Sochi 2014 offers 17 days of fleece-lined bluffing bliss.
Why? Sports played on grass, track and water are fraught with risk of exposure, for the very good reason that most people know a little about them. Those contested on snow and ice, on the other hand, are much easier to bluff about – because fewer people know about them.
So, unless you’re going to a dinner party with a couple of serious snow savants (try saying that after a couple of gluhweins), then biathlon, bobsleigh and the whole wacky world of winter sports are waiting for you to assert your status as an aficionado of all things Alpine.
Your confident assertions on the 15 adrenalin-fuelled pursuits – (OK, make that 14 plus curling) – that constitute the 22nd Olympic Winter Games should, however, be bolstered by rather more heavyweight opinions about where they’re being held.
5 Sochi stars to celebrate
- Jesse Vetter, the USA women’s ice hockey goalie, whose face mask bearing the words ‘We the people’ from the Constitution was vetoed as ‘propaganda’.
- ‘The Flying Tomato’, aka Vancouver gold medal-winning snowboarder Shaun White, who unleashed the ‘Double McTwist 1260’ four years ago. Not to be confused with a frozen whipped dessert.
- Team GB has sent its biggest squad to a Winter Games since 1988 and is targeting at least three medals. World teatray – sorry, skeleton – champ Shelley Rudman is the hot tip.
- Classical violinist Vanessa Mae, who’s temporarily ditching strings for skis to pluckily represent the, ahem, winter sports hotbed of Thailand.
- The Jamaican bobsleigh team. 46-year-old Winston Watts is back, and his crew are hotter than ever. You’re history Usain!
SO WHICH PICTURESQUE PART OF THE WORLD HAS THAT HONOUR?
From February 7-23, the long lenses of the world will be trained on Sochi – a fashionable Black Sea resort ever since cuddly dictator Joe Stalin built a summerhouse there. The climate is sub-tropical – it’s on the same latitude as Nice. Palm trees line the seafront.
SOUNDS DELIGHTFUL. SURE IT’S NOT WATER SKIING THEY’RE ORGANISING?
Only the ice sports and ceremonies will be taking place in Sochi itself. The venues for the snow sports are around the radically transformed resort of Krasnaya Polyana, up in the Caucasus mountains some 60km inland (five years ago it was a series of shacks lining a muddy track). It even has a brand new neighbour, Rosa Khutor, which started life as a small-scale development then bloated into a Disneyesque fantasy when Russia got the Games.
To be sure there’s enough of the white stuff for national pride to go unchallenged, the organisers began stockpiling snow last winter. Sixteen million cubic feet of the stuff, in fact. That’s about enough to cover Bedfordshire. And to be doubly sure there won’t be any tufts of grass peeking through the pristine pistes, 446 snow guns will churn out the artificial variety when needed.
THEY’RE LEAVING NOTHING TO CHANCE, THEN
Oh, no. This is Vladimir Putin’s pet propaganda project. And it doesn’t pay to offend the rapids-swimming, ice hockey stick-toting, bare-chested horse-riding PM. When Vlad toured the site a year before the Games and decided construction wasn’t rattling along quickly enough, he humiliated the vice-president of Russia’s Olympic Committee live on TV.
HOW MUCH IS IT ALL COSTING?
Don’t ask. The original budget was £7 billion. The final bill will be more than £30 billion, which is rather more than the £9 billion it cost to stage the London Olympics. In fact Sochi 2014 is the most expensive Olympics ever, winter or summer. Beijing’s Bird’s Nest was a cheapjack dive compared to these venues. What’s more, half of the £30 billion has, er, ‘gone missing’ – according to Putin’s opponents, into his cronies’ capacious pockets.
BUT IT’LL BE WORTH IT. GLOBAL HARMONY THROUGH SPORT AND ALL THAT…
Maybe not if you’re gay. Or you want to complain about Russia’s human rights record. Or you’ve spent the last four years toiling on a building site without knowing when the next pay packet will arrive. The Russian government has thoughtfully set up an official ‘protest zone’ – tucked away in a small town park seven miles from the nearest Olympic venue.
OK, HAPPY FACE ON. WHAT ABOUT THE SPORT?
Compared to the staid Summer Olympic programme – Modern Pentathlon and Equestrian anyone? – the Winter version is all about the yoof, innit?
X-Games favourites snowboard cross and ski cross are basically BMX on snow. If you’re under 30, don’t even try to bluff your way through these. Just scream ‘wipeout!’ when three of the medal prospects carve into each other and the no-hoper from Hawaii swooshes past them into the final.
MAXIMUM BLUFFING VALUE
Don’t forget that Russia cares more about ice hockey than any other sport. And geopolitical grudges are rarely better played out than on the rink.
If you want to be all Cold War about it, USA and the host nation have been drawn in the same qualifying group. But there are others lined up for a serious bashing, none more than Canada. Russia only finished sixth – sixth! – in Vancouver after crashing out to the Canucks in the quarter-finals.
The phrase to remember is that ‘goaltenders win hockey matches at this level’ – and Sweden have the best in the tournament, the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist.
DO SAY ‘We love our Winter Olympic heroes – that’s why Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards won ‘Splash!’
DON’T SAY ‘Well done Vladimir, a project management masterpiece – every rouble accounted for.’
On an unrelated note, why not read the Bluffer’s Guide to Dictators…
And on a more related note, do you remember the 1993 film Cool Runnings? About the Jamaican Bobsled team?