I finally got around to watching the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics last Saturday. I had the unique opportunity of watching it with my roommates, which made the experience more enjoyable and offered some insights that I may not have seen by myself.
We got pulled into the event when my roommate asked about the infamous Olympic rings malfunction. I quickly switched from a repeat of men’s curling to show the moment, along with the rest of the event. Although I knew what would happen, the others in my viewing party were intrigued to watch the flying stars coalesce and have four of the five expand properly into the rings.
They were also amused to hear that Russian TV viewers apparently didn’t see this, as the broadcaster there swapped the live goof with a dress rehearsal where it went right. One thing that I don’t think has been discussed much is that the correct ring sequence was projected onto the arena floor at the very end of the ceremony.
In the end, the ring malfunction was certainly noteworthy, but there were many, many other aspects to remember. Some portions of the artistic presentation were draggy (and I was often quick, perhaps too quick, to announce the three times where I initially skipped some segments during my first, partial viewing).
We were all dazzled by the deployment of dozens of video projectors to seamlessly turn the arena floor into a giant screen. The graphics were vivid and the actors’ movements juxtaposed with the video made for an excitingly dynamic display.
Some of the more trippy moments included the segment with the soldiers marching through a shifting historical line map of St. Petersburg, especially when there were explosions that appeared to come from canon in a fortress.
The arena seemed to disappear when a star field was displayed toward the end of the event. At one point, my roommate remarked that he couldn’t tell where the stadium floor was. The star field was part of a well-done display where a constellation of athletes was suspended midair. The use of an enormous and sophisticated gantry system was responsible for all the gigantic and fanciful objects flying through air and largely worked (aside from the aforementioned ring malfunction).
While I definitely enjoy watching sports and related events live, it’s certainly nice to have it on a digital video recorder. We were able to easily skip past some segments (like the two interviews with tennis player/Olympic torchbearer Maria Sharapova), while briefly touching on key points like how odd President Obama looked during his interview with Bob Costas.
I felt like a bit of a know-it-all about some portions of the event because I watched parts of it and read articles online. I could envision this might be how NBC announcers feel, especially since they have some advance documentation of what’s scheduled to happen.
The superlong Parade of Nations sped by at 4x speed while we paused on highlight countries, like Canada, the U.S. and Russia. We also made stops at Mexico to point out athlete Hubertus von Hohenlohe was set to compete in a mariachi-inspired skiing uniform, Germany with their great dayglo rainbow uniforms and the Indians competing as Independent Olympic Participants (due to a corruption scandal). I was able to use the giant floor map of each nation to point out the differences between the two Olympic languages (English and French) and Russian with its Cyrillic alphabet.
As the event wound down, we were definitely ready for the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. I wasn’t favorable to giving some of the torchbearing honors to athletes who didn’t compete in the Winter Olympics, but I relented when I considered how the event can honor all of Russia’s sports accomplishments.
Still, I was heartened to see the final two torchbearers were Winter Games vets — pairs skater Irina Rodnina and hockey goalie Vladislav Tretiak. As the pair ran, I realized they were headed outside through a giant set of doors and remarked they had a long way to go. It was a nice touch that they ran past the performers, volunteers and staff who helped pull off a wonderful ceremony.
Rodnina and Tretiak finally made it to the base of the outdoor cauldron and, together, they set off a sequence of mini-flames that jumped up the monument’s spine and brought the main cauldron to life. We were satisfied with the launch of these Olympics as fireworks erupted around the cauldron, the arena and the Olympic center.
More than a week later, the Opening Ceremony seem to have been a superb introduction to the sporting events we’ve since seen. The execution of the events seems similar to the opening — plenty of polish with some grandiose displays, but there are some things around the edges worth noticing (like sparse snow in some areas). It will be interesting to see how the Russians wrap things up with the Closing Ceremony on Sunday.
• We really, really loved the floor video projection. I wondered if there’s a way to incorporate this projector technology into sporting events. For example, less than half a football field is in active use at any given time during a game. It might be tricky, but it would dynamic to show replays or stats on the turf. I don’t know how well this technology works in daylight, but it clearly succeeded in an indoor setting so I could see possibilities for basketball, hockey or curling.
• The segment on the Soviet era was interestingly avant-garde. We all enjoyed when one of the NBC commentators noted the Art Deco steam train that floated overhead was a commonly understood symbol of propaganda. “All aboard the propaganda train!” a roommate quipped.
• Others have remarked that the event had a perhaps excessive nostalgia for the Soviet era, yet forgetful of the reign of tyrants like Joseph Stalin who engaged in brutal purges and other policies that affected millions. We shouldn’t forget those who perished or suffered under Sovietism, but I was shocked to be reminded that 20 million Russians lost their lives during World War II.
• Finally, NBC should be dinged for the extremely dubious decision to once again cut the Olympic Oath segment from its broadcast (taken this time by Russian short track speed-skater Ruslan Zakharov). As I opined during the London Games where NBC also cut it, the brief oath is impactful as one athlete pledges on behalf of all that they will compete fairly and drug free in the spirt of true sportsmanship. I swear, it’s only 54 words:
In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.
Amid all the pageantry, I think it’s important to not lose sight of such a key element of the Games. It’s such a short portion of the program (and it’s a required segment of the ceremonies), it’s baffling why NBC continually chooses to cut this.