Olympic Perceptions: Colorful images linger from Sochi
February 27, 2014
FORT MEADE, Md. (Army News Service, Feb. 27, 2014) -- The last Olympic medals have been awarded, but a kaleidoscope of colorful images remains from Sochi.
Bright pastels in the form of orange flowers, blue snowflakes and green ice swirl across the jackets of thousands of Olympic volunteers, whom I can still see. Hats styled after the bear, hare and leopard Olympic mascots adorn fans, many who wave small Russian flags and I can still hear them chanting "Rus-ee-a! Rus-ee-a!"
The Sochi Olympic Winter Games were unique. It seemed that fewer Americans came out to cheer at the sporting venues in Russia than during the London 2012 games. Perhaps they were scared off by threats of terrorism or by media reports of incomplete facilities.
The hotel I shared with other journalists was indeed a veritable hard-hat area for the first week of the games. Hot water was intermittent the first couple of days. WiFi, television and telephones were unavailable in the rooms at first. But conditions improved on a daily basis, and the young hotel staff was very apologetic. They went out of their way to accommodate needs, such as interpreting Cyrillic messages.
The construction tasks facing the Sochi Organizing Committee were indeed tremendous. Hundreds of miles of highway and railway were built with numerous tunnels through the Caucasus Mountains linking the Olympic Park along the Black Sea to the alpine venues of Krasnaya Polyana.
The coastal village was much like Disney Epcot Center, complete with an adventure park of rides, nightly fireworks and fancy lights surrounding every venue. The design of Fisht Olympic Stadium, for instance, was inspired by Faberge eggs created for Russian czars. Its translucent polycarbonate roof was built to resemble snowy mountain peaks and offer spectators views of the mountains to the north.
About 42 miles away in the mountains, four ski resorts were built. Halfway up one of the steep slopes -- accessible only by a gondola from Gorki Plaza -- a cluster of hotels was constructed called Krasnaya Karusel. The area resembled an Alpine village, but felt strangely like a Hollywood movie set. While the structures were certainly more than just props, they seemed to be constructed for the main show: the Olympic Winter Games.
During the first week, it seemed like only a handful of people wandered the scenic streets of Krasnaya Karusel. At night in the cold fog, the place seemed even more desolate. And it didn't seem unrealistic to imagine a pack of wolves lurking just around the corner.
But then the newly created village came to life. On the last weekend of the games, hundreds of Russian families showed up to celebrate the Olympics and listen to local music booming from speakers near the gondola.
It was interesting to hear a young Russian talk about the "Soviet experiment" as if it were a passing fad -- a flash in the pan.
And it was good to hear International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach speak of the games as the beginning of a new friendly era of openness for the country.