Saturday, March 15, 2014

Arrivederci, Sochi

Here it is, my somewhat delayed, doubtless long awaited, biannual Olympics report! Here you’ll find my analysis of some of the best stories of the Sochi games! So, without further ado….

1. The Venue

Sochi was the story before the games had even begun. We westerners have always had the same view of Russia since the Stalin-era, that of a cold, dreary, bleak place, with men in fur hats and women in babushkas lined up around the block in the snow hoping to get their daily ration of bread, toilet paper or vodka. I’ve been to Russia, and it’s changed a lot since those days, but you wouldn’t know it from the first reports out of Sochi. Tales of warnings against drinking tainted water, malfunctioning or missing toilets, beds, or other amenities in local hotels, and so forth blanketed the social mediaverse.

Once the games started though, it seems that things were not so bad. Even a slight malfunction in the opening ceremonies was quickly forgotten and even played for laughs at the closing. Few complaints were heard once the games began in earnest, and most importantly, the games went off without a hitch. No attack by Chechnyan rebels, no bomb threats, no disappearing athletes—not even that many doping or cheating scandals. And it’s not like there wasn’t plenty of unrest that could have led to political uprising (Crimea, anyone?), so, whatever you think of Vlad Putin, you have to give him SOME credit—he pulled it off.

2. The Ukrainian Women’s Biathlon Team

Speaking of the Crimea situation, props have to go out to the Ukrainian Women’s biathlon team. Amidst massive unrest in their country, with the threat of the former motherland’s aggression looming over them, these four women, Olena Pidhrushna, Vali Semerenko, Vita Semernko, and Juliya Dzhyma bore down and collected the second Winter Olympics gold medal in Ukrainian history. Instead of turning their guns against Russian oppressors, they turned them on dime-sized targets and won gold in the 4x6K biathlon relay, striking a blow for national pride in the heart of the country that seems to be threatening it the most.

3. Speed Skating-Dutch Treat, American Horror Story

The Dutch have been known for speed skating for some time, but their dominance truly reached fruition in these games. The Dutch men won everything but the 1500m, where they came in second, but where their women picked up the slack, sweeping their version of the race.  One of their women even picked up an extra medal in short track for good measure. Speed skating ended up comprising the entire Dutch medal haul from Sochi, which was just fine, since they collected eight gold, seven silver, and nine bronze, putting them near the top of the medal leader board. In contrast, the fairly well-funded and highly touted men’s team, led by Shani Davis, collected….none. (One if you count their lone silver in short track). Some are blaming the USA uniforms, which were specially designed for Sochi with a vent in the back that was supposed to improve the aerodynamics, but probably should have been tested more extensively before being put into use in the most important competition in four years. Regardless, the Dutch have come a long way since Vancouver, when an embarrassing error by a Dutch coach caused their star Sven Kramer to lose his premier event (chronicled in my Vancouver recap). This year’s Dutch embarrassment was provided by Coach Jillert Anema, whose anti-American rant seemed to overlook the fact that outside of speed skating, the U.S. performance put the Dutch to shame.

4. Satisfied Countries

Although things didn’t go as expected for everybody, especially the U.S, which saw Shaun White fail to live up to his hype, the men’s hockey team flame out, and the aforementioned speed skating team crumble, there was something for almost everybody to be proud of. The Russians didn’t dominate cross country as they had hoped, but they did live up to expectations as the host country and take home the biggest medal haul. The Dutch, as mentioned, crushed speed skating, their national sport, and Canada maintained their national pride too, winning Hockey and Curling in both the men’s and women’s divisions. And, never fear, the U.S. took home plenty of medals as well, in freestyle skiing and snowboarding, alpine skiing and more. And by the way, did anyone miss Lindsey Vonn?

All in all a successful Olympics I think, and plenty to look forward to in Rio in two years.

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