2014 Winter Olympics: Sochi is warm
SOCHI, Russia -- Based on the weather reports from back home, I'm thinking Atlanta might have been a better host for these 2014 Winter Olympics.
As I write this, it is in the mid-60s and sunny here at the Sochi Olympics. (Which is about what it was the past two afternoons as well -- and not all that much warmer than it was in the days before that.) Why, I even ate lunch outside underneath a large palm tree the second day I arrived.
There is a small Black Sea beach on the other side of the fence from the media village, where we shot a video of me sunbathing -- and I was not alone. There were Russian men in speedos and Russian women in bikinis. There were dolphins frolicking in the water. There was even a man swimming.
This is my sixth Winter Olympics, and I never saw sights such as those in Lillehammer, Salt Lake City, Nagano, Torino or Vancouver. In fact, there was one day during the 2012 Summer Games in London when the daytime high was about the same temperature as it is here right now.
Or how about this: It's warmer here right now than it is in Peoria, Ariz., where the Seattle Mariners are holding spring training. True, it's nighttime there now, but still: Hockey players and speedskaters should not be reporting in weather conditions warmer than those for pitchers and catchers.
It isn't ridiculously warm just down here at sea level, either. It's also been in the 60s up at Krasnaya Polyana, hub for the mountain venues. Many of the women who competed in the cross-country relay wore short-sleeves this afternoon. I've seen photos of shirtless workers, and I'm not talking about Vladimir Putin. I was up there for the women's downhill and didn't have to wear my jacket once. If it gets much warmer, the Jamaican bobsledders might start complaining.
Even way up at the alpine venue at Rosa Khutor, the weather has been in the 50s, so warm that they have twice moved up the start times to earlier in the morning so that the sun doesn't warm the snow so much during the race. They are pouring salt down on the ski courses to keep the snow hard, but it is still often slushy and unfavorable.
I think the biathlon might switch from .22-caliber rifles to squirt guns.
Speaking of which, there are Russian soldiers stationed in the mountains for security. Riding up to the venues, you can see their vented white tents. These white tents are meant to blend into the snow, but it sort of misses the whole point of camouflage. With the warm weather and melting snow, they need to switch to brown tents so they can blend in with the dirt and the mud.
International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams stated it's "always a constant battle for winter sports'' to maintain top conditions, which is part of the problem. This weather is rather extreme for the Winter Games, but unfortunately, it has been a disturbing trend.
Ever since Lillehammer in 1994, the Winter Games have been held in larger cities where snow is less frequent. It rained in Nagano as much as it snowed. Vancouver had cherry trees in bloom downtown and had to truck and chopper in snow to the mountain venues, where it occasionally rained. Sochi might have as many palm trees as Los Angeles.
While this can be pleasant for the spectators -- especially those visiting from Moscow (or Atlanta) -- it isn't good for the athletes. Mother Nature takes a toll in all sports, but in baseball and football, the teams are competing in the same conditions. That's not true in winter sports, where the snow and ice conditions constantly change, especially in warm sun. Michael Phelps always swims in the exact same conditions as his competitors, but Bode Miller will ski in snow that is a bit different than it is when Aksel Lund Svindal skis before or after him. The change might not seem like much, but it can make a difference in a sport where hundredths of a second matter.
Fortunately, there should be a change toward more wintery conditions at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Pyeongchang is a small city of about 50,000 and its average daytime high in February is just below freezing with average nighttime lows in the teens. I might actually need the sweaters there that I packed for these Games.
Oh well. I can work on my tan for spring training. And at least Barcelona's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics has been rejected.