Watching the Olympics as a Russian in America

By Alisa Givental

We don’t understand it. But we love it.

With the news media all aflutter over toilets in Sochi, stray dogs in Sochi, and Bob Costas’s red eye in Sochi (oh right — and Tinder in Sochi), we wondered what a Russian in America thought about the Olympics in Sochi. Luckily we knew exactly who to ask. Please welcome our dear Mash-Up Alisa Givental, Russian immigrant and long-time Californian, who tells us what it’s like to watch the Olympics from her home in the East Bay.

I’ve been to Sochi. Not that I remember it as anything more than a mediocre Russian summer resort that blurs together with all the others I “summered” at while growing up, like Crimea and Odessa (which I guess isn’t even Russian anymore). But anyways. Watching the Olympics in Sochi for me was mostly the same as watching every other Olympics — I root for the U.S. first and Russia second.

I watch ice-skating (if I am honest) only for the outfits, scoff at curling, jaw-drop at ski jumping, and understand very little of anything — except that this time I had more opportunities to cringe with embarrassment. On the one hand, I’m embarrassed because of my Russian heritage. They kill puppies for god’s sake, arrest musicians for contemplating the exercise of free speech, and all but ban gay people from, well, everything.

I also cringe because of the sometimes galling snobbishness towards Russia and its culture displayed by American commentators.

On the other hand, I also cringe because of the sometimes galling snobbishness towards Russia and its culture displayed by American commentators — see, for example, the New York Times’ minute-by-minute coverage of the opening ceremony.

I have to admit though that I kept waiting for a bigger other shoe to drop and am relieved it hasn’t. For a second, the false story about the guy responsible for the snowflake/Olympic ring technical malfunction during the opening ceremony being stabbed to death and ruled an accident, seemed a plausible other shoe. I hope we don’t find out months from now that the Russian Olympians who failed to medal are vacationing permanently in Siberia.

But despite all of the criticism of Putin and human and animal rights violations, I do think this is ultimately about the athletes who, for reasons that are totally beyond me, have spent the last four years training for these two weeks. Their trials and tribulations are both heart-breaking and awe-inspiring.

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