It’s now officially 100 days to go until the start of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. And for hockey fans, the big day couldn’t come any sooner.
The Olympic torch continues to make its stops around Russia. On Monday the flame was in St. Petersburg for a big game between the KHL teams SKA St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow. The clash of the two army clubs began with the Olympic Flame arriving at SKA’s arena, and was passed from SKA player Ilya Kovalchuk to CSKA forward Alexei Morozov, with former Soviet national team coach Viktor Tikhonov in attendance.
With a total of 14,000 participants, this will be the longest and largest Olympic torch relay ever. The record-breaking 65,000 km long relay across the biggest country in the world will see the flame go through 83 Russian regions, 2,900 towns and settlements before it reaches its final destination in the city of Sochi at the brand-new Olympic stadium on February 7, 2014.
Before it gets there, it will be taken all the way up Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe, and on a dive to the bottom of Lake Baikal – the oldest and the deepest lake in the world. The torch has already been to the North Pole, courtesy of a Russian ice breaker.
But that’s not the farthest the torch will travel. Hitching a ride on a Russian Soyuz rocket, an unlit torch will be taken up to the international space station next month, where it will orbit the Earth several times and be carried into open space.
“Nobody has done this before. The spacewalk by two Russian cosmonauts with the Sochi 2014 Olympic Torch will be an historic moment in the history of the Olympic Torch Relay,” said Dmitry Chernyshenko, President of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee. “I want to thank the Federal Space Agency for its support which will enable us to take the Sochi 2014 Olympic Torch Relay to the final frontier”.
To celebrate the 100-day milestone, five enormous Olympic rings are set to be installed at Sochi’s main railway station, while around Russia different events have been planned. In the United States the 100-day countdown to the Sochi Games was highlighted by the gathering of about 50 Olympians and Paralympians at New York City's Times Square.
But for hockey fans the big day to mark on their calendars is 8 February, when the first puck drops on the opening hockey game of the Olympics, as Team USA plays Finland in the women’s tournament.
The men’s tournament kicks off four days later with Sweden taking on the Czech Republic and Latvia facing Switzerland. Russian hockey fans will get to see their teams in action first on February 9th when the women’s team plays Germany. The men’s team gets started later on with their opening game against Slovenia on 13 February.
The newly elected President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, visited Sochi earlier this week to assess the venues in the run up to the Games. Bach said the he was “impressed” with the progress that had been made at Sochi and praised the organizers.
"We are fully confident that the Games will be on a magnificent level," said Bach. "Sochi and the whole region completed a very big, successful development journey and we have been deeply impressed with this path."