If you watched this weekend’s instant classic USA-Russia hockey game, then you probably had the same view I did.
Check that. You probably had a much better view.
Despite being a few hundred yards from where the game was being played, I saw none of it in person. I watched it from, not the Bolshoy Ice Dome, but the International Broadcast Center.
On a 12-inch television.
With no sound.
But I would not trade that experience.
When covering the Olympics, few journalists actually get to see many events. The action takes place across multiple venues and times, and the media receives limited seats. Aside from that, reporters like myself focus most of our work away from the venues, telling stories about fans, atmosphere, and ambiance.
I got lucky once last week, stumbling onto Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in time for a gold medal performance, but otherwise I have not seen a single event.
But I have tried to watch. I love the Olympics, and I become enthralled by specific events. I have been able to watch many on TV here in Sochi, from men’s half-pipe to women’s curling.
But nothing has compared to USA-Russia.
The first two periods, I glanced occasionally at the game while doing my work. When the third period began, I wisely decided to momentarily put my work on hold.
Nearly everyone else in the workspace seemed to agree.
Every highlight elicited vocal reactions. The U.S. scored to take a 2-1 lead (Yeahhh!). Russia tied it up (Ohhhh …). Russia scored again (Aaah!), but the call was reversed and the goal did not count (Whew!).
When the game went to overtime, and then a shootout, our workspace reached an all-time low for productivity.
I worked as a sports anchor and reporter for the first half-decade of my career, and journalists were always discouraged from cheering in the press box. But at the Olympics, with national pride at stake, objectivity goes out the window.
And when T.J. Oshie scored his fourth and final shootout goal to clinch the game for the Americans, everyone in my workspace erupted.
Watching a great game in the company of others can be a euphoric experience. At the Olympics, that comes with a bonus: after the game ends, the euphoria spills onto the streets.
At the 2010 Games in Vancouver, I shared a similar viewing experience for the USA-Canada gold medal game. After the Canadian team won, its fans blanketed downtown with song, dance, and smiles. I remember walking around with a colleague and witnessing the joy; despite being on the losing end, we could not help but appreciate and admire the Canadians’ elation.
This time, I knew I had to go for another walk. I had already planned to head into Olympic Park Saturday night to get footage for a story. Now, I was even more excited to go. I packed up my gear, hopped on the bus, and arrived in the middle of the spectacle.
Of course, it felt quite different than 2010.
The crowd in Sochi was 90% Russian, and those fans were in no mood to celebrate. I could feel the air deflating from the park as hundreds made their way to the exits.
I stuck around and shot footage of the park, all the while appreciating the Russians’ passion in defeat, just as I did the Canadians’ in victory.
But this night did not end with deflation.
Just as the last wave of dejected hockey fans left the park, the public address announcer came over the loudspeaker and saved the day with seven terrific words:
“The medal ceremony is about to begin.”
Thousands gathered in the medal plaza to watch. I joined them. (The plaza was, after all, on the way back from my shoot.) I arrived just in time to watch the medalists from women’s skeleton take the stage. The ceremony began and was utterly majestic, every bit the pride-swelling affair it seems on TV.
Before I headed back to the workspace, I took a minute to soak everything in – the venues, the spirit, and the power of the Olympics. In that moment I considered myself very fortunate to be there.
Not a bad view, by any standard.
FOR MORE ON MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: 10 observations after 2 weeks
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Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.