go time for us to do the job that we're getting out there to do and not have to worry about the security things."
"I'll be careful and keep my eyes open, but it's hard enough just concentrating on where you gotta be, where you gotta file from, what event is next, without worrying about anything else," Reuter said.
Both reporters live in Saranac Lake. Reuter, a folk hero among high school athletes who shout "Lou!" whenever they see him, has been with the Enterprise and News since 1995. Knight, a trusted news reporter who began his local journalism career with the Mountain Communications radio group based in Saranac Lake, has been with the Enterprise for four-and-a-half years.
While their writing styles may differ, their approach to covering the Olympics is the same: take photos, conduct interviews, write stories and file online to the home office in Saranac Lake.
"I've had good accessibility to the athletes, which is great," Reuter said. "I know it's a lot of work and it's hard work, but it's really rewarding. I know what I've got to do; it's just being able to do it."
Knight prepared for covering the Olympics by studying the athletes and the sports and watching video. He's adapting to the challenge of covering sports but vows not to change his award-winning writing style.
"I kind of want to tell these stories in a news reporter way because a lot of people reading these stories aren't people who have followed Tim Burke's career or know what nordic combined may be," Knight said. "I'm approaching it from an outsider's perspective. Let's use that to my advantage and tell these stories in a simple way that maybe doesn't get into the nitty gritty of how world rankings are compiled. I want to get to the heart of the personal stories for these athletes for their families."
Whether it's a news writer or a sports writer, there's a story to be told," Reuter added.
"The Olympics is news around here," Knight said. "This is front-page stuff that we're going to be writing here. I think we're blurring the line here about whether it's sports or news. It's all news."
For Knight, preparations for the Olympics began at home with his wife and three children.
"My mother-in-law is coming up to help her watch the kids for a couple days," Knight said.
Communicating with Knight's family while in Russia may be a challenge, but he has a plan to keep in touch and create some face time while thousands of miles away.
"I'm going to check in a couple times," Knight said. "We've got another laptop at home that we did a trial Skype run because we haven't Skyped very much over the years. It's going to be tough, I know, from talking to Lou and other people. There will not be as much opportunity to touch base with folks back home, but I want to as much as I can."
"You'll have to fit it in somewhere," Reuter added.
"I know," Knight said.
"You can teach me how to do that," Reuter said.
Both reporters spent a lot of time arranging for the right equipment to cover the Olympics: laptop computers with the right programs to file stories, voice recorders, notebooks, cameras, adapters, extra memory cards and cellphones. They regularly spoke about their plans while in the newsroom.
"I need some new boots before I go," Reuter was heard telling his co-workers earlier in the week. At the time of the interview, he was planning a trip to Plattsburgh, where he bought a pair of boots.
"The key is making sure that everything I pack is absolutely necessary because we're bringing a lot of stuff. There's no room for anything else," Reuter said. "I've been out to the Olympics before, and I've gotten all these cool souvenirs and really cool media handbooks from the different sports, but I've had to leave them all behind because there's not room to collect stuff."
Jim McKenna and Kim Rielly at the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism gave Reuter and Knight each a bag of Lake Placid pins to give away or trade while in Sochi.
"This is my third Olympics handing out the Lake Placid pins," Reuter said. "I remember in Salt Lake I gave a ton to the National Guard. They were a lot of the security presence."
Before leaving, Knight received an email from the Russian Olympic Organizing Committee saying that he needs to get a special release if he's traveling with jewelry or metal items.
"And I'm thinking to myself, 'OK, I'm bringing all these pins. Are pins jewelry?'" Knight said. "So I sent him an email and they said don't worry about it."
Knight and Reuter left the U.S. with a plan to cover certain Olympic competitions but knew those plans can easily change depending on how well the New York athletes are doing. Accepting the fluidity of the Games, each reporter is looking forward to covering some events more than others.
For Reuter, it's hockey.
"I saw some in Salt Lake, and it was like a dream come true for me, especially with the NHL stars," Reuter said. "And I didn't get to see one hockey game in Vancouver. ... Also I won't go out there without watching Billy Demong compete in at least one (nordic combined) race."
Reuter said he could cover any Olympic sport and be thrilled to be there, but watching men's and women's hockey would be an added thrill. He's been covering women's hockey since the national team was formed in 1996 in preparation for the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, the first year women's ice hockey was an Olympic sport.
"They won the first gold medal, and it's been Canada ever since, so it's quite a rivalry," Reuter said.
Knight is looking forward to seeing biathlon and nordic combined, as four athletes in those sports are from the Tri-Lakes area: Tim Burke, Annelies Cook, Lowell Bailey and Billy Demong.
"It's going to be funny to sit on the sidelines, see these folks ski by you, and I guess journalistically I shouldn't cheer for them. I want to be like, 'Yeah, go Billy!' I'm going to have to fight that impulse to do that," Knight said, leaning to Reuter for some advice. "Is that frowned upon?"
"I would just say, 'Come on,' under your breath," Reuter said.
Knight would also like to see some alpine skiing, especially since his friend, Doug Haney of Saranac Lake, will be there as the chief press officer for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
"As a skier myself, I've never competitively raced, but I've always admired people who do that," Knight said.
The main difference between covering the Olympics in Russia and a World Cup in Lake Placid is the distance. The Enterprise and News have a long history covering international winter sports competitions and local athletes that compete on the Olympic stage.
"These are the athletes that I'm watching in the World Cup, bobsled and luge," Reuter said. "This is what I do. Where else, other than working in Lake Placid, can you cover World Cup bobsledding every year and World Cup freestyle skiing? And we've covered World Cup snowboarding."
It's all part of a day's work for reporters like Reuter, and it's an opportunity he doesn't take for granted.
"A sports writer in a small town, you might cover some high school stuff or maybe a college or junior college or two, and that's great," Reuter said, "but the added excitement of seeing the world's best at bobsledding, skeleton and skiing, I think that's what's kept me here."
"We're sort of embedded in this whole thing," Knight added. "It's not like we're an Associated Press reporter being called in from wherever to cover a particular event. It's sort of the fabric of who we are."
Reuter is widely known for his sports and nature photography on the front page of the Enterprise, having more than a dozen years of experience with some of the best Nikon digital cameras. Knight, on the other hand, will be leaning on Reuter for photography tips.
"By the time the Olympics are over, I'm probably going to use three or four different cameras and at least a half a dozen different lenses," Reuter said.
"I'll have what he's having," Knight added.
"We're going to just pass it around, baby," Reuter said.
"I don't have a lot of photography experience in addition to not having any sports reporting experience, nor having been to the Olympics," Knight said. "Why are they sending me?"
Since Sochi is nine hours ahead of Saranac Lake, the reporters expect the time difference to play around with their internal clocks. Reuter was recently given some advice to deal with jet lag.
"Sleepwise, when we get there, go to sleep for 45 minutes and wake up, and then don't go back to sleep until you're on a regular day-night schedule," Reuter said. "I'm going to try it. I don't know if it will work or not."
The time difference will be a benefit for reporting the results back home. Essentially, the Enterprise will be able to put together its Olympic coverage the day before printing, and the results will be uploaded to the Enterprise and Lake Placid News websites as soon as Reuter and Knight file their stories. Enterprise Managing Editor Peter Crowley has placed a Sochi clock - set nine hours ahead of time - on the newsroom wall next to the regular deadline clock.
"When I was out West, I was two or three hours behind, so big events that happened, the paper back here was actually having to print later," Reuter said.
The reporters expect to work until at least 1 a.m. to file their stories (4 p.m. the previous day in Saranac Lake), as many Olympic events are scheduled for the evening. Some morning competitions, however. may be finished by press time for the same day's newspaper.
"It's going to be a thing where we're going to have to flex with," Knight said.
"It takes a couple of days to get into the flow of what's going on," Reuter added. "Hopefully, you get into a comfortable spot where you cover an event, do an interview, get back to the press center and file."
Reuter and Knight took an airplane out of Montreal on Monday, Feb. 3 and will fly back on Feb. 23, the same day as the closing ceremonies, to beat the rush.
"We actually leave at 4 in the morning from Sochi and, because of the time change, get back that same day at 5 o'clock," Knight said.
"Right in time for dinner, baby," Reuter said.
Asked if they be look forward to seeing some of the local culture, Knight was not optimistic.
"We're only going to see real culture, in my mind, if we get out of the venues and have some time to go to some of these other places," Knight said.
Before leaving, Knight spoke with Lake Placid resident Dmitry Feld of USA Luge, who said the Sochi that reporters and athletes will see is not real Russia. Feld is traveling with a couple dozen people to Sochi and is making a stop in Moscow just so his traveling companions can get a taste of the real Russia.
"I am scratching my head a little bit of how much real Russia I'm going to see out there because so many of these venues have been built just for these Games," Knight said. "I don't feel like I'll be experiencing real Russia there, per se. I'll be experiencing the Russia they want to show me."
Reuter, on the other hand, is looking forward to the multinational crowds to provide him with a taste of culture, as they did in Vancouver and Salt Lake City.
"At the Olympics, I've seen thousands of people at events," Reuter said. "One of my favorite memories from Vancouver was covering biathlon and the stands were full - ski jumping, too - there's people from all over the world there. And they're dressed in their nations' colors. They're waving their nations' flags. It's a big mix of cultures, and I'm really hoping that's going to play out again in Sochi. That's what I'm looking for, and just having a great time and cheering for everyone."
When the Sochi Olympics are over and they have time to reflect on their Olympic experiences in Sochi, the reporters were asked what they'd like to see in their scrapbooks.
"Every story I write will be in that scrapbook," Knight said. "Whether or not anybody gets a medal, it's the Olympics. This is a special thing. ... Just the experience of being there in this far-off place, the experience of working nonstop for two weeks, and hopefully coming away with one of our local athletes getting to the podium or close to it."
"I'd say the same," Reuter added. "I definitely would like to see some local athletes that we know get a medal. And we'll be there to share it with them. That's probably been one of the most enjoyable things at the Olympics is seeing these local athletes, and a lot of them I remember as little kids and following them through the World Cup. Just being there at that moment that they get that medal and being able to witness their reactions, their families' reactions, their coaches' reactions, because I almost feel like I've been on the journey with these guys."
In the end, Knight and Reuter want to walk away from these games with great photos, stories and memories.
"I have some great memories of Salt Lake and Vancouver that I'll never forget, and I want really nice, fond memories of Sochi as well," Reuter said.
"I might be new to this particular world, but I've been a reporter for 12 years now and all of them here in these communities," Knight said. "So I'm ready to tell a different kind of story about these communities at the Olympics."