Thursday, February 20, 2014

Russia Day 2. Short track and Qualification round games

I'm catching up after a couple of busy and exhausting days, and I'm so tired it's kind of all a blur.

OK, back to Tuesday; what did I do? Oh yeah, I got up and had breakfast and walked to the bus stop a few blocks away to catch the bus in to the Olympic Park. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes, with only a few stops, and then it's about a 30-40 minute walk through the park from the bus stop, depending which venue you're headed to. It could be a bit quicker, but I'm a naturally slow walker, and I'm further slowed down by very sore feet from so much walking, as well as all the Russians who want to get a photo with me! At first I thought it was just the Canadians they wanted photos with, but it turns out they want a photo with everyone.

My first event was short-track speed skating, where I saw the women's 1000m heats, the men's 500m heats, and the women's 3,000m relay events. I was sitting in the upper part of the arena, but in the first row of the section, so I had a good view from above. There were a few Americans and Canadians scattered among the Russians in the crowd. The Canadians generally did well in the heats, with most of them advancing. The notable exception was Charles Hamelin, who was well out in front of the other skaters when he lost an edge on a corner and crashed out. It wasn't the only crash of course, and the Canadians benefited in the relay. The Italians crashed out, Canada finished the race third, but then the Koreans were disqualified, bumping Canada to a silver medal, and giving the Italians bronze. Short-track is crazy and unpredictable, and it's pretty common for a good team to get knocked out.

While waiting for the first of two Qualification round hockey games I hung out at Canada Olympic House. Well, just outside it, as only those with Athlete or Friends and Family accreditation can get in (no beer fridge for me, alas). There is free wifi there - the only place in the park I can connect, always Canadians hanging out, and it has become a great place to trade or buy tickets. There are tickets available for almost everything, as some people wound up with the wrong game given the team they support, and others have tickets they want to sell. I met a Russian named Ivan there, a driver for the anti-doping commission. He had a ticket for Canada's Quarter-final match Wednesday night, and I wanted one. He offered to give it to me as a gift, which I thought was incredibly generous until he added "and you will give me a gift of 9,000 rubles!". Apparently he was not supposed to sell his tickets, so it had to be a gift exchange! I went to the ATM (twice, as there is a limit of 7,000 rubles per transaction), and we made the swap. He wasn't able to sell the other ticket he had (by the time of that game, there was a glut of tickets available, and prices had dropped), and wound up sitting next to me for it.

My first hockey game Tuesday was the Russia/Norway Qualification match. The crowd was very loud, all dressed in  Russian team apparel, many in team track pants as well as sweatshirts or jackets. Many had Russian flags painted on their faces (they have face paint in sticks with the 3 colours, to make that easy!), and there were a vast number of Russian flags, many with the name of people's home towns printed on them. I've never seen such an enthusiastic, patriotic crowd, and they were having a blast, roaring after each Russian goal, chanting Rus-see-ya and Shaybu (literally meaning "the puck", but it's an abbreviated form of the phrase meaning "score!"). The Russians didn't really play very well, but it was enough to get by Norway 4-0 (two of those goals coming very late in the game, one in an empty net) and into the Quarter-finals.

After grabbing a quick and mediocre bite to eat (the food in the park is quite unimpressive), I went to another Qualifying round matchup: Switzerland vs Latvia. The Swiss had won a close round-robin game between the two, and we Canadians were a little leery of the Swiss because they have given us some trouble in the past. It was a good close game but Latvia won 3-1, earning a game against Canada on Wednesday.

Long walk back to the bus, and back to my hotel around 1am, exhausted, but still too wired up to sleep. I caught up on email and recorded a few more bits for my brother Peter to use in his radio reports. He wound up using 4 of them over Monday and Tuesday, and said he got a good response to them. He sent me the audio files, and I don't think I have a future in radio; I hate the way my voice sounds. But it was fun to do the spots. If only that got me media accreditation...

General impressions so far:

  • The Olympic park is huge and feels somewhat empty much of the time, except at night after the games and medal ceremonies.
  • There is a vast army of volunteers, most of whom seem to have no job other than to stand there, look friendly, and I guess answer questions. Some sit in lifeguard chairs with megaphones talking to the crowd.
  • The security is pervasic but mostly unobtrusive, and all the security people are friendly. I feel completely safe here, whether in the park or wandering around the town.
  • I still have no impressions of Sochi, because I have not been there yet! I'm staying in a neighbourhood north of Adler, south of Sochi proper. I'll try to get there on the weekend when I have more time.
  • There are a lot of Canadians here, and a smattering of other foreigners, but mostly this is Russia's party for Russians, and they are having a blast.
  • Canada Olympic House: I have no access, but there is free wifi, and lots of ticket trading going on there.
  • Overall the similarities I see overwhelm the differences. Russians are friendly, they love their children, their country and especially their hockey, and they like to make silly poses for photographs, including the cliche holding the olympic flame in your hand shot.
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