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john doyle

On the road to Sochi, that's us. Looking forward to it – Canada's dominance in winter sports revealed again, with a little luck and a lot of hard work. Winter games are what we do. Mind you, why a subtropical beach resort is the venue for the Winter Olympics remains a bit of a mystery.

Putin's Road to Sochi (Sunday, CBC NN, 10 p.m., on The Passionate Eye) is a terrific two-hour look at how Sochi became the Winter Olympics venue and what's been going on there since the announcement. It is a jaunty, sardonic doc that will, eventually, knock you off your skates.

First thing we see is people on a sandy beach in bikinis. Palm trees. We meet the mayor of Sochi, whose hobbies are travel and beach soccer. "What we have here is a subtropical climate," he declares. Along comes an opposition member of the Russian parliament who says, "You'd have to spend a long time searching the map of this huge country to find a place with no snow. Putin found it!"

Then begins the tangled story of how Sochi ended up hosting the Winter Olympics. Many shady characters are featured. And Vladimir Putin, President of Russia. The story goes like this: After Putin skied near Sochi, accompanied by Karl Schranz, the retired Austrian alpine skier, the place suddenly emerged as Putin's pick to host the winter games. Putin and other Russian officials met personally with many IOC nobs. ("I've never seen so many meetings," a retired bureaucrat says with amusement.)

And then came the matter of pitching Sochi to the IOC Committee in Guatemala. Russia spent a ton of money to build an ice rink in Guatemala to impress the IOC. And Putin went in person and made a rare speech in English. It worked. No matter that the non-existent winter-sports facilities would need to be built more than 100 kilometres from Sochi. Salzburg, which also bid, was mystified. There, everything was already built and minimal environmental impact was guaranteed.

We meet many of the locals in Sochi who are, these days, rather furious. The town has been destroyed, people have been moved from their homes. Vast acres of waste surround them. But there's a lot of money being spent and being made by somebody. One local points out that a new stretch of road cost about $8-billion to construct, and says that it would have been cheaper had it been paved, literally, with gold.

We're told that the Vancouver Winter Games cost about $2-billion. Putin estimated that it would cost $12-billion to stage them in Sochi. That spiralled to $30-billion and is now estimated at $50-billion. Somebody says that "Putin is building a monument to himself."

Maybe so. And this is one helluva story of money, ego and greed.

Also airing this weekend

Living Dolls (Saturday, 9 p.m., Global, on Obsessions) is a fabulous look at a bunch of people fixated on collecting dolls. Yes, dolls, but we're not talking ladies of a certain age nurturing their Barbie collection. Nope. Right off, we meet a seemingly ordinary middle-aged, married guy driving around with Bianca, a life-size, anatomically correct "living doll." He's heading to the annual Doll Lovers Meet to meet up with people like him.

There is also Mike, who is gay and obsessed with Barbie dolls. In his case, it's all about his childhood and struggles with his sexual identity. And there's Debbie, who lives an exotic fantasy life through her dolls. Strangest of all is Michael, who buys dolls and remakes them into robots. He plans a stop-motion film about robots and pornography. Or something. Filmmaker Maureen Judge does a wonderful job profiling this assortment of the odd, the lonely, the sad and the strange.

Witches of East End (Sunday, Lifetime Canada, 10 p.m.) is a new almost all-female ensemble drama about witches and stuff. See, there's Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond), single mom of two beautiful daughters: cheeky Freya (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) and good-natured librarian Ingrid (Rachel Boston). Joanna is superprotective because, unknown to her daughters, she's a witch, they are also witches, and they have lived and died many times already. Get your head around that.

Anyway, it's all about witches who are cursed to repeat crazy love affairs over and over. And it's silly froth, this thing, but with a good cast who enjoy eating the scenery. Frocks and some frightening scenes is the gist of it. There are handsome chaps with names such as Dash and dialogue such as this: "You, you only have one superpower and it is your breasts!"

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