The Opening Ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games came and went Friday nearly without incident, but with plenty of fanfare. Boston Globe sports reporter and Only A Game Olympic analyst John Powers is in Sochi and joined Bill Littlefield for a preview of the games.
BL: Now one of the rings didn’t light up properly, but otherwise tell me about the high points in the Opening Ceremony and perhaps other low points you saw.JP: What was interesting was it was almost going back to a time capsule to the mid-18th century. We had everything that was pre-czarist, all of the glories of mother Russia, we had a whole bunch of people carrying the torch at the end.
We were promised by the Gazprom people that the torch would not go out this time like it had on the relay. We saw quite an odd couple lighting the cauldron: Irina Rodnina, the famous pairs skater, and Vladislav Tretiak, who did not have a glove on when he had the torch in his other hand. I also had better seats than Mr. Putin, which you think would be unusual for a man who spent $50 billion on these games.
BL: Well, it’s interesting that the former [Russian hockey] goalkeeper, Mr. Tretiak, lit the Olympic flame. Was Mike Eruzione anywhere in evidence?
JP: He was not. As a matter of fact, what everyone kind of forgets is that Tretiak was out of the [1980 “Miracle On Ice”] game when Mike scored his famous goal. He had already been pulled. But looking at Mr. Tretiak now, he wouldn’t need any extra padding if he went back and wanted to play goal.
BL: John, it is of course hard to know where to being when talking about the Olympics. The competition has just begun in 15 sports. Ninety-eight events in total; 294 medals up for grabs. But let us know what some of the top stories are that especially interest you.
JP: I think what’s interesting is … the Russians are so poor at men’s figure skating that they had to take Evgeni Plushenko out of the deep freeze at age 31 to put him in the team event. He looked great but it was kind of like Austin Plushenko —Austin Powers kind of coming back from the dead here. So that’s going to be one story — whether he can get one more medal.
And [U.S. skier] Bode Miller, who had a spectacular training in downhill. He could win the downhill gold medal after everyone had already written him off. We’ve got a couple of interesting stories next week. No American man has ever won the same event three times at the Winter Games. We’ve got Shaun White — the Flying Tomato — going in the halfpipe, and Shani Davis going in the speed skating 1,000 [meters].
BL: New events at Sochi include ski halfpipe, ski slopestyle, snowboard slopestyle, snowboard parallel slalom, figure skating team event, and of course luge team relay. How do you compete as a team in the luge?
JP: Luge, it actually kind of goes one after another. You hit a touch pad when you finish and that opens up the gate for the next slider. Remember that old show “Name That Tune” when you had to run and ring a bell? This is what that’s like.
BL: Leading up to the games there was a lot of talk about the readiness of the facilities and the hotels. How do things look on the ground today in Sochi?
JP: In terms of the venues, they look spectacular. These are some of the best winter sites we have seen. What’s interesting also is they have them in individual clusters. Right down by the Black Sea, all the ice events are within walking distance. That’s very new. I don’t think that’s happened since Lake Placid. And all of the ski events are up in the mountains, which is only about 30, 35 minutes away from here.
What’s been kind of left to the last minute are the media things. A lot of people don’t have shower curtains, a lot of people don’t have lamps, but everything seems to be functioning, and again, what’s being done here is being done for the athletes. These are great facilities for them, especially given the fact that this was a Stalinist summer resort turned into a winter wonderland in just seven years.
BL: Andrew Weiss, the former National Security Council’s Russian Affairs Director, talked about Sochi as an Olympic venue. Here’s what he had to say:
“It’s something akin to Malibu or Palm Springs. It’s a place where they all hangout. Putin uses it as a place where he greets foreign dignitaries all the time.”
That sounds very nice. Maybe the USOC should makes it bid for Malibu or Palm Springs in 2022.
JP: That’s right. As a matter of fact, what’s strange is when you’re walking into the stadium and you see, behind the palm trees, snow-capped mountains. Everyone said this is on the Black Sea. It is on the Black Sea. Literally I can be outside of the stadium and taking a midnight dip in about five minutes.
BL: There was, of course, a great deal of criticism of Russia’s handling of the Olympic buildup. Has that died down now that the competition is underway?
JP: I think so. I mean one of the things, there clearly was a lot of talk about non-sports things. People, I think, were upset in the beginning that they gave the Olympic Games to a country that was not so big on human rights, that didn’t appear to be living up to the Olympic ideals. There was a lot of anger about the anti-gay propaganda law that was passed last year. That seems to be at least kind of dissipating.
Once the games begin, the focus goes to what’s going on here. But there’s still a lot of apprehension here about people hoping these games come off well. And I think when it’s over you’ll have this huge sigh of relief more than jubilation from lots of people who are here.