Celebrating Sochi 2014

The XXII Olympic Winter Games (Sochi) 2014
Friday, February 7 to Sunday, February 23

Hockey fans gear up for rival showdowns; Canadian men and women set to play U.S.

Published on February 19, 2014

TORONTO - Canadian Olympic fans are gearing up for back-to-back Canada-U.S. hockey showdowns, with both the women's and the men's teams set to take on their big rivals.

Generous lunch breaks and forgiving bosses may be on tap across the country on Thursday and Friday as the hotly anticipated games are set for noon ET.

Ben Middleton and colleague Rob Dinis were on one of those "extended" lunches from their Scotiabank jobs Wednesday as they joined about 300 people gathered around two huge television screens near the food court in a downtown office tower to watch the Canadian men's team play Latvia.

A sea of office workers pumped their fists in the air as Canada's Shea Weber scored in the third period to break a nerve-wracking tie and secure Canada's 2-1 win.

Middleton, who grimaced and gestured through the tense game while sporting a Team Canada jersey, said any sport involving people representing their country is exciting.

A similarly huge cheer arose in the indoor plaza when commentators broke into the hockey game to show Canada's Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse win the gold medal in women's bobsled.

"It's always good in the winter to be a hockey fan, but with the Olympics every four years it's always something special to see the best players from all over the world get together and see what they can do."

Dinis said he is "extremely" excited for the upcoming Canada-U.S. games, but just wishes the men could have played the Americans for gold, instead of in the semi-finals.

"It all has to do with country pride," he said. "It's all representation of your country and your roots...When you have an NHL aspect to it it's all about representing your city, but this is already a bigger scale because it is Canada and you know that the Americans are our biggest rivals, so it's huge in that aspect."

Eyes across the country and beyond were glued to television screens watching Wednesday's game. Even some of the country's most hallowed institutions were swept up in fan fever.

In a courthouse northwest of Toronto, a judge overseeing a murder trial extended the lunch break by several minutes so the jury wouldn't miss the end of the game.

Stephen Harper's official Twitter account posted a picture of the prime minister and colleagues watching the game in Mexico, where he was meeting with the American and Mexican presidents at the so-called Three Amigos summit.

Meanwhile in Halifax, fans in one of the city's newest sports bars across from historic Citadel Hill watched the action intently on the massive screens.

The crowd was subdued as the underdog Latvians kept things tight, but after the winning goal was scored the overall reaction turned to relief and fans began looking forward to the looming semi-final with the U.S.

"I'm pretty excited for Friday I don't know how I'll get any sleep," said Nick Morris.

Despite some low-scoring games thus far, Morris predicted Canada is still on track for gold.

"The U.S. and Canada are both not familiar with the big ice," he said. "I'm thinking it's going to be a pretty good game."

Lawyer George Bougadis, who was among the Toronto office tower crowd watching Wednesday's game, said he believes the Canadian women will triumph over their U.S. rivals, but is less sure about the men.

"I think the women's game in particular has a great history and that's what makes it very interesting," he said.

Bougadis said he prefers NHL hockey, but it means more to cheer for his country.

"It's refreshing and it's also patriotic," he said. "I think it's great, brings everybody together. We just had 300 people sitting here, cheering, and I just made three new friends without even knowing anything other than hockey and we're Canadians."

Bougadis said he would have preferred to see the Canadian men play the Russians for the gold medal. Instead, as Finland knocked Russia out of the running earlier Wednesday, the winner of the Canada-U.S. game will play the winner of a Sweden-Finland game for gold.

American hockey fans would have wanted to face the Russians for gold too, said Paul Grant, the deputy editor of ESPN.com.

"Whenever the Americans beat the Russians that's a big deal, so I think that that would have probably had just as much gravity to it as U.S.-Canada," Grant said in a telephone interview.

Grant, a Canadian now based in Bristol, Conn., said for American fans, if their team reaches the gold medal game — which Grant predicts they will — the fact that they won't be facing either of their biggest rivals could water down interest in it.

"I think the 2010 game (in which Canada beat the U.S. 3-2 in overtime) set a really good, perhaps...bad precedent because it was such a great game and it was something that resonated on both sides of the border," he said.

Hockey fans in Halifax were also skeptical about Canada's chances of beating the U.S. in men's hockey.

Stephen Campbell of Charlottetown said watching the close game with the Latvians was "rough" but the real challenge was yet to come against the U.S. — a team he described as a "huge rival."

"For us it's a really big test now that Russia is out and it comes down to a lot of patriotic pride as well because we obviously beat them in the gold medal game in Vancouver and that was huge," he said. "It's going to be a massive game for us."

- with files from Keith Doucette in Halifax.

Canada beats Finland 2-1 in Sochi, will play Switzerland or Latvia in quarters

Published on February 16, 2014

SOCHI, Russia - Team Canada has secured the third seed in the medal round of the men's Olympic hockey tournament after a 2-1 overtime win over Finland in their final preliminary round game.

Drew Doughty scored both goals for Canada, including the winner halfway through the five-minute overtime period.

The win means Canada will play either Switzerland or Latvia in the quarter-finals.

Canada missed a chance to clinch the first seed and an easier road to the final by not winning in regulation.

Tuomo Ruutu scored Finland's only goal.

Carey Price stopped 14 shots in the Canadian net as both teams played a tight, patient game.

Tuuka Rask made 25 saves for Finland.

Sochi's surprise: Amid the well-documented Olympic complaints, there's a lot to like

Published on February 14, 2014

SOCHI, Russia - Unfinished hotels, packs of stray dogs with a price on their heads, warnings not to drink the strange-colored water. Westerners coming to Sochi for the Winter Olympics seemed surprised by all this. Their widely reported comments have been somewhere between sardonic and suffering, as if they'd ended up in a real-life Fawlty Towers.

But for a Westerner who's lived in Russia for 15 years, there's a flip-side surprise: Vivid problems aside, the Olympics and ancillary development show some promising signs for the country.

When the dead hand of communism that had weighed down Russia for seven decades was lifted in 1991, optimists believed the country would spring up and busily reconstitute itself along the lines of its European neighbours. Instead, Communism proved to be like an isotope with a long half-life, debilitating the country long after. Inefficiency, obstinacy and surliness lost their grip only gradually.

Viewed in that light, Sochi 2014 looks like progress. Many Russians, who long endured shabby Soviet construction and slow-moving workers, are heartened.

"We thought it would never be finished," says Vadimir Havartian, who lives on the edge of the coastal Olympic developments. But now, he says, "You can't recognize this place ... very pretty."

Some of Sochi's standouts:

GOOD SPIRITS

The volunteer corps at the Olympics and staff at hotels have proved to be not just competent but friendly, even occasionally asking if someone needs help. In individual doses, it's a small thing; collectively, it's huge. Although Russians tend to be welcoming and generous in their homes, in public they are often dour and abrupt — if they even recognize your existence. Catching the attention of a store clerk can be a challenge, a smile on the sidewalk almost unseen.

Communism did much to discourage personal expression and contact with strangers, and it gave people little to smile about on the street. So the Sochi workers' friendliness indicates more than just good training; it suggests that they feel secure enough in their own lives to drop their protective shells and engage with the world. Although Sochi is just a minuscule corner of a gargantuan land, the volunteers will be taking their attitudes home and perhaps spreading the sunshine.

GOOD ARCHITECTURE

The signature building of the Soviet Union was the giant dull tower block fronting on a blank expanse of land. After the Soviet collapse, Russia built even more of them, seemingly unable to adapt to the idea of esthetic appeal and scaling buildings to not make humans feel like ants. Public buildings were mostly just as bad, only larger.

Much of the new construction in Sochi, however is pleasant and even inspiring.

The speedskating arena could have been little more than a box, but it's elaborated with fairings that mimic the skaters' speed and intense leans into the curve. The main hockey rink reflects Russian's almost cultish devotion to the sport — a graceful elliptical dome sitting on a hillock, approached by a sweeping staircase like a temple. The figure skating arena, with its jolly facade of aqua and blue panels, is as light and decorative as the sport itself.

The Rosa Khutor resort village, below the slopes for the Alpine skiing events, has a strong "new urbanism" aspect: mostly buildings of five or six stories arrayed along narrow, pedestrian-friendly streets and interspersed with small piazzas. The architecture's mix of Austrian and Italian elements may seem anomalous in the Russian Caucasus, but it's easy to picture people actually living here, not just coming for a holiday.

Even some of the widely dissed media hotels have their upside. Instead of being monoliths, they are small settlements of lowish buildings arrayed around human-scale public spaces. If people actually use them once the games are over, they could be agreeable holiday villages for middle-income people.

GOOD TRANSPORT

Interurban trains in Russia can be a daily misery -- grimy and noisy, with hard seats. The new lines built for the Olympics, smooth and comfortable, give hope to commuters throughout the country.

Russian Railways appears eager to capitalize on its experience in Sochi. The initial pieces of rolling stock for the Sochi lines was built in Germany by Siemens, but some later ones were built in Russia under a joint venture deal. More are to be produced under that arrangement, with the amount of Russian content eventually rising to 80 per cent, for use elsewhere in the country.

A Russian folk saying has it that the country's two woes are "fools and roads," so the highway developed to lead into the jagged mountains for snow sports is also raising some Russians' spirits.

"It's accessible, transport is good, the roads are good, it's a great atmosphere," says Igor Negubailo, a spectator from the regional capital of Krasnodar.

GOOD DOGS

Perhaps the hardest blow to Russia's image in the Olympics has been reports of a wide program to exterminate the stray dogs who wander the city. Especially painful is that these dogs are generally an agreeable bunch, rather ragged but generally polite.

In a heartening offshoot to a heart-rending situation, some people in the area mobilized to rescue as many dogs as possible. Although a small initiative compared to the number of animals in danger, it is a notable example of spontaneous charity, a quality still relatively rare in Russia.

If it proves to be more than a brief burst of action and if it spreads to other cities where strays proliferate, including Moscow, that could show that Russia is finally developing a genuine civil society.

EDITOR'S NOTE — Associated Press reporter Jim Heintz, a Russian speaker, has covered Russia since 1999. AP reporter Angela Charlton in Sochi contributed to this report.

Olympic spirit: Junio's generosity, Morrison's grit give Canada 10th medal

Published on February 12, 2014

SOCHI, Russia - A selfless act and an unexpected performance equalled a fifth straight day with a medal for Canada at the Sochi Olympics.

Canada won its 10th medal of the Games when long-track speedskater Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., raced to silver in the men's 1,000 metres.

It was Morrison's first Olympic individual medal, and it came with an big assist from teammate Gilmore Junio, who gave up his spot in the event so Morrison could race.

"It's a dream, a fairytale story," said an emotional Morrison after earning his third Olympic medal in three Games. "It's difficult to really believe that it's happening."

It was a remarkable end to a redemption story for Morrison, who failed to qualify for the 1,000 at the Canadian trials after coming back from a broken leg.

There were no other Cinderella stories for Canada's Olympic team Wednesday, though the doubles luge team came close. Calgary's Tristan Walker and Justin Snith posted Canada's second fourth-place finish in luge in as many days.

With 10 medals (four gold, four silver, two bronze), Canada is tied for second in overall medals with the Netherlands. Norway leads with 12.

Germany has the most gold medals with six.

Canada's 10th medal was a bit of a surprise, especially given that Morrison was preparing for the 1,500 metres when he got an unexpected call from Junio.

On Monday night, Morrison got a text on one of the phones provided by the Canadian team. It said: "Hey man, are you ready to race the 1,000? I'll give you my spot."

Because the phone was Russian, he did not recognize the number attached to the text.

"I knew it was from a teammate but I thought maybe someone stole his phone ... I had to go hear it in person."

He jumped on a bike and went to Canada Olympic House where Junio was with both skaters' families.

"I heard it from the horse's mouth," said Morrison. "That was an Olympic moment, special in and of itself."

"He told me we need some medals on this team and he believed I could win a medal and historically I had better results in the thousand than him," he added. "And so it sounded like he wanted me to go and get this one."

And get it he did. Morrison finished just four one-hundredths of a second behind winner Stefan Groothius and became the only non-Dutch male skater to win a long-track medal so far in Sochi.

Junio, watching the race live, was naturally ecstatic with the result.

"I was breathing hard, I have lost my voice and I am so pleased for him," the Calgary native said.

Morrison said there is a rumour that Speed Skating Canada is pushing to have Junio as the Canadian flag-bearer at the closing ceremonies. It's something he supports.

"Maybe that's something we can get behind, because I think that would be really special," he said. "He does embody what it means to be a Canadian Olympian, I think."

The hashtag #gilforflagbearer quickly started popping up on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon as users threw their support behind the idea.

Canada came close to adding to its medal tally when Calgary's Snith and Walker, from Cochrane, Alta., finished fourth in the luge doubles. The pair finished just five one hundredths of a second short of the podium.

"We're capable of sliding with the best in the world, we proved it tonight," Walker said.

They will have a chance to prove it again soon. Snith and Walker will take place in Thursday's luge relay along with Alex Gough, who was fourth in the women's event Tuesday, and Sam Edney.

While the medal round in women's hockey won't start for a few days, rivals Canada and the United States provided a possible gold-medal preview Wednesday. Meghan Agosta-Marciano had two goals and an assist to lead Canada to an entertaining 3-2 victory.

"I've been a little bit under the weather, but I'm not going to let that get to me," Agosta-Marciano said. "I'm going to keep battling. Hockey players, they all have bad games sometimes. I'm not going to let it bother me."

The game had some controversy when it sounded like the whistle went before Hayley Wickenheiser scored Canada's second goal, but it was confirmed after a video review.

Canada finished atop Group A at 3-0 and will join the U.S. in the tournament semifinals.

Winnipeg Jennifer Jones continues to roll in women's curling, improving to 3-0 after a 9-6 win over Great Britain.

With time winding down, British skip Eve Muirhead could have played an easy draw to the button with her last stone to take the game to an extra end.

Instead, she gambled on removing three tightly bunched Canadian rocks to pick up three points for the win. The move backfired, and Canada clinched its third victory.

Jones said she "probably would have thrown the draw to go to the extra end."

"It was a tough triple to get everything to spin out," Jones said, "but I guess she makes them a lot."

In men's curling, Brad Jacobs and his rink form Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., put a pair of tough losses behind them with a 7-4 win over host Russia.

Canada improved to 2-2 by silencing the noisy partisan crowd with four points in the fifth end.

Jacobs and his teammates decided to watch video clips of their unbeaten run in the Olympic trials to fire them up.

"It got us pumped," Canada lead Ryan Harnden said. "We just haven't been on our game. We've been struggling with rocks, ice, but tonight was normal Team Jacobs."

Canada was left off the podium in figure skating pairs competition, but fifth-place finishers Kirsten Moore-Towers of St. Catharines, Ont., and Toronto's Dylan Moscovitch weren't hanging their heads.

In fact, they were already committing to the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

"This is far too much fun," Moore-Towers said through a wide smile. "Yeah. Hell yeah. We say we're going to take it one year at a time, but why not, right? Dream big."

"I think we're just starting to hit our stride, and I'm really excited to see what more we're capable of," Moscovitch added. "We're very lucky.

"Why would we stop while we still can do this? Because we're going to miss it one day for sure."

Meagan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford of Balmertown, Ont., world bronze medallists last year, dropped from fifth after the short program to finish seventh.

Jennifer Jones and Canadian rink remain unbeaten in Olympic curling

Published on February 12, 2014

SOCHI, Russia - The Canadian women's curling rink eked out an 9-6 victory over Britain on Wednesday to improve to 3-0 in round-robin play at the Sochi Olympics.

The Canadians, skipped by Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg, and the British foursome skipped by Eve Muirhead, waged a tight battle throughout the game.

Canada had scored three in the fifth end to take a 6-3 lead but Britain kept chipping away and pulled to within one in the eighth. Jones restored a two-point lead with a single in the ninth and added an insurance point in the 10th.

Canada also scored a pair in the third and singles in the first and seventh ends.

Muirhead and her British squad (1-2), took doubles in the fourth and sixth ends and singles in the second and eighth.

Canada will play twice on Thursday, against Denmark followed by Switzerland.

In other play, China beat the U.S. 7-4, Sweden downed South Korea 7-4 and Japan doubled Russia 8-4.

Canada's Alex Bilodeau defends moguls gold, Kingsbury second

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - Canada's Alex Bilodeau has won his second straight gold medal in Olympic moguls.

His teammate Mikael Kingsbury captured the silver.

The Canadians narrowly missed sweeping the podium as Marc-Antoine Gagnon finished fourth.

Bilodeau, who won Canada's first medal four years ago in Vancouver, had a near-flawless final run to earn a score of 26.31.

Kingsbury, who has been Bilodeau's main rival on the World Cup circuit this season, had a small stumble in his final run to finish with 24.71.

Russia's Alexandr Smyshlyaev was third with 24.34.

Bilodeau is the first moguls skier to defend an Olympic title.

Hamelin’s short-track gold gives Canada five medals so far in Sochi

SOCHI, Russia — Charles Hamelin took a step towards becoming the country’s most decorated winter Olympian of all time, and Canada moved a step forward towards its goal of winning the most medals at the Sochi Olympics.

Hamelin roared to victory in the men’s 1,500 short-track speedskating race Monday. That gives him four Olympic medals overall, including three gold. Long-track speedskater Cindy Klassen has six career medals, but Hamelin still has three races left in Sochi.

The Canadian Press
© Canadian Press photo
Canada's Charles Hamelin shows off his his gold medal for the men's 1,500 metres short-track speedskating during medal ceremonies at the Sochi Winter Olympics Monday.

“Of course I want to be on the podium again,” Hamelin said. “But this is short-track and it’s a tough sport.”

The golden performance gave Canada five medals at the Games: two gold, two silver and a bronze. Canada has stated goal is to win the most medals of any country in Sochi.

And there was more medal potential later in the men’s moguls, where defending champion Alex Bilodeau and Canadian teammate Mikael Kingsbury are medal favourites.

Hamelin, from Ste-Julie, Que., will have two more chances to win individual gold in the 500 and 1,000, and he’ll be part of Canada’s team in the 5,000 relay. He won the 500 and was part of the gold-winning relay team four years ago in Vancouver.

Hamelin is expected to compete for gold in those events in Sochi. Winning the 1,500 is an extra bonus, as Hamelin was seventh in the distance in Vancouver.

“It’s not my best distance,” said Hamelin. “But I had a really good start and was able to control the race afterwards. I am looking forward to continue (racing) that strong this week.”

After the race Hamelin went to give a traditional kiss to girlfriend Marianne St-Gelais, who was watching from the stands. The two made waves for their celebratory smooch after Hamelin won the 500 gold in Vancouver.

St-Gelais is a short-track medal threat in her own right, with two silver medals in Vancouver. She also skated Monday, advancing to the quarter-finals in the women’s 500 and the final of the 3,000 relay, along with Marie-Eve Drolet, Jessica Hewitt and Valerie Maltais.

Canada’s men’s hockey team finally arrived in Sochi and had their first practice on Monday, with Jeff Carter right wing alongside captain Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on the top line.

The women’s hockey team was back in action, taking on Finland.

Canada’s curlers also started their medal quests today, with Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones beating China 9-2 and Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., beating Germany 11-8 before facing Switzerland.

Jones said her teammates had trouble hearing each other while the raucous crowd cheered wildly as Russia took on Denmark three sheets over.

“You can’t really hear very well, but we’ll come up with some solutions to that,” said Jones, who has hand signals worked out — a hand up means stop sweeping — for when the din of the crowd threatens to drown out her directions.

“I thought we did a good job managing it and we’ll figure it out going forward.”

Canada won gold in men’s curling and silver in women’s at the 2010 Vancouver Games.