Simmons on a Winter Olympics to remember

A man fills Vodka into a glass shaped into a miniature ski boot fixed in a customized binding at...

A man fills Vodka into a glass shaped into a miniature ski boot fixed in a customized binding at "shot ski", in the bar of a hotel in the winter sport resort of Rosa Khutor, a venue for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics near Sochi February 19, 2013. Four people can drink their shots at the same time with the "shot ski". The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics opens on February 7, 2014. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach (RUSSIA - Tags: FOOD SOCIETY SPORT OLYMPICS)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:10 PM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - The skinny woman behind the help desk, who had the answer for anything and everything these past three weeks, would not accept my handshake to say goodbye.

“We must hug,” she instructed, running from behind the desk. “I will always vote for Canada. You are strong people. You will come back again? Will you?”

The skinny woman was there just a few minutes earlier, when I snapped my third press centre chair of the Olympics, breaking the previous Games record of two. “Here,” she said, carrying what was left of the chair away. “I will get you another.”

In a way, those were the Games of Sochi, friendly but imperfect, with helpful woman and occasionally grim-faced rude men, with broken chairs but

the easiest and best transport system of any modern Games.

It was a near imprisoned Olympics, inside of miles and miles of fencing, yet a Games, like always, of wondrous athletic stories and achievements and nothing at all like the buildup it was advertised to be, ending with a Team Canada victory for the ages.

There was no doom here, there was no gloom (except maybe in the faces of older Russian men). There was no act of terrorism. There were no security issues. There was so much fear before the Olympics and almost none of it during, with the possible exception of anyone who attempted the home made vodka or anything called a sandwich.

(Quick personal aside: In terms of Games security, this was the lightest and least intrusive of my nine Winter Olympic experiences. And you knew the Games had gone on too long when you started to enjoy the more aggressive security frisks and patdowns in the final days just a little too much. “A little to the left,” I told the security man.)

Not understanding a word, he gestured me away.

These Winter Olympics without winter were about dogs without homes, dominant Dutch speed skaters and a disgraceful performance from the Russian hockey disappointment, who began as the national hope and ended up tossed aside in favour of all those Russian medals.

These were the Games where even in the mountains gloves, toque and jacket were optional. The cross country skiers wore short sleeves. The short track speed skaters complained of soft, slow ice that twice got the best of Charles Hamelin, expected to be the most decorated Olympian here. The snow and the course was so unmanageable at the women’s Super-G race that more than 30% of the competitors didn’t finish.

And from an Olympics point of view, those were the problems. There weren’t many, to be honest. It didn’t matter, big picture, if journalists from all over the world were without shower curtains or hot water. No doubt you will hear more about that: Just not from here.

Because that’s not what the Games are about.

This event is a self-contained competition over 17 days: What matters is how the athletes are treated, how the competitions go, what the world sees from the inside and outside. The world saw a terrific television show. We witnessed it live. The athletes have never been treated better and loved how little travel was involved with their experience. This was a highlight Olympics for them.

And those who were scared off by the pre-Games fear missed out on another great and very different Olympic experience.

Tourists stayed home because of the fear. There were fewer family members of Olympians than there are at most Games. Some media people chose not to attend because they were spooked about the media-driven lead in that something bad would happen here.

And in the end, nothing. No incidents. No real Olympic problems (unless you pay attention to the publicity seeking band, Pussy Riot, which got itself arrested here and by the end of the Olympics, if you Googled their name, something else came up).

This may be the new Russia but there’s still some old Russia here. A friend tried to access his email after reading something subversive online. He got this message: “YOUR ACCOUNT HAS BEEN ACCESSED BY THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION.” America Online told him to change his password. On one day, the Sun Media account was blocked from my account. There is that, here. But again, that’s the country, not the Games.

There was concern about internet spying, hotel spying, credit card security, computer hacking, and some of that occurred: It didn’t make for an Olympics fraught with problems.

It was, in fact, quite the opposite. In terms of organization, you can give the gold to Sochi. Never mind the $51 billion spent, lost, and abused to bring Vladimir Putin’s Games to life. It’s not our money. Nobody left Montreal in 1976 talking about the cost overrun of the Olympic Stadium. They talked about their experience.

Nobody remembers the protests in Vancouver or the homeless being swept off the streets in Calgary. That’s ancient news. The lack of a television in hotel rooms will not have a shelf life.

What happened here, in these Games, that’s what matters. And these, like most Games, had contradictions. Joy in the venues, devoid of joy on the streets. The Olympic Park, often the lifeblood of any Games, was little more than a large parking lot. It could have been Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition Midway without the rides. And yet, almost anyone involved in almost any way with the Olympics seemed proud to have the winter world here.

“Hello...Good morning...Good night,” was spoken inside and outside every venue, almost always in English. This country that we call Rush-ah, they call Rah-see-ah, kept trying to make you feel welcome, even if it never felt like home.

There were none of the smiles on the streets found in Vancouver or Lillehammer. Those were Games for the ages. But this was done as well as the Calgary Games of 1988 or the Sarajevo Games of 1984. And done with more precision, taking the Rubik’s Cube that is athletic transport and blowing away the Olympic world.

Games can be destroyed by poor transport: It killed Atlanta and it killed Albertville in 1992.

And if you didn’t like the food - too much salt, too much sugar, depending on the meal - these might have been The Hunger Games for some. But for me, someone who doesn’t drink, these were The Drinking Games. Four dollars for a beer, even less for a bottle of wine. Vodka shots free from almost everywhere we went.

The best event: the women’s hockey final between Canada and the U.S.

The best result: Team Canada’s demolition of Team Sweden.

The best Canadian moment: When speed skater Gilmore Junio gave way to Denny Morrison, allowing him to race the 1,000 metres and enabling Canada to win a silver medal. That story, told well, could be a movie of the week. Junio walked in to the closing ceremony Sunday night on Morrison’s shoulders.

It was a touching story, a touching scene.

And the Tweet of the Games came during the closing ceremony from a Canadian named Tim Randall.

“Four years ago, I was drunk on a couch and said ‘I wanna go to the Olympics.’ Four years later, I’m drunk on a couch, at the Olympics.”

Like I said, The Drinking Games. Which means we may not remember all of it.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve

 


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