5 things you should know about Sochi Winter Olympics

As the 2014 Winter Games are well under way in Sochi, on Russia’s Black Sea coast, check out some of the often bizarre facts about the most expensive Olympics in history, from state corruption to new winter sports events to look out for over the next couple of weeks.

1 – World’s most expensive Olympics

With a staggering $51 billion price tag, Putin’s games go into the record books as the costliest games ever held. That’s more than three times than the 2012 London Games and it even beats the $40 billion record of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing – even though the Winter Olympics “involve fewer athletes (2,500 vs. 11,000), fewer events (86 vs. 300), and fewer venues (15 vs. 40).”

Many observers say corruption is to blame, including in the provisions of services and facilities as well as mismanagement of funds, with builders alleging inflated costs. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Sochi’s ready though, with the media hotels being one of the most embarrassing and tweeted debacles – you may not be able to find the lobby because it simply doesn’t exist yet, as this article illustrates.

2 – Twelve new winter sports 

That’s right, twelve winter sports events across eight disciplines have made their debut at Sochi, including women’s ski jump after the longest campaign for inclusion, snowboard slopestyle and team figure skating. Such a packed programme makes these the largest version of the winter Olympiads to date, calling for an extra day of competition, too.

3 – Anti-gay “propaganda” law casts a shadow over the games

Last June the Russian parliament unanimously passed a much contested federal law banning gay “propaganda”, which makes it illegal to distribute material on gay rights as well as to equate straight and gay relationships. As you would expect, this angered rights activists worldwide.

While the several world leaders who declared they would not be attending the games – including the US, UK and Germany – did not confirm they are protesting against the anti-gay law, their absence has been widely interpreted as a clear signal against Russia’s crackdown on the LGBT community. One should not assume the decision is politically motivated, however, since the winter games are not considered a must-attend event. UK prime-ministers don’t usually attend the winter Olympiads, for example.

4 – The dog killing policy 

Stray dogs have become one of the main peculiarities of the Sochi games, as thousands roam the streets of the pearl of the ‘Russian Riviera’ and even make friends with ski icons. So when the director of a pest control firm told the Associated Press that his company had a contract to exterminate stray dogs throughout the Olympics, the news didn’t sit too well with animal rights groups. It is thought that, since their eradication began in October, approximately 300 dogs have been killed every month.

Even Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who could not be more pro-Russia, didn’t feel so good about the dog killing policy, so he funded a rescue effort through his charity organisation. And wherever you are in the world, you can adopt a Sochi dog, but “please be aware that costs for transport of a pet can range from USD $150 to $2000 or more, based on accommodation and airline”. Ouch.

5 – Meteorite medals 

Ten gold winners will receive pieces of a Chelyabinsk meteorite embedded in their commemorative medals, one year after the meteor crashed into a lake in central Russia. Forty additional cosmic medals will be sold to private collectors. The meteorite, which injured more than 1,000 people, “glowed 30 times brighter than the sun” and “delivered the biggest astronomical punch felt on earth in the century” according to National Georgraphic.

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