The Olympics are supposed to be a joyous time of patriotic celebration, coupled with the exotic trappings of faux international cooperation, peppered with the excitement of possible infection from foreign bacteria — and Sochi has not disappointed.
American athletes have excelled at the “extreme sports,” which, frankly, require a uniquely American obliviousness to massive internal injury. Vladimir Putin has taken only underhanded swipes at Barack Obama. Bob Costas has taken to drinking his host country’s signature libation on-air as a direct result of a double eye infection.
So far, we’ve learned much about Sochi, a Russian resort town that typically receives almost no snow because of its subtropical climate. Just a few short years ago, it was a sleepy seaside burg. But it was slated for the Olympic transformation by a previous incarnation of Vladimir Putin, the one that existed before he declared himself Russia’s permanent leader and gave up pretending not to be Bond villain. Since then, the city has undergone massive — if partially unfinished — renovations. Workers built thousands of oddly-designed hotel rooms, displaced countless families (who, in turn, displaced thousands of dogs that now occupy themselves by barking at cross-country skiers), and trucked in snow from maintenance facilities that held on to any white stuff that has fallen in winters previous.
We’ve also learned about Russia, where the history is made up and the points don’t matter. The opening ceremonies, which borrowed an unsettling bit from the fictional entrance arena in the Hunger Games movies, glossed over a good five decades of recent Russian history, from the utter failure and inevitable decline of Communism — which one astute NBC reporter described as “one of history’s most pivotal experiments” — to the vodka-soaked Yeltsin administration that resulted. As far the opening ceremonies were concerned, Russia is a wonderland of art and music whose architecture was designed and built by ravenous Candy Land residents with a penchant for onion domes and dancing bears. Even when one of the Olympic rings failed to open, Russia quickly mobilized its totally-not-totalitarian “happiness squad” to ensure that not a single Russian resident witnessed the mistake. Look on the bright side: cutting in footage from the rehearsal gave the ceremony, filmed in darkness, a miraculous moment of sunlight. After all, according to the report that no doubt followed, even the sun obeys Vladimir Putin.
Of course, in these early days of the games, incidents have occurred. One American male bobsledder had to crash through his bathroom door after it jammed shut with him inside. One American female bobsledder almost fell down an empty elevator shaft. Several people have been forced to take selfies on Russia’s “buddy toilets,” rooms with two facilities and no separation wall. And journalists — those poor journalists — have been forced to endure sub-par conditions, sketchy hotel rooms, toxic drinking water, and unreliable cell phone service. But not to worry! Russia is addressing everyone’s immediate concerns, where they can be verified. In the case of the water, Russia’s alleged bathroom surveillance cameras, adeptly revealed by a government underling at a press conference, show that everything is running smoothly. So is the wild dog elimination program, which was thankfully bought out by a local billionaire after Russia revealed it was going to go with a technological solution to the infestation: poison darts.
America’s team has so far performed admirably. Our athletes walked in to the stadiums with heads held high, despite their ugly sweaters and Ralph Lauren-mandated meggings (which, yes, are actually a thing). America swept the gold medals in Slopestyle Snowboarding, a new event premiering at the Olympics this year. We took bronze in team figure skating, the sport in which America deployed it’s most effective weapon against Russia’s draconian anti-gay laws: figure skating commentator Johnny Weir, who brought most of Forever 21’s accessories department to Russia with him in his suitcase. Some American athletes — Alpine skier Bode Miller and snowboarder Shaun White — suffered early setbacks, both placing below medal contention in their initial events. But most have managed to persevere through slushy conditions, empty stadiums, and the depressing nature of being in a post-Communist country. America should be proud of them, and proud of the fact that our country, unlike Sochi, has working indoor plumbing facilities that flush toilet paper.
It’s worth tuning in. At the very least, even the more painful events (like the moguls, which will give you through-the-television psychosomatic knee pain), are still more entertaining than, say, The Bachelor — and, despite Bob Costas’ apparently contagious pinkeye, probably less likely to transmit a communicable disease.
America’s best events — hockey, short track speed skating, women’s halfpipe, and some of the main downhill skiing events — are still to come, as is curling, the best event of the Olympics. Curling gives millions of American firmly planted in front of screens all day hope that they can still achieve the Olympic dream, just by doing housework.