The 2014 Sochi Olympics are the most plush, high tech, well designed and all around spectacular Olympics in the history of sports history, if you read Russia's state-run and state-owned media outlets. Russia ranks 148th in terms of press freedom, below Robert Mugabe's dictatorship in Zimbabwe, so it's no wonder that the press there hasn't been as eager to call the arena a way too warm Soviet dystopia. But even the papers that are less obviously controlled by the Kremlin seem to be swept up in patriotism ... or censorship.
On website of The Moscow Times — an independent paper that has been critical of the government of the past — there were a pair of stories that seemed to at least acknowledge how Westerners reacted to Sochi. But unfortunately "Sochi Social: What Journalists Didn't Expect From Their Stay in Sochi" and "Skiers Satisfied in Sochi, but Where's the Yogurt" were mysteriously unavailable as of this afternoon. That second story may have something to do with the fact that Russia has blocked shipments of Chobani. According to The New York Times:
The Russian government is said to be blocking a shipment of Chobani yogurt from reaching the United States Olympic team at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The blockade has prompted alarm from the yogurt industry’s political allies, who are outraged that American athletes could be deprived of their beloved Greek yogurt.
The trend piece of "Sochi Selfies," however, was available. "Combining a hot trend and a cold location, social media users have taken to Twitter to share images of themselves in Sochi with their followers," writes The Moscow Times. We'll let the "cold" bit slide, though Sochi and Jackson, Mississippi are both enjoying pretty mild winter temperatures. #SochiSelfie has been trending for a few days, but the Times couldn't find any Russian Olympian selfies. It's all Americans (and one Canadian) enjoying Russia.
State-funded news site RT has a special portal just for the Olympics, where it's taken to singing its praises. Since it's "curling up" at Sochi, as one RT reporter put it, Russia built a 3,000-seat stadium just for curling (as well as wheelchair curling during the Paralympics). The best part of the video is when the camera pans over a scenic view of Sochi's beautiful beach, followed closely by a clip of an announcer trying to figure out what there is to say about a curling stadium, other than the fact that it exists. "Now, it's quite a spacious small center," says Thabang Motsei of RT, "and those with disabilities will be able to enjoy this center." Also worth noting, according to RT: winners on February 15 will get gold medals studded with bits of the Chelyabinsk meteorite that hit Russia last year, and there's a "dazzling sneak peek" at the opening ceremony fireworks available online. But then again, only three of RT's 10 athletes to watch out for at the Olympics are Russian, so that's something.
And if all this propaganda isn't working abroad, that doesn't mean it isn't working at home. The Moscow Times covered a poll that found that only 17 percent of respondents thought Sochi was "aimed at improving the image of Putin and the rest of Russia's politicians." Fifty-three percent of Russians think Sochi was worth it and 85 percent think Russian competitors need to finish in the top five overall in medals. Good luck with that.