At $50 billion, (imagine how many fries you could buy with that money), the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia garnered the title of the most expensive Olympics ever. But amongst all the preparation – beautiful skating arenas and ski slopes – it has been, perhaps, also one of the most controversial. By TEARAWAY Maverick EMMA SHI.

All eyes are on Russia…

Unlike New Zealand, with our passing of the same sex marriage bill, Russia still holds restrictive anti-gay laws, which lead to Sochi becoming protesting ground for gay rights. Although this was and is happening all the way over there in Russia, it’s still an important issue. After all, equality includes everyone. And that means no discrimination, no matter what.

It’s an issue that’s lead to many protestors being arrested; on the opening day of the Olympics, Russian police arrested four gay activists. But these arrests also aren’t only limited to those protesting against Russia’s anti-gay laws; activist Yevgeniy Vitishko was detained for swearing in public, an arrest which was believed to be an attempt to stop his protesting of ecological issues around the Sochi games. What these protestors are doing is inspiring, but they are inevitably being silenced.

This didn’t stopped athletes from being openly gay, though, and support for the LGBTQIA community going into Sochi didn’t waver. Some corporates also subtly hinted at the injustice of Russia’s laws; one Google Doodle pictured several sports of the Winter Olympics along with a quote from the Olympic Charter: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

But there are also an array of other problems that sprung up in Sochi; despite having booked months in advance, many journalists found themselves in ridiculously unfurnished hotels. Reporters went to Twitter to show the extent of the problem, which included half-built walls and dodgy unfiltered tap water. With such a huge price tag on the Olympics, you’d expect Sochi to be well prepared for the intake of travellers, but it seems that was not the case.

One journalist, for example, tweeted a picture of cables hanging down from a hole the wall, with the caption: “Good news, I have internet, bad news, it’s dangling from the ceiling in my room.” Another tweeted a suspicious sidewalk where the manhole wasn’t covered; imagine taking a lovely stroll after watching speed skating only to find yourself lost in the sewers. Such lack of preparation did make me wonder whether the 2014 Winter Olympics would turn out to be as successful as I hoped, amongst all the controversy.

…but the sports remain at their best

However, the core of the Olympics – the athletes and all the amazing things they manage to achieve, has not faltered. Since I take ice skating lessons, watching figure skaters launch into jumps that look almost impossible is something that will never lose its magic.

Amazing new athletes have shone and will continue to shine, such as with 15 year old Yulia Lipnitskaya (who just made the minimum age requirement by 26 days) skating beautifully for a figure skating team event and coming first. Rooting for my favourite athletes with a keen eye on the New Zealanders will always be something done with pride. Watching professional athletes, be it skiers or skaters or later, the sportspeople of the Summer Olympics, will always be something truly inspiring.

This is the importance of the Olympics to me. Although New Zealand’s medal count will look like nothing compared to those of the bigger countries such as Russia itself, our athletes are inspiring a future generation of sportspeople. And that, for me, is the most timeless and priceless thing that will always come out of the Olympics.

But Sochi this year also reminded us of and brought awareness to other issues, lest we only got caught up in the glitz and glam. The Olympic dream – of a gold medal around your neck – is the ultimate dream for many athletes, and Sochi highlighted the importance of an environment where true equality thrives. Where any athlete feels at ease playing the sport they love, and will not be discriminated against at the chance at their own Olympic dream.