Don’t say ‘disaster’ in Sochi
Editor’s note: The following piece is from the perspective of Metro World News reporter Alexey Shunaev.
Sunday may officially be the date for the Olympics closing ceremony in Sochi, but for Russians, it’s already taken place. For most of the country’s fans, even with the most basic interest in sport, ice hockey was the only reason to tune in to the Sochi Games. But with the Russian men’s swift exit to Finland in Wednesday’s quarterfinals, Sochi 2014 is surely over.
“Our players have been punished like babies,” says tearful Inna from Chita, a far eastern Russian city over 7,000 kilometers from Sochi. “I came to Sochi for a week – and it took us a day to get here – to watch some biathlon and speed skating. But watching the ice hockey team was the real reason I made the trip. I don’t know what to feel – I’m just disappointed.”
In an eerily empty Olympic Park, other fans were not so despondent. “It’s rubbish to think that our hockey team’s failure means our failure for our entire Olympics,” says Marina Stepanova, who came to the Games with her husband and children. “Of course I’m disappointed, but it’s sport.”
“It just wasn’t your day,” some American supporters say to try to cheer up their Russian counterparts. “Your hockey team lost, figure skater Yulia Lipnitskaya fell. Don’t be too sad. S**t happens, sometimes.”
Nikolai, who just arrived from Ukraine, weighs in: “I hear words like ‘disaster.’ I’ve just come from Kiev. What’s going on in my city is a real disaster. Defeat is only one of two results in the match. Don’t be so sad.”
Some are now quick to take some valuable lessons and heal the wounds, even if Russia’s humiliation still hurts.
“To be honest, this loss could be a turning point for Russian hockey,” Leonid Mikhno, president of the St. Petersburg ice hockey federation and former Russian team coach, tells me. “Russian teams of all ages have been fixated on victories, not development, and that is so important for all teams. According to the statistics, only five percent of people who graduate hockey school become pros or semi-pros.”
“For 20 years, we’ve thought hockey in Russia is good. But it isn’t. We have a star generation, including Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeniy Malkin, who are really great. But who is next? We have no system of child and youth selection, so I hope their loss at home will bring positive developments,” he adds.