TIME olympics

Did You Know It Doesn’t Actually Snow in Subtropical Sochi?

Russian President Putin listens to a journalist's question during a televised news conference in Sochi
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to a journalist's question during a televised news conference in Sochi January 19, 2014. RIA Novosti / Reuters

Here are some other disheartening facts about the upcoming Winter Olympics

Russia will host the 2014 Winter Olympics in the balmy seaside city of Sochi. And with more than $50 billion spent on them, they will be the most expensive Olympics ever. With the opening ceremony just under three weeks away, here’s a quick rundown on the Florida of Russia.

Sochi is Russia’s sunshine destination

Sochi is about as far as you can get from the sprawling snow-covered steppes of the popular imagination. A 37-hour train ride from Moscow, it’s located in Russia’s deep south, on the Black Sea, and boasts palm trees, pebble beaches and sulfur hot springs that were once frequented by “Soviet leaders, acclaimed cosmonauts, actors and other members of the Soviet jet set”, according to the Sochi Project. There is no snow in the city of Sochi itself. That doesn’t present problems for indoor events like figure skating or curling, but for Alpine sports like skiing, athletes will have to travel to Krasnaya Polyana in the Caucasus Mountains, a few dozen miles away. Organizers are also depending on 500 snow guns and 710,000 cubic meters of snow taken from the mountains last winter and kept in storage.

Did you say Caucasus? Isn’t that a conflict zone?

The Winter Games will be held in close proximity to the restive North Caucasus region where bitter insurgencies in Chechnya and the republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia have led to armed rebellion and terrorist attacks in the Russian interior.

“I, from the very beginning, found it very ambitious to decide to [hold the] Olympics in such a close proximity to the most active insurgency crisis in Europe,” Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, the North Caucasus project director for the International Crisis Group, told NPR during a recent interview.

Less than a month ago, suicide bombers in Volgograd (approximately 400 miles from Sochi) killed more than 30 people. Amid ongoing threats from insurgents and to prevent terrorists from targeting the Games, Russian officials have established what amounts to martial law in the area and have sent more than 30,000 police officers and Interior Ministry troops to provide security.

Oh yeah, and that genocide

While active insurgencies might be a current reality that worries officials and spectators alike, the area also has a tragic and violent past. According to Reuters, the Winter Games in Sochi will coincide with the 150th anniversary of the expulsion of Muslim Circassians from the Black Sea coast that resulted in the estimated deaths of 1.5 million people. Circassians living in the U.S. have staged demonstrations to protest the I.O.C.’s decision to host the games in Sochi.

You may not want to be alone in Sochi, ever

If the security situation leaves you feeling nervous, no problem. Sochi’s planners have made it possible for you to have company at all times, as shown in this photo snapped by BBC journalist Steve Rosenberg, who is inspecting the Games’ sites prior to the opening ceremony.

And these types of toilets don’t come cheap. According to opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the restroom facilities at the Sochi Olympics media center alone cost around 1.5 billion rubles, or $45 million, to build.

So where is everybody?

With less than three weeks to go until the opening cermony of the Winter Games commences, there are still 300,000 tickets still available. The Sochi 2014 organizing committee remains hopeful of a late rush. “We are expecting strong last-minute ticket sales and do not envisage having empty seats,” organizing committee chief Dmitry Chernyshenko told AP.

But why bother leaving your couch?

In the U.S., NBC will be providing more than 1539 hours worth of coverage of the event across six different platforms. And if one were to do the math that’s 64 days worth of Winter Olympics, which is quite a bit of coverage considering the Sochi Games will take place over a 17-day period from Feb. 6 to the 23. So if you’re worried that slalom skiing final might interrupt with the men’s half-pipe semis during the opening round of curling, fear not NBC likely has you covered.

TIME olympics

Sochi Olympics Faces Prospect of Empty Seats

High prices and security fears conspire to leave 300,000 tickets unsold

With less than three weeks to go before the winter Olympics’ opening ceremonies, Games organizers in Sochi, Russia still have hundreds of thousands of tickets left to sell.

“Some people are scared it costs too much and other people are scared because of security,” Norwegian senior International Olympic Committee member Gerhard Heiberg told the Associated Press, explaining Sochi’s struggling sales figures. Russian President Vladimir Putin invested in extra security for the games following a series of deadly suicide bombings in nearby Volgograd last month.

The Sochi 2014 organizing committee said in October that more than 60 percent of tickets had been sold. Last week, the organizing committee told the AP that 70 percent have been sold but “we are expecting strong last-minute ticket sales and do not envisage having empty seats.” Given IOC documents seen by the AP, Sochi has 1.1 million total tickets and approximately 300,000 tickets left to sell.

Listings of Olympics tickets on fan-to-fan sites have soared in recent weeks, Businessweek reports. “Availability is far greater than demand,” said Marlies Hoedemaker, secretary of a Dutch trade group for ticket re-sellers.

[AP]

TIME behavior

Take That! Athletes’ Victory Stances Are All About Dominance, Not Pride

XVII Bolivarian Games Trujillo 2013 - Judo
LatinContent/Getty Images / LatinContent/Getty Images

Every time an athlete triumphs over another, his first instinct is to do a victory dance.

With the Olympics coming up, athletes will talk a lot about how they hope to do their best, rely on their training, and engage their fellow medal contenders in some intense, but friendly competition.

That’s all bunk. In a study conducted by researchers at San Francisco State University, it turns out that athletes’ first reaction after victory is to strut. Or at least the modern version of it, which includes throwing their hands up in the air, puffing out their chest and pulling their head back, all while wearing an enormous grin of satisfaction on their faces.

Those are contemporary signs of dominance, says the study’s author, David Matsumoto, a professor of psychology at the university who began studying the phenomenon after noticing it during his years as the U.S. Olympic coach for judo. While some have labeled the behavior as signs of pride, Matsumoto believes otherwise. “What I saw everyday in training and in competition had nothing to do with pride,” he says. “It’s all about just having clobbered somebody. It’s a sign or signal given to other members of the community who are watching.”

The more he observed and thought about the reaction, the more Matsumoto became convinced that it was based on a need to express triumph, and dominance – and that it was something instinctive, that athletes weren’t even aware of conscious of doing.

To find out, he and his colleagues decided to study video of Olympic judo medal matches and zeroed in on the athletes’ very first reactions after the match was over. They studied more than 35 athletes from different countries, including congenitally blind competitors in the Paralympics. And in their report published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, they found that victors consistently engaged in any of a number of dominance behaviors, including throwing their hands up, expanding their chests, shouting, making fists, or pumping the air. The losers in the matches never exhibited such reactions, instead keeping their heads down and averting their gaze from those nearby.

From his previous work Matsumoto coded these behaviors as expressing dominance rather than pride (since pride tended to be more reflective) occur at least a few seconds after the victory, and involve more gentle and internally directed behaviors.

“In any competition, once the competition starts, athletes are in the zone. In judo, all their thinking is about winning the match,” he says. “They are not thinking about their country, or how they overcame injuries or about their love for their brother or sister. Once it ends, a few seconds later, that stuff comes into play. But when you look at the first reaction, what you get are triumphant behaviors.”

Animal studies support that theory. Studies show that immediately after antagonistic encounters, the victor struts, enlarges its body and growls or exhibits other aggressive behaviors, likely to signal that he is the dominant figure and worthy of the group’s respect.

Even human studies suggest the same thing. In an earlier study also involving Olympic judo athletes published last year, Matsumoto and his colleagues showed cultural differences in how extensive the displays of dominance were. By correlating the number of dominance behaviors to something called the Power Distance – a standard measure of how hierarchical societies are – they revealed that athletes from countries where social hierarchies were more important tended to engage in more dominance behaviors, while those from countries that were more egalitarian displayed fewer.

Bolstering the idea that such behaviors are instinctive and not learned, Matsumoto also documented the same effect among Paralympic athletes who were born blind, and therefore never had the opportunity to observe the dominance displays. “This is a phenomenon that is occurring in people all around the world, in people who are blind and never saw it happen,” he says. “There is something wired in us to do that at that particular moment.”

Why would such dominance displays remain part of our behavioral armamentarium, emerging even during encounters when lives and food and other life-dependent factors are not at stake? “It raises interesting questions about the history of sports in general,” says Matsumoto. “They are rarified forms of competition, and there is something very basic and primal about sports that lends itself nicely to these reactions and keeps them alive.”

And as sportsmanlike as Olympic competition is today, with athletes from around the world meeting under the principles of fair play and friendly rivalry, you can bet that you’ll see a lot of victory stances come February. The athletes, it turns out, just can’t help themselves.

TIME olympics

Spicy Runnings: How India’s Luge Athlete Trains for the Olympics

Watch Olympic luge athlete Shiva Keshavan race down a busy highway and even slide under a truck

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Indian luge athlete Shiva Keshavan was first introduced to the sport as a teen—when he was shown some luge videos, followed by a screening of Cool Runnings—and quickly picked it up. Now he’s the country’s main medal hope at the Winter Olympics which start in Sochi next month.

There are no luge tracks in India on which to practice, so Keshavan has had to be creative about his training. Replacing the blades on his sled with wheels, he takes advantage of the steep, winding highways in the Himalayan foothills. Traffic? No problem. Man herding sheep? No problem. Just don’t try this on a road near you.

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