In an Olympic host city shrouded by international tensions, the self-titled “American Outlaws” are having the time of their lives.
Matching bandanas top off the patriotic U.S.A. outfits Tom O’Connor and Stephen Arlington are sporting for the extent of the Olympic Games. The recent college graduates from Buffalo, N.Y. have captured attention in Olympic Park.
Even before achieving celebrity status, the friends did not plan on attending all 40 events they’ve purchased tickets for. Scheduling conflicts – which now include posing for pictures with curious Olympic attendees – made it impossible.
“I had two beautiful girls who were absolutely giddy,” O’Connor said. “They were hugging us, screaming, [and] we took multiple pictures, and then I gave them a pin. They literally bounced away, giggling. It was amazing.”
Arlington and O’Connor said they’ve received more than 1,000 picture requests from fans in the park. Spectators from around the world have been infatuated with the duo.
Sochi native Irina Shotsola greeted the pair Friday night and requested to “make a photo.” She wanted pictures with O’Connor and Arlington because she doesn’t often see U.S. residents.
“We’re happy to see Americans; we love America,” she said. “We are glad to have the Olympics in Sochi so Americans can see we’re just like Europeans.”
The Games are an opportunity for patriotic Sochi natives like Shotsola to share their culture with the world. Arlington and O’Connor have enjoyed sharing their own culture with others, too.
“America is the greatest country in the world,” Arlington said. “I think to finally get Americans [to Russia] for a world event is a huge deal.”
The American Outlaws ignored the U.S. State Department, they ignored the media, and they ignored their mothers’ advice to dress in neutral clothing while attending the Games.
Head-to-toe attire scattered with stars and stripes has not been an issue in Sochi, but the pair felt it necessary to edit the to-do list they organized in preparation for the trip.
“One of our top items was to hang an American flag in our apartment window,” O’Connor said. “What were we thinking? We’d love to do that, but that’s not smart. Things like that, we’ve calmed down a little bit.”
Though only concerned with organized terror attacks—what they called the “big security threats”—the friends decided to keep their apartment window neutral.
Arlington said his patriotism and love for the Olympic Games grew from his father’s stories of the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980. He knows the Lake Placid, N.Y., Games won’t be replicated any time soon, but he enjoys living the modern-day equivalent.
The “deep-rooted American dreams” are shared by Arlington and O’Connor. The two spent more than a year planning for the trip to Sochi.
Finding the money to attend 40 events and funding close to a month in Sochi required creative financing. For O’Connor, the trip took some help from his Bank of America credit card as well.
“Can I afford everything I’ve spent? Not yet,” he said. “I’ve just started working so I can pay it off. It was the right time in our lives to do this kind of thing.”
The two were glad to see the response from locals and other fans at the Games. The primary reason for attending, after all, was to have fun and support Team USA.
They’ve moved past terror threats and the possibility of being attacked for showing patriotism.
“We’re sick of that crap,” O’Connor said. “We just wanted to come over and have fun.”
BSU at the Games is a freelance news agency operated by 41 student journalists reporting from the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games through an immersive-learning program at Ball State University.