McCollum's Column: Glitches beyond the glitter at Olympics

It’s was interesting and a little comical to watch Russian Olympic officials during a figure skating controversy at the 2002 Olympics at Salt Lake City.


They were stereotypical Russian, talking Cold War tough.

While respectful of the Russian team, folks didn’t pay as much attention. While still possessing great athletes, Russian might was more of a facade.

The bravado was greater than the bite.

That diminished aura has carried over to the early days of the Winter Olympics this year in Sochi.

On the surface, things are on a scale as grand as as the country. The facilities are eye-popping and the technology during the Opening Ceremony was impressive.

Beyond to spotlight, we’ve heard some horror stories that illustrate the modern, progressive Russia that its officials have spent billions to portray still has one foot and a hand in the Third World.

An American bobsledder, Johnny Quinn, got trapped in the bathroom of his hotel and had to burst through the door to get out. Reporters have noted a hotel without a lobby, door knobs falling off, light fixtures crashing from the ceiling, water the color of beer, manholes not always covered and and abundance of stray dogs, one that wandered on the cross country ski course.

The tweet from Chicago Tribune reporter Stacy St. Clair became a viral hit, “ My hotel has no water. If restored, the front desk says, ‘do not use on your face because it contains something very dangerous.’”

Another reporter noted about his hotel, “The good news is I have Internet; the bad news is it is dangling from the ceiling.”

There was some disconnect from the beginning with a summer resort, abundant with palm trees, was chosen as the site for the Winter Games. It’s in a valley bordering the Black Sea, ironically the only area of Russia where it doesn’t snow.

During the Opening Ceremonies, one of the five Olympic rings failed to light although those watching Russian television never noticed because the switch was made in the production booth to show the lighted rings during a rehearsal.

The Opening Ceremonies again provided a compelling production as host countries try to one-up each other in scale, technology, technique — and creativity with torches.

Think Super Bowl halftime minus Red Hot Chili Peppers or “Up With People.” It was a fascinating quick trip through rich and mysterious Russian history. They disguised a few warts — all countries do in celebratory productions. And it’s perfectly understandable that the Russians want to flaunt their ballet. But it was comical that when they tried to display Cold War hip.

Tennis player Maria Sharapova, who grew up in Sochi and is both a Russian icon and American heartthrob, brought the Olympic torch into the stadium, becoming possibly the hottest torch bearer ever at a Winter Games. Or maybe that’s in the eye of the beholder. Another torch-bearer was Russian head Vladimir Putin’s girl friend.

It’s ironic that legendary Soviet hockey goalie Vladislav Tretiak, who lit the flame along with legendary figure skater Irina Rodnina, was the goalie who was pulled for his poor performance against the Americans in the “Miracle on Ice” victory in 1980.

Some of the costumes for the Opening Ceremonies were interesting: The Germans looked like extras from the LEGO movie and the tiny Bermuda delegation looked cool in shorts.

The American outfits were ... uh, curious. It represented the merger of grandpa’s Fourth of July tie with grandma’s old Christmas sweater.

Sometimes, what you see on the surface is a conversation piece.

Now, it’s time for the athletes to take over.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)