I have made a point to watch every opening and closing ceremony for every Summer and Winter Olympic Games. As I sit here watching CBC’s rebroadcast of the closing ceremony for the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, I look back at the good things, as well as the bad, that marked Sochi’s place in sports history.
Every Olympics has had its backstory, its politics, its controversy, its standout performances and its stories of human spirit and competition. Sochi 2014 is not immune. As the enthusiastic audience cheers the previous 17 days of competition at Fisht Stadium, here are some of the high and low points of the 2014 Winter Olympics…
HIGH POINT – THE RESURGENCE OF THE WINTER SPORTS POWERS - By looking at the final medal count, the host country has plenty to be proud of. Russia led all nations in overall medals with 33, and gold medals with 13, meaning the stirring Russian national anthem was heard many times over cheering crowds. This was certainly a comeback from the Russians’ embarrassment four years prior at Vancouver, when they came away with only 3 gold medals and 15 overall. The usual winter superpowers were high in the medal table as well. The USA was second with 28 medals (9 gold), Norway third with 26 overall (11 gold) and Canada fourth with 25 (10 gold). When the home team does well, it’s always a good thing.
HIGH POINT – NORTH AMERICAN DOMINANCE – If there was one thing the Russians could have had back, it was their loss in the hockey tournament to the Americans. Many in the crowd in Sochi remembered how the Soviets found themselves on the losing end of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” at Lake Placid. American and Canadian athletes did very well in Sochi, in events such as speedskating, bobsled, figure skating, and of course, hockey. Fans were treated to two emotional and well-played medal games in hockey between these two neighbours – the women’s gold medal game, and a men’s semifinal (Canada won both)
SO-SO - THE VENUES – Sochi’s organizers did a beautiful job with the sporting venues, even planning them so that there were just two clusters, the farthest an easy drive from Sochi. Fisht Stadium was a worthy spot for the opening and closing ceremonies, along with the figure skating, speedskating oval and the hockey venue. Despite being in a mild climate, the outdoor events were executed well. However, it was very disheartening to see that not many events sold out. At the biathlon venue, for example, one could see many empty seats, and choice seats were also seen to be vacant during figure skating competition. And we’ve already seen the pictures and tweets from journalists showing the hotels that weren’t quite ready.
SO-SO – THE TV COVERAGE – This once again comes in line for which side of the border you’re on. CBC, having retained the Canadian Olympic TV rights after the ’10 and ’12 Games were on rival CTV, didn’t disappoint with stellar coverage of many events, most of them live. The CBC even created a live overnight program to correspond with the nine-hour time difference, “Good Morning Sochi”, where events were shown live when it was the overnight hours in Canada. NBC, on the other hand, dropped the ball again, with continued pre-packaged results in prime time. I thought the Peacock was coming around when they broadcast the women’s hockey gold medal game live between Canada and the US, but went back to old habit by not covering the Canada-US men’s semifinal the next afternoon. And you know things were bad when Bob Costas was sidelined with an eye infection, prompting Matt Lauer to pinch hit.
LOW POINT – THE COST – Not being able to sell out every event doesn’t really help the Olympics’ bottom line. The Sochi Games will already go down as a financial disaster. The planned $12 billion budget became a whopping $51 billion, thanks to delays, cost overruns and alleged corruption. Sochi is already the most expensive Games ever, surpassing the $44 billion price tag for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. Critics are already calling Sochi the “Montreal of Winter Olympics”, in reference to the enormous debt left for the host of the 1976 Summer Games. But Thomas Bach, the new president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), defended the costs, claiming that they were necessary to make the Black Sea resort of Sochi a year-round destination.
LOW POINT – THE POLITICS – Every Olympic Games has a backdrop of some controversy, whether it’s politics, scoring, or something else. Besides the whispers of corruption, Russia got a black eye with its anti-gay legislation, prompting protests from athletes (the German team’s “rainbow” outfits in the opening ceremony was believed by many to be a protest) and visitors. US President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper were among the world leaders staying home in response to the controversy. Then there were the usual concerns about security (including reports that a terrorist cell could have infiltrated the secure Olympic zone) and local ethnic groups protesting the presence of the Games.
All in all, the Sochi Winter Olympics will be remembered for many great performances of the athletes and a superb hosting job by the residents of this resort town and the region containing it. But it’ll also be remembered for the high costs and the host country’s questionable human rights record. Another Olympic chapter has been written, and now there’s just one thing left for the winter athletes…
See you in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018!