Imperfect Harmony: Sochi Ain’t All That Bad

From dirty water to a malfunctioning snowflake, Sochi has had its fair share of problems—but so did Turin, and Beijing and Munich before it. Quit your complaining and root for the participating world, will ya?

Al Tielemans/Getty

Day after day, and night after night, the top-rated program on television is the worst spectacle in the history of sport: The Sochi Olympics.

Or is it?

Well, it’s what the American media has been telling us even before the Winter Games began in Russia.

The hotel rooms are appalling. The water is brown. The toilets are too close together. And the most horrific display at all…only four of five Olympic snowflake rings illuminated during an otherwise-dazzling Opening Ceremony.

For an Olympics that cost $50 billion to Vladimir Putin, that’s a $10 billion-dollar gaffe—at least that’s the oft-repeated joke on cable news. Some critics even stretched the narrative to make the ring blooper an indictment on Russian infrastructure, corruption and incompetence across its nine time zones as a whole.

At risk of appearing un-American by not bashing everything Russian, know this: No Olympics are perfect. It’s more the exception than the rule that any major sporting event doesn’t screw up some detail that cynics—primarily thanks to social media—are quick to jump on.

Want examples? Here are some recent ones:

The late Luciano Pavarotti—considered the greatest opera star of modern times—pulled a Beyoncé and actually lip-synced at the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies in Turin, Italy eight years ago.

In Beijing in 2008, the awesome fireworks display we witnessed at home was actually computer-generated images, more commonly known as CGI.

Whether it’s the Munich massacre in 1972 where 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually murdered, or if it’s that bomb that detonated in Centennial Park in Atlanta that killed one person and injured over 100 in 1996, the Games have always been a picture of imperfection from the benign to the tragic.

Big events have big problems all the time, even within the borders of the world’s last Superpower, the United States. Remember what happened at the Super Bowl in New Orleans 53 weeks ago? A blackout that lasted 34 minutes occurred with hundreds of millions watching around the world. Did the lights go out at America’s largest annual sporting event because of our infrastructure, corruption or incompetence?

Or does stuff just happen?

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How about the Super Bowl this year, when train services to and from the game was an absolute abomination? Hours of delays, EMTs called in to treat those passing out from overcrowding. OMG…Is the entire American public transportation broken?

So far, during these Olympic Games, the indelible image coming out of Sochi is a photo taken by an American journalist featuring two glasses of brown water. The photo went viral, because, you know…dirty water is a horrific sight never absorbed by the general public before.

This isn’t to say Sochi has been utopia. The city isn’t London, Vancouver or Beijing. It has very few connecting flights. The hotel rooms are laughably unfinished, the security concerns—given Sochi’s location and a deadly attack at a nearby Volgograd train station just weeks ago—are real. Even the snow is man-made. Almost everything—every venue, every building—you see on your screen had to be built from scratch (hence the $50 billion price tag and the alleged corruption that goes along with it). All of that said, the IOC should have never selected Sochi back in 2007 in the first place.

Despite all of that, many in American media came with a chip on both shoulders since these games began…rooting for failure. The focus has not been on the athletes and competition, but on hotel rooms and tap water, Putin and his policies, and the history of communism and the millions who died under tyrants like Stalin.

Every host country—from England to China to Russia to the United States—has a dark and disturbing part of its past that isn’t pretty. Focusing on that aspect isn’t what any Olympic games should be about.

But for whatever reason, Russia’s history is being retaught in print and cable news on a daily basis. And thanks to camera phones and Twitter, the media megaphone and its ability to be snarky is at an all-time high.

Sochi isn’t perfect.

The games probably shouldn’t be there in the first place.

But here we are. And so far, outside of media complaints over accommodations and the hysteria over a ring malfunction during an otherwise-spectacular opening ceremony, the first three days have been just like Vancouver and Turin and Salt Lake City before it:

Captivating, compelling and visually stunning.

Despite what you may have heard.