From Russia with love/The Red Line

There are many things about my freshman year of high school I regret.

There was raging acne, an appearance on Public TV 13’s “High School Bowl” with a jean shirt, a pre-pubescent voice and barely enough height to see over the desk, and that one time I was walk-running to make it to band before the bell rang and an upperclassman tripped me and I face-planted in the hallway.

One thing I don’t regret? I went in an hour early to take Russian class from Negaunee over distance learning.

This is where the audiobook version of this column will have a ‘record rip’ sound effect.

The Russian language is rather complicated, so most of what I remember from the experience was the Cyrillic alphabet and a week-long classroom viewing of “Dr. Zhivago.”

And on this shaky foundation, I will build a column about the Sochi Olympics.

You may remember a few weeks ago, I wrote about my tepid mood about Sochi and the Winter Games. Well, the Opening Ceremony takes place two weeks from Friday and so, here’s a handful of reasons, on and off the beaten path, to get excited about Sochi.

1. Hockey, of course.

The last Olympic hockey tournament was fairly well publicized, to put it mildly. And the hero of that tournament, a Sidney Crosby of Canada, has re-emerged from obscurity to lead the defending champions.

The hockey could be a little sketchy, given that the teams don’t exactly have a ton of cohesion. The NHL’s Olympic Break begins on Saturday the 8th (yes, the day after the opening ceremonies) and the tournament begins on the following Wednesday.

But I’m not looking forward to the hockey as much as I am the hysteria.

Team USA has two silver medals (and, in 1998, some destroyed rooms) to show for the era of professionals at the Games and surely has a chance to collect another set, color to be determined.

Meanwhile, as far as I can ascertain, Team Canada will be considered a miserable failure if it so much as allows a goal.

The host country also has a bit of a hockey tradition, and when the US and Russia meet on Feb. 15, I’m sure NBC’s archivists will have to dig long and hard for tape of previous Olympic meetings.

Oh, and the Detroit Red Wings, playing in their Sweden alternate jerseys, will be heard from as well.

2. Curling

CNBC and associated cable channels will be showing 36 hours of curling from Sochi, which to me, is the proof of the advancement of Western civilization.

The Canadian team is from Sault, Ontario and the American team is from Duluth, which puts you and I in the middle of some fierce competition.

3. People falling down

Let us not forget that in the old “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” intro, Pele represented the “thrill of victory” and obscure Slovenian ski jumper Vinko Bogataj was “the agony of defeat.”

There will be wipeouts, whether it’s the NASCAR-style short-track speedskating wrecks, the artistry of someone attempting to mask the hand they put down on a triple loop or a gnarly snowboarding collision.

As long as everyone’s OK, I see no problem with a little schadenfreude at the games, provided Mr. Freude passes his drug test.

4. Mocking the TV coverage

There is much to look forward to, whether it’s snarky jokes about obscure countries and weepy features about Eastern European speed skaters who overcame malaria.

My personal favorite is Mary Carillo horseplay trips. In my future, I see 10 minutes at a borscht factory, 15 minutes at Lenin’s tomb and five minutes of skiing.

Mercifully, CBC has regained the Canadian rights to the games and doesn’t even appear to be bringing Don Cherry, so I’m sure Ron MacLean and the gang will be running a tight ship.

As our neighbors to the north have shown, if we keep the focus between the lines, Sochi ought to be a pretty good show.

And if you see any signs in Cyrillic, let me know and I can still phonetically read them for you.

Brandon?Veale can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at