The opening ceremonies to the Sochi Olympics began with a young girl looking wide-eyed into a camera. The girl then lifted up like a kite and took off into the Russian night sky.
That girl's adventure included an amazing display of lights and sounds, culminating in brilliant twinkling snowflakes coming together to form the five Olympic rings, hanging high above the adoring crowd.
Well, four of the five rings. Like much of the preparation for the Sochi Olympics, the final ring didn't quite finish in time.
The opening ceremonies, highlighted by the parade of nations and a theatrical glossing of Russia's rich and tumultuous history, with lots of ballet, boats and an abundance of rollerskating, took place on Friday—don't let the tape-delayed content on NBC fool you into thinking its broadcast of the event is live—culminating in the lighting of the Olympic torch by Russian Olympic legends Vladislav Tretiak and Irina Rodnina.
The Olympic Games are officially open. Now, we can all forget about how terribly unprepared Sochi was to host them. But it will take a lot to erase the thought. Another scandal perhaps, something big enough—and athletic enough—to distract us from all the current Sochi scandals. (Quick, someone call Tonya Harding. I think she's got an anniversary to celebrate this year.)
Granted, no Olympics come without a few of controversies. (See Beijing, 2008 if you don't believe me.) Even the Vancouver Games, which, by comparison to Sochi, felt like the most smoothly run event in the history of the world, had serious protests after the city tried to whitewash—almost literally—the homeless youth from the city limits.
Russia seems to be in need of an entirely new level of whitewashing. The atrocities in China or the systematic dismantling of the economic landscape in Greece are nothing to gloss over, surely, but the problems surrounding the Olympics in Sochi somehow seem more…encompassing.
The problems in Sochi are both big and small, an interesting combination of real-world issues about public safety and cultural equality with the ridiculous—yet completely valid—gripes about unfinished hotel rooms and tap water that may burn a person's face.
I wish I was making some of this up.
Sochi is positioned in an incredibly tumultuous part of the world, with a bona fide war zone in some respects a few hundred miles in every direction. While the Russian government has stated over and over again that the region is safe for all its visitors, the terrorists will never stop trying to prove it wrong.
Take this, for example. While the world was collectively distracted by the opening ceremonies on Friday, a man tried to hijack a plane over the Black Sea to take it to Sochi. It's safe to say he wasn't headed there to score tickets to the figure skating finals. From Harriet Alexander and Caleb Lauer of The Telegraph:
A jet carrying 110 passengers from Ukraine has landed in Istanbul after a reported hijacking attempt...an official from Turkey's transport ministry, confirmed that a bomb threat had been made.
Turkish media said that the Ukrainian man attempted to hijack the plane en route from Kharkov in Ukraine to Turkey, and divert it to Sochi - where the Winter Olympics are taking place.
In some ways, a thwarted terror attack is actually one the organizers can boast as a win for the good guys, if you will. (Is "good guys" the right term here? Let's move on...)
The rest of the drama in and around Sochi has provided for far less boasting.
There is very little boasting about anti-gay demonstrations, for example, that have been happening in advance of the Games. While the Russian government clearly doesn't share the same views on homosexuality as much of the rest of the world, the country does not want to see public demonstrations during the Olympics that continue to be part of the news cycle on this issue. Whoops.
On Friday, Alexander Wolff of Sports Illustrated wrote about anti-gay protests at a train station in Sochi. The SI report seems tame compared to recent protests in Russia, some of which are included in this montage of violent, public assaults of gay men.
Some athletes, and even some countries, thought about boycotting. The German contingent wore rainbow outfits during the opening ceremonies in a move many people thought was a show of defiance to Russia's new yet instantly antiquated laws on homosexuality. The Germans deny their ensemble had anything to do with a protest, claiming the only statement they were making was one of, it seems, fashion.
On the plus side, at least the gays in Sochi are being treated better than the dogs.
With hundreds of stray dogs wandering the streets of the city, organizers took to rounding up the canines and poisoning them. Thankfully for the dogs, the bad publicity that came from the news they were being murdered has Sochi officials and local philanthropists joining forces to house them during the Games.
What happens to the dogs after the Olympics are over is anyone's guess.
Maybe organizers can let them drink the hotel water and the problem will just take care of itself.
Surely by now you've seen the horrors of the hotels in Sochi. Note to future Olympic organizers: If you're going to put media in hotels to cover your international event, make sure the facilities have basic things like running water, proper septic systems and, I don't know, maybe a lobby. From a Feb. 4 story by Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post:
Some journalists arriving in Sochi are describing appalling conditions in the housing there, where only six of nine media hotels are ready for guests. Hotels are still under construction. Water, if it’s running, isn’t drinkable. One German photographer told the AP over the weekend that his hotel still had stray dogs and construction workers wandering in and out of rooms.
Real question: Which would you rather have wandering around your room, a stray dog or a construction worker? Me, I'd pick the dog. Putin swears the dogs aren't rabid.
From the serious to the ridiculous and back again, am I right? Or has it not gotten ridiculous enough yet for you? Here's my personal favorite (and admittedly much documented) story, from Paul Sonne of the Wall Street Journal:
Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister responsible for the Olympic preparations, seemed to reflect the view held among many Russian officials that some Western visitors are deliberately trying to sabotage Sochi's big debut out of bias against Russia. "We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day," he said.
Yes, that is the head of the Olympic preparation committee admitting to media that his organization has cameras watching them in their hotel rooms. In the showers of their hotel rooms.
You may not have a shower curtain, light bulb or a toilet that will flush paper in your bathroom, but there's a decent chance you have a surveillance camera watching how long you leave the water running.
Man, the Sochi organizers could really use a good luge crash, couldn't they? Oh, we got that already, huh? What about a doubles luge crash?
Those in charge surely want the Olympics to go smoothly now that the actual events are scheduled to begin, but it certainly wouldn't be the worst thing for a legitimate athletics scandal to break out.
Or a few of them.
Are any of the figure skaters too young to compete? Is there a speedskater on greenies or curler on performance-enhancing drugs? Can someone please break a leg while on the Super G and then break a world record. Is there a figure skating scoring scandal somewhere? Anywhere?
Sochi really could use a distraction for the media, because run-of-the-mill Olympic events with winners and losers and medals awarded and human-interest stories are not going to cut it this time around. Nothing is more dangerous than someone with no running water, a dog in the bed and access to the international media.
So let's hope, for Sochi's sake, there is an actual Olympic scandal to take the focus away from the dead dogs, oppressed homosexuals, terrorist radicals and unfinished accommodations. Ooh, maybe something like this:
Wait. No. No! The exact opposite of that.