Mascots_2014_Winter_OlympicsI’m probably violating copyright law with this image, both with respect to the Olympic ring symbol and the images of the three mascots for the 2014 Winter Olympics which begin today in Sochi, Russia. So sue me.

Actually, don’t sue me. Or Prairie Dog. I’m just trying to do a simple blog post and figured the mascots would be a cutsie-poo way of drawing eyeballs. The mascots — from left to right, a snow leopard, a doe hare and a polar bear — were chosen during a nation-wide Russian TV broadcast from a short-list that also included a Pussy Riot-imprisoning President Vladimir Putin, a corrupt oil billionaire, a gay-reviling Russian Orthodox patriarch and a stylized vodka bottle.

Located on the shores of the Black Sea in the south-west corner of Russia, Sochi was a controversial choice to host the Winter Olympics. It has a humid, sub-tropical climate, and virtually no winter sports tradition. But for some reason Putin was keen on it so, in the vernacular of the Russian mafia, he “made it happen”.

From the get go there were concerns about the lack of snow for the alpine events in the nearby Caucasus Mountains. But apparently they had plenty of snow before Christmas so those venues should be fine. As for the indoor venues and Olympic Stadium, Russia spared no expense in ensuring that they’d be ready in time. And I mean that literally. Whereas the bill for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver was around $7 billion, Russia has reportedly spent around $50 billion on its facilities.

There’s also going to be a hefty security tab. Sochi is in an area of Russia where there’s a fair bit of ethnic and religious tension, and 40,000 police and soldiers have been assigned to the games, and all sorts of “forbidden zones” have been created, to limit the possibility of anything tragic happening. And there’s lots of communications monitoring and other surveillance going on with everyone on high alert after the two bombings in Volgograd in late December.

As far as the games themselves go, 86 countries are going to be represented from Albania to Zimbabwe. At the 2010 Winter Olympics Canada took home the most gold medals with 14, followed by Germany and the United States with 10 and nine respectively. As host country, Russia will be hoping for a similarly strong performance from its athletes this time around.

There’s preliminary competition in figure-skating, freestyle skiing and snowboarding today, and the gala opening ceremony will be on Friday. Once the Olympics conclude with the Men’s Gold Medal hockey game and closing ceremonies on Feb. 23, the 2014 Winter Paralympics will be held at Sochi from March 7-16.

CBC is the official Canadian broadcaster. You can find out more about its coverage plans here.¬†And if you’re looking for a local connection, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame has a special exhibition focusing on the Winter Olympics and Paralympics that will run into April.