Before a piste has been skied or a figure skated, the Sochi Olympics is already one of the most talked-about and scrutinized of the modern era. Estimated to cost in excess of $50 billion, it eclipses even the Beijing 2008 summer extravaganza, though allegations of corruption and mishandling of money have dogged preparations for the big event. With Vladimir Putin's full support and Russia's national pride on the line, these games are almost as important to the host nation as they are to the athletes competing in them.
May 1, 2014Read Article >
According to The Wall Street Journal, a report investigating the US speedskating team's lackluster performance at the Winter Olympics has identified the late introduction of Under Armour's racing suit as "a factor" in the debacle. The report also points to the team's pre-Olympic travel schedule, poorly planned practice locations, and the skate sharpening system used during Sochi as other problems. With a history of medal wins, the United States entered Sochi as an immediate favorite in several long-track speed skating races. But no American ever finished better than seventh place. The US Olympic Committee immediately began searching for answers that could explain the meltdown.
Feb 27, 2014
The Winter Olympics are over, but the massive stadiums, hotels, and roadways that were built for the event aren't going anywhere. And if history is any indicator that could be a major problem for host city Sochi.Read Article >
Russia spent a record $51 billion preparing Sochi to host the games, transforming the seaside resort city into a winter wonderland in one of the most ambitious overhauls in Olympic history. Authorities have said they hope the investment will turn the region into a major tourist destination, though few specifics have been offered and experts are raising red flags.
Feb 24, 2014
The Winter Games drew to a close Sunday night in Sochi, as host country Russia extinguished the Olympic flame and passed the torch to South Korea. At one point during the closing ceremony, a group of dancers began forming the five Olympic rings, expanding outwards like the mechanical display that famously malfunctioned during the opening ceremony. Once again, the fifth ring remained closed for a nervous few seconds, before finally expanding to complete the formation.Read Article >
It was a well-executed moment of self-deprecation, and a rather fitting send-off for Sochi, as well. What began as one of the most controversial Olympics in recent memory — rife with threats of terrorism, alleged human rights violations, and persistent uncertainty — ended without major catastrophe or disruptions, marking what experts describe as an overall success for Russian President Vladimir Putin. But as political unrest continues to unfold across neighboring Ukraine, it's unlikely that the Kremlin will have much time to bask in its Olympic glory.
Feb 21, 2014
The enormous scale of Russia's Olympic security apparatus has been well documented — 40,000 armed forces, 11,000 closed circuit cameras, and an all-powerful electronic surveillance system, all designed to prevent terrorist attacks and domestic unrest at the Winter Games. So far, though, the forces making headlines out of Sochi aren't armed policemen or military guards, but Cossacks: a group of deeply traditional militiamen who are seen as both Olympic mascots and vigilante crusaders, enforcing the kind of conservative moral code that has become a cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin's domestic agenda.Read Article >
On Wednesday, at least 10 Cossacks and suspected plainclothes officers attacked members of the punk collective Pussy Riot in downtown Sochi, where the group was shooting a music video for a new protest song. Brandishing horsewhips and pepper spray, the men struck several women in the band, forcing one to the ground and forcibly removing their trademark neon-colored ski masks. A member of Pussy Riot's entourage later said that the men told them to "shut their mouths" and that they "sold themselves to the Americans."
Feb 21, 2014
News networks went wild when US Olympic luger Kate Hansen posted a video of what appeared to be a wolf walking around her Sochi hotel Wednesday night, but it turns out that the video is actually yet another elaborate prank by none other than Jimmy Kimmel. On his show last night, Kimmel revealed that his team found a wolf, built a replica of Hansen's hotel hallway, and posted it to her YouTube and Twitter accounts with her permission. Naturally, Hansen's attachment to the video made it quite believable, and it's been viewed nearly 2 million times since being posted just two days ago.Read Article >
Feb 20, 2014
The ongoing Winter Olympics in Sochi may be the last time you see figure skating in its traditional form. From next season, the singles and pairs programs will allow the use of music backed by vocals, thanks to new rules agreed on by the International Skating Union. Although lyrical music is already commonplace in the ice dancing discipline, which requires couples to skate to a backing track with a beat, most singles and pairs contestants opt for classical accompaniment.Read Article >
The New York Times has taken an in-depth look at the reactions and implications of the change. "We have to innovate," said Katia Krier, a coach with France’s figure skating team. "Our sport is already losing viewers, but we have to give people the desire to watch us. I think this could help. We have to be careful not to go over the top, but if music with lyrics is used well, it can really bring something more."
Feb 19, 2014
The Olympic Games have strict rules when it comes to advertising, which is why you don't see athletes covered in brand names, NASCAR-style. But some athletes have discovered a loophole — and it's on the bottom of their snowboards. As the New York Times reports, at Sochi 2014 many snowboarders are displaying huge, colorful manufacturer logos on the bottom of their boards, logos which are front and center when the athletes perform high-flying tricks. Though their hardware is a bit smaller, skiers are also getting in on the action — particularly when it comes to holding their skis in photos after winning a medal.Read Article >
These logos are allowed under IOC rules, which state that "the identification of the manufacturer may be carried as generally used on products sold through the retail trade during the period of 12 months prior to the games." And for brands like Burton Snowboards — which sponsored eight of the 12 finalists in the men's half-pipe competition — it's an amazing form of advertising. "It's great for awareness," company founder Jake Burton tells the Times. But whether this trend will continue at the 2018 games in Pyeongchang is unclear, as the IOC tells NBC News that it will be reviewing the guidelines for the next edition of the games.
Feb 19, 2014
An alpha female displays her dominance over the herd (BBC / LiveLeak).Read Article >
For over 60 years, Sir David Attenborough has captivated audiences with his documentaries, covering all manner of flora and fauna. Now, the world's foremost wildlife broadcaster has turned his attentions to a new subject: curling. The Winter Olympics' most bizarre sport is the subject of a playful new video produced by the BBC. "In all my years of exploration, these are the creatures I find most curious," says Attenborough, whose credits include the Life documentary series and Planet Earth (his narration is often replaced for US audiences). If only all Olympic commentary was this engaging.
Feb 18, 2014
Two members of the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot have been detained near Sochi, Russia, site of the Winter Olympic Games. Russian activist Semyon Simonov tells the Associated Press that recently freed members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Aloykhina were detained near the Sochi suburb of Adler today, adding that other activists were held by police, as well. They originally believed they were being detained in connection to an alleged hotel theft, but were later told they were being questioned as witnesses, and were released later Tuesday.Read Article >
In a spate of posts published to her Twitter account Tuesday morning, Tolokonnikova said she and Aloykhina were first detained on February 16th for seven hours and again on February 17th for ten hours. She wrote that they were planning to sing a protest song called "Putin will teach you to love the motherland," though they had not staged any demonstrations yet, and were simply walking around Sochi at the time of their detainment Tuesday. In a separate tweet, Tolokonnikova published a photo of what appears to be Aloykhina being carried away inside a police wagon. According to Simonov, a total of ten people were taken in Tuesday, including Tolokonnikova, Aloykhina, and himself.
Feb 16, 2014Read Article >
The Jamaican bobsled team hasn't shied away from having fun on its route to the Sochi Winter Olympics — the team turned to PayPal and crowdfunding to get the money it needed to return (and got a boost from the oft-charitable Dogecoin foundation). Now that the team is officially at Sochi, Jamaica's tourism board is doing its best to get people pumped for the competition by releasing "The Bobsled Song" — a tune with an amusing and pixelated video meant to be synced up and played alongside the Jamaican team's run. The video directs watchers to start it up right when the team begins its race — but unfortunately, the good vibes from "The Bobsled Song" didn't carry over into the team's performance today. The Jamaican team was in 30th place at the end of their competition on Sunday. Despite the tough day, however, the video for "The Bobsled Song" is still worth a watch.
Feb 14, 2014
The US speedskating team has asked Olympic officials in Sochi for permission to abandon the Under Armour suits that may be contributing to underwhelming results on the ice. The Wall Street Journal reports that US team representatives made the request earlier today, though there's no guarantee that a switch will be made — even if they get the OK. Apparently the Under Armour controversy has caused something of a division on the team; roughly half of the skaters want to revert back to full-body suits they wore in the fall.Read Article >
Others are determined to stick with Under Armour's solution, which has been described as "the fastest speedskating suit ever made." But an apparent flaw with the suit's design is reportedly letting in extra air and creating unwanted drag for skaters. Under Armour has made alterations for some athletes during the Olympics, but the team's performance hasn't improved any. The next speedskating events are scheduled for Saturday, so the US will need to get permission and reach a team-wide consensus if a change is to be made.
Feb 14, 2014
Whether it's swimming, running, or skating, full-body racing suits have consistently courted controversy — either because they're perceived as giving an unfair advantage or, as has been the case with this year's US speedskating team, because they actually slow the wearer down. Under Armour's design for the 2014 US Olympic squad was greeted enthusiastically when it was unveiled, with skater Patrick Meek proclaiming it "the fastest speedskating suit ever made."Read Article >
It was developed in partnership with Lockheed Martin — the aerospace and military contractor — and promised the best aerodynamics yet, however the Wall Street Journal has found that it's ended up hindering skaters as they make their way around the rink. Designed with vents at the back intended to release heat, Under Armour's suit is accused of letting air in and thus undermining the very aerodynamics it's trying to improve.
Feb 13, 2014
A prominent Russian environmentalist and outspoken critic of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi was sentenced to three years in a prison colony this week, sparking outrage from human rights activists. As the New York Times reports, an appeals court in the city of Krasnodar handed down the sentence on Wednesday, upholding a ruling from a lower court in December. The activist, Yevgeny Vitishko, has been ordered to serve time in a penal colony for violating the terms of a suspended sentence handed down in 2012.Read Article >
Vitishko had co-authored a report on the environmental damage caused by preparations for the Winter Olympics. He and his colleagues from the Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus were planning to present their findings at a news conference in Sochi ahead of last week's opening ceremony. Those plans were derailed, however, after Vitishko was arrested just days before the games began on charges of swearing in public. He was sentenced to 15 days in jail, marking the latest development in what activists say is an ongoing and unjustified crackdown against political dissidents.
Feb 12, 2014
Among the sights and sounds of the 22nd Winter Olympics in Sochi is a refrigerator filled with free beer, but not everyone can open it. Next to the door is a special slot for passports, and the door will only open when a Canadian passport is inserted. Behind the scenes the fridges are using a webcam to verify the passport scans, says Time, though once the door is opened all bets are off on the drinker's nationality.Read Article >
Feb 11, 2014
Even in the face of controversy, the Sochi Winter Olympics have produced some stunning pictures. But getting these pictures to the wider world isn't a simple process. CNET Australia reports on the logistical set-up of photo agency Getty Images, finding a network of hundreds of photographers, editors, and manipulation experts, a vast array of specialist photographic equipment, and a state-of-the-art 20-kilometer cable network that lets Getty deliver pictures from southern Russia to the rest of the world within three minutes.Read Article >
Feb 8, 2014
It was a story too good to check. Olympics-bound NBC News reporter Richard Engel gets off the plane in Sochi and steps into a fog of malware, Wi-Fi honeypots and sinister auto-downloads. Within minutes, his phone is compromised. Rushing to turn off his Wi-Fi and freeze his banking apps, he barely escapes with his checking account intact. To an innocent viewer, the message is clear enough: the Russian internet is no place for the weak.Read Article >
Feb 7, 2014Read Article >
TV coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics may be a bit hit or miss, but The New York Times has you covered when it comes to chronicling the event via still photography. Today marks the launch of what it's calling The Firehose, a real-time live stream of photos from the Sochi Olympics. And you're not just limited to images taken by Times employees. The Firehose features what's basically a dream team of photographers from the Associated Press, Reuters, Getty Images, Agence France-Presse, the European Pressphoto Agency, and of course the Times. A few things to note: since it's live, photos flash by rather quickly — and as the "Firehose" name implies, they come without any context or captions. But plenty of stellar photography has already been on display today, and The Firehose will be running throughout the Olympics. And for those times when the site is offline, there's always NBC. NB
The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has banned all liquids, gels, aerosols, and powders from direct flights between the United States and Russia. Delta Airlines posted a notice on its site notifying its customers of the rule change, which is effective immediately. The news comes on the heels of a report from the Department of Homeland Security that warned airlines to be on the lookout for explosives in toothpaste containers. Despite the warning, officials said that "we are not aware of a specific threat to the homeland at this time."Read Article >
TSA rules already prohibit carry-on liquids, gels, and aerosols to no larger than 3.4 ounces per container (about 100mL), and all such products must be placed in a clear 1 quart (roughly 0.95 liter) bag for screening. The restriction was put in place back in 2006 in response to plots to explode airliners. Why those restrictions — designed to limit the amount of material that could be used to produce an explosive device — are not effective enough to counteract this latest threat is not clear. It's unknown if the restriction for direct flights between the US and Russia will be temporary, but it is similar to a move by the Russian government last month to ban liquids from carry-on bags in preparation for the Sochi Olympic Games.
As journalists have started to flood into Sochi to cover the Olympic games, they've found that their accommodations are a bit rough around the edges. Reports range from broken heating units and dirty tap water to missing trash cans, but Sochi guests may have something more important to worry about than a hastily thrown-together hotel room: their own privacy. Dmitry Kozak, a Russian deputy prime minister in charge of preparations for the Olympics, mistakenly revealed during a press conference that at least some hotel guests are under video surveillance in their own bathrooms. "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," the official told members of the press, according to The Wall Street Journal.Read Article >
Kozak was attempting to argue that foreign journalists were biased against Russia and were intentionally working to paint the Sochi games as a disaster. But in the process, he may have just spooked everyone assigned hotel rooms to attend the games. The Wall Street Journal reports that an aide quickly diverted the conversation and prevented any follow-up questions concerning bathroom video surveillance.
Feb 4, 2014
The Olympic Village in Sochi, Russia, on the shores of the Black Sea. ( Wikipedia)Read Article >
Sochi is not the most obvious place to host the Winter Olympics.
Feb 4, 2014
The upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi are set to be the most lavishly expensive that the world's ever seen, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the logo. A spartan blue font sets out the name of the venue and the year, with an outlined ".ru" subtly denoting the host nation and the fact that we live in the age of the web. Excepting the Olympic rings, there's no drawn element here, leaving the viewer to construct his own metaphors — such as the apparent reflection between Sochi's name and the year 2014, which has been argued to suggest the duality of combining tradition with innovation.Read Article >
In discussing the logo's design with The New Yorker, Guo Chunning — who designed the Beijing 2008 emblem — says he was surprised by its minimalism and lack of a graphical element. Nonetheless, you don't have to go far to find the flair and outward confidence that the Sochi Olympics represents for Russia: a lot of the branding that the country is doing will actually manifest itself through the designs splashed across official facilities, transportation, merchandise, and apparel. That's where you'll find more direct invocations of Russia's art heritage with colorful and distinctive patterns.
Jan 28, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos. (World Economic Forum / Flickr)Read Article >
The Sochi Winter Games are already the most expensive Olympics on record, and they're shaping up to be the most watched, as well — not by spectators or television viewers, but by the Russian government.
Jan 24, 2014
In addition to recording some footage from the games in 4K HD, Comcast promises to stream more Winter Olympic coverage than ever before. Fans can expect more than 1,000 hours of footage from Sochi, Russia starting February 6th, but it'll be users of Comcast's still-nascent X1 platform who will be able to enjoy all the live events on their TVs.Read Article >
NBC Universal announced last month that it will broadcast an unprecedented 1,539 hours of Winter Olympics coverage, spread out across five TV networks and NBCOlympics.com. According to the AP, Xfinity TV subscribers will have access to that content from their televisions sets, complete with notifications about what Olympic events are coming up and on what channel and access to a highlight show called "Gold Zone" made for big-screen TVs. NBC also says that it won't rely on tape delays that confounded many viewers in 2012, stating that those who watch the live streams are more likely to tune in later in the day.
Jan 23, 2014
In just a couple of weeks, the 2014 Winter Olympics will commence at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Russia's southwestern border. At that point, an estimated $51 billion will have been spent on preparing the city and its surrounding area for the influx of athletes, spectators, and ongoing tourism that is expected to follow. Such grandeur of spending and development, argues The New York Times, hasn't been seen in Russia since the pre-Gorbachev days of the Soviet Union, and the catalyst behind it all is predictably enough the country's leader, Vladimir Putin.Read Article >
By way of comparison, the Times cites China's summer olympiad in 2008 as the nearest competitor, coming in at roughly $40 billion, but the real eyebrow raiser is when you compare the 2014 Winter Games to their 2010 precursor: Vancouver is estimated to have spent around $6 billion on hosting the competition.
Jan 20, 2014
Jamaica's cash-strapped bobsled team should be able to make it to the Olympics this year thanks to some unlikely donors. At the head of the pack is Reddit's community of Dogecoin enthusiasts, who have collected over $30,000 worth of their virtual currency and are currently in the process of transferring it into liquid, stable cash that can be sent over to the team.Read Article >
Two crowdfunding campaigns have also quickly raised thousands of dollars, with a Crowdtilt campaign approaching $20,000 at the time of writing and an Indiegogo campaign— run in part by Jamaica's bobsled team itself — just passing $6,000. That's around $56,000 altogether; perhaps a small sum for an Olympic team, but enough to get Jamaica's bobsledders to Sochi: they've only been looking for between $40,000 and $80,000.