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Violence on Russia’s doorstep in Ukraine siphoned away some of the attention Putin sought from Sochi. As riot police fought and killed protesters in Kiev, Twitter analytics by showed Russian-language tweets mentioning Ukraine’s capital or its protest camp starting to outnumber those referencing Sochi or the Olympics.

A gold medal for whining went to journalists who arrived from around the world to find mountain hotels in various states of undress. Their complaints got Sochi off on the wrong foot before competition diverted their attention. The Twitter account @SochiProblems quickly picked up more followers than the organizers’ official feed. Organizers of the next Winter Games, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, take note: An unhappy hack can be a global liability.

But Olympians - those who actually matter to the games - have raved about their accommodation and facilities, which worked well and looked good on TV. The spaceship-like ice hockey dome was particularly cool, its roof lighting up with the flags of teams playing inside and displaying their scores. Shame it didn’t see a medal for the home nation, with Russia’s men falling to Finland in the quarterfinals.

Yet even with 100,000 visitors per day, Olympic Park rarely seemed to buzz - too much concrete, too much space, not quite enough people. There were pangs of nostalgia for Vancouver, the 2010 host, where the games benefited from being in a big, cosmopolitan city not isolated on former marshland along the Black Sea coast.

After the games move on, there are plans for Formula One races and 2018 World Cup soccer matches in Sochi. Critics of Olympic waste and the expense of sporting mega-events will be watching to see whether venues fall into disuse.

Even if they don’t, the IOC must ensure that the $51 billion Russia spent to ready Sochi and the mountains behind it for the costliest-ever games is the high-water mark of Olympic extravagance, never to be repeated. Pyeongchang should be easier on the conscience, because it has many existing facilities and is budgeting $7 billion for infrastructure projects, including a high-speed rail line from the capital, Seoul.

Still, the basic recipe of the Olympics - take 2,850 of the planet’s most rigorously prepared athletes and train high-definition cameras on them - practically guarantees good publicity for the host nation. Russia was no exception.

As Kozak noted: “I haven’t heard a single negative evaluation about our hospitality since the games in Sochi began.”


John Leicester, an international sports columnist for The Associated Press, is covering his fifth Olympics. Write to him at or follow him at