Is Sochi the Peace Corps of the Olympics?

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Maybe it’s because the games haven’t started yet, or maybe U.S. journalists are just accustomed to things like sheets and the ability to flush their toilet paper, but if you’ve followed along with the journalists in Sochi over the last few days, the story has mostly been about the hotel rooms. Stacy St. Clair, with the Tribune Olympic Bureau, wrote about what she’s facing in Sochi on Tuesday night for the Chicago Tribune, including a room with water that wasn’t working.

I called the front desk. “It will be fixed in 40 minutes,” the sympathetic man at the reception desk told me. “But when it comes back on, please do not use on your face because it contains something very dangerous.” Welcome to Sochi 2014, the dystopian-like Games where a simple shower poses a threat to your face, fire alarms ring constantly and several hotels remain unfinished. Russian President Vladimir Putin spent more than $50 billion on these Games — the most expensive Olympics, winter or summer, ever — yet he seemingly forgot to pay the water bill.

St. Clair’s tweet about what she saw when the water finally worked went viral, with 1,828 and counting retweets.

On Tuesday morning, Barry Petchesky wrote about what journalists are finding in their hotel rooms for Deadspin, with lots of tweeted examples. Also on Tuesday, Mark Byrnes wrote about the hotel troubles for The Atlantic.

According to the Sochi Olympic organizing committee, only six of the nine hotels in the media village are ready for occupancy and the International Olympic Committee is asking them to resolve all issues fast. Persistent rain is to blame for many of the delays. IOC spokesman Mark Adams insists the construction woes aren’t as bad as they seem, telling reporters, “every Games has some last minute issues. These are being handled, and handled well.”

Caitlin Dewey also pulled together more of the funny/disgusting journalist tweets on Tuesday for a piece in The Washington Post. International travel can be, no question, tough. While the farthest I’ve been on assignment is into the wilds of northwest Missouri, I was in the Peace Corps in Guyana for two years after college. I regularly battled wasps (which attacked me,) rats (which ate my underwear,) frogs (which came out of the faucet,) and certainly never drank the water (or the Kool-Aid.) But I was in the Peace Corps. Watching the misadventures of U.S. journalists in shoddy hotel rooms with “dangerous face water” is amusing but also alarming. Here’s how St. Clair puts it:

The Sochi Olympics aren’t just a sporting event. They represent Putin’s pride, his metaphoric muscle flexing in an effort to show the international community just how virile his country has become under his leadership. He dared the world to admire Russia’s ability to produce these Games, so we must. And, in some respects, the effort looks extraordinarily weak.

Through the lens of the journalists and their hotel rooms, it does. But have you checked in with the athletes to see how they’re doing?

Compared with:


Most athlete accounts I looked at were full of exclamation points and hat tips to sponsors, which makes sense. And I couldn’t find any hotel room shenanigans. But on Tuesday, Graham Watson did write for Yahoo Sports Canada about the Olympian rooms.

Basically, each athlete gets on one twin bed, a bedside table, a lamp, a chair, a wardrobe, a wire stand to share, two bath towels, and a hand towel. But they also get a lot of extra space for their gear and a pretty fantastic view.

Photos Watson includes really just look like college dorm rooms. At this point, I’m guessing most U.S. journalists in Sochi would think those rooms were five star.

For more from journalists covering Sochi, check out this growing list.

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  • John O’Neill

    Russia has a long and storied history. Agree, in modernity the free flow of ideas, enterprise & expression must be allowed. Unfortunately, socialism relegates humanity to mere organisms existing for the purpose of the ‘State’.. As for the athletes, those with a hammer & sickle stomach shall prevail. To the soft-heeled journalists, suck it up and always know nearest route to a restroom &/or consider a lean diet? Thanks NPCA for the insight. USA USA USA!

  • Virginia

    The average person in China, I assume, does not have the amenities offered by the hotels that journalists and athletes stayed in in Beijing. It may not be fair to expect luxury (or even basic organization/cleanliness), but Putin is the one who lobbied for this opportunity and funneled more money than anyone’s ever spent on the Games before straight in to the pockets, apparently, of people who weren’t using it for any related purpose. I was in Peace Corps in Ukraine, and while we can’t boast frogs coming out of the faucets (but frankly I never saw water that color, seriously, wtf Sochi), the post-Soviet hotel conditions are very familiar to me (and that was when we got to stay in a hotel! It was like a vacation!). But journalists have every right to feel shocked – it’s not like all Peace Corps Volunteers arrived at their sites with a totally blase attitude themselves. And anyway, covering the Olympics is not signing up for Peace Corps.

    Overall, though, I’m just having a great time watching the collision with the fan. That’s what you get for holding the Olympics in Russia, world. Hope nothing genuinely bad happens, but I’m not terribly optimistic ….

  • PodcastSteve

    Given the colossal egotism of the Russian leader over his country’s alleged superiority, it’s fair game for journalists to compare Russian accommodations to the kind of world class hotels available in other more-developed capitalist countries. He’s the one who opened the door. He’s the one who governs as an autocrat who suppresses all kinds of civil rights. He deserves the negative press. All of it. The athletes are all professionals highly compensated as product endorsers. Their sponsors are not going to let them get grossed out. What a surprise.