Some of the stories about the Sochi Olympics range from the sad to the horrifying — immense costs, terror threats, something about stray dogs I don’t have the heart to investigate, etc.
Then you have the head-scratchers that provide the low-hanging fruit for journalists who can’t help but notice them. Like the double toilets — yes, they’ve found another one. Organizers should probably just drop the defensive tone about them and claim the double toilets are some sort of game inviting people to find them, like Easter eggs in a video game.
This weekend, The Washington Post ran a cheeky piece on the state of media hotels. The story came across a little silly — honestly, who hasn’t had the occasional missing light bulb or faulty TV remote in a hotel at some point? And why are we supposed to be aghast that the hotel didn’t have a room ready for someone who arrived earlier than her reservation? (And then accommodated her, anyway?) But the photo gallery at the bottom shows a few things in the usually tidy Olympic venues that look nowhere near ready for prime time.
The bigger story on media hotels: Some of them aren’t ready. That’s bad. And I checked — one of them is the hotel for which I held a reservation before deciding against the Sochi trip.
While all these little oopsies fit into the larger narrative that Russia has spent $51 billion and accomplished very little, I have another thought: Flashbacks to Torino.
Eight years ago, I arrived in Italy on a plane that looked and sounded like it was struggling to climb up and over the Alps. I landed in a tiny airport where a lot of confused people pointed in different directions to direct the arriving media to shuttles to their “media villages.” Three of us wound up in a cab that made a few loops along a traffic artery in Torino, then stopped in the median. A 10-minute phone call followed. Then we somehow made it to our dorms.
That would not be the only time I would get lost in Italy, but it may have been the only instance for which I could hold the Olympic organizers directly responsible.
Torino had plenty of additional idiosyncrasies, though. You had the media center sinks, which had one pedal for ice-cold water and one for HOLY BERLUSCONI THIS IS MELTING MY SKIN! The media center sundries shop had no cough drops but several varieties of condoms. The biathlon venue had no video display or anything that would let those of us in the standing area know who’s winning.
And they clearly had last-minute preparation issues. I arrived two days before the opening ceremony. The next day, I saw a crew working on the monorail track — all 300 yards of what apparently remains from a 1961 expo.
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Check this photo and my blog post from the time, and you’ll see a star-shaped sculpture. At night, it’s supposed to turn and lift water from the pond below. About halfway through the Games, they finally filled the pond with enough water to make it work. By that time, the bathrooms in the Media Center had taken a turn for the worse.
(I was in the Media Center most of the time, watching five TVs at once to keep up the live blog that I re-discovered today through the Wayback Machine.)
They did have one advantage over the Beijing bathrooms, though — you could flush the toilet paper. In the Beijing Media Center, no. They put up signs with anthropomorphic toilets asking people not to put paper in them. Trash bins full of used toilet paper smell exactly as you think.
Fortunately, most of the media facilities didn’t have these:
Yes, you’re supposed to squat.
So Sochi isn’t alone in unique toilet fixtures or other novelties. And it’s not alone in terror threats. I watched helicopters fly ominously over the Salt Lake opening ceremony, and I saw police clear out a block for a suspicious package. In today’s media climate, that would’ve been a good couple of hours of cable programming. Then, it was a couple of sentences in the next day’s paper.
Torino actually had a suspicious vehicle near the Media Center, which was convenient for coverage purposes. It was eventually exploded. As I said at the time, I think the carbinieri just wanted to blow something up.
Hosting the Olympics is a unique experience. Welcome to an elite club, Sochi. Now, please, take care of my buddies over there.