The Winter Olympics are certainly no stranger to controversy – remember Tonya and Nancy in 1994? The French figure-skating judge in 2002? But before the torch was even lit yesterday outside of Fisht Olympic Stadium (by a Russian former figure skater who once tweeted – then deleted – a racist photo of President Obama, no less), the Sochi games had been mired in bad press. The sheer spectacle of last night’s Opening Ceremonies certainly did its best to eliminate the images of filthy water, helpless stray dogs, floorless hotel lobbies and an attempted plane hijack already seared into our brains, as Russia’s rich cultural history was on full display. But no amount of homages to Tolstoy or Tchaikovsky or videos of Sochi homegirl Maria Sharapova making “cheese boats” can make us forget the anti-gay laws that are in effect in Russia today. (Psst! President Putin, did you hear the one about how the Swan Lake composer was gay?) So, here now, from the Lannister-inflected introductory narration to Bob Costas’ pinkeye, are the top eight standout moments from the Opening Ceremonies, good and bad:
Who better to present the majesty of Russia’s sloping mountains, as well as its “glass of signature perfection” (*cough*vodka*cough*) than Tyrion Lannister himself? Dinklage’s unmistakable, commanding baritone brought the Olympics back to a happy place – albeit briefly – for the millions of Game of Thrones fans watching, most notably when he uttered the familiar-sounding phrase, “Winter will not be a burden.“
2. The Glitchy Olympic Rings
In what quickly became a metaphor for the shitshow that has been the 22nd Winter Olympics so far, one of the five animated Olympic Rings failed to materialize from its initial snowflake form. But some viewers remained blissfully unaware of the mishap: apparently Russian state television aired a “doctored” version of the rings so no one would be the wiser.
3. Matt Lauer’s and Meredith Vieira’s Version of Russian (and Catchphrases) for Dummies
The commentary by the NBC anchors was not only painful, it was flat-out lazy. During the Parade of Nations, when the order inexplicably (to some) jumped from Brazil to Macedonia, Vieira helpfully offered this gem to confused Americans at home: “The order of these countries is based on the Cyrillic alphabet. If you need more information, Google it.” Later on in the broadcast, Lauer reached out to the over-65 crowd (and non-Drake fans) by explaining what “YOLO” means.
4. Context, Courtesy of David Remnick
Providing a much-needed counterbalance to Lauer’s and Vieira’s dumbed-down comments, New Yorker editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Remnick won the night with his insightful observations, and for not being afraid to speak the truth: “[Putin] doesn’t care if the world thinks he’s an autocrat.”
5. Whitewashed Russian History
When you need to get through 1,000 years of history in a handful of hours, sure, license needs to be taken. So we got the pageantry of the white-horse troika, a “candyland” version of Russian architecture and the bathed-in-soft-light ballroom scene from War and Peace. The Russian Revolution of 1917, however, was skipped over completely in favor of an idealized version of the Soviet Union, featuring a giant hammer and sickle, plenty of red, lots of industrialization, the “Trolololo” song and a celebration of Soviet athleticism (points taken off for the failure to mention Ivan Drago).
6. The Russian Olympic Team Enters the Stadium to t.A.T.u
That and the faux-lesbian band did perform during the Opening Ceremonies, but for whatever reasons, didn’t make it to NBC’s prime-time broadcast. Still, the poetic irony of Putin’s pride and joy, the Russian Olympic team, marching into Fisht Stadium to the strains of “Not Gonna Get Us” was not lost on anyone who disagrees with the Russian president’s stance on homosexuals.
Sadly, the best performance of the evening was technically before the Opening Ceremonies began, and was therefore cut from the NBC telecast.
8. Bob Costas Interviews President Obama With Special Guest, Pinkeye
Ever the trouper, an exhausted-looking Bob Costas chatted up an equally exhausted-looking Obama about gay rights, Vladimir Putin’s sense of humor and “older” U.S. athletes like Shaun White. The veteran sports anchor was mercifully granted a reprieve from covering the Opening Ceremonies in order to nurse what has to be the most famous eye infection on record.