Sochi Olympics exciting despite flaws

This year’s Sochi Winter Olympics remind me of what I most love about the Winter Olympics: the sense of pure fear, danger and excitement that they generate.

This isn’t to knock the summer Olympics. I highly respect the kind of athleticism that is required to run that fast and jump that high.

Yes, there are few displays of raw athletic skill more pure and simple than sprints or marathons. The ancient Olympics were built on watching people run really, really fast and it’s a simple formula that still satisfies.

However, I can only watch so many “running really fast” events before I long for the blissful insanity of the luge.

Can you imagine being dedicated (or crazy) enough to lie on your back feet first and fly down a luge track at nearly 100 mph enough times to be good enough to make it to the Olympics?

Or try to picture yourself strapping on a set of ice skates, getting out on the ice and teaching yourself how to jump, dance and spin, suffering from bruises, broken bones and sprains almost every time you make a mistake.

That sense of risk and adventure is what pulls me into the winter Olympics. This year’s Olympics simply highlights and magnifies that appeal.

I don’t worry so much about who wins and who loses. I obviously root for America, but enjoy simply watching the top athletes from around the world throw themselves so foolhardedly into difficult and dangerous sporting situations.

Of course, there are risks in the summer Olympics. People running really, really fast run could twist an ankle. And I know pole vaulters have broken bones during unsuccessful jumps.

However, have high jumpers ever laid head first on a sled no more than a few inches thick and screamed their way down a track fast enough to make the average man weep in fear?

I highly doubt it.

No, there’s something special and dangerous about the winter Olympics that brings out the adrenaline junkie in all of us.

However, this year’s Olympics have the added “advantage” of taking place in Sochi.

By now, many readers have likely heard of or even experienced the “#sochifail” hashtag on Twitter or Facebook. Its become something of a phenomenon lately, with blogs and websites dedicated to it.

For those who are not in the know, “#sochifail” is a phrase typed after stories or pictures highlighting the various failures of the Sochi Olympics.

When I say “failures” I don’t mean American speed skaters failing to medal. I mean the kinds of event planning oversights that many experts predicted would plague these Olympics.

For example, a journalist in Sochi posted a picture of nearly urine colored water and joked that it was pear juice coming straight from the tap. Another picture showed a hallway filled with coat racks that had not been distributed to rooms.

One Olympian found himself locked in his bathroom with no choice but to break down his door. Later, he and a teammate ended up trapped in an elevator.

A glut of stories and pictures have surfaced that illustrate Sochi Olympic preparation was rushed and poorly handled by a Russian government that struggles to maintain worldwide relevancy.

One picture shows streams of wires just lying on the floor in Olympic hotel hallways. Another picture highlights urinals with no connecting pipes for fresh water.

The worst picture I saw was a live wire threaded through a shower. Thankfully, the wires weren’t bare.

Most recently, a video uploaded by competitor Kate Hansen shows a wolf or a wolf-like dog wandering the hallways of her hotel.

Although this video was later revealed to be a prank set up by late night host Jimmy Kimmel, the fact that so many people believed it was real hightlights the heightened sense of danger that surrounds the Sochi Olympics.

Naturally, a controversial Russian rock band upped the danger game by staging a protest against the Olympics in downtown Sochi. They were sprayed with water, pepper spray and beaten severely.

Many of these events and pictures have inspired mirth in the average American. “Oh those wacky Russians!” seems to be the average sentiment found online. “In Russia, hotel kills you!”

I can’t get behind such light hearted jovility. For me, these failures indicate a country where these problems aren’t just a momentary distraction, but a way of life.

Remember the pear colored water I mentioned earlier? That color comes from dangerous pollution that has seeped into the water supply near Sochi. It’s been there for years.

The Russian government has continually promised to clear up this pollution, but has failed its people time and time again.

It didn’t even bother to fix it for the Olympics, the event that was supposed to bring respect, dignity and legitimacy back to Russia. Instead, it simply warned visitors not to drink the water.

All those crumbling hotel buildings, with their strange design decisions, aren’t the result of a wacky or even stupid engineer, but a direct result of the rushed time frame of preparing for the Olympics.

Many reports coming out of Russia indicate that something akin to slave labor was utilized in preparing Sochi for the Olympics. Builders would work in nearly 24 hours shifts til exhausted and would then be shipped out without pay. They would then be immediately replaced by a fresh batch of workers.

Experts have argued that that Sochi should have never gotten the Olympics, especially if Russia couldn’t prepare safely and properly. I agree. It definitely shouldn’t have been chosen.

But after all, money talks right? The International Olympic Committee has already been caught red handed accepting bribes, so its not beyond the pale to imagine Putin slipped a few extra rubles into their hands.

Beyond any vague allegations of corruption, its shocking to consider that this was the best that Russia could do to prepare. There are bedrooms without beds, toilets set inches away from each other with no dividing wall and poisonous water pumping through the pipes.

Russia had a big chance to show the world that it was still a superpower that mattered, yet it completely failed. All it did was show how incompetently much of the country is run and how much its citizens must suffer nearly daily.

It brings a whole new element of “danger” to these Olympics that athletes could never have forseen. After all, how many athletes ever expected the real chance of falling through their hotel floor while fending off wolves?

Eric Benac can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.