COLUMBIA — There are four stars on each shoulder of Marat Musin's hockey jersey, one for each gold medal Russia and the former USSR have won in Olympic ice hockey.
Musin, an MU Ph.D. student from Moscow, wore his jersey for the first time during a gathering organized by the MU Russian Club to watch the opening ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Games.
Musin, 27, said he regrets some portrayals of Russia in the press but hopes two weeks of competition will help show his country is capable of organizing such an event and keeping the venue safe.
Russia's anti-gay law, the location of the games near the Caucasus region with tensions between ethnic minorities, the expense of hosting the games and problems with accommodations have drawn attention to the 2014 Olympics.
Anna Lanshakova, 23, said she was fed up with Western media coverage leading up to the games.
“Every day I open my Facebook page, and I see biased articles that create false polemics,” she said. As an example, she cited the Indianapolis Star's article titled "Yellow water, weird toilets and more problems at Sochi Olympics."
“Come on, let’s divide sports and politics," Lanshakova said. "Let’s see how the games go.”
Russia spent an estimated $51 billion to organize the games, compared to $1.9 billion Canada spent for the last Winter Olympics in 2010, according to the Vancouver Organizing Committee.
Anna Berezhkova, 23, was skeptical about what will become of Sochi’s Olympic facilities after the two weeks of competition. Berezhkova thinks the money could have been used to develop infrastructure, education and finance research programs in the country.
Journalism student Olga Khrustaleva of Russia called Sochi a big laundry of money.
"I can’t say I’m proud of my country hosting the Olympics,” she said.
But she also regrets a targeted coverage.
“Everybody is targeting Russia because of the Olympics, while there is also corruption in countries that organize sport events,” she said.
Ekaterina Shevchenko, 23, who works at the MU Department of Russian studies, reads Russian media, such as Lenta.ru, to balance her perspective.
“Some Russian media also focus on what is going wrong with unfinished projects in Sochi, for example,” she said. “But at least the judgment is balanced.”
Russia's anti-gay law has also sparked controversy.
By banning the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” the law passed in June tends to reinforce traditional Russian values. It also questions the freedom of expression during the games, where U.S. President Barack Obama sent three openly gay athletes.
Nicole Monnier, an assistant teaching professor of Russian at MU, said the law feeds a “strong cultural impulse against homosexuality in Russia” and is a form of discrimination that is important to mention.
Although some Russian students at the gathering said the law contributes to intolerance in their country, others argued that nothing has changed for gay and lesbian people in Russia. Lanshakova and Schevchenko said their gay friends in Russia have never been threatened.
“There is a tension between a real pride to host the games and that sensitiveness about the controversies,” Monnier said.
For Musin, being Russian is “a combination of self-proudness about our great past history and a perception that, sometimes, we’re not living in a civilized country,” he said in reference to the anti-gay law and corruption. “It’s almost cognitive dissonance. It's not complete truth, but sometimes you just hardly can find better explanation."
He's keeping the faith that after the men's ice hockey final on Feb. 23, he'll be able to pin a ninth star onto his Russian jersey.
Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.