The Winter Olympics start today in Sochi, Russia!
While many in the Western world view Russia as a bewildering place of vodka and extreme cold, those who know better know the host country as a place with a deep cultural appreciation of the arts; a place where people spend all day on New Year’s Eve perfecting dishes such as “shuba”—the delicious (and bright purple) layered beet, egg, potato, and herring salad that is translated in English as “herring under fur coat salad”—to be shared with loved ones.
And while most of Russia is indeed cold, Sochi is not. The selection of Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics was controversial for several reasons. It is one of Russia’s southernmost cities—it is an extremely popular summer getaway, where mountains meet the sea—and thus was a strange choice for hosting winter events. As a result, the city has undergone extensive renovations to accommodate the events. As The Guardian newspaper put it, “The race to turn the beach resort of Sochi into a Winter Olympic host venue has been described by critics of the Kremlin as one of the most corrupt projects in Russia’s history.”
Here’s some sports-related trivia gleaned from the Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport to wow your friends and colleagues:
- Lieutenant (later General) George S. Patton participated in the modern pentathlon at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912; he might have won had he not done so poorly in the shooting event, where he insisted on using his service revolver while the rest of the pentathletes used target pistols.
- The entire first day of the original modern Olympics was devoted to religious rituals—a kind of prolonged opening ceremony when religion mattered more than patriotism or commercial glitz.
- Prior to 1937, the national flags of Lichtenstein and Haiti were identical by coincidence; a fact neither country discovered until they competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.
- The earliest recorded attempt to move skating from the winter ice was made by Joseph Merlin (1735–1803), a Belgian maker of musical instruments. He introduced roller skating to the public at a reception in London in 1760. As he played the violin and skated about for the crowd, Merlin, his violin, and a large mirror discovered that he could not turn or brake on his new invention.
- Commonly viewed as a genteel sport for the well-heeled, croquet was originally a sport played by French peasants using altered broomsticks for mallets.
The third edition of this groundbreaking work brings the study of sports into the 21st century by integrating Berkshire’s past work on women’s sports and extreme sports into a complete sporting library. The encyclopedia features over 300 new and updated articles on:
- sports management and marketing
- every sport from cricket and baseball to buzkashi and motorcycle polo
- six kinds of football: association (a.k.a. soccer), American, Australian Rules, Canadian, Gaelic, and flag
- the history and globalization of sport
- the Olympics, past and future
- environmental and economic issues
Click here for a list of events at the Winter Olympics. Update: there will indeed be women’s ski jump for the first time this year!