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Sochi Diaries: Losing With the Russians, Winning With the Swiss

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On Wednesday I decided I would try to ask some Russians what they knew about Canada. This line of questioning didn't go far, but did initiate a whirlwind experience that in and of itself has made my entire voyage to Sochi worthwhile.

Stop 1 - Weeping with the Russians

After a very slow start, around 4:30 pm I decided it might be cool to try and watch the Russia-Finland men's hockey quarterfinal at a bar with some Russians. I made it about 20 steps outside my mini-hotel before hearing a roar from a balcony signifying Kovalchuk's early goal. I ambled upstairs to find a restaurant packed with jubilant Russians whose eyes were locked on the game. Initially stuck at a table by myself with a terrible view, it wasn't long before some Russians spotted my Canadian gear and invited me over to their table. It turned out to be a group of surgeons from Novorossiysk (which stands for New Russia, a few hour train ride away) that were volunteering medical services for the figure skating and short track speed skating. Alex, a neurosurgeon and the only one that spoke any English, acted as my translator.

What do you know about Canada?

Max - an anaesthesiologist: Ahhh... Nothing? Maple syrup. Cold like Siberia. I know very little of Canada.

Natalia - a fashion designer - says nothing about Canada but uses her hands to draw a maple leaf in the same way one would draw a heart.

Alex: When I was 5 I told my parents I wanted to move to Canada. I don't know why. They always remembered that.

Quotes from the game

Dimitri - a trauma surgeon: Dahstin, will you share Cognac?

Alex: Dahstin, Dimitri suggest a portion of Cognac more?

Alex in his saddest voice: If we lose I will not watch anything else, all I care about in Olympics is hockey.

Dimitri after the Russians lost: We drink to our funeral. No - cheers to figure skating!

The room was very disappointed with the loss. A day later you can still feel the malaise on the streets, but they took it well and offered Finland the credit they deserved for the win. These Russians were really interested in what I thought of Sochi (I love it here), and were not happy with the things being said about Russia in the North American media leading up to the games.

We snapped some pics, added each other on Facebook (standard procedure here), and I gave them some Canadian pins. Pins are an international currency at the games, and Canadian ones are highly sought after. With the Canada game approaching I headed over to the Olympic Village to view the game at the Canada House.

Stop 2 - The Canada House

To the dismay of many traveling Canadians, the Canada House is restricted to only friends and family of athletes (and a few of us stragglers). It is only a 5-minute walk from the Bolshoy arena, and the main big screen TV flips channels back and forth ensuring no one in the House misses any important Canadians in action. Oh, and there's a Molson Canadian Beer Fridge that only opens with a Canadian Passport in the corner.

Usually the House is full of lively chatter, but all eyes turned to the screen and cheers erupted when Kaillie and Heather took the gold meal in the women's bobsled. The hockey game itself was viewed with tense confidence and considerable disbelief of the amazing goal-tending performance by Kristers Gudlevskis. Shea Weber's late third period goal got a huge cheer and the relieved crowd of about 100 people were shuffled out of the House, which had stayed open past 11 p.m. to allow everyone to finish watching the game.

Stop 3 - The House of Switzerland (aka the Real Canada House)

There is only one establishment near the arenas that is open after the hockey games; the House of Switzerland. The Swiss House is open to anyone, and over the past 3 days the Canadians have taken it over. I've recently met Patrick Chan, Tessa and Scott, Jessica Hewitt, and a number of people wearing medals I didn't recognize here.

But last night was incredible. Both the USA and Canada hockey games were over at the same time, so the crowd ended up being about 50% Canadian, 20% American, 20% Russian, 10% Swiss, and all hockey-loving. The second level was blocked off as Swiss dignitaries were visiting. On the main level, which is arranged like a typical beer garden, the Americans started a 'U-S-A' chant that was very quickly dominated by a thunderous 'CA-NA-DA' chant.

The Russians did their best to get a chant going, but it took some help from us Canucks to really take it to a respectable decibel. Everyone on the second level was noticing this, and finally one of the Swiss dignitaries poked his head outside onto the balcony to initiate his own chant. The place erupted as every nation in the House bellowed 'SWITZ-ER-LAND' at the top of their lungs to show appreciation for the Swiss' fantastic hospitality.

And then it happened. It started raining Swiss chocolate in the Swiss house. Handfuls and handfuls of beautifully wrapped Lindt chocolates were tossed from the top balcony into the crowd.

We were kicked out at 1 a.m. (as per the Villages' rules), but while asking us to leave the Swiss offered flats of beer for sale to ensure no one had to endure the 20-minute walk to the buses empty-handed.

Stop 4 - Random Russian Bar

On my way home I ran into my new Russian surgeon friends, who invited me into a small bar they frequented near my place in Adler. We drank Baltika No.8 beer and munched on some kind of fish jerky that they called Zebra-Goldfish (note serious translation problems with this one).

The top-dog trauma surgeon of Novorossiysk, an older gentleman, was now present and we talked about the 1972 Summit Series and how Valery Kharlamov was the greatest Russian to ever play the game. They all tried to explain the atmosphere during these cold-war-era games as Zaruba -- a term we couldn't properly translate but means something like very tense anticipation. When it was time to go they gave me an official Russian medical armband, a weird Russian hangover remedy (pictured below), and the kicker -- two tickets to the Canada-USA women's gold medal game for tonight!

In conclusion:

I love Russians. And the Swiss. And the Olympics. And being Canadian. Go Canada Go.

Canadians in Sochi
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