Scotty Stevenson: Lycra it or not, let 'Putin's Games' begin

Photo / AP
Photo / AP

If reports from the mountain village of Krasnaya Polyana are correct, the wheels - or should that be the doorknobs - have already come off the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Hell hath no fury like a journalist scorned and with the finishing touches still in the realm of fantasy when it comes to media accommodation at these Games, the criticism of Olympic authorities has been both loud and scathing.

Fair enough. "Putin's Games" - interestingly, the western media last dished out a conflating, eponymous label for the Games in 1936 - were designed to be Russia's greatest modern moment; a chance for a nation that, underneath its fur coat of patriotism, wears its longing for international respect on its sleeve.

Leaving the world's sports media effectively homeless or domiciled in buildings only the late-90s Auckland City Council could have consented to is an embarrassment.

On top of that there's the security question, the corruption allegations, the oft-quoted price tag of US$50 billion (more than the cost of all previous winter games combined), the nonplussed locals of Sochi and Adler ignominiously moved to make way for the spectacle and, of course, the stray dogs.

There are a lot of things to be concerned about. Quick! Someone tweet this!

It's easy to find fault with the Games. For despite the hospitable welcome from the army of volunteers, the feeling of safety afforded by an efficient and courteous and ever-present security force, the simply breathtaking majesty of the mountain venues and the transformation of a Sochi swampland into an Olympic Park of audacious ambition, finishing touches are just not the local forte.

And just then, as you digest all this and prepare to consume another minute of your life trying to make sense of the size and cost of the IOC delegation, you step inside the Adler Arena and watch the Polish speed skating team practise on a fresh track. Their skates gently clap with each turn, their piston-precision both frightening and transfixing, their coaches bark instructions in unrecognisable languages, just like Steve Hansen.

All that Lycra in one place. Les Mills on ice.

Then you realise that yes, this is about money, and power, and politics, and temporarily frustrated biathlon writers with no running water, but it is also about an ideal - and that ideal is skating around an ice rink.

The Olympic movement wants to concern itself with the great problems of the world.

Yesterday it was world peace, tomorrow it will be the environment, lord knows what it will be the day after that, but what it really represents is simple: a chance for athletes to achieve something far more permanent than an accommodation snag or a badly laid footpath.

The Olympic movement's greatest achievement is providing a stage for champions to perform on and when these Games begin tonight, the sideshow will exit stage left and the spotlight will again shine on the real stars of the show.

That's when we get to understand what this means to the athletes - and what it means to them is far more valuable and uplifting than what it does to the corporates and the politicians - a lifetime's dedication distilled into a singular moment of everlasting glory.

So have the wheels come off the Sochi Games? Not at all. In fact, for the 3000 athletes here, including those 15 beautiful and inspiring New Zealanders - Dobbin, Eustace, Willcox, Sheehan, Sinclair, Sandford, Kuzma, Barwood, Gotlieb, Prior, Torr, Luxton and all the Wells' - who have shown us this week how to embrace the moment and just be real, the Games are about to begin.

- NZ Herald

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