So, the Winter Olympics in Sochi began last night, which is confusing because the Opening Ceremonies haven’t started yet. And I didn’t realize that Olympic events could, technically, take place until the giant fancy Olympic flame was lit. Aren’t those the rules? Nothing counts until the big fancy Olympic flame is lit? I mean, I understand that there are 12 new events this Olympics, most of which appear to be variations on existing themes (we have a lot to discuss with this Team Figure Skating business, guys), and we have to fit them in somewhere, but why not close out the Olympics a day later, and hold all of the events after the Opening Ceremony? THIS DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT. I AM SO DISCOMBOBULATED.
Of course, this is just one of many confusing — or outright disturbing — things about these Olympics. I’m sure you’ve seen all the funny toilet pictures, and heard about the stray dogs, and read the tweets from outraged journalists about the unfinished hotels, and know about the controversial LGBT laws, but too bad, I’m going over all of it again, because you’re not going to hear much about it on NBC.
First of all, Sochi is a ridiculous place to even be holding these Olympics. Aside from the fact that Sochi is a seaside resort that Putin chose because he likes to vacation there, and that it is literally warmer there right now than it is IN HOUSTON, TEXAS, and that they had to save snow from last year to complement the man-made snow they created, aside from all of that, it is also located in a politically volatile region of Russia. Extremely volatile. Terrifyingly volatile. The potential for terrorism is no joke, you guys. The Chechen rebels are a very determined and motivated group, and there is not a small chance that they will manage to pull off some sort of violent act during these games. I’m sure security is super-tight — Putin isn’t going to treat this as a joke — but let’s just say you couldn’t pay me to be there. Nope. No, thank you.
And that’s just the obvious reason to be concerned about these Games. Those of us who are more politically sensitive will note that there are a whole host of other reasons to boycott these Olympics beginning with the Russians’ horrible record of human rights abuses. From their ridiculous and harmful anti-LGBT laws that conflate homosexuals with pedophiles, to their crackdowns on political “enemies” and free speech as in the ridiculous Pussy Riot arrests, the Russians under Putin have a terrible record in respecting basic human rights. Living as a gay person in Russia right now is downright terrifying and dangerous, and what this anti-LGBT law does is essentially declare it illegal to even be able to say that because to do so, to say “As a gay person, I am at risk for my life in my own homeland,” is now considered pro-LGBT “propaganda.” It’s an outrage. It is outrageous.
And then there are the accusations of corruption and abuse of power related to these Games. The price of to host the Games have skyrocketed from a projected $12 billion to over $50 billion thanks to waste and rampant corruption. To make room for these Games, the Russians have illegally expanded into their neighbor Georgia, which totally isn’t cool. They have also displaced up to 2,000 homeowners — and by displaced, we mean, “kicked families out on the street” — to build the venues themselves. This has affected not only families with children who are now homeless and penniless, but it has also created a horrific situation with those stray dogs you’ve heard about. The stray dogs that the Russians are hunting down and killing with poison darts — poison that sometimes takes up to 90 minutes to finally kill the dogs — those stray dogs are former pets that were turned out to the street when their people lost their homes.
Also, just to keep the funtimes going, the construction workers who built the sites? When they complained that they were paid less than half of what they were promised, they were beaten by police officers, sexually assaulted, and detained, and migrant workers who came in for construction jobs were rounded up and deported as soon as the construction was completed.
Not that the construction has been completed, of course. As you can see on the twitter account, Sochi Fails, the Games are hardly ready:
— Mark MacKinnon (@markmackinnon) February 7, 2014
And it’s not just the public grounds that aren’t complete: the hotels are outright disasters:
My hotel has no water. If restored, the front desk says, “do not use on your face because it contains something very dangerous.” #Sochi2014
— Stacy St. Clair (@StacyStClair) February 4, 2014
— Stacy St. Clair (@StacyStClair) February 4, 2014
Also on the bright side: I just washed my face with Evian, like I’m a Kardashian or something.
— Stacy St. Clair (@StacyStClair) February 4, 2014
…And when the deputy minister responsible for the Olympics was asked about these hotel issues, his response was, AND I AM NOT KIDDING, “We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day.” DID YOU CATCH THAT? THEY ARE SURVEILLING VISITORS’ HOTEL BATHROOMS. I MEAN, COME ON.
And that’s not even addressing Yogurtgate.
Still with me here? Have I bummed you out yet?
The thing is Bobby and I, we love the Olympics. We love the pageantry, we love the inspirational stories, we love the figure skating and the snowboarding, we love the Mary Carillo. Oh, how we love the Mary Carillo. But we couldn’t cover these Olympic Games without acknowledging that these issues exist, and without recognizing that they leave us somewhat conflicted about supporting Putin and Russia by watching the Games. These Games have caused innumerable problems. These problems are very real, and have had devastating impacts on people’s (and thousands of animals’) lives. Pointing out these problems in this silly Teevee blog won’t fix those problems, but we couldn’t in good conscience cover these Games while pretending that these problems don’t exist. It’s not like we’re NBC. (OH, SNAP, IN YOUR FACE, NBC.)
WHEW. Alright, I feel better. No more lecturing you, at least not today. Now we can get on with the Games. As we do with every time we cover the Olympics, Bobby and I must remind you that this is a television blog, not a sports blog. We don’t know from sports! We know nothing about sports. What we know is spangly figure skating outfits, and pre-taped packages about Russian nesting dolls and caviar and Mary Carillo wearing those big furry hats, and we know about crying over stories about human struggle and triumph. If you want technical coverage of these Olympics, may I direct you to a proper sports site? Because you’re not going to find that here, comrades.
Bob Costas welcomes us to the first official night of the Olympics with a big gross swollen red eye that he describes vaguely as being “infected.” BOB COSTAS, THE HOTEL TOLD YOU NOT TO USE THE WATER ON YOUR FACE. WHAT PART OF “CONTAINS SOMETHING VERY DANGEROUS” DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND? Bob Costas compares himself to Mr. Peabody and Sherman and I was all, “Hey, Bob Costas, way to drop a 50-year-old pop culture reference! Not bad!” But it turns out it was all lies — Universal is releasing a Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie this spring and so Mr. Peabody and Sherman is your new How to Train Your Dragon. Enjoy the synergy!
Our first “event” of the night, if you can call it that since the giant fancy Olympic flame hasn’t been lit and none of this should count, not really, are women’s snowboarding slopestyle qualifying heats. The announcers, Todd Richards and Todd Harris (hereby known as Todds) assure us that while today’s top 8 will automatically move on to the finals, everyone else will get another chance to compete in the semifinals for a shot in the finals, so NO ONE IS BEING ELIMINATED. EVERYONE WILL GET TO GO TO THE OPENING CEREMONIES, NO MATTER WHAT. They remind us of this some thirty-teen times, which, calm down Todds, don’t be so defensive, dudes, it’s cool. It’s not your fault these Olympics are stupid and the giant fancy Olympic flame hasn’t been lit yet.
Slopestyle is one of the 12 new events to these Games, which is somewhat surprising as it seems to me — a casual observer who knows nothing about snowboarding — to be pretty basic snowboarding terrain park stuff: the snowboarders have to go over some rails before taking three large jumps where they are expected to do fancy things in the air. Pretty much the kind of thing you see at every ski resort everywhere these days. The judges are looking for “creativity,” “technicality” and “not falling down.” These things are harder than they sound.
We begin with British Jenny Jones, who, incidentally, is not here to send any delinquent teenagers to boot camp or take your DNA. The only thing notable about Jones is that she is the oldest competitor at 33. She manages to get down the slope without falling down, but does not land in the top 8, so I’m unsure why we spent so much time watching her or discussing her in this paragraph.
Spencer O’Brien from Canada does manage to squeak into the top 8 with a score of 82.75, but that is the only thing worth mentioning about her, honestly. Well, that, and we learn that the Canadians built a replica of this slope in Whistler for training purposes, because this is SERIOUS BUSINESS.
Torah Bright from Australia is someone else that NBC and the Todds think we should care about. She comes in fifth overall, after an Austrian and two Swiss women, none of whom we meet. I do not understand.
Kjersti Buaas from Norway, for instance, I know why they show us her run: they show us her run because she takes a spectacularly terrible fall and lands on her shoulders. It is terrible! It is very terrible! And so, naturally, NBC shows it to us 8 times from different angles. She’s alright, and manages to remove herself from the course of her own volition, so we don’t have to feel that bad about gawking. (But I still kinda do.) Somewhat hilariously, the judges give her a 17.75 for her run. Whaaaaaaat? Really? You still get scored if you FALL ON YOUR DAMN HEAD AND EVERYONE WORRIES FOR A FEW SECONDS THAT YOU MIGHT BE DEAD? That just seems like adding insult to a very literal injury.
After Torah Bright’s second run, we are introduced to Jamie Anderson from South Lake Tahoe, to now be known as My New Favorite Snowboarder. This entirely has to do with the fact that she is from South Lake Tahoe, i.e. Tubular’s Mountain HQ, and nothing to do with the fact that she’s an attractive blond with a penchant for hats who lives in some sort of fairy tale cabin out in the woods with 7 siblings, and who literally hugs trees before doing her runs.
Jamie does great in her first run — a 93.50 great — an “I don’t need another run so I’m not going to take one” great — and she makes it to the top 8. South Lake Tahoe represent.
We then meet Silje Norendal from Norway, also known as the frontrunner, also known for looking like this. However! Silje came down with something earlier this week and was so sick, her team removed her from the athlete village and put her in her own room in one of those nightmare tourist hotels. Which is why no one should be surprised when she earns herself a 31 and a 39 on her two runs. If you were staying someplace that had live wires in your shower, you probably wouldn’t get much rest, either.
Karly Shorr, who is also an American, but who is not from someplace I ski, so I don’t care about her, also manages to make it into the finals with her second run, joining Torah Bright and Jamie Anderson and a bunch of other women they couldn’t be bothered to show.
We return to Bob Costas and The Eye in the studio where he is joined by Vladimir Posner, former Soviet spokesman, current journalist, and David Remnick of The New Yorker to discuss some of the things mentioned in my diatribe at the beginning. Short version: Putin is an autocrat who is desperate to be Taken Very Seriously by the international community, and is using these Olympics to show the world — and Russians — how he has “improved” Russia. Russians like Putin because they are a proud, pugnacious people who resent the West and the way the Cold War ended. Things for gays in Russia are terrible, but the Russians don’t care what you, or your liberal friends think about that. I mean, other than the gay Russians. They probably care a lot. The end.
So, Team Figure Skating. This is another new event to these Olympics and is, so far as I can tell, just an excuse to cram more figure skating into the lineup. The way it works is 10 countries compete in 8 different events: short and freestyle events in mens and ladies figure skating, pair skating and ice dancing. What the difference in pair skating and ice dancing is still eludes me, but I’m sure we will revisit such nuances later this week. Everyone’s scores are given points from 10 to 1 and then are added together and the team with the most points wins. Now, why we couldn’t, say, just add the individual skating events’ scores and call it a “team score” and not had a separate team competition escapes me. But hey, if it means more spangles and less luge, I’m all for it.
Yevgeny Plushenko, the skater who looks like a Russian supervillain from a Die Hard movie, and who complained like a big whiny baby when he lost the gold medal to hottiepants Evan Lysacek in Vancouver, is the first to compete in the male short program. He gives a big showy performance to “Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge in a sparkly black unitard with a nude cutout that sweeps across his torso. Y’ALL, NO ONE TELL PUTIN. I don’t like Plushenko –I think he’s ferrety and Russiany — but I have to admit, the guy is a great skater. A really great skater who gives a strong, sassy performance. The judges give him a well-deserved 91.39.
And then there’s American Jeremy Abbott. ~sigh~ When the announcers start talking about how he has an issue with “nerves” and how he’s never won on the international stage, you just know it’s not going to be good. And sure enough, he manages to fall during his jazz hand-filled performance, he pulls back from some of the jumps, and earns our team a whopping 65.65.
Patrick Chan from Canada is next, and he’s not bad! He’s not Plushenko great, but he’s not Jeremy Abbott bad, either. He’s fine. He does fine. Good even! And he earns himself a solid 89.71.
And then some 19-year-old kid from Japan named Yuzuru Hanyu comes out onto the ice and proceeds to school everyone, including Plushenko, on how it is done.
He earns a 97.98, and the score should have been higher. He’s amazing. Even if his wardrobe was borrowed from Yortuk.
And back to snowboarding slopestyle where the men have their qualifying rounds. The big story here is that Shaun White was supposed to participate in this event, but then he hurt his wrist in a practice, so he dropped out to focus on his performance on the half-pipe. However! The other snowboarders — namely, the Canadians Sebastien Toutant and Max Parrot — were all “*cough* wuss *cough*” on Twitter about it, until someone made them take down the tweets and apologize.
Sebastien Toutant or “Sebtoo” (Sebtwo? Sebto?) as the kidzzz call him, only scores a 74.25 on his first run which to my unexperienced eye seemed low. However, don’t feel too bad for Seb2, because he scores a solid 87.25 on his next run and makes it to the finals.
Hey, have you heard? Shaun White is not competing in this event. I REPEAT: SHAUN WHITE WILL NOT BE COMPETING. Do not turn into the finals on Saturday looking for Shaun White because he and his sore little baby wrist won’t be there.
Chas Guldemond is my new Shaun White, mostly because he’s from the Reno/Tahoe area (see Jamie Anderson above) and I have to have some reason to root for someone. Sadly, New Shaun White does not qualify for the finals with his score of 86, but fortunately for him, he’ll have another shot at them in the semifinals as Todds helpfully remind us for the bazillionth time.
Some Swede named Ståle Sandbech manages to score a 94.50, and when he takes off his mask, I’m all, WELL, HELLLLO, STÅLE, until I learn that not only is he the youngest Norwegian to participate in the Olympics in 82 years, but that he’s 20 or HALF OF MY AGE, and then I slip into a deep shame spiral for the rest of the night and miss the name of some Brit who just knocked New Shaun White off the leaderboard, who cares, I’m gross and can’t live with myself.
One of the few Canadians who managed to not get into a Twitter war with Shaun White, Mark McMorris, is the “odds-on favorite” to win this event, the Todds keep telling us. But! Except! Mark McMorris done broke his rib not 12 days ago in a competition in Breckenridge. And yet he’s still competing today?! With a broken rib!? Is he insane? Let me tell you all of the things I’d be doing with a broken rib: 1. sittin on my couch, 2. lying in my bed, 3. whining. Things I would not be doing with a broken rib: 1. snowboarding 2. pretty much anything doesn’t involve me sitting perfectly still.
Which probably explains why Mark McMorris is an Olympian and I am not.
Anyway, Mark McMorris goes down a snowboarding terrain park WITH A BROKEN RIB, and he falls after the second jump because HE HAS A BROKEN RIB. But then on his second run, he does a great job and earns … an 89.25. This sounds like a high score, but it’s not high enough as the top four actually all score in the 90s, so the “odds-on favorite” is going to have to snowboard on his broken rib yet again in the semifinals. Neither he nor his broken rib are happy about these developments.
One of the people who knock him out of the top 4 includes fellow Canadian, Max Parrot, who adorably seems to think his name is pronounced like this:
Whatever. Parrot scores a 97.50 on an amazing second run, so he can call himself whatever he wants.
Oh, and Russian snowboarder Alexey Soboyev shows us his Pussy Riot snowboard which is awesome. When he is asked whether it is a Pussy Riot tribute, he is all, “Is maybe.” But the best part of this entire segment is that Bob Costas and The Eye say “Pussy Riot” about 16 times.
We then return to Team Figure Skating, this time to watch the Pairs Short Program. The first team is Japan, and their skaters, Takahashi and Kihara, are good enough, but not Yuzuru Hanyu good, and they earn a saddish 45.56.
Protip: No matter what McDonald’s tries to suggest, eating a McNugget is not the same thing as eating a gold medal.
Protip 2: If you win a gold medal, do not eat it. It is not food.
Castelli and Shanpir from America are next, and the announcers keep talking about their height disparity (he’s 6’4″ and she’s 5’0″) as though all of the pairs don’t consist of a freakishly tall man and a teensy little wisp of a woman that he can fling around like a doll. That’s why they are paired up! This is not an accident! (A side note to those of you who know me personally: I am going to look into some ice skates and lessons at the Galleria for Chris and me. I think we might have missed our calling in this life.) They do a routine to Santana, and my deep abiding hate-on for Santana keeps me from being able to appreciate their performance. Ugh, Santana. Despite their height differences, which the judges are still insisting is a Very Big Deal, even though they have been skating together for 8 years and have probably worked out the height thing by now, they earn a respectable 64.25.
The Canadians, Duhamel and Radford, are next, and WHAT DO YOU KNOW, but he’s 6’2″ and she’s 4’11”. HOW WEIRD, RIGHT? Anyway, they perform a gorgeous piece full of lutzes and twists and spinnies (technical term) and beautiful transitions and did I mention the part where Radford COMPOSED THE MUSIC THEY ARE SKATING TO which should be worth bonus points? They earn a 73.10, but it should have been higher.
Question: Why are there so many empty seats? (Chechen terrorists.)
Finally, the Russians, Volosozhar and Trankov, who look like they are straight from Russian Central Casting, perform in what I think are supposed to be Cinderella and Prince Charming costumes? But she’s like a slutty Cinderella who wants to show a lot of leg? They are terrific. I wish he’d get a different haircut — the half-Skrillex that he’s got going isn’t doing him any favors — but I can’t complain about his skating. The pair is powerful and breath-taking and they more than deserve their 83.79 and the win here. Just потрясающий.
And with that, the announcers assure the audience that it will be OK, America’s best events: ladies and ice dancing are coming up on Saturday, don’t give up on figure skating. Please, please, for the love of Dorothy Hamill, please tune in.
Finally, the Women’s Moguls Freestyle Qualifiers close out the evening.
So, I like to ski. I’m not great — I like a nice, clean, well-groomed blue run that doesn’t challenge me — but I’ve been skiing since I was 8, and I feel fairly competent on the slopes. That said, BOY DO I HATE ME SOME MOGULS. When I finally am punished for my multitude of sins in this life, I’m fairly certain my punsihment will be the Gunbarrel Run at the ironically named Heavenly ski resort. Just me going down this for all eternity:
So I have deep and abiding respect for the women who can do this — KNEES OF STEEL, MAN — but no thank you, that’s not for me.
During the practices, in fact, Heidi Kloser took a horrible spill and did something terrible to her knee. Sadly, as she was being put into the ambulance, she asked her parents if she still gets to be considered an Olympian. YES, YOU DO, HEIDI. Yes, you do. ~sob~
As for the skiers who didn’t bust their knees, American Eliza Outtrim has a great run that the announcers call “flawless.” As far as I’m concerned, any mogul run that doesn’t end in an MRI machine is “flawless.” She earns a place in the finals on Saturday.
American Heather McPhie is not so lucky, however, even after doing her signature jump. Sorry, see you in the semifinals, momma.
We are then introduced to the Canadian sisters Maxime, Chloe and Justine
Delacour Dufour-LaPointe. Maxime, the eldest at 24, earns a spot in the finals with a score of 20.88. But her baby sisters, Chloe and Justine, show her up, scoring 22.64 and 22.28 respectively, and taking the second and third spots. The sibling rivalry in the Delacour Dufour-LaPointe must be intense.
Then there’s Hannah Kearney who won the Gold in this event in Vancouver, and apparently has no intention of giving it up. (That is how Olympic medals work, right? That’s what I thought.) She goes through the course like it’s no big deal and ends up scoring an exceptional 23.05 to take first place. U!S!A! U!S!A! U!S!A!
And then Meredith Vieria talks to the guy who designed tonight’s Opening Ceremonies and it looks like SPOILER ALERT! it’s going to involve a lot of horses and boats and maybe some of those nesting dolls and Communist scythes and something about Game of Thrones, I think, with the gears and the rising buildings and kingdoms? Awesome. I’m putting my money on Daenerys and the Unsullied to take all of the prizes this Olympics.
While the Opening Ceremonies are taking place RIGHT NOW (or in the past, depending on when you read this), they will air tonight at 6:30 on NBC. Bobby will be covering them for us, so send him all of the vodkas and strength, he’ll need it. Ура!
This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Chron.com.