2,871 athletes. 294 medals. 15 sports. 88 countries. Five rings. One competition. Sochi 2014.
This year’s 22nd Winter Olympic Games were held in Sochi, Russia, a resort city on the coast of the Black Sea. This was the first time the Olympics have been held in Russia since the USSR broke up in 1991, and the country has spent a record-breaking $50 billion transforming Sochi, constructing beautiful, state-of-the-art venues for the games. Several new competitions have also been added such as the biathlon mixed relay, women’s ski jumping, and mixed team figure skating.
The Opening Ceremony is a chance for the host country to show off some of its history. Sochi’s performance started off with a video dramatization of a girl named Lyubov, derived from the Slavic word for “love,” using the Cyrillic alphabet to present various aspects of Russia’s history. Following the video, Lyubov appeared in the middle of the stadium wearing a white dress and flying a kite among massive “floating islands,” which represented the diverse geographic regions of Russia. After this came the traditional athlete parade, and then the ceremony transitioned to the history of Russia and started screening significant aspects of the nation’s culture since its creation. These elements—including medieval architecture, the era of Peter the Great, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, St. Petersburg, the Russian Revolution, and industrialization—were enhanced by Russian ballerinas and the use of 132 projectors that created images on the stadium’s floor. The performance came to a close with Lyubov releasing a balloon and watching it float towards the moon, symbolizing how Russia’s letting go of its Soviet past. The use of technology created astounding effects during the Opening Ceremonies.
The Olympic Games began several months before the Opening Ceremony with the Torch Relay. The torch, which had a unique design for each Game, was first lit in Athens, Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics. It then began its journey around the country to pass through a series of torch bearers. Stopping at the peak of Mt. Elbrus—the highest point in Europe—the torch traveled 65.000 kilometers over Russia’s vast terrain. Over 14,000 athletes had the privilege of carrying the flame across their home countries over the course of 123 days. The torch’s unique representation of a phoenix feather displayed the Russian beliefs of good fortune and happiness as well as the idea of rising from the ashes of Soviet-era violence. Designers had their work cut out for them, as the torch had to be comfortable enough to carry, and the flame had to be able to withstand harsh weather conditions. The relay was finished by retired Soviet athletes Irina Rodnina and Vladislav Tretiak, a figure skater and an ice hockey goalie, respectively. Rodnina and Tretiak lit the flame on February 7 at the Olympic Stadium, marking the beginning of the 2014 Games.
Controversies of several forms plagued the 2014 Winter Olympics. One of the main issues was Russia’s decision to kill all the stray dogs in Sochi in order to prevent any tourists from getting hurt. However, after being condemned by many countries, Russia quickly decided to take all of them to a shelter. Some American athletes, including skier Gus Kenworthy and Bobsled and Skeleton athlete Amanda Bird decided to adopt dogs from the streets so as to keep them from being killed or injured.
Russia’s anti-gay law, which deemed any signs of physical affection between homosexuals illegal, also caused controversy, and many countries protested the discriminatory policy. To make a statement, the United States sent retired tennis player Billie Jean King and retired hockey player Caitlin Cahow, two openly gay athletes, to the opening ceremony instead of President Obama or other high-ranking American officials. Even Google showed its support for LGBT rights by changing its logo to represent the Winter Olympics and LGBT rights with a rainbow.
The medals presented at the Olympics were designed to reflect the natural beauty of Russia’s landscape. Each one took 18 hours to engrave and polish, and all of the athletes who landed a spot on the podium on February 15 were given a special medal with a meteor fragment inside; this addition honored the one-year anniversary of the Chelyabinsk meteorite striking, which injured over 1,600 people. Collectively, 50 meteor medals were made. Ten were given to Olympians who earned their title on the anniversary of the meteorite, and the 40 remaining were sold to collectors.
The Olympic mascot serves many purposes in the games, from representing the culture of host country to expressing Olympic spirit. For the first time in history, the choosing of the Olympic mascot was placed in the hands of the people. In order to find the perfect mascot, submissions were accepted for the competition from people of all ages and from all over Russia. The polar bear, leopard, and hare were ultimately chosen to be the Winter Olympic mascots by a council consisting of experts in various fields from entertainment to politics. The Ray of Light and Snowflake were selected as the mascots for the Sochi Paralympic Games, and a story was created between these two mascots. Together, they present the theme that participants in the Paralympics are different and face many difficulties, yet they are able to form a bond through their passion for sports and show that anything is possible with hard work and perseverance.