Today was the first day of sports after last nights’ inauguration ceremony. Still having some small yet annoying issues that impact my reporting. The kettle in my room doesn’t work. The Russians still do not know where things are. The signage is awful in many places. The bank is not open. There is no currency exchange around. Food options outside my hotel and the Olympic Park do not appear to exist. The signs in the hotel say leave towels on the floor if you want new ones, and to leave them hanging if you did not: I left them hanging and the towels went away but no new towels. All I am eating is McDonalds, free cookies and Coca Cola. There was a sign in the bathroom at the hockey stadium that said do not put toilet paper in the toilet. The USA embassy sent me an e-mail saying avoid certain parts of Moscow because of a protest. The host country is invading some one else. That’s the picky stuff. Maybe I am obsessing because London built my expectations so high?
It is now time for sports. Because of waking up late and feeling sick, I missed the biathlon so I went to ice hockey instead. This time, everything went smoothly. Buses were where I expected them. They took me where I wanted to go. The signage for sledge hockey venue for the media was better, so I was able to easily find where I needed to be. Happiness.
I had three sports I wanted to see while in Sochi: Sledge hockey, cross country or biathlon, and wheelchair curling. Since I’ve been interested in the Paralympics, I have been living in countries where these are not the winter Paralympic sports of choice and I have not seen them live.
Sledge hockey was awesome, though a bit disconcerting at first because the sledge the players sit on has two parallel blades under at most a third of the sledge. They are tall enough that the puck passes under them. When watching, I had a few moments of whut? Where? How? Mental processing.
I showed up to see the overtime shootout win of Norway over the Czech Republic. I watched the Canadians just totally dismantle Sweden 10 – 1. All fine, all awesome. The fans were great in supporting both teams and supporting good hockey.
And then we hit the game where Team USA played Italy. Since I’ve been in Spain, I have been a bit more conscious that I am an American. It is just a fact of the language barrier. I can’t feel Spanish like I could feel Australian. In any case, neither here nor there. I am an American. I love my country in my own special way. People treat me like I am an American.
Thus the Russian fans worked to grate on my nerves. Sir Philip Craven talked about how sports should transcend politics. Some one should have told the Russian fans that. They were openly partisan. They cheered loudly every time the Italians got the puck. They rocked the house and wildly waved their Russian flags when the Italians scored their lone goal in Team USA’s 5-1 victory over Italy. When the USA scored, there was little applause and most of it came from the section where the American fans were sitting. During the intermission, the person doing the big screen in house entertainment went to talk to fans of Team USA. The nice female presenter asked the pair of USA bedecked male fans to do the Team USA chant. They did. A number of people in the audience booed. Booed.
They booed. It grated hugely on my nerves. I was in London for those Paralympics. Those are my benchmarks for awesomeness. They were truly awesome on multiple levels. This includes the volunteers and the fans. The huge numbers of fans and the locals cheering for high quality play, no matter the country: This was a standout of the London Paralympics. In London, I did not hear this sort of political, partisan booing against teams Great Britain has issues with, including when Iran played Argentina before a home crowd. Remember that little Falklands War? Yeah.
So I am clearly not impressed with the Russian fans here. I was also less impressed with the opening ceremony, which at times felt slightly militaristic in tone. I liked the inclusion of sexual orientation in things that should not be discriminated against during the Games. I liked less the personal public thanks from Sir Philip Craven to Vladmir Putin. (Hey! I saw Putin live in person before Obama! What a strange place this world?) It felt uncomfortable, more uncomfortable when I woke up and read the morning news about Russian actions and statements regarding the Ukraine.
In London, I felt like I got a sense of place. Everyone wanted to talk, including volunteers and other reporters. It was awesome. Everyone wanted to help. I don’t get that here. It is sad. I don’t quite get a feel of Russia so much. I have memories of watching Pat O’Brien during the Lillehammer Olympics, reporting from the International Broadcasting Center before a fire and getting this awesome feel every night that it was a small Norwegian ski resort town that felt homey and Norwegian, with the fireplace. Now that I am at a Games on par with that, I kind of want and crave that Olympic feeling that Pat O’Brian gave me during Lillehammer as a kid, only in person.
How much of this is my own cultural baggage of growing up in the United States in the dying days of the Soviet Union, I do not know. I’d like to think I have transcended such bias, or at least am at a point where I can own and recognize it.
But hey the sport is good so far.
Articles published so far:
- 8 March 2014: Canada routs Sweden in sledge hockey at Winter Paralympics
- 8 March 2014: Norway beats Czech Republic in sledge hockey overtime win in first match at Winter Paralympics
- 8 March 2014: Winter Paralympics Opening Ceremony takes place in Sochi
- 7 March 2014: Ukrainian Paralympic Committee announces decision to compete at Games so their goal of peace will not be forgotten
- 7 March 2014: IPC President Sir Philip Craven says Paralympic Games should not be about politics
- 6 March 2014: Jon Lujan named United States flag bearer for 2014 Winter Paralympics opening ceremony
- 6 March 2014: Preparations underway for start of 2014 Winter Paralympics
- 4 March 2014: Rail border between the Ukraine and Russia remains open
- 3 March 2014: Canada has no plans to boycott Winter Paralympics