SOCHI, Russia – It's been a sleepy start to these Winter Games for the Olympic Park in Sochi.
Around 70,000 fans per day had been walking into the park on a daily basis over the first week of the games, giving the sprawling campus an empty feeling. Concession lines were short, afternoons were lazy and the biggest sporting event in the world just didn't have that buzz that you expect from an event of this magnitude.
On Thursday, finally, the place came alive.
With the Russian men's hockey team making its Sochi debut against Slovenia, the park was bursting with fans, the vast majority wearing the Russian colors and waving the national flag. Lines outside the Russian fan house and the Olympic store were 50 yards long.
Festive Russian folk music played on a stage just inside the entrance, where two big screen televisions played the hockey game. When Evgeni Malkin scored to put Russia up 2-0 in the first period, hundreds of fans watching in the warm sun erupted and started hugging each other.
Vendors peddling crepes, kabobs and, of course, Coca-Cola were working feverishly to get everyone fed. Elbows bumped together for the first time and thousands streamed across the bridge that connects the main entrance to the rest of the park.
"Let the games begin," Vileri Bobrov said with a wry smile before heading to the United States-Slovakia game.
This is what the Russian people have been waiting for. They know it. The coaches know it. The players know it.
It's go time.
— 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