Sochi Olympics, Day 1

Sochi Olympics, Day 1

Feb 6th, 2014

KK-Sotchi2014-Sequence # (1)-(AKK_0115)The Sochi 2014 opening ceremony just started and I am watching it on TV. No, I did not go to the ceremony, it would have meant probably c. 10 hours including all the travelling, waiting and actual ceremony included.

Yesterday was a total killer and I preferred to take it easy today. Funny, working seven hours today feels like nothing — basically a free day. That is: yesterday I did about 15 hours and I was pretty beat at the end of the day.

Been here now for three days. Came Tuesday thru Moscow and everything went real nicely. No hassle on the boarder, bus trans­por­tation up to the mountain went real smoothly(we live in Gorgi village, on the slopes), even found the hotel and had a nice room waiting.

waterAfter reading all the complaints journous were making in Twitter (#sochi­problems), I thought I was totally lucky as everything seemed to be in order. And then I thought I am going to take a nice, hot bath… Well, you see the water in the picture and I decided to skip it.

But seriously: little bit of rusty water? Big deal… That if anything is a 1st word problem. The hotel is nice, it’s warm, food is good and plenty. Real fast internet connection in the hotel room — for free.

Compared to the Torino Games eight years ago the trans­por­tation works like a charm and I am totally delighted to meet the younger generation of Russian volun­teers who for the most part speak pretty decent English. None of the soviet era “it’s not my business thus I don’t care and btw: up yours” ‑attitude I am used to getting in this country. No, real nice attitude with everyone I have talked to.

And nobody is shooting on us (at least, not yet…)

This I do say as I was reading some of the complaints my colleagues were making (e.g. “Christ, they say they cannot give me a shower curtain…”) and came to think about the photo­jour­na­listic work some of my buddies are doing. Yet I do not see them posting complaints from Syria, Afganistan or El Salvador.

Compared to any other assignment, this is a vacation resort. Oh bummer, I did forget to mention that the pool in the hotel is not working…. how awful, isn’t it? But thank God the spa next door is open — for free naturally — until they get our own working.

Yes, that was irony.

KK-Sotchi2014-Sequence # (1)-(AKK_9840A) copyBut I have to admit: the whole place is half finished though, and it will not finish during these games either. Which is a bummer because if it were finished it would be pretty awesome. After eight years… it comes down to a few weeks. But: it is not finished. And ALMOST does not count in this.

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There has been lots of talk about civil rights in Russia — especially lesbian and gay rights. I am not going to offer my five cents on that (at least, not now…) — I just despise the IOC for giving the games to a country which has this situation. As they did to Beijing. But as they say, money talks and everything else walks…

But what really stopped me was the financial aspect of these games: according to the BBC news tonight these games have cost c. 51 billion euros to arrange. Also according to BBC, it is more than all the previous 21 winter olympic games combined.

That’s a shitload of money. Too much for me to understand really. Just lots of money for Putins vanity show. But if he’s got the money to spend, who am I to criticize?


What really stopped me was this: it is almost twice the money that would end poverty in the world for one year. I.e. that money distri­buted (theore­tically) to those who have almost nothing would guarantee them food and shelter for two years. Prevent God knows how many unnecessary deaths due to malnut­rition and diseases.

That money would send twenty probes to Mars (why would you want to send 20 probes to Mars, you might ask, but that is beside the point). The price of the Nasa’s Spirit Rover program to Mars was 2,5 billion.

Twenty times that just so you can that say “we know how to organise the best and most luxurious games ever?” Simply to show off?

I am sorry but that’s simply too much money to use on a vanity show in my humble opinion.

If I had that money and wanted my name in the history books of the world as one of the greatest men in our history, I would have chosen differently.

But I don’t so that’s the end of that…

Ethical problems

But that sort of got me thinking about the whole caboom and my role in this circus (we are c. 700 photo­graphers here) and it is bothering me a bit.

Is this really something I am proud to be part of?

Don’t get me wrong: I love sports, outdoors and photo­graphy. All of them. And I am so lucky somebody is paying me to do stuff I love to do. I really respect the athletes and I enjoy working with them.

In addition I have the profes­sional confi­dence that I am pretty good in what I do. I can hold my own so to speak. And the Olympics is the greatest place compared to anything else to make spectacular photo­graphy — as they athletes are not allowed to wear any adver­tising and the backgrounds in the venues are clear of branding clutter.

But it is nagging inside of me: is this really the kind of journalism I want to do?

I always preach about the impor­tance of the story to my students… and I now find myself asking: what really is the story here? The decora­tions of Putin’s vanity show previously know as “sports”?

Is it really a story worth telling?

The decora­tions of Putin’s vanity show previously know as “sports”?

Will I really feel proud of it when one day (hopefully not soon, but one day…) I’ll be sitting in a rocking chair and looking back at the life lived and the stuff I did during my career? Will it be something I can be proud of? Did it contribute something…something of a lasting value? Increase our common unders­tanding of the human condition?

Because: isn’t that what the olympics SHOULD be about: increasing our unders­tanding of the human condition through sports­manship. I think sports at its best is a perfect medium towards that goal.

Panoramaakk_0096084 Panorama

Shakes­peare comes to mind: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”. Well, Sochi defines the concept of a staged play.

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.

And thus: I cannot help but ask (and I know this sounds ridiculous being written in Sochi during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics): maybe the stories really worth telling are somewhere else?

3 Replies to “Sochi Olympics, Day 1”

  1. I predict that once the compe­tition gets going and the focus is on the athletes and not the venue, it’ll feel less like Putin’s vanity show and more like a normal Olympics.
    It’s a shame if a lot of the money spent slipped into the wrong pockets.……putin! (pardon my French)
    Enjoy the action and nature and get great pix. It’s not such a big chunk of your life that you should later regret.

    1. Absolutely no regrets; I think that the Olympics is the greatest learning experience a photo­grapher can have and I try to make the most of it in that respect. I guess it is just that I have done enough of these games so my learning is more prone to go into this type of thinking than “what are the correct focal lengths and apertures to use”.
      “Pardon my French…” funny, never thought of that (and I used to be an English and French teacher in my more vulne­rable years. I’m sure the the French press has used that more times than the audience cares to remember.
      Thanks for commenting.

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