The failure of the fifth pyrotechnic snowflake to blossom into an Olympic ring during the opening ceremony at the Winter Olympics in Sochi may well symbolize the success — or lack thereof — of these games.
Of course, not everyone saw that technical blooper. Russian TV instead aired prerecorded footage of a successful aerial display.
There have been plenty of winners and losers, far beyond the immediate athletic arena.
Russia spent more preparing for these Olympics than any other host country has, in excess of $51 billion. That’s what happens when the venue must be built from scratch.
In Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mind, the overspending may have been worth it. The hope remains the resort region will attract lots of visitors and their money long after the closing ceremony today.
But it begs the question, can countries afford to host the winter games and should there be a budget cap? No less important, is there a country where weather is a near guarantee?
No one can blame the Russians for the 60-degree days and dense fog that sent some events into a tailspin and had athletes grumbling about the poor conditions.
But there are plenty of areas where the blame falls squarely on the host country and its irascible leader.
The country’s law restricting gay rights activity drew outrage, as well it should. It also likely resulted in President Barack Obama’s decision not to attend the games and to keep his wife and vice president away as well. The presidents of France and Germany had prior commitments, too, that kept them away.
Obama went a step further, sending two openly gay athletes as members of the U.S. delegation to opening and closing ceremonies.
Google was among the international businesses to register protest. The Internet king flaunted a rainbow-hued Doodle on opening day.
Give the International Olympic Committee some credit. IOC President Thomas Bach said in the opening ceremony, “The Olympic Games are never about erecting walls to keep people apart. They’re a sports festival embracing human diversity, embracing unity.”
But NBC couldn’t make room for his statement in its coverage. The network also opted not to air the hit of the night, the pre-ceremony performance of a Russian police choir singing Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”
Despite reportedly smaller audiences, NBC has cashed in on the Olympics with 12 hours of televised coverage every day. But, as always, there were plenty of reasons to complain when NBC announcers talked over what viewers wanted to hear and cut away from live events for trips into the Russian hinterland. Those cultural sidebars often felt more like promotions for state tourism.
Then there are the dogs, street dogs Olympic organizers ordered exterminated in advance of the games. Some U.S. athletes are trying to bring a pup or two home, but the attention the extermination garnered worldwide will do more to increase awareness of street dogs everywhere than the relocation of a few puppies named Sochi.
Terrorism was and is today a very real fear for these Olympics. Many wondered whether Russia was equipped to protect athletes and visitors. To its credit, Russia’s deployment of tens of thousands of police officers and soldiers appears to have worked.
Again, don’t blame Russia for terrorism fears and threats. Regardless of where these games were held, the fear and threat would have followed.
The Olympics are supposed to be about athletics on a worldwide competitive stage not cluttered with issues of religion, politics, gender or race.
Today, correctly so, it’s impossible to leave human rights, freedom and politics out of any such event.
Russia didn’t medal, but it also didn’t wipe out coming out of the gate.