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Olympic Park tour part of grand day of sightseeing

by Corey Masisak

SOCHI -- Good afternoon from the 2014 Summer Olympics!

I kid, but the weather continues to be paradise-esque in Sochi. We read about lots of dreary, rainy weather in the days leading up to the start of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but to this point it has been a lot of sunshine and temperatures that feel more like May than February.

On Wednesday, I had some time before the hockey games started to explore the Olympic Park. It was a great morning/afternoon to embrace the Olympic spirit, something I've probably been cynical about in the past but have experienced here. (This is the first Olympics that I’ve been to.)

The big takeaway from yesterday is the Olympic Park is massive, significantly bigger than we thought after just walking between the Main Press Center and the two hockey arenas for the first couple days. All of the venues are laid out in a big circle, but that is actually only about half of the park.

There is another large section that starts with the official Olympic store, which had a line of about 150 people just to get into a warehouse-sized building. Beyond that is the River Park, which includes the Russia house (Canada house and the United States house are in the big circle near Fischt Stadium), and a large exhibit that showcases the eight regions of Russia that looks kind of like a state fair from afar. There’s also a theme park.

We did not see a lot of spectators the first couple days here, but fans were out in large numbers over on this side of the park. The venues are easily accessible, but also spread out just enough that it’s hard to gauge how many people are actually here.

After a bit of wandering, I went to the Ice Dome for women's curling. This was my first live experience with the sport, and it lived up to the positive billing my other hockey-writing friends have given it.

There were four matches going on simultaneously, but it is actually pretty easy to follow along with each. The seats were nearly full, and it was a very pro-Russian crowd. There were small pockets of fans from Canada, Korea and Japan, but anytime something happened during the Russia-Japan match the building came alive with cheers or groans.

The "Rossiya" chant is the anthem of these games, and I can't wait to hear it on Saturday at Bolshoy Ice Dome when Russia and the United States play. It should be close to deafening.

After curling, I went to Shayba Arena for the first period of the United States-Canada women's hockey game. That was a great atmosphere, something I might not have expected here for an event that didn't involve a Russian team or competitors.

I had to leave there early because the main event Wednesday (beyond the start of the men's hockey tournament) was the men's 1000 meters in speed skating, or what everyone expected to be the Shani Davis Show.

Adler Arena was also essentially full for one of the most exciting events to see in person. This was my first experience with speed skating, and it is pretty fantastic in person. The crowd went bananas when any of the Russian competitors were skating.

There was also a strong contingent of Dutch fans, and they're easy to spot decked out in bright orange. A few of them were wearing bright orange priest costumes.

Davis did not win a third straight gold medal, but two of the competitors from Holland finished first and third which made for a great spectacle afterwards. The story of Canada's Denny Morrison winning a silver medal was also pretty amazing.

Afterward, it was time to get work and cover some hockey. There were lots of people walking around the park draped in Russian flags, and it was generally a festive atmosphere everywhere I went.

OK, the United States and Slovakia are on the ice at Shayba Arena. Next time, I'll discuss some of the food I've been sampling in and around the Olympic Park.

Do svidaniya!

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