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MORRISSEY: Despite all the critics, Winter Games deserve a fair shake

Spectators wave Russian flag during opening ceremony Sochi Games. |  Charlie Riedel/ap

Spectators wave the Russian flag during the opening ceremony of the Sochi Games. | Charlie Riedel/ap

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Updated: March 10, 2014 6:38AM



SOCHI, Russia — Peace, love and understanding, individually or as a team, doesn’t seem to have a chance at medaling here. The construction firm of Moe, Larry and Curly appears to be running the Olympics, and the triple downer
of terrorism, corruption and human-rights issues is everywhere you turn.

There’s a consensus the Winter Olympics shouldn’t be held in a place where there are palm trees, where Muslim extremists ply their trade nearby, where cronyism has led to a $51 billion bill for Russia and where it’s not good to be anything other than a raging heterosexual.

But here Sochi is anyway, chin jutting out in defiance. Might as well have the Olympics. Might as well put on a show in the face of all the unpleasantness.

Russian president Vladimir Putin declared the Games open Friday night, so let them begin. Will it all work? I have no earthly idea. But it certainly did at the Opening Ceremony, and it was good. Oh, one of the five Olympic rings didn’t light up inside the stadium, and the people who judge such things surely will take points off for the four-ring circus.

For at least one night, though, the attention was where it was supposed to be. It was trained on a procession of athletes from 88 nations who were marching inside the stadium.

That’s not to ignore or minimize all the issues pressing down on this Olympics. They aren’t going away, and there will be plenty of time to scrutinize them. We have two weeks to ponder the recent revelations that explosive toothpaste tubes are local terrorists’ weapons of choice. The good news is that we might not need to brush three times a day anymore.

But it’s easy to forget what the Opening Ceremony is supposed to mean. It’s supposed to be about the world coming together and putting aside all its various differences. That might sound hopelessly idealistic, but if not at an Olympics, then where?

The athletes already are getting lost in the noise surrounding the Games. It’s easy to forget they are why the world is watching. They’re here to compete, which is the whole idea.

And so there was 37-year-old Todd Lodwick, carrying the flag for the United States. He has been an Olympian since 1994, and these are his sixth Winter Games, the most by an American. That’s dedication to a sport — Nordic combined — that few Americans could identify, even under threat of death. Is it a Scandinavian wedding? No, it’s cross-country skiing and ski jumping, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Lodwick fractured his left shoulder and tore ligaments in a crash a month ago. Yet there he was, playing hurt as he carried the flag. You couldn’t tell through all his joyous smiling.

‘‘I’m fine, believe me,’’ he said. ‘‘I wouldn’t miss this for anything.’’

The Jamaican bobsled team was here, too. Not even losing luggage and equipment for 22 hours could rain on its parade.

‘‘We are from the sunshine,’’ driver Winston Watts said.

The Venezuelan Olympic team was in attendance. That would be Antonio Jose Pardo Andretta, a 43-year-old Alpine skier. He was it, proving definitively that there is an ‘‘I’’ in ‘‘team.’’ The sold-out stadium gave him huge cheers as he waved the flag. That’s the Olympics, where the world cheers impossibilities, where the word ‘‘no’’
doesn’t exist.

Not even having Putin in the building could have a chilling effect. The guy has to be de-iced before he leaves his house in the morning. But give him this: He knows how to put on a show. Given Russia’s homophobic laws,
Broadway show tunes were nowhere to be heard, but, oddly, ‘‘We Are the Champions’’ was. Don’t tell Putin that Freddie Mercury, the singer of that song, was gay and died of AIDS.

There were odes to Russian industry, music and dance. It was the kind of epic sweep all Opening Ceremonies try to sell. It seemed to go on forever, a fever dream of fake snow and throbbing bass. Very little went wrong.

We’ve been told in so many words that these aren’t the Winter X Games but the Winter Explosives Games or the Winter Wrecks Games. A man on a flight to Istanbul on Friday said there was a bomb on board and asked that the plane be diverted to Sochi. We get it. We don’t need any more reminders of all the problems connected with these Games.

Let’s give peace a chance. It might just work.

Email: rmorrissey@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MorrisseyCST



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