Sochi's Biggest Winners

Russia and Vladimir Putin showed they're serious players on the world stage.

Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledges the applause of the crowd as he is introduced at the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the closing ceremony of the Sochi Olympics.

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Troops, can we give a little love or credit to Russia now, just to be good sports? The awe-inspiring “Reflections of Russia” closing ceremonies have, alas, come and gone.  

Let’s admit that the Sochi Olympics were a smashing success,  theatrical drama on the snow and ice like we’ve seldom seen before. The host team, the Russians, won the most medals. Well-done and deserved. The United States team did well, coming in second.  

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin is not the most lovable world leader, but this was his moment and showcase. He had a huge new house he wanted to show all the neighbors, especially London and Washington. The former KGB agent is dark, prideful and difficult, nobody’s darling, but he pulled it off. 

Political unrest in Ukraine, a counterpoint to be sure, oddly served to point out that the Russian Federation, a sprawling mass including Siberia, has a coherent social order following the Cold War’s end 25 years ago.  

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the 2014 Sochi Olympics.]

I, for one, think the seamless two weeks bodes well for the new Russia. Let the chorus of schadenfreude be silenced. The naysayers in the newspapers were so smugly sure that the Sochi Olympics were going be to a flop. Somehow they knew a terrorist attack was waiting in the wings. The critics threw a lot of cold water on this event before the Winter Games even started. Some stories suggested the families of athletes stay home.  

Thousands of pounds of salt had to be shipped in from Switzerland to treat the slopes of Sochi at the last minute. The winter sun did not turn the snow to slush. The best-laid security plans (the so-called Ring of Steel) actually worked. The hotels were hardly world-class, but everyone seems to have survived. Bob Costas made a comeback to NBC after an eye infection. 

The scenic Black Sea resort was easy on the eyes, and yes, the world was watching day and night. We saw brilliant sides of Russia’s music, culture, history and heart that doesn’t make the news -- and its formidable athletic prowess.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on Vladimir Putin and Russia.

This enormous, restless nation is still reinventing itself as we speak.  The Sochi Olympics invited us in to get acquainted with its boundless restless soul.  Russia is now more than a player in the world community. 

Kudos to the Russians -- winners in more ways than one.

UPDATE: In haste, how could I forget about Pussy Riot? The subversive women's rock band, after being freed, bravely performed for free out on the Sochi streets. Wouldn't you know it, the Cossacks came out and started beating and whipping them. Cossacks! Right out of a Russian novel or nightmare ever since the age of the czars. It was pretty awful to watch, and a sign that public democracy is still very much in process.