Up the escalator from the main press center entrance, a colorful display greets media. Women in traditional garb walk past a giant tea server, a collection of nesting dolls, and pots of artificial sunflowers. It is all part of a temporary Russian tea house sponsored by the people of the Kuban region, an area in southern Russian that includes Sochi. The land around Sochi is home to several tea plantations.
At the tea house, or, more accurately, tea corner in the media center, women pour piping hot cups of black tea, then serve the drink with piles of biscuits, cookies, and packets of honey. For free. “With love from the Kuban people,” the women say. Reporters drink up at a handful of high tables nearby. The tea is strong with herbal notes and, seemingly, contains enough caffeine to fuel writers for late nights.
The Kuban tea servers are precisely the warm, friendly face of traditional Russia that Olympic organizers want to project. In the early stages of these Games, it has proven a popular place for free tea, photo ops, and live shots by television reporters from around the world. It is a cheery change in scenery from venues surrounded by construction.
Plus, unlike past Olympics where reporters and other visitors felt comfortable roaming and sampling local culture, security concerns seem to have tamped down such exploration in Sochi. So, Russian culture comes to the media center and media hotel clusters. For example, there are stands selling honey and halvah, a sesame-based sweet, inside the Russkiy Dom hotel cluster. The whole setup at the teahouse and other food stands is not exactly authentic, but in some ways they are a perfect reflection of the Olympic host country. It wouldn’t be Russia without attempts at culture control.
No scandal, but a cover-up
A moment of triumph nearly turned embarrassing for Russian speedskater Olga Graf.
The 30-year-old gave the host country a reason to cheer Sunday, winning Russia’s first medal when she took a surprising bronze in the women’s 3,000 meters. She even got a note of praise from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When Graf’s time flashed on the scoreboard — 4 minutes, 3.47 seconds was a personal best — the crowd at Adler Arena erupted in cheers. She whooped it up on her warm-down lap, then unzipped her skin-tight suit right down to the belly button. She was wearing nothing underneath.
‘‘I totally forgot,’’ Graf said sheepishly through a translator. ‘‘We have very good suits and they are very tight . . . You just want to breathe and you want to take off your suit.’’
When she realized her faux pas, Graf quickly zipped the suit back up with a mortified smile.
‘‘Only afterward,’’ she said, ‘‘did I realize that maybe this video will appear on YouTube. But I don’t think it will be so bad.’’
Spotlight’s already on
Dozens of reporters, cameramen, and Olympic volunteers mobbed the practice rink behind Shayba Arena, leaning over railings and pressing against the glass while part of the Russian men’s hockey team went through a workout.
Just imagine what it’ll be like when Alex Ovechkin gets to Sochi.
The Russians know they’re under extraordinary pressure to win their nation’s first gold medal in hockey since 1992, but the remarkable media turnout for a mere practice Sunday certainly underlined it.
‘‘It looks like it’s a really big deal worldwide,’’ said Viktor Tikhonov, the former Phoenix Coyotes forward.
Russia actually went through two practices Sunday, quite unusual in the compacted Olympic schedule. The team will be back on the ice on Monday night, after its NHL stars begin to arrive.
Family happy with choices
Skiing sisters Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe won over many new fans as the first Canadian siblings to medal in the same Olympic event. But in a packed news conference Sunday, Chloe wept as she reflected on two of their most important fans: their parents.
‘‘I’m sorry I’m overwhelmed,’’ said Chloe, 22, the moguls silver medalist. ‘‘This is the best moment in my life.’’
She said she and her two sisters — 19-year-old gold-medalist Justine and 25-year-old Maxine, who competed in the same event but didn’t place — knew they couldn’t let their parents down after they’d made sure their daughters had everything they needed to participate in sports. The father, Yves Lapointe, was asked about the sacrifices he’d made.
‘‘Sacrifices I don’t think is the right word,” he said. “Choice is much better.’’