I have been spending my spare time (and probably some time I really can’t spare) watching the Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia. Watching the Games has left little time to blog about them. At just over the half way point, I thought I should find some time to comment. I will begin with the host country.
It is clear that Russia sees this event as a way to improve the world’s opinion of the country. In the three or four days before the Opening Ceremony, that did not seem likely. As the news media arrived, reports poured out about hotel rooms without doors or light bulbs, no water or yellow water, “security” people opening guests’ doors in the middle of the night. I’m not sure if those problems were resolved or just pushed aside for better stories about the athletes.
The Opening Ceremony was an extravaganza, as they all are. But for anyone over about 40 or those who have studied history, it was hard to miss that the Russian history presented had been sanitized. The Soviet era was characterized only as a time of industrialization, ignoring gulags and executions.
This cauldron for the Olympic flame is one of the most elegant ever, surrounded by a pool with a fountain. Had I been attending the Opening Ceremony, I would have been disappointed that I couldn’t see the flameignited. Even for Winter Olympics, opening ceremonies were held in outdoor stadiums through the Torino Games in 2006, allowing Opening Ceremony guests to see the lighting of the Olympic flame atop the stadium. For the 2010 Vancouver Games, with the first indoor Opening Ceremony, the organizing committee solved the flame issue by lighting a cauldron inside the stadium and then another outdoors. Something similar might have been nice for Sochi.
In Vancouver, and previous Olympics, there was a symbol or logo for the specific edition of the Games. In the early part of the last century, they often included a landmark (e.g. a notable mountain) or famous building in/near the host city. Later logos became more stylized. The logos are seen at all the venues: in the ice of the curling sheets or the figure skating arena; on signs, posters, tickets and official souvenir trading pins. But the Russian’s logo is a fancy version of the Sochi Games website with the Olympic rings in the corner! There is some precedent – Mexico City (1968) had it’s name and the date intertwined with the Olympic rings and Montreal (1976) had only an all-red version of the rings above the city name and date. But the inclusion of the web address suffix for Sochi is clearly a publicity move.
And what’s with the slogan “Hot. Cool. Yours.”? Maybe it sounds special in Russian. To me, it seems more like a slogan for a tourist promotion than an athletic event.
To the Russians credit, they are doing a good job of maintaining outdoor venues despite warm temperatures. Athletes have been complaining about the condition of the snow on the downhill ski and snowboard runs, but at least there is snow on the hills. For the Vancouver Games, snow had to be trucked in from other areas, and even then some events on Cypress Mountain (not very far above sea level) had to be rescheduled, mostly because of rain.
One interesting thing the Sochi Organizing Committee planned was a special gold medal for tomorrow, which is the one-year anniversary of the meteor that exploded over Siberia. Athletes winning gold in the 10 event finals scheduled will get a specially designed medal with a small piece of the meteor in the center. Something never done before, and probably never to occur again.
Fortunately, anti-terrorism measures are keeping everyone in Sochi safe. That makes it a little easier to ignore the obvious self-promotion by the Russians.