Thursday, February 20, 2014

Success, scandal and sex at Sochi

The Sochi Olympic Games have been successful for the athletes and their home countries, even if they were marked by scandal, but sex has also played a very important role -- more than most people realize. (Note: I wrote this post while these Games were not yet finished, and I revised it slightly after they concluded.)

Success at the Olympic Games can be measured in many different ways. Nations measure it by the number of medals that their athletes win. Athletes train for years for the right to compete and win a coveted place on the podium, especially gold. Yet some athletes compete with the knowledge that they may not win, but they nevertheless have put their best effort into it. That too is a measure of success.

However, sometimes nations fail to achieve the success that they hoped for. Russia, as the host country, hoped to top the medals count, as many other host countries had before it. It has achieved that goal (33 medals), but it missed out in the most important sport of all. Russia was defeated at the hands of Finland in the quarter-finals in men's hockey. They were prepared to lose every gold medal, one Russian has been quoted as saying, if they could win that gold medal. Some of the Russian medals were tarnished by charges of fixing the results. The South Koreans made such a charge, but after the deadline for protests had passed.

Russia's gold in hockey was not to be. Canada's men and women's teams both won gold medals, after Russia and the United States had been humbled. Canada was successful, even if it did not win as many gold or total medals as it did in Vancouver. Some of the Canadian athletes came in 4th place in various events, while others were unable to place in their own special events, sometimes through freakish accidents.

These were "Putin's Games" and they were his to lose. He lost on the biggest stage that the international sports world provides, in spite of spending more money on the preparations for these Olympics ($51 billion) than was spent for all the previous ones put together. The venues and facilities were stylish, but blatant and extensive corruption has resulted in enriching some close friends of Putin but leaving several facilities, especially hotels, unfinished when the Games opened.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov alleges that $30 billion of that very large amount was stolen. That figure seems excessive, but Nemtsov may be right. This is a scandal that even a Russian gold in hockey might not have been able to atone for.

There have been other scandals as well at the Sochi Games. The charge by a Russian coach, first published in a French sports magazine, of collusion between the Russians and the Americans to guarantee a gold medal to each country in ice dancing, while leaving Canada out in the cold with two silver medals, cannot be proved, but a close study of the scores indicates that may indeed have happened. An official protest was not filed.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Canadian ice dancers, received a silver medal

The passage of anti-gay legislation by the Russian Duma in 2013 was widely perceived by many countries to be scandalous. This was the reason why many world leaders, including President Barack Obama, boycotted the Sochi Games.

Scandals, of course, are nothing new to the Olympics. The Salt Lake City Games in 2002 were notorious for charges of bribery to win the games. The accused were later acquitted, although the charges did result in a few IOC members being forced to resign, and new rules regarding gifts to members being implemented.

There was also the scandalous admission in Salt Lake City by a French judge that she had awarded higher marks to a Russian pair in figure skating, even though they were error-prone, with the result that a Canadian pair who had skated almost perfectly received the silver. The Canadians did receive gold medals as well after this confession and the marking system was changed, yet to this day figure skating is still suspect, as the Sochi Games demonstrate.

The new system may be fairer, but its lack of transparency means that this sport is still open to scandal. Only when that possibility is removed can it become recognized as a true sport, in spite of the obvious athleticism of the skaters. The subjectivity of this marking system too has to eliminated, or at least reduced further.

What is less known about the Olympic Games is the most popular sport: of all: sex. Many people, especially some people of faith, may be scandalized, but sex seems to have been foremost on the mind of the athletes, as well as some of the volunteers, journalists and friends who came to the Games.

Olympic sex tape (faked)

More than 100,000 condoms were distributed in the Olympic Village before the start of the Games. With almost 3,000 athletes (40% of whom were women) that is potentially a lot of sexual activity, even if spread out over a little more than two weeks.

Time Magazine reports in an article entitled "A Brief History of Sex at the Olympics" that at the London Olympics in 2012 150,000 condoms were distributed. There were reports that people there were having sex right out in the open on the grass. In Vancouver in 2010 there had been reports of orgies involving athletes.

During the Beijing Games in 2008 authorities distributed only 100,000 condoms to athletes, but 400,000 to hotels. In Sydney in 2000 70,000 condoms were handed out, but that was not enough and another 20.000 were ordered after the first week.

Why should that be so surprising? These athletes are young men and women who are in peak physical shape. Why should their athleticism be limited to their own sports, when their favorite extracurricular activity is so readily available?

These athletes obviously do not believe that abstinence is necessary before an an event in order to improve athletic performance. Science, apparently, has found that testosterone increases after sex. While that may be true for male athletes, one wonders whether that applies to females as well. Probably not, although the sex may not hurt them either.

And as if the proximity of so many athletes of both sexes in the dorms in Olympic Village in Sochi were not sufficient, there is now a new app called Tinder that facilitates their getting together. Tinder matches people based on where they are located. Using profiles from their Facebook photos, it pairs up Tinder users based on how near by they are to each other. By swiping their cell phone to the right or left they indicate whether or not they "approve" of each other. Only then are they are able to communicate and get together.

However, since the athletes are already so close to each other, they may not need any social media. After all they managed very well without such a hooking-up app in the past. In previous Olympics they obviously were able to plan trysts (even if they were not always entirely private) without Tinder.

Success, scandal and sex were present in Sochi, if not always always at the same time and to an equal degree. Now that they are over, the world can sit back and calmly assess whether these Olympic Games were worth the expense.

The Russians may not conclude that the Games have been entirely successful for them, but Putin had tried to help his country regain its former greatness. In that he was not as successful as he and his countrymen hoped. The Russian athletes did not perform as well as expected, certainly not in men's hockey.

Many athletes, however, will feel they were very successful, even if they did win any medals. They came in order to compete, and hopefully to win. Success cannot be measured by the number or color of the medals.

Protests in Ukraine

At the end of the Games the tragic deaths of so many protesters and police in Ukraine cast a pall over them. Putin will have to deal with the events in that country that is just down the coast of the Black Sea from Sochi.

No doubt more sordid details of the corruption surrounding the Sochi Games will continue to come out for many months and years. That too will reflect poorly on both Putin and Russia. These after all were "Putin's Games." Unfortunately, the whole country has been dragged into further disrepute, rather than being being built up.

And as for sex, that extracurricular activity will never cease to lose its popularity, especially among young people who are in the prime of life when they participate in the Olympics. Don't look so askance: sex is a normal activity that will remain part of the Olympic Games, even if it may not be featured on TV.

Let's not pretend that sex does not happen at the Olympics. When I first arrived in Russia in 1995, people told me stories about how Russians were told on TV that they do not have sex. They know better, of course. So do we, also about the Olympic Games.

The Sochi Olympics were a great event that was marred by some scandals, but they were also the site of numerous successes, especially for the athletes. And sex, well that has become established as an integral, if still largely unspoken, part of the Olympic Games. We will have to wait until 2018 to find out what the next Winter Olympics, to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, will bring.

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