Saturday, February 22, 2014

Russia Day 4. Women Win Gold!

Catching up again after another couple of very busy and exciting days. It's hard to keep track of what has happened since my last post!

OK, we're at Thursday now. I had a lazy morning, trying to relax and regain some strength after two long, tiring days. That included writing the previous 2 blog posts, and watching a little of the action from the Mountain Cluster on tv in the hotel cafeteria. The games are split into two very separate areas: all the snow events are up in the mountains where it's actually cold, and all the ice events are in the Coastal Cluster in Adler (none of this is actually in Sochi; it's kind of like how the "Toronto Bouldering World Cup" is actually being held in Hamilton).

Anyway, at some point I headed back to the Olympic Park for the women's gold medal game. When I got there I noticed something very striking. On previous days, just about all the Russians at the park were fully decked out in Russian uniforms (often including track pants), with flags and painted faces. Today, after yesterday's loss to Finland, only a small minority of them were dressed up. The rest were in mourning. They were dignified and classy about it, but they were sad and heartbroken. And many of them wished me good luck (I still had my Team Canada jersey and cap on, of course!). It was clear that they were looking to Canada to pick up the torch and take the gold medal, in both men's and women's hockey.

My brother Peter, who works as a sports reporter at 680News, had asked me to send him some audio clips with my impressions about the games. He had sent me a list of questions, mainly focusing on interesting and different things I am seeing here. It made me realize that, while there are definitely some differences here, the artificial nature of the Olympic Park makes it feel like I could be anywhere. The more I thought about what was strange and exotic around here, the more I realized that it's me! I'm constantly being stopped to take photos with Russians, and being approached for conversations, often about Canada going on to the gold medal game, and sometimes asking me what I think about Russia/Sochi/the games.

I got to the Bolshoi Ice Dome well before game time, and sat in a section down low in the corner to the right of the net that Canada would defend in the 1st and 3rd periods. I was surrounded by an equal mix of Russians, Canadians and Americans, including a Canadian woman I had sat next to at the short-track event the other day. I keep seeing the same people over and over here.

The game started off close and tight, and without the usual intensity of a Canada/US match. The Americans scored first, and after they did I said to the woman next to me that it reminded me of a script I've seen before, where the US goes up 2-0 before Canada storms back to tie it and then win in overtime. You probably know by now that that's exactly what happened. The crowd came to life after Canada's first goal, with a little over 3 minutes left in the third period, gasped when the US hit the post of our empty net, and then went wild when we tied it in the final minute.

And when Marie-Phillipe Poulin put the winner in during overtime (we had a great view of that), it was bedlam. The Americans around us were very good sports and congratulated us. As they prepared for the medal ceremony we saw the Swiss team line up in the walkway adjacent to our seats. I called out "Felecitations" to them (because I don't know how to congratulate someone in German or Italian and assumed they would speak French), and they smiled at us and then posed for photos for us.

It was very sad to see the American women accept their silver medals so soon after having their hearts ripped out of their chests. They are a great team, and deserve to win as much as we do, but time after time Canada finds a way to beat them.

One thing I've been struck by here is how much Russians like to give gifts. On the plane from Moscow I was given a decorative mug from the woman from the Baikal region. After the women's gold medal game, a man gave me his Russia cap. It's embarrassing to get a gift when you're not expecting one, and especially when you're not prepared to reciprocate. Luckily I remembered I had a pair of Canada gloves in my backpack, and I gave him those.

I've been hounded all week by people who want to trade for my Team Canada hat, a classy black one with red trim and the old Hockey Canada logo on the front. Of course I can't give it up, at least not while my team still has games to play. After the women's game a kid approached me, wanting to trade his cap (from the KHL Traktor team) for mine.  I said no, and I think I broke his heart.

I recorded a few interviews at the game with surrounding fans, and then back at Canada Olympic House connected to their free wifi and recorded some more and sent it off to 680News. They used some of it in reports on Wednesday and Thursday, which is kind of fun. If only that got me press accreditation! Unfortunately that has to be arranged months in advance.

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