2014 Sochi Olympic Games;Winter
Fireworks explode over Olympic Park at the end of the closing ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (Pavel Golovkin/AP)

So Long, Sochi

Russians pay $1.54 billion per medal

2014 Sochi Olympic Games;Winter

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After years of hype and more than $50 billion spent, the costliest Olympics in history have come to a close. Despite all the negative press, ranging from the now-ubiquitous #SochiProblems (which seems to have been deleted) to rumored mass canine exterminations, the games themselves turned out strikingly, almost alarmingly, normal.

As usual, compelling storylines filled the games: Shaun White’s shocking collapse on the halfpipe, Mikaela Shiffrin’s historic victory in the slalom, Canada’s total dominance in the hockey tournament. Not everything went as planned: A ring failed to open at the opening ceremony, broadcast legend Bob Costas got an eye infection, and protests in nearby Ukraine introduced political unrest to the games—but focus largely remained on the athletes.

Athletically, Sochi established some new narratives that’ll surely carry over to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro and the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang. Russia came out on top in the medal count with 33 total medals—that’s the first time the United States hasn’t “won” the Olympics since Torino in 2006. More important, Russia hasn’t topped the medal count since the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, when the Berlin Wall still stood and the country still called itself the Soviet Union.

Sochi, in a sense, marked the culmination of Russia’s two-decade journey following the USSR’s dissolution. Despite a few more crises than usual—will the IOC ever decide to award the Winter Games to a subtropical climate again?—Russia proved it could hang with Olympic host stalwarts such as the United States, China, and Britain.

But Sochi’s positive outcome didn’t come cheap. Analysts generally agree that the games carried a $51 billion price tag for Russia. Another way of looking at it: Russia paid $1.54 billion per medal. That’s a lot of cash to fork over in the name of national pride.

Other than Russia’s jump from sixth at 2010’s Vancouver Olympics to first at Sochi, and a few other rises and falls in the chart, the usual suspects mostly dominated the games. The top 10 finishers from Vancouver and Sochi include eight of the same countries; South Korea and China dropped from the list, while the Netherlands and Switzerland took their spots. Asia hasn’t been shut out from the top 10 since the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and you can bet South Korea will want to remedy that when they welcome the next Winter Games to their home turf.

It’s also safe to assume that whether or not the Under Armour suits are to blame, Americans will want to have a better showing in Pyeongchang than Sochi, where the United States earned its fewest Olympic medals since Torino. Plus, jockeying for victory in the next couple Olympiads may transcend numerical superiority for the United States. Olympic host cities have been chosen through 2020, and with a field of finalists for 2022 that doesn’t include a U.S. representative, the country might want to end its longest Olympic hosting drought since going 28 years between Los Angeles in 1932 and Squaw Valley in 1960.

If you’re suffering from Olympic withdrawal, the next big Olympic news will come on July 31, 2015, when the IOC will choose from Krakow, Poland; Oslo, Norway; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Lviv, Ukraine; and Beijing, China as the host city for the 2022 Winter Games. Until then, read our December feature about Sochi to see which of our predictions came true—and start working on your tan for Rio.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021
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Lead Photo: Pavel Golovkin/AP