Russia's joy on display in Sochi
Russian fans backing 'Kanada'
It was Day 6 when I made up my mind.
I went to the Iceberg to watch Charles Hamelin and the short track relay team skate closer to more glory. It didn’t happen, but I had my eyes, ears and mind opened to the reality that this really is Russia’s Olympics.
In the heat where Hamelin’s teammate went down the winner was a Russian, and the roof went up. It was louder and more joyous than I had ever heard. These were real Russians having the time of their lives.
Then came Thursday night and the miraculous victory by Canada’s women’s hockey team.
I had the fortune of attending the game and being surrounded by Russians. A family in front of me, a father and son on the right and five loud, vocal women behind. To the left was Viktor.
He saw my red jacket, touched the maple leaf on my sleeve and said Kanada. He smiled, leaned in and said what I thought was "Bobby Clarke," but I couldn’t quite understand. He slowed down and through his broken English said, "Cournoyer, Mahavolich…Peter-Frank."
I began to understand. He was quoting the names of Canadian players from Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series. The final name was Kharlamov, the great Russian who was taken out of that series by a two hander across the ankle from Bobby Clarke.
He pumped his arm to emphasize his admiration for a Russian who never played in the NHL but may be one of the best ever.
Then the chant began from all around me. Kah-Nah-Da. Kah-Nah-Da. A whole section of Russians, standing, stamping their feet thrusting their hands in the air. Kah- Nah-Da.
Between the first and second period Viktor and I tried to talk. His sparse English was light years ahead of any understanding I have of the Russian language. The small finger on his left hand was missing from the knuckle up. He showed it to me and said, "Afghanistan," pulled out his wallet and placed one of his good fingers on a picture of him as a young man in a crisp, tight military uniform. He wrote down 1987-1988. A veteran of another useless war in a country that continuously repels outsiders.
The second period unfolded with the Americans scoring first. Cris Collinsworth, Al Michaels and the entire NBC gang jumped to their feet in celebration. The crowd in the corner seats begin their cheer. USA, USA, USA.
Then around me, in response, Kah-Nah-Da.
At the beginning of the third period with the second American goal the enthusiasm began to dwindle. Viktor turned to me and shrugged his shoulders. The discouragement was palpable.
The first Canadian goal brought handshakes and shouts of glee. More noise, stamping feet and hope. The second goal elevated it to another level. Viktor and I reached in for a man’s handshake, which quickly became a Russian bear hug. My feet left the ground. Joy saturated my tiny sector.
As we awaited the overtime, Viktor sat beside me, said 1972 and pumped his fist over his heart. He reached out and put his hand on my pulse. Canada has heart.
Then the goal and the unrelenting celebration. A picture taken of me and Viktor by the security guard, his earpiece firmly in place. Multiple photos with the surrounding Russians.
After Oh Canada was played I reached out to shake Viktor’s hand. He told me he was an engineer who had built some of the roads around Sochi. He has three daughters and loved watching the best women’s hockey.
He handed me his ticket to the event. On it he wrote the score, his name and his signature.
Thank you Viktor.