off to the races.

In half an hour I get on a bus for the airport to Sochi!

Last night we had a lovely dinner party to see me off to Sochi – thanks to all of my friends who came and ate soup, drank wine, and generally were merry. It was fun to have some biology people – from Uppsala! from my Switzerland project! – and some ski people, and even one other ski person who was a biologist. I’m leaving for Russia with a warm fuzzy feeling.

(we meant to take pictures of the party, but we forgot. Johanna and Carla, we fit 12 people around the table in the kitchen! it was rocking!)

Marta and I were discussing how everyone is telling me “good luck”. Good luck is something you expect to hear if you are an athlete, not so much if you’re just there to work. I shouldn’t need luck, but it sort of feels like the default expectation is that something bad will happen in Sochi. I might need luck to avoid it. Yikes!

This is spurred, in part, by the reports coming out of Sochi now that media has arrived. The skiers I’ve talked to seem generally happy about the athlete accomodations, although I did see a tweet from Tim Burke about how the transport that is supposed to come every five minutes comes twice a day, or something. The media is another story. Some of the media hotels are not even finished being built; more and more media outlets are reporting on it, with accounts from journalists and photographers like “so, my hotel doesn’t have a lobby yet” or about watching a stray dog wander out of the hotel room he was being shown to. Apparently, rooms are lacking doorknobs, light bulbs, you name it.

What concerns me more are the photos of the water from the tap, which is yellow and looks, um, unpalatable. One widely-circulated account from a female journalist details how her hotel doesn’t actually have running water yet. Management told her that if the water got started up, not to use it on her face, because it contained something very dangerous. Cue the memes about “dangerous Russian face water.”

I don’t have high standards for luxury, so I’d be happy with a Spartan hotel room. I’m not asking for a lot. I’d rather the water not light me on fire or anything though. Safe drinking water seems like a pretty basic thing to ask for, but it sounds like it’s going to be bottled water for me. Egads! I really detest buying bottled water as it’s so wasteful, but in this instance, I guess it’s a no-brainer. My grandfather warned me to bring iodine tablets, but I think I’ll even try to go one step safer than that.

Anyway, I wanted to post some final thoughts before I leave. Originally there was a section of my op-ed about the International Olympic Committee, but I seem to have deleted it and never saved it another location… and now I’m running out of time. I’ll leave my criticism of the IOC for another time after I have a chance to re-write it in a fashion I won’t be ashamed of, but I did want to comment on one thing.

When President Obama named his Olympic delegation, I remember thinking, “this guy is the only one in the whole situation who actually has some balls. Way to go!”

Therefore I was surprised when Alan Abrahamson, a journalist whom I highly respect, came out strongly against the move. He has cautioned that this, as well as State Department warnings to Americans traveling to the Games, will hurt the U.S. relationship with the Olympic movement. He went so far as to suggest that we might be punished in our bids for future Olympics. Why would the U.S. jeopardize all of these things?

To me, this is a signal of how out of hand the Olympics have gotten. If something truly is rotten, then we should not pander to the movement just so that sometime we can have another home Games. In fact, several very respected countries, like Germany and Switzerland, have put the idea of bidding on a Games out to the voters, and the voters have rejected it. If there are big problems – then do we want to host them? How will we ever change things without taking some sort of stance? If we host with the goal of righting past wrongs, of doing a better job on things that have been a problem in the past, then we have to at least acknowledge what the problems are.

Abrahamson was at it again today, writing for NBC about the delegation: ”

“That announcement has proven politically charged for the U.S. Olympic Committee in the run-up to these Games. It may yet remain problematic for American athletes at these Games.  And, finally, it may yet linger, an ongoing controversy, if there is to be an American bid for the 2024 Summer Games. The USOC is due to say later this year whether it is in the 2024 race or not. The IOC will pick the 2024 city in 2017.”
There is an IOC session going on at the moment, and from all accounts, it has been very productive and IOC members are more involved than they have been in years. This is positive and I hope that the IOC begins to change and take more firm control over the Games which they create.
And, yeah, I get it: we are about to have an Olympics in Russia, and Putin was right there in the room when President Thomas Bach was giving his speech about how the Olympics are not about scoring political points. We can be polite and nice and let Russia host their Games.
But no accountability? Shaming those who try to make a statement about equality? Though others might say something to the contrary, I don’t think this is what the Olympic spirit is all about.
Maybe someone else in the Olympic movement will eventually grow a pair, too. Let’s hope.
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