With foreigners finally pouring into Sochi and the Winter Olympics' first qualifying events on Thursday, "Putin's Games" are clearly in more trouble than human-rights violations and terrorist threats. The first wave of visitor grumbling has been massively about health hazards and missing amenities.
First of all, Putin has broken that cardinal rule "Don't piss off the media." Finding that Sochi construction is still being slapped together, with bulldozers parked everywhere, media people are tweeting in disgust at finding three of the nine hotels not even finished. They mention reserved rooms not available, problems with toilets and sewage and Internet connections, missing doorknobs, missing manhole covers in the streets, and tap water that (by one hotel's admission) is not safe to drink.
From the athletes, beefs range from beds that are too small to hazards at competition venues. For the past few days, sports-media headlines picked up a surge of complaints about the slopestyle course. Slopestyle skiing and snowboarding is making its Olympic debut at Sochi. But one U.S. snowboarder told the New York Times that the course's last jump was like "dropping out of the sky." Three snowboarders, including the U.S.'s Shaun White, logged training injuries on the course.
Ryan in Russia: Gay hookup app saves the day
Gay Fox Sports crew member Ryan Sifferman will be sharing his thoughts from Sochi as an out gay man throughout the Winter Olympics. For this entry, he talks about using Scruff to navigate Moscow.
White announced that he was withdrawing from the slopestyle. He said he would be focusing on the halfpipe next week. After Norwegian snowboarder Torstein Horgmo broke his collarbone on the course, forcing his withdrawal as well, Sochi authorities rushed to lower all three slopestyle jumps.
The slopestyle course isn't the only target of criticism. Sochi officials have already been compelled to do some fixes on their luge course. Vancouver's death of Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training crash on its luge course is still casting a long shadow.
In spite of the negative reports (which make me glad I'm covering the Games from my California office), I look forward to seeing all the new events. Women's ski jumping, and women's and men's ski halfpipe, are also making Olympic debuts. Sochi is the first Olympics where females can compete in these dangerous events. As they make history, I hope these intrepid women - and all the other athletes - can complete their events and do their best without injury or accident caused by substandard or hurried construction.
Other new events bring new variety to the schedule as well. Spectators and TV viewers can enjoy watching biathlon mixed relay, team figure skating, team-relay luge, and snowboard parallel special slalom.
For years now, since making Sochi his personal project, Putin has been banging the gong for his Games. After Russia's poor performance in the Vancouver Winter Games, Putin wants gold medals. But he also wants respect. Recently, according to a Reuters report, he said, "I would like the participants, fans, journalists and all those who watch the Games on television to see a new Russia, see its face and possibilities, take a fresh and unbiased look at the country."
Yet in recent months "Putin's Games" have dominated the news with very different realities. Headlines have hammered not only on their creator's commitment to ultraconservative religion, but also on the creator's apparent inability to meet construction deadlines, and on allegations of vast corruption around the cash flow, some of which come from ministers in his own government. Despite his disgorging an estimated $51 billion (US$ equivalent) on the Games - which is way more than China spent on Beijing -- Putin may not deliver on his boast that Sochi will show how Russia has recovered from the collapse of the communist USSR.
Is that "new face" one that reflects the overblown, unfinished construction and polluted drinking water -- not to mention the terrorist threats and the organized goons who beat up on gay men while Russian church leaders look the other way? The next three weeks will make for some cliffhanger sports-watching.
Patricia Nell Warren is author of the award-winning and groundbreaking The Front Runner, along with some other fantastic novels and non-fiction books. She will be contributing to Outsports throughout the Olympics. You can read more about Patricia Nell Warren at Wildcat International. Copyright 2014 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.
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