Joel Reichenberger: Saturday’s game about hockey, not hate
Sochi, Russia — “Russss-seeeeee-aaaa!!!” is the defining sound of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the chant of the Russian people ringing out from every event, in every venue.
They serenade their fastest skaters and their slowest skiers. When they win a medal, as they did Friday night at Sanki Sliding Center in the women’s skeleton, they explode. The Russians come decked head to toe in red, white and blue, loaded with wild patriotic sunglasses and goofy hats and there are so many Russian flags there seem to be enough to drape around every pair of shoulders at these Olympics.
They blow horns, they cheer for their team and, seemingly constantly they chant, “Russss-seeeee-aaaaa!!!”
Saturday, their chants enveloped the Bolshoy Ice Dome for the biggest hockey game yet of these games, the U.S. vs. Russia showdown that meant much more in the hearts and minds of those gathered than it did in the pool standings.
This was an early-tournament game. Both teams are likely to advance from the pool and more important games lie ahead.
But Russia roared as its boys went into action against the Americans.
“Russss-seee-aaaaa!!!” is set to the rhythm of “UUUU-SSSSS-AAAAA!” and Saturday the chants clashed in the stands. No doubt, the Russians won there, gleefully overpowering the comparably minuscule United States contingent, almost taking offense to the fact that anyone else would chant in their arena, at their Olympics.
Russians cheered Saturday with a fervor.
A large man sat — or stood, mostly — in the stands but near the ice, waving a long mallet and hammering on a large drum, setting the rhythm for his section. Other Russians wore red, white and blue cowboy hats that would be just as at home at an American Olympics as they would a Russian Games.
The crowd Saturday, 11,000 strong, lived and breathed every element of the game to such a degree an observer could close his or her eyes and still be able to describe the action.
An audible gasp that seemingly sucked the air from the arena: Team U.S.A. was pushing the puck with a chance to score.
A sharp cry that spikes immediately into a tremendous scream: The Russians had a lane to the goalie and a precious opportunity for a goal.
A sustained jet-engine-on-takeoff roar: Chalk one up for the Motherland.
The final sound Saturday was near-deathly silence. The Russians threw their faces into their hands as T.J. Oshie scored his fourth penalty shot goal to finally give the United States the game. Suddenly Team “U-S-A!” rang louder, the home crowd lacking the heart to answer.
Don’t confuse the sound, the fury of a legion of enthusiastic Russians, however.
The final sound Saturday may have been silence, but the final act spoke loudly about the host of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
A young American woman stood in the stands long after much of the arena had emptied. She waved a jacket with an American flag design up and down, over and over, refusing to let go of an amazing night for fans of both nations.
And next to her a line of Russians started, each asking to take a picture with her, deploying their own flags next to hers and smiling wide.
Saturday was about pride, not spite, hockey not hate, and even after a great hockey game, the end a bitter pill for one nation, it was that peace that shone through.
No souls were crushed Saturday and no doubt yet again today Sochi will be marked by arenas ringing “Russss-seeeeee-aaaa!!!”
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