Sochi success: Russia manages to defy the Olympics naysayers

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The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, closed Sunday as they started, with another spectacular ceremony to serve as a bookend to the exciting chapters in between. But the story line that developed over the two weeks of action was not as originally written.

In the run-up to the games, pessimism and negativity were the prevailing sentiments. Security would not be up to the task of stopping terrorists. The weather in a seaside town with palm trees would prove uncooperative. Russia’s anti-gay laws would provide their own chill. The city would not be ready to host thousands of foreign visitors.

That’s how it seemed at first, as horror stories described hotels with dysfunctional plumbing and authorities killing stray dogs. But the biggest threat of all — terrorism — never happened.

While some unpleasant incidents occurred, for example Cossacks taking whips to the feminists in the group Pussy Riot, the games themselves were the main story. Even the bad publicity about bad hotels gave way to the glitter of gold, silver and bronze. Although the warm weather was a little problematic, it didn’t spoil everything.

President Vladimir Putin had staked much on Sochi and made a big effort to play the gracious host. While he cannot so easily live down his autocratic image, he reached out to both the IOC and Team USA, which was appreciated. No Soviet-style coldness in Sochi; Russia’s hospitality ran warm.

As for the gold rush, the Russians finished first with a total of 33 medals, followed by the United States with 28. Although the U.S. hockey team imploded after beating Russia, fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins could share the glory of its players, among them Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz with goals in the final to help Canada to another gold medal.

The world cannot afford too many $50 billion extravaganzas, but this one at least peacefully brought people around the globe together.

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