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    Dispatches from Sochi

    Getting swept up in curling

    Russia's vice Alexey Stukalskiy, center, delivered a stone as Russia's Peter Dron and Evgeny Arkhipov swept during their men's curling round robin game against Britain.
    Mark Blinch/REUTERS
    Russia's vice Alexey Stukalskiy, center, delivered a stone as Russia's Peter Dron and Evgeny Arkhipov swept during their men's curling round robin game against Britain.

    When Aleksandra Pisareva, a reporter for Vesti FM, a national Russian radio station, talked me into attending an Olympic curling match, I did what obnoxious Americans do when confronted with this game of brooms, ice and granite.

    I said, “C’mon, that’s not even a sport!” And then, “OK, I’ll go, I needed a nap, anyway.”

    Men with brooms on a slippery floor. They made an Olympic sport out of cleaning the kitchen.


    But Pisareva had played the game. She told me to give it a chance. We passed larger, grander venues on our way to the Ice Cube, an arena built for just this sport that will likely be taken down and moved somewhere else after the Games end. (I’m starting to piece together how the $51 billion was spent.)

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    Pisareva assured me the place would be packed. Ridiculous.

    The roar that greeted us proved her more right than I was. The stands were about three-quarters full, which is a lot for the round-robin part of the tournament in an Olympics that is generally underattended. Russian flags dominated all other national insignia, and the incessant “Ross-i-ya, Ross-i-ya” chant — hey, USA, USA, we did start this practice — made the rink seem smaller than a bowling alley. So did the clapping, cheering, whistling, and horn-blowing.

    Four matches were underway, but all the shouting was directed at Russia’s match with perennial powerhouse Canada.

    Nikolai Saprin, who covers sports for Vesti FM, explained that the Canadians had set themselves up well, having placed two stones right at the center, or “button,” of the target, known as the “house.” Two more were blocking the ones in the house. But the Russians won that “end,” which is like an inning, with a hard throw that knocked all the Canadians’ stones out of the house.


    I noticed how much energy the sweepers spent, rapidly brushing the ice in advance of the stone to try to affect its movement. It may be that anyone can play curling, but they have to be able to sweep vigorously in the right place at the right time as they slide along sideways on ice.

    The crowd cheered the whole way. They cheered as the sweepers swept. They cheered as the throwers threw. When the captain, called the “skip,” screamed out instructions to the sweepers, they cheered that.

    A match can go on for 2½ hours — we didn’t stick around for the Canadians’ eventual 7-4 victory — but the crowd would still be loud at the end, Pisareva assured me.

    I thought this was a good thing — hey, the Russians are way ahead of us in appreciating this cool sport — but apparently it is not.

    In curling, she said, the crowd is supposed to be quiet during play, as in tennis, and applaud politely, as in golf.


    On the other hand, she said, “It's good that people have something to cheer about.”


    New ring to it

    No, the different-colored Olympic rings don’t correspond to specific continents.

    But you’d be forgiven for thinking differently if you’re going to or from Sochi’s airport.

    Five enormous concrete sculptures of the rings welcome visitors, each labeled in bold letters, in Russian and English, with the name of a continent: Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, the Americas.


    Trouble is, that’s wrong. International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams says ‘‘the rings are not assigned to each continent,’’ despite popular legend. ‘‘I don’t know how that happened, but I don’t think it’s a major issue.’’

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    Olympic historian Philip Barker says an information panel at the 2000 Sydney games similarly misled visitors by attaching continents to specific rings.

    When Pierre de Coubertin, considered the founder of the modern Olympics, designed the rings a century ago, he chose black, red, yellow, green and blue because every flag in the world bore at least one of those colors, according to the Olympic Museum.

    When one of the rings failed to open during the Sochi Olympic Opening Ceremony last week, some pesky tweeters perpetuated the continent-color myth and a bit of Cold War nostalgia.

    They noted the missing ring was the red one — mistakenly considered the American ring. Nope.



    Yogurt to be donated

    Chobani’s quest to get its Greek yogurt to the Sochi Olympics is coming to an end. The company said it plans to donate a shipment of about 5,000 cups of yogurt it had hoped to send to US athletes at the Winter Games to food banks in New York and New Jersey.

    The shipment has been held up in a refrigerated warehouse at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport since Russian authorities said the US Department of Agriculture failed to provide a necessary certificate under its customs rules.

    ‘‘We decided that if we didn’t have a resolution by today, we were going to donate the products,’’ said Peter McGuinness, Chobani’s chief marketing officer, in a phone interview. He said that the Games are already well underway and there was no resolution to the yogurt dispute in sight.


    On pins, and needles


    A pin shortage in Olympic Park should be over soon. So say organizers and the IOC.

    That’s good news for traders, with a small informal pin market that popped up for the first time Wednesday the only clear place the popular souvenirs are currently available in the park. The Olympic superstore, where long lines have formed in recent days, does not have pins available inside.

    The Russian mint produced 1 million pins for the Sochi Games, with 30 percent of them sold as of Tuesday, Sochi 2014 organizers said in a statement in response to an Associated Press query.

    They’ve been sold in 1,000 stores across 70 Russian regions — but not early on in Olympic Park. That’ll change ‘‘in the next couple days,’’ organizers say.

    IOC officials were asked about the pins for the second time in two days during their daily news conference.

    The first time, IOC spokeswoman Aleksandra Kosterina responded by playfully offering the journalist a pin, touching off a lighthearted flurry of ‘‘me too!’’ requests from other reporters.