Sochi? Oh, Gee…

8 Feb

The Olympic rings. "...the six colors [including the flag’s white background] thus combined reproduce the colors of all the nations, with no exception. The blue and yellow of Sweden, the blue and white of Greece, the tri- colors of France, England and America, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, the yellow and red of Spain next to the novelties of Brazil or Australia, with old Japan and new China. Here is truly an international symbol." - Pierre de Coubertin

The Olympic rings. “…the six colors [including the flag’s white background] thus combined reproduce the colors of all the nations, with no exception. The blue and yellow of Sweden, the blue and white of Greece, the tri- colors of France, England and America, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, the yellow and red of Spain next to the novelties of Brazil or Australia, with old Japan and new China. Here is truly an international symbol.” – Pierre de Coubertin

Well, folks, they are here…the much-discussed, highly controversial 2014 Sochi Olympic Games have officially begun. I love the Olympics…summer or winter, it doesn’t matter. I am so inspired by what these folks are able to do – pushing their minds and bodies to their absolute limits for the bragging rights of being the best in the world at what they do. Sadly, I have a terrible memory for the names of a lot of the athletes who have inspired me in Olympics past, but the one that stands out most in my memory is that of Joannie Rochette who in 2010, just 2 days after her mother died of a heart attack, figure skated her way into the world’s hearts in memory of her mother, going on to eventually win the bronze metal. I simply cannot imagine what was going through her head or how difficult it must have been for her, but I remember being so proud of her and being in absolute awe of her strength. It still moves me today. In case you didn’t get to see her 2010 short program, you can watch it by clicking here.

The Olympics have always represented incredible strength, determination, peace and tolerance, but this year the Winter Olympics have drawn much criticism because of where they’re being held – Sochi, Russia – where Russian president Vladimir Putin has initiated a law banning all propaganda of “nontraditional sexual relations.” Not exactly tolerant. Despite his claims that all gay people should feel welcomed and comfortable in Sochi, as long as they “leave [the] children in peace.” Because all gay people are also pedophiles…? The threat of imprisonment for what is still an unclear definition of what is considered “gay propaganda” and stories of  people being stoned or having bottles of urine thrown at them because of their sexual orientation have raised many concerns amongst human rights organizations and, obviously, the International Olympic Committee as well as heads of state around the world. President Obama is not attending, but in a sly move, sent Brian Boitano and Caitlin Cahow – two openly gay athletes – as delegates. Tennis legend Billie Jean King was also to attend, but had to bow out because of a family medical emergency. Unfortunately, her mother passed away a few hours ago. The Canadian Institute for Diversity and Inclusion released a commercial in response to Putin’s propaganda law. Here it is:

The Games being held in Russia this year are an opportunity for the country to try to reclaim some of its lost street cred. The U.S. and 64 other countries, including Canada and Japan, boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which was a huge blotch in the country’s Olympic history book. The early post-Soviet history of Russia has appeared to the world to be one embarrassment after another, but these Olympic games are a national symbol of pride, almost reassuring the Russian people that they, as a country, are back. But credible terrorist threats have already been made, raising more concern than usual about the safety of the athletes and spectators.  The entire world is watching, as it always does, but this time with more scrutiny. Russia has to get this right.

So far, things aren’t looking so good, though. Thanks to the immediacy of social media, the snafus and failures in Sochi (#SochiFail) so far have been publicized around the world – often with photographic evidence. Unfinished hotel rooms, hastily put-together toilets, live wires sticking out of walls next to shower heads, toilet stalls with two toilets and no privacy walls, unfinished paving and even painting dead grass green…it’s all been documented.

And then today, during the opening ceremony, during a moment when lighted snowflakes were supposed to open up into the five Olympic rings, this happened:

Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Opening Ceremonies

Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Opening Ceremonies

Yep…they screwed up what is the universal symbol of the very games that they are hosting. Officially, it was a stage manager’s fault. But while the rest of the world saw it happen in real time, the Russian TV affiliate broadcasting the games cut to rehearsal footage where the fifth ring actually opened so that the Russian people wouldn’t see. Karma?

Now, I don’t mean to focus only on what’s gone wrong so far. The Russians certainly pulled out all the stops for the opening ceremonies – unopened snowflake be damned! The ceremonies featured some of the most innovative (and coolest) projections I’ve ever seen and a state-of-the-art fly system that allowed gigantic set pieces to fly in, spin, flip and move independently of one another. In addition to the impressive amount of Russian classical music that was featured, there was a lovely section devoted to the Ballet Russes, featuring a huge corps and Bolshoi Theatre’s prima ballerina, Svetlana Zakharova, dancing as Rostova in a “War and Peace” ballet set to Eugen Doga’s “My Sweet and Tender Beast Waltz.” The Peace Dove presentation featured prima ballerina Diana Vishneva and a corps of twenty or so whirling dervishes in fringe-like LED costumes dancing to Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” of course. Anna Netrebko, one of the most famous operatic sopranos in the world, also made an appearance, singing the Olympic Anthem. It really was a pretty spectacular opening and it makes me curious to know what they could possibly have left to do for the Closing Ceremonies.

For the sake of the athletes, I hope for the best for these games and I hope we can get past the politics and support the young men and women who are living out their dreams on an international stage. Go USA!

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