Published on March 8th, 2014 | by mpower
Russians get rowdy in support of their team
By Josh Pate
SOCHI – When I walked into the Ice Cube Curling Center on Saturday for the first day of wheelchair curling competition, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had to miss the morning session and everyone said it was electric inside the venue.
What does electric mean when you’re talking about curling?
I didn’t know what to expect because I had never seen a curling game. When I opened the door leading into the press seating area, a giant roar exploded from the stands. I knew they called curling the “roaring” game, but because of the sound the stones make on ice not the crowd.
Canada’s skip Jim Armstrong later said the Paralympic competition is so much better because the crowds are younger compared to when his club competes back home. Saturday’s opening-day sessions here in Sochi confirmed the youthfulness. Around the arena were about 20 Russian flags draped in front of people’s seats. Canada held a large section near one end and high into the stands with the maple leaf waving. USA had a small section of supporters with two flags and a homemade sign. Even Finland had a cheering section, with this being its first Paralympic Winter Games in wheelchair curling.
But the Russians dominated the crowd, as expected. And they knew their sport.
In the evening session, Russia played favorite Canada in a much-anticipated game during this round-robin style of play. Canada has won the only two gold medals given in wheelchair curling at the Paralympic Winter Games. So Russia fans were vibrant. They cheered late in each end (like an inning in baseball) when their team knocked away a Canadian stone. They chanted and banged on the seats. They left, however, disappointed. Canada squeaked out a 5-4 late victory to go 2-0 on the day and leave Russia 1-1.
What impressed me the most was that in a nation that refused to host the Paralympic Games in 1980 packed the curling venue and wildly cheered for the home team. The curling center seats 3,000 people, and one person in attendance told me the crowd for the afternoon session was nearly equal to the gold medal match for Olympic curling. I estimated there to be about 2,200 people there.
So many things have struck me here during these last two days with the pomp of the opening ceremony and the Paralympic flame lighting the sky for the first full day today. The support that Russia showed for its athletes with disabilities, however, was quite phenomenal.
Dr. Joshua R. Pate is working as a volunteer flash quote reporter for Paralympic News Service during the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. All postings are his personal views.