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Media do an about-face on Sochi: Forget the twin toilets, we love Russia

Performers take part as onion-dome floats rise above during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 7, 2014.


Have we passed peak #SochiProblems?

After weeks of critical coverage of Russia and its shambolic Winter Games, the international media has now largely left that story behind in favour of a narrative that is likely much more pleasing to the organizers: the competitions themselves. The jokes about twin toilets and live wires in showers have been supplanted on front pages around the world by photos of beaming athletes.

The turnaround began to take hold on Friday, as the opening ceremony got under way. Tom McGeveran, the editor of the website Capital New York, tweeted: "I mean, the joke about Sochi being a mess because, Russia! has gotten a bit out of hand at this point. We look like jerks, at some point." The popular website Buzzfeed – which had published a collection of repellent photos earlier in the week headlined "Photographic Proof that Sochi is a Godforsaken Hellscape Right Now" – followed up Friday evening with a sheepish turn of its own, an article titled "Grand, High-Brow, and Absurd: The Olympics Opening Ceremony Reminded Us Why We Love Russia."

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Over the weekend, CBC reporter David Common chimed in: "Russia has done it," he wrote admiringly. "The organizers deserve credit for the gargantuan logistical effort. …

"What has been built looks spectacular and the opening ceremony was stunning."

Canadians may have been feeling some kinship with Russia. Four years ago, the international media arrived in Vancouver and hastily set about declaring the Games a disaster even before the opening ceremony. By the first Monday, less than three days in, The Guardian newspaper suggested that a snafu with tickets for a snowboarding event threatened "to make these Games the worst in Olympic history."

But as the athletes continued their extraordinary feats, the media's cynicism largely fell away. (It came back during the kitschy closing ceremony.)

News abhors a vacuum, and reporters are a notoriously negative breed. When the real event hasn't started, they'll always find something to criticize. (The opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, which reached heights of Monty Pythonesque lunacy but also included a moment celebrating Britain's National Health Service, was panned by some as a "socialist spectacle.")

Still, even though the tweets about #SochiProblems have largely evaporated, the Games aren't entirely free of problems: Reporters are now focused on the scores of empty seats in the venues. Some are speculating that foreign ticket holders have been put off by fears of terrorism, but a spokeswoman for the Games blamed "a Russian mentality" of showing up late. Either way, organizers must be pleased the media is no longer talking about toilets.

Follow me on Twitter: @simonhoupt

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More


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