Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
In the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, which officially kicks off on Friday with the Opening Ceremony, there has been a great deal of concern over whether Russia would be able to pull off the Winter Games successfully. So far, there have been protests and controversy over the country's anti-gay laws, worries over security, concerns over the surprisingly warm climate, and most famously, terrible housing conditions for the visiting journalists, who have been chronicling the unfortunate state of their hotels to the delight of the Internet. But even though we've spent months under the impression that the Sochi Olympics are going to be a complete and total disaster, it turns out that, well, things might not be that bad after all.
Don't get us wrong, these games definitely still have their issues, but underneath all of the hilarious tweets and viral images, it seems like the Olympics might actually be coming together just in time for the competition. Just in case you don't believe us, we've pulled together all of the way that the 2014 Sochi Olympics might not be as horrific as we all expected, as well as some of the reasons to get excited about this year's games. Although it goes without saying that the main one is watching the games from the comfort of your own home, where you presumably have hot water.
It's Not Actually That Bad:
Based solely on what we've learned from the Internet, it appears that the Winter Games are poised to be a mess of Olympic proportions. However, while there are still plenty of legitimate concerns over what's happening in Sochi, things might not be as horrific as they appear.
Security: Any major international event is bound to raise concern over the possibility of a large-scale terrorist attack, or individual attacks on the athletes gathered there to compete, and constant photographs of the poverty-stricken region has only caused more stress. However, both journalists and athletes have reported feeling very safe in Sochi - the games are boasting that they are the "safest Olympics ever" - and security is tight. In addition, the US has offered to help the Russian government protect the athletes and spectators, by working to dispel unnecessary threats and providing two Navy warships to sit in the Black Sea in case of emergencies. And since nothing says "safety" like a giant metal death ship, it looks like things are going to be just fine on the security front.
Housing: Yes, there are a lot of legitimate issues with many for the hotels that foreign journalists are staying in. However, that doesn't mean that all of them are Russian hell-holes. Athletes haven't reported any major problems with the Olympic Village, which was completely finished with construction by the time the competitors arrived, and there are many journalists that haven't had any issues at all with their hotels for the games. Of course, that doesn't negate the fact that plenty of people can't wash their face with the tap water, but at least it's not all bad in Sochi. You might not have a doorknob on your hotel room, but you do have three light bulbs. Now, that's luxury.
The Games Themselves: The first three events of the 2014 Winter Games, which were qualifying runs for slopestyle, team skating, and women's moguls (a kind of freestyle skiing), went off without a hitch. In fact, the biggest issue that the events faced on Thursday was the lingering shadow of snowboarder Shaun White, who pulled out of the slopestyle competition earlier this week to focus on the half pipe. The stadium is complete, the competition is fierce, and everything seems to be running smoothly when it comes to the actual Winter Games - and everything should continue on in that fashion as long as the snow doesn't melt. But don't worry, they got Siberian shamans praying for snow, so that's completely under control.
The Protests: There are still likely going to be plenty of protests against Russia's reprehensible denial of human rights and equality, and the organizers have set aside an area of the park specifically for protesters. Well, we say "park"; the designated protest area is actually about seven miles away from the main Olympic park. However, there are still plenty of people using the press and social media to call out the host country's injustices, and some of the athletes are even getting in on the action. Russian snowboarder Alexey Sobolev showed off an interesting design on his snowboard after finishing his qualifying run at the slopestyle competition, which featured a woman wearing a ski mask and holding a knife. The design is thought to represent a member of the band Pussy Riot, the feminist punk band that has famously denounced President Putin. Sobolev wouldn't confirm his support for the band, instead opting to admit that "anything's possible" when it comes to interpreting the design.
Nobody's Ever Ready in Time: The world has spent a lot of time worrying about Sochi's preparedness for the games, but one of the things that isn't often taken into consideration is that no host city is ever completely ready in time for the Olympics to begin. London had city-wide construction so bad that the athletes were stuck in traffic for hours when they first arrived to compete, and when Athens hosted in 2004, they were forced to spray paint the dirt green because they didn't have enough time to install grass outside the stadium. The Olympics are major undertaking, and since these games are the most expensive of all time, there are so many tiny details to account for, and not a lot of in which to deal with them. At least Sochi has grass. It's sparse and covered in man-made snow, but it's still there. The Olympic committee is trying their best. They might not win a gold medal for preparedness, but hey, at least they'll take home that participation trophy.
What to Look Forward To:
Between the bad news, protests and photographs of showers that might actually be death traps, the Olympics themselves seem to have gotten lost in the shuffle. As with most Olympics, once the games officially kick off, we'll set aside many of our issues in favor of obsessively tracking medal counts and hoping for another ice hockey victory, but in the meantime, we thought we'd shed some light on some athletes and events to pay attention to during this Olympics.
The Opening Ceremony: Russia may not have as many legendary rock stars and international pop stars as England did, but the one thing you can expect from the Sochi Opening Ceremony is plenty of classical music. The ceremony is set to feature several artists who are superstars in the classical world, who will showcase the long classical history that Russia has. Also, there will be a ton of dancing; from interpretative to modern to ballet, this ceremony will essentially be one giant dance recital, all choreographed by one of the guys behind the Broadway show Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark, which, if you'll remember, had absolutely no problems at all during its run. None. But, hey, look on the bright side: 80 percent of the Olympic rings opened correctly. That's almost all of them! This can't be that bad.
The National Costumes: If you catch the Opening Ceremony, keep an eye out for the official Team USA uniform, which is insane in the best possible way. The design, which was created by Ralph Lauren, as is Olympic tradition, features what appears to be about six different sweaters all sewn together in a jigsaw puzzle of patriotism and comfortable warmth. However, when it comes to truly memorable uniforms, the team to watch is the Norwegian Curling squad, who will take to the ice in red, white and blue zig-zag printed suits. Perfect for every occasion.
New Events: There are several new events being unveiled at this years Olympics, but the two most interesting are slopestyle and team ice skating. Slopestyle involves a downhill course that competitors travel through, all while doing insane tricks in a combination of skill and speed. It grabbed the media's attention due to the presence of White, possibly the most famous snowboarder currently competing, and his departure from the event earlier in the week, due to an injured wrist. Despite the controversy surrounding his decision, the real competitor to watch this year is Torah Bright, an Australian snowboarder who is the only female snowboarding triple threat - meaning she will compete in slopestyle, snowboard cross and the half pipe - and she's both the defending gold medal winner in the half pipe and the current favorite to win again. This time, though she's got the chance to take home three golds, and she's favored to do just that. In addition, 2014 is the first year that women will be allowed to compete in ski jumping, and 19 year-old American Sarah Hendrickson is the far-and-away favorite to take home gold, even after suffering a major knee injury six months ago.
Returning Veterans: Every Olympics features new hopefuls and returning vets, all vying for their shot at a medal, but few stories are as exciting as the return of the Jamaican bobsleigh team, who ahve qualified for the Olympics for the first time since 2002. When the team didn't have the money to fund their trip to Sochi, however, the Internet donated money on their behalf, and raised enough to send them all the way to Russia within a matter of days. If you enjoyed Cool Runnings, you'll love the real deal even more. Over on the ice, long track speed skater Shani Davis is returning to his fourth, and possibly his final, Olympics. He's won the gold medal two Olympics in a row, and he's gunning for a hat trick. It's always great to see a talented vet hold their own against the younger guys, but Davis is not just any old four-time Olympian. He's also the inspiration for the character FroZone in the Pixar film The Incredibles, which means that a win for Davis is a win for fans of animated superheroes everywhere.
See? It's not so bad in Sochi after all. But then again, when everyone is expecting the whole Olympic park to fall apart at any second, everything that does go right is a victory, no matter how small.