The day after the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games, in the heart of the Olympic Park, visitors were upbeat. And all the controversies of previous days — stray dogs and unfinished digs — seemed to fall away.
On Saturday, Russians danced and sang on stages spread throughout the park. A Sochi 2014 breakdance troupe wowed crowds near the Olympic torch. Tourists took pictures in front of giant Olympic Rings.
It was still early and anything could happen, but in this one portion of the park at least, the 2014 Winter Olympics were off to a decent start.
Flavio Camelier of Rio De Janeiro was lounging in a large chair outside of Canada House when I asked him how he was liking the games so far. He's part of a large team sent to the Olympics by one of its sponsors, Coca-Cola. He says he has come here to learn from his time in Sochi, since his country will soon be hosting the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
"We had a blast," Camelier said of the opening ceremony. "I think [it's] pretty close to a 10. The games experience so far has been great."
Another Brazilian, sitting near a hot dog stand not too far from the Olympic torch, had a few more complaints. "The infrastructure is good, but the organization, the service is not that good," said Rodrigo Reis. He's in Sochi with coworkers from Sao Paulo, Brazil. "Let's take an example," Reis said, as he motioned toward his plate. "We were just waiting in line to get a hot dog. It took almost an hour. We're trying to get something to eat and it takes an hour!"
But Reis' review was not all bad. "The people here are not really prepared to receive all the tourists," he told me. "But in terms of the stadiums and everything, it looks good."
I asked him to score the games as well, on a scale of 1 to 10. "7.5," he told me. "Or 8."
Noah and Elizabeth Wilcox came to Sochi from Minnesota. I found them walking into a skating event. Oddly enough, the biggest hassle they've had so far these games was in the States; their flight through JFK got diverted. Since they've been here, though, Noah says it's all been good.
"Watching various cultures from everywhere gather together in what was hyped as a dangerous scary event — it's really been peaceful," he said. "It feels safe here. It's really been terrific to see everyone coming together."
Elizabeth echoed that sentiment. "We heard all the reports to not wear anything U.S.-specific, so we didn't bring a whole lot [of American gear]," she said. "But then we got here and thought, oh my gosh, we have to get decked out and support USA!" They did, wearing matching navy blue Team USA jackets. Elizabeth even sported a painted U.S. flag on her left cheek.
Of all the controversies surrounding these games, Elizabeth said, "I don't think any of it has made a real difference. I think it was kind of blown out of proportion. I think if we were to host it in the U.S., I think we'd have our own set of problems ourselves. So far, we've been treated very nice, and every effort has been made to keep us safe and comfortable."
She worried that American criticism of Sochi and the Olympics in these early days of the games might embarrass Americans more than Russians. "We don't want them to think poorly of Americans for what's written in the papers. We want to be very good guests, and be appreciative."
Noah and Elizabeth said they'll be in town through Monday. Their next stop will be the "mountain cluster," where outdoor snow sports take place. I told them to be sure to make enough time for the train ride up, and to take time to enjoy the view.