A sporting nation on the rise

DENIS POISSANT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

MOSCOW -- It's a country of extremes. Everyone smokes and drinks like you wouldn't believe, but they're some of the most active people on the planet.

It's Jan. 7 in Moscow's Red Square. Today is Orthodox Christmas and it looks like the entire population is outside. The cold air gets into your clothes, but apparently not in their's.

Women of a certain age wear the traditional fur hats from Soviet times, and young people wear whatever is fashionable at the moment, iPhones in hand. The skating rink that will host Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Yashin and other KHL stars today has been taken over by a diverse crowd of spectators. The loudspeakers play traditional songs, children shout, and babushkas give good-natured smacks and encouragement to their out-of-control grandsons on the ice.

It's Christmas in Moscow and no one seems to be stuffing themselves. Everyone is on the move as the city breathes and laughs in the face of winter.

On Christmas Eve in Chelyabinsk, the old soccer stadium is swarming with people. Four amateur league winter soccer matches are being played at once, a local tradition. Watch your head, though, since stray soccer balls are flying all over the place, kicked by some incredibly talented players.

You can bet on the Russians when the 2014 Olympic Games hit their home turf in Sochi. They're going to show the world what they can do in these outdoor games.

The Russian inferiority complex with the Americans is over and they want to take back their place in the world, in their own way.

Since 2002, a store chain has been selling clothes with the Russian national Olympic team logo. A basic winter coat can set you back $2,000, but you still see them everywhere. It's the big-ticket item in Moscow this season.

Yes, my friends. The Russians are back.


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