A wacky, wild, winter wonderland

For months, weeks and even right up until the final hours before the Winter Olympics started, the accepted belief was they would be a trainwreck of suicide bombings, anti-gay law protests, toilet cubicles that weren't actually cubicles and whingeing American journalists who weren't pleased about minor matters such as not having a hotel room, or a lobby, or brown water flowing from their bathroom taps.

And then something really strange and unexpected happened: the Sochi Games turned out to be, er, quite good, filled with many highlights, some lowlights, and plenty of wacky-lights after 16 unforgettable days.


So we didn't win anything. It's the first time since Nagano in 1998 that an Australian team has left the scene without a gold medal.

There was much criticism – mainly from Torah Bright and her brother, Ben – about some of the courses at Extreme Park being a factor. And our most-hyped prospect, Alex "Chumpy" Pullin, only went as far as the quarter-finals in the snowboard cross.

But there were some pleasing results nonetheless.

Bright took silver in the snowboard halfpipe, while Lydia Lassila gallantly claimed bronze in the women's aerials, in a tough new format.

That said, the Australian story of these games belongs to Dave Morris, the 29-year-old school teacher who wasn't wanted by team officials, walked away, came back, and then ripped out a quad-twisting triple somersault to claim silver.

He hasn't let the medal go all week, while also clutching a big inflatable boxing kangaroo. "My face is sore from smiling," he said at the medal party in Rosa Khutor.


Some believe young snowboarder Belle Brockhoff put undue pressure on herself when she came out as gay in a Lateline interview on the ABC in October to voice her displeasure about Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws.

It was nothing compared with the pressure her father, Bruce, placed on Pullin when he fired off an explosive letter to journalists – just after his daughter had competed, and on the eve of the men's event – about funding.

"What my dad said was a lack of emotional intelligence and sensitivity," she said in response. "I am shocked but I'll be trying to enjoy the Olympics while being here."

Bright was fingered as the ringleader of a splinter group called "Team Outcast", which by its very name was a divisive element in an Australian Olympic team. Yet it has become apparent that Bruce Brockhoff and Darren Hughes, the father of Jarryd Hughes, attached themselves to it in the pursuit of more funds for their children.

It's been an ugly, unfair distraction for the Australian team.

Olympic Winter Institute of Australia boss Geoff Lipshut – who compared the fathers to tennis dad Damir Dokic – has announced an expanded snowboard cross program to mend the fracture.


Much like former Australian prime minister John Howard in Sydney in 2000, and London mayor Boris Johnson in 2012, spotting the Russian President has been as popular as swapping Olympic pins.

At the end of the first week, Vladimir Putin stunned all concerned when he dropped into US Olympic headquarters, wearing a "Happy Valentine's Day from Team USA" pin.

"Putin was very gracious," US Olympic Committee chairman Scott Blackmun said. "What I would remember is, it sends a strong message about the importance of sport to Russia. We talked about mostly our impression of the Games. He was very interested in knowing what we thought about the level of infrastructure, the level of services."

Then Putin went and watched the US beat Russia in a thrilling shootout in the ice hockey. D'oh!


Russian athletes were promised $US1million ($1.52 million) for every gold medal they won.

Given the $53 billion spent on these Games, it was the payday Putin was more than prepared to pay his men's ice hockey team if it broke a 22-year drought at the Olympics.

Then it lost to Finland in the quarter-finals, and the country went into mourning. One Russian volunteer, Sergei, offered this: "They earn too much money in the NHL. There is no pride in the jersey. This would be better if Stalin was here. He would cancel their visas, and if they lost they would be thrown in jail."

Clearly, they're taking it well.

Over at the figure skating, Russian icon Yevgeny Plushenko helped his nation to a team gold, then spectacularly pulled out of the individual event with a back injury. He said his own federation forced him to compete, then backtracked and said it hadn't, now he says he may skate in four years time.

Presumably, he said all of this with a signature flick of his golden hair.


"Oh man, Tinder is going mad up there in the athletes' village. I met this one . . ." one snowboarder told Fairfax Media in the first week of competition. You get the picture.

There has been a 400 per cent day-over-day increase in new users on Tinder, a matchmaking smartphone application, since the start of the Olympics.

"Tinder in the Olympic village is the next level," said US women's snowboarder Jamie Anderson. "It's all athletes. It's hilarious. There are some cuties on there."

Almost as popular among athletes and coaches has been the multi-level Sky Club nightclub in Rosa Khutor, where female dancers in cages appear to shed more clothing the higher the level.


Lawn bowls on ice is, apparently, a hot bed of model-esque competitors.

There's Russian Anna Sidorova, who took racy lingerie photos with her curling equipment before the Olympics, while the Canadian women's team has sent Twitter into meltdown. The Norwegian men, apparently, are all Val Kilmer lookalikes.

Curling: the coolest sport at the Winter Olympics.


In bobsleigh, Jana Pittman became the first Australian woman to compete in the summer and winter Games, and now wants to do it again – in Rio de Janeiro in two years, and the next winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

On the same two nights that Pittman competed, the brakeman for the leading US sled, Lauryn Williams, took silver in the event, having won the women's 4x100m relay at the London Olympics.

And Ole Einar Bjorndalen, of Norway, set the record for the most medals in Winter Olympics history with victory in biathlon's inaugural mixed relay.


Apart from the dramatic battle between authorities and punk protest band Pussy Riot, and the extermination of hundreds of adorable stray dogs, the biggest story was the weather.

It was so warm, fat Russians sunbaked on the beach during most days of competition. It affected conditions so much that cross-country skier Chris Jespersen, of Norway, competed in a T-shirt and shorts.

"I'm trying to hide from the sun here because I feel like I'm getting red," said Chemmy Alcott, a British skier who competed in the super-combined race.

The IOC denied the mild conditions, which made the snow like soup on some days, were responsible for some horrific injuries – the worst suffered by freestyle skier Maria Komissarova, who fractured her spine.

It might have made it tricky for competitors, but made it a pleasure for the rest of us, watching on the side of a mountain wearing a T-shirt and a smile.

This story A wacky, wild, winter wonderland first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.