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Fireworks illuminate the night sky as the Olympic cauldron is lit at the opening ceremonies for the Sochi Winter Olympics Friday February 7, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It's all about the children

For the opening ceremony, I went to the port of Sochi – a 45-minute train ride from the main Games sites – hoping to watch the big show in the company of ordinary Russians. But that proved to be complicated. The giant-screen TV everyone had been hoping to watch was inside a fenced-off security zone, with an hour-long wait to get through.

As the crowd pushed and shoved and occasionally threatened to get truly rowdy, I gave up. The show had already started. I walked around the fence, hoping to find another entrance, and came across Natalya Kosheleva. The 55-year-old had also come to the port hoping to watch on the big screen and, like me, had given up trying to push through the line. She had her three-year-old granddaughter Evdokia perched on her shoulders. At that height, little Evdokia could see the screen, but her panting grandmother couldn't see a thing because of the fence. What did Kosheleva think of the Olympics that she couldn't see? They were wonderful, she told me. Because, despite it all, her granddaughter was thrilled.

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– Mark MacKinnon

Dogs, dogs, dogs, everywhere there are dogs

The first thing I noticed when we landed in Sochi was the number of dogs. They were everywhere – the media villages, Olympic Park, beneath the rings, digging in the dirt, and rolling in the grass.

I love dogs and was unsettled by their homelessness. The ones I encountered were timid and sweet, gentler than anyone's pet dog I knew back home.

And they appeared quite content. They didn't look like they were starving, and in fact many looked surprisingly well fed. That didn't stop me from smuggling hot dogs and bacon strips to my favourite, a mild black-and-brown mutt that colleague Roy MacGregor and I named Maxime, after Maxime Dufour-Lapointe. Like the freestyle skier who watched her sisters win gold and silver even as she missed the podium, my pup Maxime was smart (lounging outside the breakfast room each morning), plucky and sweet natured.

Unlike the many athletes who were smitten by the stray dogs of Sochi, I didn't try to bring Maxime home. I get the feeling she'll do just fine on her own. I'll be cheering for her.

_ Shawna Richer

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Return of the cowbell

George Trowell figured Canada's athletes in Sochi needed more cowbell, since that's what worked for his nephew, skeleton racer Jon Montgomery. Montgomery won gold at the 2010 Games while being cheered on by boisterous family members ringing a cowbell purchased at a Whistler souvenir shop. When Montgomery failed to qualify for the Sochi Olympics, Trowell, from Virden, Man., and his wife Carol Anne decided to share the bell's magic with two athletes practising in Virden. "Pairs figure skaters Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers train in our arena and had qualified to go to Sochi," said Trowell, a retired school teacher. "Since Jon was not going to Sochi, it only made sense that we send our bell with them." Lawrence, from Kennedy, Sask., and Swiegers, of Kipling, Sask., were first-time Olympians. They finished 14th but were thrilled to have skated their best at such a prestigious event. The Trowells made sure to watch whenever the duo was on television. "Carol Anne and I were delighted to see Paige's dad using that bell in Sochi," Trowell said.

– Allan Maki

The surprise silver

Speed skater Denny Morrison wasn't supposed to race the 1,000-metre event here – he fell during the Olympic qualifier. But then Gilmore Junio, not a medal threat for Canada, selflessly stepped aside so his higher-ranked teammate could compete. That gave Morrison a chance at redemption, and made the 1,000 one of those sporting events you just had to see. The media seats were overflowing, so I sat on the stairs near the finish line. As an usher urged me to move, the loudspeaker announced "From Canada, Denny Morrison …" I turned to the usher and said one word: "Canadian." To my amazement, he obliged. Morrison shot off the line and laid down his fastest race in years, and when he crossed the finish line he was in second place. There were still several skaters to go – among them the best long-trackers in the world – but Morrison's time stood up. When the last racer finally crossed the line, the Canadian team erupted. Morrison too, and to my right, his family and friends screamed and shouted like an army of Dutch fans. A silver medal. It was the surprise of the Games.

– Grant Robertson

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Cheering for (one of) the Americans

I'm not supposed to say this, but I was cheering for John Teller, the only American ski cross racer who made it to Sochi, in the big race on Thursday. He was my drinking buddy for an hour or two at a buzzy pizzeria in the mountain village of Rosa Khutor a few days earlier. I got there at midnight, couldn't find a table and asked a scruffy looking guy in a ball cap, slouched over beer, if I could plunk myself in the empty chair next to him.

What do you do, I asked, thinking he was the bag boy for the Bulgarian team or something. I'm a ski cross racer, he said. Is that what you do to train, I asked, pointing to the beer. He laughed. His (truncated) story: Car mechanic at his uncle's garage in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., couldn't make the U.S. speed skiing team, switched to ski cross, won a world cup race in the 2010-11 season in Austria. Largely self funded, no perks. "Did it pretty much all myself," he said.

Yes, I thought, this is how athletes fought their way up the competition ladder before the corporate machine took over. What a refreshing anachronism. Sadly, Teller didn't make the finals. He's probably back at the garage, covered in grease, trying to scape together the bucks for his next race.

– Eric Reguly

Sea of tranquillity

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It was during the first week, when the rains stopped and the sun broke through and everyone realized they were in a near-tropical resort. After days spent in buses, sports venues and the Main Press Centre, some of us went for a stroll to see if we could "find" the sea. We knew, sort of, that Sochi and the Olympic Park were close to the Black Sea, but we had no idea how close. We walked about two blocks and, suddenly, there it was. Vast. Rolling. The sun was setting over the water and it was glorious – fireball streaks of vivid colours. We walked along the rocky shore and saw a fisherman there with four rods set. Off to the side an older couple had spread a blanket and laid out their picnic of sandwiches and drinks, and they were just staring out at the sea while the sun set. Both were smiling at nothing. I smiled back at something.

– Roy MacGregor

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