As fears grow over the continuing crisis in the Crimea, a former Lynn student says she hopes the recent Winter Olympics and Paralympics will present an alternative view of Russia to the world.
Esther Harper has just returned to Britain after working as a volunteer interpreter during the Paralympics in Sochi, which ended last Sunday.
She is now hoping to go back to Russia when it stages football’s World Cup in 2018 and said hosting events like the Olympics should be a major boost for the country.
She said: “It was fantastic for Russia. It’s massively misunderstood as a country.”
And, although the Crimea crisis deepened during the games ahead of the vote for the region to join Russia on Sunday, Esther said she saw little sign of any political tensions overshadowing the sport, despite some Ukrainian athletes covering their medals on the podium in protest at the situation in their country.
A former student at the King Edward VII School, Esther, 25, read Russian Studies at the University of Leeds, where she now works in the university’s education outreach service, as well as undertaking postgraduate research.
She spent a year living in the Russian capital, Moscow, as part of her degree course and has travelled extensively across the country.
She feels the true nature of Russia and its people is not put across to British audiences, a problem that may have contributed to how the early part of the games was seen.
“I think everyone was looking for things to go wrong,” she said.
Having decided to volunteer at around the time of London’s Olympics in 2012, most of Esther’s time in Sochi was spent working close to the medal presentation area in the mountain cluster of venues.
There she worked primarily with athletes and journalists in what is known as a mixed zone, where competitors face the world’s media.
And she was also called into action when the International Olympic Committee’s president, Thomas Bach, arrived to present one set of medals.
“My manager ran in saying, ‘Esther, come quickly. Thomas Bach is here.’”
Along with a sign language interpreter, she helped to translate during his discussion with the head of the Russian deaf sports federation.
“It was a fantastic opportunity. He was really nice and thanked me profusely afterwards”, she said.
Having hosted last summer’s World Athletics Championships as well as the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, attention is now set to turn to Russia’s next sporting showcase when it stages the football World Cup in four years’ time.
And Esther hopes to be back there for the tournament.
“My manager is working on a World Cup project so I’m definitely going to stay in touch,” she said.