Security worries, politics cast a pall
Protests add emotional resonance
It is already the most expensive Winter Games ever at $51 billion and counting. But the worst ever?
Considering the Olympics have not actually started yet, this might be a bit harsh. But I'll go there. And judging from what I've read this week, about how only six of the nine media hotels in Sochi are operational, popular opinion might be on my side.
Will the competition go a long way toward determining how good or bad these Olympics are? For sure.
But as of now, the fear of terrorist threats, talk of serious infrastructure problems and President Vladimir Putin's politics, specifically Russia's anti-gay laws and the potential protests and violence that may occur because of them, have certainly cast a pall over these Games before the first Greek bobsledder has even emerged from the tunnel at the opening ceremony.
Of course, Russian officials tell us they have ample security in place, and God willing, they are right, as the police and soldiers number a staggering 50,000, a protective barrier that is also to include naval warships, antiaircraft batteries and drone aircraft, as well as U.S. warships stationed in the Black Sea in case they are needed.
So assuming they will keep athletes, journalists and visitors safe and secure, can this backdrop also produce a successful and high-level Olympic Games? Can the athletes, with all of this swirling around them, still physically and mentally pull off their peak performances?
This shouldn't even be a question, but it is, and it's a valid one.
There are those who might decide to take a political stand and speak out at the Games, something that has been expressly forbidden. But again, how does all of this play out when all an athlete should be thinking about is his/her performance?
At best, these issues will detract from the Olympics and place a negative light on what should be three weeks of the best sports competition in the world, which now seems like a foreign concept.
The point of the Olympics is to inspire. It's to create moments -- for athletes and spectators and viewers -- that tug at the heartstrings, that last a lifetime, that resonate around the globe.
A successful Olympics, to me, is one that produces moments that you'll remember for years. For example, I'll never forget when gymnast Kerri Strug landed that vault on a bad ankle to give the U.S. women's team the gold medal in the 1996 Games. Often, the depth of an Olympic moment is directly related to what's going on in the world around us at that time -- politically, socially, economically.
Pretty much everything that happens at these Games will happen in front of a backdrop of protest. Russia is marginalizing and discriminating against a segment of its people, and there will be athletes at these Games who won't be silent on the topic.
Because of this, I actually believe this year's Winter Olympics in Sochi will produce an inordinate number of emotional, impactful moments. I think things will happen over the next month that will become iconic Olympic memories, perhaps much in the same way that John Carlos' and Tommie Smith's black power salutes during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City became an enduring image of the U.S. civil rights movement. Perhaps when we look back 35 years from now and discuss the civil rights movement faced by the LGBT community -- both in Russia and across the world -- we'll be able to point to these Olympic games as a turning point.
Without even meaning to, Russia has provided the world with a chance to stand up against discrimination. And I think these Olympics will move a lot of people around the globe -- emotionally.
In my book, that's success.