Of all the gleaming, breathtaking venues in Sochi's Olympic Park, the Bolshoy Ice Dome still stands above the rest. And for good reason.

Bolshoy is home to the hockey tournament at the Olympics, the event the Russians value above all others. So they seemed to have put just a little extra into the building. It's the only arena in Olympic Park that sits on a hill and not on the flat ground, and its sleek, glittering white roof lined with lights that illuminate in various patterns watches over the rest of the park.

"We all grew up in the culture that hockey is a religion in our country," Sochi 2014 CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko has said.

To enter this hockey cathedral, visitors have to scale dozens of stairs before walking through a glass-encased entrance.

When the Russian men's hockey team is in action, as they were Saturday for the highly anticipated matchup against the United States, the whole park crackles with extra electricity. Thirty minutes before the puck dropped, thousands of Russian fans waving flags and blowing horns climbed the stairs to the arena, ready to cheer their heroes on.

Volunteers feverishly painted the red, white and blue lines of the Russian flag on the cheek of every fan who asked, even one who was wearing an American flag as a cape, just to play it safe.

Over the loud speaker in the park, Queen's "Under Pressure" blared.


— By Jon Krawczynski — Twitter http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski


Associated Press reporters are filing dispatches about happenings in and around Sochi during the 2014 Winter Games. Follow AP journalists covering the Olympics on Twitter: http://apne.ws/1c3WMiu