Blaser: Sochi 2014, not your father’s Soviet Games

(From L) Canada's Patrick Sharp, Sidney Crosby, Jeff Carter  and Chris Kunitz sit on a bench during the Men's Ice Hockey Group B match between Canada and Norway at the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 13, 2014 at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.      AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER NEMENOVALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
(From L) Canada's Patrick Sharp, Sidney Crosby, Jeff Carter and Chris Kunitz sit on a bench during the Men's Ice Hockey Group B match between Canada and Norway at the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 13, 2014 at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER NEMENOVALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images

Despite all the dire warnings and forecasts of disaster, the Sochi Winter Olympic Games are proving, to me at least, that I do love the spectacle, the drama and the hoopla of the games, and I admire the performances of the athletes.

Sure the opening ceremonies where perhaps too much spectacle and too much “what the heck was that?” But that’s Russia — sweeping history, over-the-top arts and drama upon drama in its literature.

Words of advice from a literature professor on my first encounter with Doesteyevski still ring in my ears: Get a good translation, especially one that lists all the characters and their names and nicknames, read at least 100 pages on the first sitting, and expect a grand, sweeping story, because Russian literature is like the country — immense.

So the games have given us a glimpse into Russia, which is kind of a welcoming spectacle for those whose picture of the world was shaped by the Cold War and the everlasting fear of a world dominated by the Soviet Union.

Now when I hear that the Russians dominate pairs skating, I no longer imagine, “Oh, great, the Soviets are taking over the world.” Instead, I think, “Why not? The Austrians are good at Alpine skiing, the Dutch can speed skate and the Russians are great at ballet, too.”

I also have come to enjoy all the new events that have come into the Olympics as an offshoot of the X games — the snowboarding events like the half-pipe and whatever slope style is.

Downhill racing will always be thrilling, but these extreme sports expand winter sports beyond cold climates. Hearing cowbells on the slopes as a mad skier hits 70 mph on the downhill race is charming and old world, but words like “gnarly” to describe an athlete on the half-pipe is cool.

The perennial winter favorite of figure skating is still tops around here. Suburban moms who ferry their skating wannabes from suburban rink to suburban rink are so excited about our local entries Jason Brown from Highland Park and Gracie Gold (has there ever been a better Olympic name?) who grew up in Springfield and has been encouraging skaters at local rinks.

And it is hard not to be excited for them — the moms, their young charges on skates and our potential Olympic champions.

Of course, the Russians are good, maybe the best, and if they win, that’s OK. At least they’re not Soviets. Even the bad eye makeup that plagued the skaters of the Eastern Block is gone.

Finally, we have hockey. There will never be another miracle like 1980, but that’s OK. This year, no matter what happens, the NHL wins. Go Hawks!

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