The official slogan for the 2014 Winter Olympics currently being held in Sochi, Russia is “Hot. Cool. Yours.” But so far, even hot and cold seems too lofty a goal. Social media is buzzing with reports from athletes and members of the press that the accommodations leave something to be desired–unless you like tandem toilet seats, live wires in the shower, and urine hued water. The Twitter account @SochiFails is documenting the worst of the mishaps. But with the games already underway, the problems are far from cosmetic. The Denver Post has a glorious summary:
From the Black Sea resort of Sochi to the snow-draped peaks dwarfing the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Olympic fervor is mounting as thousands of workers scramble to finish grandiose projects. This isn’t polishing the silver or closing out a punch list. This is full-blown construction, with the Opening Ceremonies on Friday and the first full day of competition Saturday.
Backhoes and dump trucks weave between buses full of reporters. Hotels seem weeks away from opening. Tile saws send dust spewing from restaurant doors draped in “Coming Soon!” posters. Roadways are clogged with cranes erecting street lights alongside crews installing guard rails.
This is to say nothing of the international controversy over the Russian crackdown on gay rights activists and others seeking to exercise free speech. And animal lovers are distressed by the ongoing culling and slaughter of the thousands of stray dogs that wander the streets of Sochi. (Travel tip: when in Sochi, make restaurant selections with great care.) Of course the demise of his peers didn’t stop one plucky pooch from wandering into the stadium to watch Friday’s opening ceremonies.
Much to that dog’s chagrin, those ceremonies were not spared the embarrassing failure that has so far been characteristic of these Olympics. Five giant illuminated snowflakes were supposed to open up to reveal the iconic Olympic Rings, triggering a pyrotechnics display. The fifth ring wouldn’t budge, so we missed out on the fireworks. For those who wish to relive the moment, there is already a parody T-shirt available. Or you could just watch the Russian state TV version, in which flawless rehearsal footage was edited into the coverage. One ring to fool them all.
The rest of the proceedings were visually stunning, if abstract, as a young girl suspended in the air supposed to represent Russia’s “feminine spirit” glided past floating islands depicting various facets of Russian culture. I missed the first showing and caught a 2 AM rerun through which I drifted in and out of sleep. It was perhaps the closest I have ever come to a drug induced haze. A drug induced haze scored by Tchaikovsky and featuring a performance by pop duo tATu, whose claim to fame was to pretend to be lesbians. Apparently Vladimir Putin’s umbrage for gays does not extend to hot, hot, women in schoolgirl outfits.
But when all is said and done, it’s about national pride and the honor of representing the hopes and dreams of your people. One can hardly imagine how the heart of Gary di Silvestri swelled as he marched into the stadium. di Silvestri, a 47 year old investment banker from Staten Island, New York and his Italian wife Angelica will be competing for the tiny island nation of Dominica. They were given citizenship there because of some charity work. Doubtless, Mr. di Silvestri would have qualified for the American team with ease. And who can forget the “Independent Olympic Athletes,” three men from India who marched in under the Olympic flag instead of that of their home country. Apparently, India’s Olympic committee elections were so corrupt that they were stripped of national representation. Such excellence in the the field of corruption is no mean feat for a contest held in Russia. At least the three men without a country were given a flag with all five rings.
The Russians were once our most feared and respected enemy. Now they are unable to pull together an Olympics with a greater budget than all previous games combined. What a motherf***er for Mother Russia.