The first week of competition is over at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. What did the global sporting event promise and what has it delivered? How have the Games turned out so far, not just from a German perspective?
Seven gold medals, three silver and two bronze – that's what the Germans have to show from the first half of the Olympic Games. That means first place in the medals table, ahead of Norway, which has five golds after 52 of Sochi's 98 events. It's a very good result from the German sporting officials' point of view. However, the German luge team's four gold medals have helped to cover up some disappointments in other disciplines.
Ninety-eight events? The increase in medal opportunities is a result of the new team disciplines. The competitive sports director of the German Olympic Federation (DOSB), Bernhard Schwank, is happy about that: "The team events enrich the Olympic program immensely. They provide something of a completely different nature: a team travels together, develops their own dynamic."
In fact the expansion of the Olympic Games is due to the activism of the IOC, which wants to meet the growing demand for more exciting competition. So far, Russia has successfully managed to supply an Olympic-quality venue for every athlete in every discipline.
Interior Minister de Maiziere flanked by DOSB President Alfons Hörmann (left) and DOSB General Secretary Michael Vesper on the piste of Rosa Khutor
A satisfied minister
Midway through the games, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere travelled to Sochi. For him it's a must-attend event, because his ministry is responsibly for promoting German sports. De Maiziere was present Saturday, among the fans, to watch Germany's Severin Freund finish fourth in the ski jump.
For de Maiziere, the Sochi Games are already a success, and he has said quite explicitly that doesn't just mean the achievements of the German athletes. He also praised the conditions under which the athletes have trained and competed. He said, “If the athletes are satisfied, then so is the interior minister.” De Maiziere also had praise for the host, Russia: "The distances are short, the fans are friendly. The weather is terrific and the volunteer help is great again."
Good weather isn't always good
When the minister praised the "terrific weather," he highlighted the subjectivity of people's meteorological opinions. A fan who is enjoying the sun and comfortable breeze while watching ski jumping might be happy. But a cross-country skier who has to race in temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) over artificial snow might see it differently. Germany's Axel Teichmann, who finished eighth in the 15 km race, said he became a cross-country skier "in order to race on snow, not on mush with water flowing through it."
The weather in Sochi has provided pictures that don't belong in winter sports, as German cross-country coach Frank Ullrich explained - he saw for himself. Some athletes had gone so far as to dispense with their undergarments: "There was an American skier, she had nothing on underneath,” he said.
Obviously the Sochi Games are also Russian President Vladimir Putin's Games. That was clear from the opening ceremony, because it was the Russian president who helped raise the 40 to 50 billion dollars needed to organize the most-expensive Olympic Games in history.
The best thing about the Games is what doesn't have to be reported: there has been no terrorist attack. The conflict in the Caucasus, which has been fought for generations, has been in the background since the Olympics began. And hopefully it will stay that way as long as the Olympic flame in Sochi is lit, and far into the future as well.
The necessity of the security presence was criticized more than anything else before the Games. Interior Minister de Maiziere pointed out that compared to the security presence for the Summer Olympics in London, the deployment in Sochi was reasonable.
And where is the atmosphere?
One thing, however, troubles de Maiziere: "I miss the exuberance of Vancouver and London." The ease and playfulness that makes up the flair of the Games is, among other things, missing in Sochi. This is partly because the Russian sports fans, and the viewers who are largely Russian, are fairly patriotic. They support the athletes on their team unconditionally and they are not as interested in the other nations.
This is especially clear in the men's figure skating. Russian star Evgeni Pluschenko wanted to crown the end of his career with a gold medal, but he had to pull out of the competition due to injury. As soon as he was no longer in the competition, there was a noticeable drop off in audience size. Other athletes were suddenly skating in front of half-empty stands.
Better than expected
If you look at the reports ahead of the Olympics and compare them to how the Games have played out so far, it is fair to call Sochi a success. Before the games there was plenty of pessimism: the environmental sins (which will only become completely apparent in the years after the Games), the rude behavior of Russia's own citizens, the exploitation of workers at construction sites, the widespread corruption – all of these factors have taken a back seat in the past week.
So far the athletic events have been front and center, and that is where Sochi has offered what you would expect from the Olympics: triumphs and tragedies. As for the second half of the games - hopefully all stays peaceful and sportsmanship is upheld so that Sochi 2014 will remain a good memory.