When you watch the Winter Olympics from the beginning, you grow an unlikely attachment to certain sports. Speed skating is fascinating. Haflpipe: riveting. Ski jumping: gorgeous. Biathlon: strangely alluring.

By the time the ice hockey tournament begins, you develop a loyalty to these sports. Like fans of an indie band’s early albums, you were in on the ground floor of support, and that makes it more personal, and therefore special.

The Winter Olympics go mainstream with the men’s hockey tournament. It’s the equivalent of the Games’ first studio album that gets lots of radio air time, a featured section on iTunes and actual promotion beyond word of mouth.

You might still feel nostalgic about the early days, but you’re forced to admit that the entire catalog of events is made better by the inclusion of the most popular element.

Hockey is at its best when stakes are highest, and the pot doesn’t get much larger than Olympic hockey. But not at first.

It seems as though every four years, Canadians expect their Team Canada to decimate the opposition in the opening games like an army from the future transported through time to do battle with Australopithecus and his weapons made of modified bone. Every four years, they’re disappointed, and the first cracks in the facade of confidence begin to emerge in their devoted fan base.

The tournament at the Sochi Games has begun no differently.

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In the lead up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, much was made of the contradiction between the stated ideals of the International Olympic Committee, and the practices of Russian law, especially in how it relates to homosexuals.

The question on the minds of many was simple. How could an organization that publicly prides itself on acceptance and inclusion, grant a nation practicing discrimination such an enormous stage as hosts of its Olympic games?

Gay rights activists and organizations were quick to point out to new IOC president Thomas Back that from 1964 to 1988, South Africa was banned from competing at the Olympics as a response to the segregation of sport in the country. It represented an obvious discrepancy between how the IOC responded to racial intolerance and how it was currently responding toblatantly hostile laws against homosexuals.

Looking back, the Olympic ban of South Africa seems like a rare moment in Olympic history when morality took priority over the supposed separation of sports and politics, when the IOC made a decision based on altruism and not self-preservation.

It’s not so simple.

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Sochi has been inundated with feel-good stories that have warmed the coldest of hearts in recent days.

A Canadian cross-country ski coach, by way of California, became a household name when he came to the assistance of a fallen Russian skier.

Denny Morrison won silver in the men’s 1000m long track speed skating event after his teammate, Gilmore Junio, gave up his spot for the greater good.

That’s all well and good – but the love-in that has become Sochi 2014 is getting a little nauseating.

What happened to the Olympics we knew and loved? The ones with shady back room dealings, rampant doping and if we were lucky, physical violence? Where are the Olympics we jaded cynics grew to appreciate?

Fear not. A quick perusal of the history books reminds us of halcyon times when the Olympics were at their best. An era when the happenings of the Games took a backseat to petulant stars, horribly corrupt officials and trashed hotel rooms.

Sochi After Dark presents the first installment of the “Olympics: the Bad,” when all was right with the world. When Olympic committees and their athletes, unperturbed by public relations flacks and public decorum really showed us what international competition was all about.

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It had been a frustrating day for the American Olympic contingent. The fog from Shaun White’s disappointing fourth place finish in the men’s halfpipe finals on Tuesday seemed to carry over to Wednesday.

First, Julia Mancuso finished eighth in the actual downhill event after eviscerating the same downhill course in the super combined on Monday. Then, the women’s hockey team lost again in their bitter rivalry with Canada. Finally, gold medal certainty Shani Davis looked incredible at the start of the men’s 1,500m speed skating event, but quickly proved that looks can be deceiving. He was so far behind the pace set by the Netherlands’ Stefan Groothuis by the second split that a comeback was rendered impossible.

It was enough to get even the most positive U.S. supporter down in the dumps. Thankfully, as has been the case throughout these Games, the women’s snowboarding team was there to lift the nation out of a gutter.

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Lipnitskaya of Russia finishes team ladies' free skating at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

There are very few Tara Lipinskis in this world.

The American figure skater captured gold at the Nagano Olympics at the age of 15. For most Olympians, success at such a young age is a death knell.

How do you parlay an early moment of fame into a career? Lipinski did it, touring professionally for several years while making appearances on some of the biggest television shows of the late 90s, including Touched by an Angel, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Malcolm in the Middle.

There was a period of downtime, when Lipinski devoted her efforts to philanthropic endeavours, but she’s back now, leading NBC’s fantastic figure skating coverage alongside Johnny Weir.

Lipinski is an outlier of sorts. For every teenager star that has ‘made it,’ there are others who never found a way to deal with comes after. What happens when the phenomenons of today slide into the abyss that is weekend supermarket appearances for $50 a shot.

The long-term isn’t an issue for most of us currently. Yulia Lipnitskaya and Ayumu Hirano have been the breakout stars of these Olympics because they’re almost too young. No 15-year-old should be able to laugh in the face of reality. Hirano shouldn’t be able to beat Shaun White on the biggest stage. Lipnitskaya shouldn’t be a bigger star at this moment than Evgeni Plushenko.

But they are. They are because the younger these athletes are, the more we are intrigued. The reasons why, however, aren’t always consistent.

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For someone so unfamiliar with failure, Shaun White handled defeat remarkably well. When the scores from his final halfpipe run revealed a fourth place ride, he raised his hands - not to collect glory as he’s done hundreds of times before - but as an acknowledgement that he understood his place. That tonight wasn’t his night. That other riders were more deserving this time.

Despite all of his success - 39 podium finishes at the international level, including 13 gold medals at the Winter X Games and two gold medals at the Winter Olympics – White is a divisive figure among snowboarders.

Outcast for so long by the winter sports establishment, the snowboarding community is unique for its tight-knit, one-for-all all-for-one attitude. Young enough to perhaps not know any better, there’s still a sense that what’s good for the sport should take precedence over what’s good for the individual. Despite the pervasiveness of this unspoken ethos, the sport’s biggest star is not a follower.

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Canadian freestyle skier Kaya Turski, a medal favorite in Sochi, had her Winter Olympic dreams come crashing back to reality on Tuesday after falls in both of her qualifying runs left her out of the finals in the women’s ski slopestyle event.

After tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee this summer, the 2013 world champion underwent experimental knee surgery in August. Working hard through rehab, she won the gold medal at the Winter X Games in slopestyle, a warm up to the Olympics.

During her first run on Tuesday, Turski fell heavily at the top of the course, separating her shoulder in the fall. Unwilling to give up on her dream, she managed to pop it back in herself. The pain can’t be imagined.

On the second run, she fell again. This time it was on the final jump. That was it. The rehab, training and hard work would not lead to a medal.

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Czech Republic's Moravec stands next to Sweden's Lindstroem at shooting range during men's biathlon 12.5km pursuit event at 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

For one police officer in the sleepy town of University Place, a suburb just outside of Tacoma, biathlon was just a hobby.

“Me and my buddies just loved to ski and shoot on the weekends to unwind, you know,” said officer Mark Pendergrast, father of three.

Little did the 12-year-veteran of the force know his biathlon acumen would help bring down Tacoma’s most notorious criminal, Christoper ‘Slim Thuggins’ Williams.

At around 11 p.m. on January 23, 2012, Pendergrast received an urgent call from dispatch. Williams had been spotted in Chambers Creek Park, just west of 99th ave.

The 35-year-old acted quickly, taking the skis and rifle he had dubbed Batman and Robin out of his trunk.

An hour later the man thought to be Williams was subdued, with one bullet wound in his leg soaking the snow with crimson blood. Later, authorities learned Pendergrast had shot the wrong man, but boy could he ski and shoot.

“Would I do it again?” asked Pendergrast rhetorically. “You bet,” he said while being whisked away for the internal investigation that would eventually cost the city millions.

The Winter Olympics gives us a chance to watch sports we barely get to see. While World Cup events in Oslo provide a welcome respite from Saturday’s crushing hangover, no sleep is lost over the results of a Super G in Kitzbühel.

It’s a different story when the Olympics are involved.

We care about the results because it gives us the opportunity to belittle lesser nations. Have you seen how shambolic Kazakhstan has been in Sochi? My word.

But how much do these skills help Olympians in everyday life, when the games are finished and the advertisers leave? Of what use is an adept ability to hurl a stone down a sheet of ice when gunmen are holding your family hostage at a Radisson in Budapest?

Sochi After Dark presents the 2014 utility rankings of Olympic sports.

5) Biathlon

Long before the days of pizza delivery and public transportation humans relied on two things. Hunting their food and moving from place to place by their own means.

Biathlon combines the two seamlessly. Skis and rifles remain a way of life in the most northern parts of the world.

Most kids today can’t even load their own rifles. Somewhere along the way we, as a society, lost our way.

4) Figure Skating

You can’t make it in Hollywood these days without being a dual threat.

Sure he can act, but can he dance? Scott Moir, one half of the Moir/Virtue ice dancing team, has been hailed as one of the best actors not plying his trade for the big studios. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.






An insider taking a break from the game–he currently sells fabric in Toronto– once told me Moir can be the next Zach Braff, but with actual talent. Doubt him at your own peril.

3) Bobsleigh

Simply put these people are probably the most fit people at the Olympics. Whether they’re fire fighters back home or club bouncers at some of the world’s sketchiest clubs, these people have true value to the world outside of a sleigh.

When your head is being smashed into the pavement for being jerk at China Rouge, the hottest club in Macau, remember these faces. Also remember that you probably deserved it.

2) Snowboarding

All of the cool people I knew growing up where snowboarders. Now our definition of ‘cool’ changes as we grow older, and some of these people currently list vagrant as their occupation, but snowboarders remain some of the slickest, most laid back folks there are.

Whether it’s touring with the X-Games are doing whatever Red Bull tells them to do, being a professional snowboarder has perks beyond competing at the Olympics.

One time my dentist used the word ‘stoked’ unironically during a cleaning. Needless to say I changed dentists shortly after.

1) Speed Skating

Having legs the size of tree trunks will come in handy when the world devolves into a winter hell scape devoid of warmth and the sun.

By then we’ll be living on a giant sheet of ice, with roving bands of thugs on skates menacing the weak and weary, demanding what little food they have left.

Skating at high speeds will come in handy. You can be sure the Dutch will become our new overlords when, not if, iceworld becomes a reality. Get to the leg press while you still can.


An untrained spectator would never be able to express exactly what it was that set apart what one competitor from another. Yet, watching the event unfold, no matter how unfamiliar you are with the discipline, you can tell exactly how well a skier does.

You might not know what you’re looking for, but you definitely know it when you see it.

There’s a smoothness to Alex Bilodeau that other competitors simply don’t possess. He doesn’t force himself through a mogul course as much as he allows gravity to carry him like a silk scarf floating through air, or in this case, snow, to the bottom of the ski hill.

Knees together. Arms planting poles deliberately, and with purpose. It might be to his detriment that he makes it look so easy, if not for the other freestyle skiers – elite, yet inferior – who struggled to maintain posture and purpose before him.

Bilodeau becomes the first to ever win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in individual freestyle moguls, after his score of 26.31 on his final run, by far the highest in the competition. Countryman Mikael Kingsbury came second, giving Canada their second one-two finish in moguls, this time on the men’s side.

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The town of Akhshtyr, a mountain village close to the border with Georgia, is within spitting distance of the $8.6 billion road super road slash high-speed railway built to connect Sochi to the mountains that surrounded the Black Sea resort town.


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