The wave just never stopped. The fans kept it going around Bolshoy Stadium at the Canada-Austria men's hockey match. Hands up, yell, sit, wait, repeat. Hands up, yell, sit, wait, repeat. As it moved, again and again, through the stands, the wave was strikingly red and white. A moving, yelling, living, breathing mass of Canadian pride.
It was Valentine's Day in Sochi. And the Canadians were in love — with their hockey teams, which are doing well, and with so many other athletes from their country. Canada is having a great run in Sochi, and its fans here are celebrating.
"It's awesome! Everyone's happy, it's a good time," Alli Piccininni says. She and her family are here from Toronto to cheer on the home team. Canadian flags and jerseys are all around the Olympic Park and the mountains, as the country takes these games by storm.
Not just in number of fans, but also in what really matters: medals. Canada has been at or near the top of the medal count since the games started. As of late Saturday in Sochi, Canada has 12 medals, which put them in a tie with Germany and not too far behind the current medal leaders, the Russia and the Netherlands, which both have 14 medals a piece.
Hockey fan Keith Doan is from Windsor Ontario, though he lives in Dallas now. During a break between periods at the Canada-Austria game, he says he plans to go to 16 hockey events while he's in Sochi.
"Canada's doing as well as we can hope for right now. There's high expectations, though," Doan says. "After Vancouver, we wanna represent and watch them repeat."
Doan says the momentum from the last Winter Games, which Canada hosted in Vancouver, has carried over to Sochi. "I think we're gonna be No. 1 [in the medal count]. I'd put some money on that. I'd put a couple hundred bucks on that!" he says. "We had the most gold ever in 2010." (Canada won 26 medals at the Vancouver Games, and they did indeed win most golds there, 14.)
The Canadian fans here in Sochi have achieved a certain level of superstar status around the Olympic Park. Russians and other tourists routinely stop them for photos. And in true Canadian form, they are kind enough to stop for the requests.
"There's waves, there's pictures. All smiles," Alli Piccininni says. "We get a lot of other tourists coming up to us from all the other countries asking us for pictures. Yeah, it's pretty funny."
Family member John Piccininni says he's enjoying himself, too. "It's always great to come out to somewhere this far away and show up and support the teams and the athletes. I think it's a very unique, Canadian thing," he says.
John Piccininni thinks Canadian fans often compare themselves to American fans, but he says Canadians are different. "I think we understand our sports. I think we get the subtleties of some of the unique games that are being played," he says. "And I think we appreciate our athletes. I think we have a quieter pride, and I think that makes us look good."
But they do look good. The face paint, the jerseys, the Canada jackets. The quiet, smiling national pride. Sisters Natasha and Natassia Subban were perhaps perfect examples. Red and white from head to toe, they were instant stars at the stadium. Their brother, P.K. Subban, plays for the Canadian men's hockey team.
"Our athletes work very hard," Natasha Subban says, stopping for a camera once more, another Russian hanging on her shoulder. "We're taking it in."
She poses and smiles. Just before another camera flash, she says calmly, matter-of-factly, and with a Canadian cheer: "We didn't come here to lose."