It’s now just 7 days until the start of the Sochi Olympics and here at Russian Life we are getting pretty excited. Sure, it’s our thing to get excited about all things Russian. But it’s more than that. To begin with, this event has been a long time building – heck, we’ve had a countdown on our website since 2010!
Of course, what we love about the Sochi games is that, they are going to be so fully Russian. Yet that’s not all. Here are 7 reasons we’re particularly amped.
Nobody Does it Bigger. Many years ago, ok about 20, I was in what was then called the Soviet Union and we marched with a rather tame May Day parade. We were surrounded by jokers hollering out things like, “Soviet Watchmakers, Fastest in the World!” or “Soviet Midgets, Tallest in the World.” You get the general idea. Russians like to supersize things: they can put on a big, glitzy, over the top show. And Sochi is shaping up to be all of that and more. It will be the most expensive Olympic games ever ($51 billion, versus $46 billion for Beijing), with astounding cost overruns, egregious [alleged] bribery, and a record 1300 medals being handed out. That’s a lot of national anthems!
The Torch. Speaking of over-the-top-ism, how about that globe-trotting, space-floating, river-swimming torch? You know, the one that had a bit of difficulty staying lit at first. (Ironic, right?) Hand-in-hand with Russian over-the-top-ism you often get an unfathomable level of banality. It’s a stupefying to the point of hilarity sort of banality: “Who thought this stuff up? I mean, seriously, 14,000 torchbearers..? 65,000 miles..? Outer space? A special ship to the North Pole? Why?” Every highlight seemed stranger than the last, until this week’s eerie trots through carefully screened stadiums in Grozny and Dagestan. Now we’re starting to feel sorry for the poor torch and glad it will finally get to rest after next Friday.
The Ring of Steel. Sochi used to be a sort of sleepy seaside town (especially after loads of downtown housing was demolished to make way for massive stadia). The Russia Riviera, where just 343,000 residents soaked in winter temps in the 50s. But its proximity to the Caucasus and Georgia have, since the beginning, raised wide concerns about security during the games. So the Kremlin lowered a “Ring of Steel” around the region months ago and has reportedly imported about 100,000 security personnel from the rest of Russia. Let’s say the local population plus attendees, plus athletes, press and support staff inflates the local population during the games to 500,000 (which would seem generous). That still makes it one cop for every five people. Hopefully, this deterrent will insure a smooth, secure, quiet games. And it will likely lower the incidence of roadside justice exercised throughout the rest of Russia during the games.
New Sports. Not only are these the most expensive, over-the-top, biggest winter games ever, they may be the crazy-fastest. The addition of 12 new sports (including ski halfpipe, ski slopestyle and snowboard slopestyle, which emphasize freestyle prowess, spinning and twisting), is sure to mean some exciting competitions. We’re just sorry that curling with flaming stones didn’t make the cut.
Here a Vermonter, There a Vermonter... Okay, yes, we’re a magazine about Russia, but we also happen to be based in Vermont, which has, well, sort of a thing about winter sports (given that it lasts for 7 months up here). Turns out there are 14 Vermonters on the US team, out of a largest-ever team of 230. Do the numbers: Vermont residents make up about 0.2 percent of the US population, but 6 percent of the Olympic squad.
Hockey. Let’s face it, nothing would better culminate these Russian-situated games than a hockey final in which Russia faces off against the US or Canada. Russia has been in a several finals of late, but the last time it won gold in hockey was 1992. Imagine the home crowd if Russia brings this one home. Or imagine if there is a repeat of the 1980 Miracle on Ice.
17 Days. Russia will be in the news for 17 straight days, like it or not. We like it. But we’re already practicing our uncomfortable grimaces for those stereotypical TV stories of rampant Russian corruption, or the pithy TV features on “The Real Russia.” And of course, like many Russophiles we can’t wait to laugh smugly as Brian Williams and Bob Costas mangle Russian surnames and place names.