Grading the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi have come and gone, seemingly over in just a few short days. The 98 events featured almost 3,000 competing athletes from 88 countries. The host nation came away with surprising victories in both the most golds and most total medals. The United States team, considered heavy favorites before the Games began, largely disappointed and finished 4th in golds and 2nd in total medals. There were tremendous concerns about how the Sochi Games would play out. Would their facilities hold up? How would security be handled? Would protesters overrun the games? Heck, would Putin turn it into the 2014 Hunger Games? All of these concerns were quelled once the Games were underway, but how did they grade out overall?

Opening and Closing Ceremonies: B+

Anticipation for the opening ceremonies is always sky-high, but this year’s was even more so given the reported $51 billion spent on the Games. London’s opening for the 2012 Summer Games was outstanding and set a high bar for Sochi to meet. The opening ceremony did an excellent job of conveying Russia’s rich history. It was aesthetically pleasing with an extravagant blend of bright colors and sometimes dark undertones as they displayed Russia’s proud history. The one technical difficulty occurred when the fifth and final ring didn’t expanded into its full form, instead looking like a snowflake next to four rings. It was a small blemish on an otherwise great performance. The closing ceremony did the unexpected by making fun of the incident (shown below)! No one would have guessed that Russia (specifically Putin) would ever make light of such an embarrassing situation. Everyone loved it. It made Russia seem so much warmer, so much more like they had real people instead of robots. After all, self-deprecating humor is the best humor. It allows everyone to laugh about it together. Russia pulled out all of the stops for their ceremonies, and it largely paid off.

Russia pokes fun of their opening ceremony gaff during the closing ceremony.

Facilities / Conditions: C-

Before the opening ceremony had even begun, the socialsphere was already exploding about the conditions in Sochi. Pictures went viral showing yellow sink water, unfinished rooms/buildings, and stray dogs in the streets. As the Games continued, the attention shifted away from the living conditions, which were probably overblown from the beginning. I’m not saying that unfinished rooms and undrinkable water is acceptable, but many of our responses showed just how spoiled we are. While the focus on living conditions slowly faded away, the emphasis on the course conditions picked up the slack. Olympians (Americans in particular) were quick to point out the miserable conditions caused by overly warm weather and time restrictions placed on the people who managed the various events. Temperatures exceeded 50 degrees at several points, which caused dangerous conditions for the athletes. While there was little that Russia could do about the warm weather, it did harm the experience and integrity of the events. My high-school football always said something to the extent of “We want the worst conditions. Bad conditions favor the team that is the most disciplined.” I don’t know if that applies here or not, but I do know that we will never know what results might have been different if the conditions had been ideal. Congratulations to all the athletes that fought through the tough conditions and earned a hard-fought medal.

Performances / Star Power: C+

Almost every Olympics, both summer and winter, have a few breakout stars that capture the hearts of millions as they make their way into Olympic history. Past winter games have seen athletes like Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn become household names, but this year seemed to be lacking in the star-power department. The 2014 games seemed to be filled with more disappointments than triumphs. Shaun White, Shani Davis, J.R. Celski, and the Men’s hockey team all failed to medal after expectations were almost certainly gold or bust. The men’s speed-skaters and women’s figure skaters (Gracie Gold & Ashley Wagner) did not live up to expectations. In fact, it was the first time since 1936 that the US hasn’t won an individual figure skating medal, and since 1984 that we haven’t won a speed-skating medal. The women’s hockey did earn silver, but wasted a “golden” opportunity by blowing a 2-0 lead to Canada.

That isn’t to say there weren’t brilliant performances by Americans. Meryl Davis and Charlie White were as dominant as advertised. Ted Ligety captured gold yet again, eight years after getting his first. Noelle Pikus-Pace came out of retirement to win her first ever medal in the Skeleton at the age of 31, after failing to win bronze by one-tenth of a second in Vancouver. If I had to project the biggest potential star exiting this year’s Games, it would have to be Mikaela Shiffrin. The 18-year old won gold in the women’s slalom and did it in dramatic fashion. After the first run, she had a commanding lead and appeared guaranteed to win gold. During her second run, she slipped and went onto one ski (causing me to audibly yell at the TV). She recovered brilliantly and finished with a comfortable lead for gold. She is young, attractive, and remarkably talented. She will likely be competitive, if not dominant, for at least two more Olympic Games barring injuries or unforeseen circumstances. The future looks bright for this rising star.

Mikaela Shiffrin wins her first gold medal at the age of 18.

Mikaela Shiffrin wins her first gold medal at the age of 18. She was one of US’ breakout stars.

Security: A+

One of the biggest concerns going into the 2014 Sochi Games was the security of the athletes and spectators. Rumors of terrorist attacks, suicide bombers, or other violent protests were concerns coming into Sochi, but were almost non-existent once the opening ceremony began. I obviously was not there to experience it firsthand, but I never heard any of the athletes complaining about feeling at-risk or unsafe. You can’t say enough about the job that the security team did in keeping all of the athletes and viewers safe.

TV Coverage: B+

This grade might be revised once the final TV ratings for the Games are released, but the coverage from NBC was excellent. They focused on the “live” performances themselves, but did a good job of mixing in side stories such as touching back-stories for many of the athletes. The broadcasters for individual events were generally knowledgeable and pleasant to hear commentate. Two “black-eyes” stick out in my mind regarding the coverage, and yes, one of those black eyes is almost a literal one. Bob Costas fought through an eye infection like a trooper, but it was quite distracting to watch. Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira did an admirable job of filling in while Bob recuperated from his eye infection. The second black-eye was obtained during an interview with Bronze medal winner Bode Miller. Miller lost his brother last year and was clearly emotional after the race. Christin Miller, who was interviewing Miller, continued to probe about how Bode was feeling about his brother after the race until he eventually broke down and had to walk away from the interview. The full transcript of the race can be found here. Bode eventually came to the defense of Miller on Twitter, but it still rubbed me the wrong way. Other than these two issues, the TV coverage was superb.

Overall: B-

My overall feeling towards these Games is a solid “Meh.” I wanted to be able to engage with it constantly, for it to captivate me for over 2 weeks and leave me wanting more. In the end, it wasn’t quite the experience I was looking for. To a large degree, this was not Sochi’s fault. Our athletes did not perform to their abilities. Not to take away from the other athletes, but USA should always win the medal count for the Winter Olympics. We have too many athletes competing in these events and too many resources dedicated to them to fall short. Sochi was a flawed, but admirable host. They kept the Games going without too many hitches. They gave the world a glimpse into their history, culture, and lives for a few weeks. The 2016 Olympics will be taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Hopefully they, and American athletes, can deliver an unforgettable performance that will leave us all wanting more.

What I Would Do If I Won The EsuranceSave30 Contest ($1.5 Million)

People play this game all the time, “What would you do if you won a million dollars?” Tomorrow night, someone will actually get to answer that question. It got me thinking, what would I do if I won the $1.5 million from Esurance’s giveaway? Without giving it too much thought, here’s what I would do with it.

Taxes

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a substantial portion of the $1.5 million will have to be allocated to paying taxes. You think that the taxes you owe each year are tough, but things ramp up quickly when you come into significant money in a hurry. Winning this prize would instantly boost you to the top tax bracket, which is about $128,000 and almost 40% of anything over $457,600. By my rough calculations, you will owe approximately $550,000 in taxes on the winnings, leaving you with just under a million dollars after taxes. Ouch.

Donations

Everyone always acts like they would give away a large portion of their winnings, but I honestly think that most people would do so. If the number is about million, then at a minimum, giving away 10% to tithe is reasonable. Because of the circumstances (coming into money I wasn’t expecting), I would like too give away an extra 10% for a total of $200,000. The primary beneficiaries would be my church (Ethos) and organizations that I care about in Mexico (City of Children) and Honduras (Jovenes en Camino). Note: I’m not tooting my own horn here! I feel like plenty of people would give away just as much if not more! It continues to blow me away that people are always so generous with their possessions. It inspires me to try and give more.

Loans

I put the donations section before this one because I wanted to seem like a good person, but the first thing I would do once the money was transferred into my account is to pay all of existing debt. Student Loans, House payment, and everything else with a red number associated to my name. My goal going forward would be to try and pay everything possible with cash to avoid taking on more debt. There is something freeing about not owing anyone anything.

Guitar

Shortly after paying off all of my loans, I would head to the nearest guitar stores to purchase my dream guitar, the Gibson Les Paul. I don’t know exactly what model and color it would be, but I would chose the one that my soul connected with. I’d have to have a beautiful amp to go with it of course. That would probably be it for my luxury item spending. It seems like a million dollars will go a long way, but irrational spending will drain it pretty quickly.

Celebration Trip

This one would be primarily up to my wife to plan, but I’m pretty sure we would take a few weeks off to vacation somewhere. This would likely entail a trip to Europe or some exotic beach. Things that would normally be out of the question financially speaking like first class airfare or suite rooms would be in play.  We couldn’t be gone too long or we would probably be fired from our jobs. While people would instantly think about quitting their jobs, $1 million isn’t quite retirement money… Needless to say, this would be an epic trip(s).

Savings

The rest of the money, probably about $500,000, would go into various savings or interest bearing accounts. I would probably want to setup some education funding accounts for my future kids (Lord willing) and set aside some others for retirement. I realize this is boring, but I am about as practical as they come, so it wouldn’t make sense to blow it all.

How It Would Impact My Life

The great thing about this amount of money is that it won’t completely change your life like winning the lottery would. Lottery winners often complain about being much more unhappy after winning it, and a high percentage of them end up going bankrupt. One million dollars, while enough to greatly impact your life, likely wouldn’t change it entirely. It would be incredible to have to money to be able to bless others. It would be a relief to not worry about bill payments or pending debt. But these are all ancillary things in life. By tomorrow night, someone will be a new millionaire. Hopefully their life will be positively impacted by it, and they can bless others with it.

Sleep well tonight everyone. Who knows, tomorrow night, you might be a millionaire.

Best & Worst Commercials from Super Bowl XLVIII (2014)

The Super Bowl this year was a bust. It was touted as being one of the greatest matchups ever (rightfully so), but didn’t deliver because only one team showed up to play. We all know that the game was miserable, but did the commercials save the day? My answer is a resounding “meh”. There were a few good ones, but most felt forced and unnatural. Here are my thoughts on the commercials…

Big Winner – Esurance

The biggest winner of the night didn’t even have an ad during the Super Bowl, but instead decided to air it right after the game, saving them $1.5 million dollars. In a stroke of genius, they decided to offer up these saving to one lucky winner through Twitter. Naturally, this hashtag has exploded, creating millions in “free” marketing for Esurance. Others will likely try to mimic this tactic in the future, but Esurance will be remembered as the first.

Most Overrated – Jaguar Villains

I don’t have any specific quips about this one, it just  didn’t quite do it for me. Others praised it as being the best commercial of the night. Oh well, maybe I’m not cool enough to get the appeal.

Most Disappointing – Bud Light Randomness

Bud Light had been hyping their Super Bowl commercials for weeks, which puts immense pressure on them to deliver big. They weren’t terrible, but definitely didn’t live up to the hype.

Most Controversial – Coke’s America is Beautiful

People either loved or hated Coke’s ad featuring “America the Beautiful” sung in multiple languages. My twitter timeline was filled with mixed responses ranging from “best commercial ever” to “I think I’ll buy Pepsi from now on.”

“What Could Have Been” Commercials

This category contains commercials that weren’t bad, but could have been so much more with a few tweaks.

Heinz

This one wasn’t absolutely terrible, but I feel as though they missed a big opportunity. Had they played off of the “hitting the 57” trick to get it to come out, it might have been more memorable and less meh.

Doritos Time Machine

I’m not sure exactly what this one was missing, but it was barely off. Just a few tweaks away from being really funny.

Audi Doberhauhau

Like most the commercials in this category, the idea was genius but wasn’t quite carried out to perfection. The Sarah McLachlan bit was fantastic. This one barely missed my top five.

TurboTax Love Hurts

This one isn’t really TurboTax’s fault per se, but it just felt really disjointed from the company’ product. The first 45 seconds were brilliant, but then the product pitch come along and they lost me. So close.

Bud Light Ridiculousness

The idea here was brilliant but the execution wasn’t quite as sound. They probably could have gone just a little bit more ridiculous, but I’m not really an expert. Overall an amusing but not epic series of commercials.

Worst Commercials

5) Kia Matrix

This one had me intrigued in the beginning, using the classic blue pill vs. red pill motif. It quickly went from intriguing to bizarre when he started opera singing, causing everything to explode… Missed opportunity here.

4) Bud Light Twist

Was this really the time to market a beer bottle with a resealable cap? How many people drink half a beer and think “Yea, this will be really good tomorrow!” and put it back in the fridge?

3) SodaStream

Wasn’t too bad until they tried to make it sleazy, although it wasn’t even that trashy. I’m never for ridiculous trashiness, but it would have at least made it memorable. Fail on every account.

2) Axe Make Love, Not War

I’m not going to waste valuable words talking about this commercial. It was dumb.

1) U2 & BoA Red

No one would have been upset if U2 had just been using this platform to launch their new song. Unfortunately, it had the “RED” name attached to it, and felt like a ploy more than a genuine effort to raise money for a good cause. What if they had just donated the $4 million instead of paying for the ad spot? Maybe I am being too harsh, but it rubbed me the wrong way.

Best Commercials

Honorable Mentions: Audi Doberhauhau and TurboTax Love Hurts

5) Cheerios Gracie

It might not have been laugh out loud funny or make you emotional to tears, but it was well done and sweet.

4) CarMax Slow Clap(s)

The first one (with people) was clever. They took a pretty big risk using the slow-clap because it is pretty played out. The commercial went from good to great when I saw the puppy version of it, which recreated everything from the first. Surprisingly excellent offerings from CarMax.

3) Radioshack 80’s Call

This one was so great because it was self-deprecating in a clever way. RadioShack took the negative stereotype about them and used it with the vintage joke about the 80’s calling. The music was perfect too. Radioshack’s shares were way up this morning, so clearly this one was effective in getting the message out.

2) Microsoft Technology

This one came out of nowhere and hit me like a ton of bricks. It definitely had me teary-eyed by the end. Heck, the video of the deaf woman hearing for the first time makes me cry every time. Microsoft isn’t normally too adept with marketing, but kudos for this one.

1) Budweiser A Hero’s Welcome & Puppies

We’ve come to expect greatness from Budweiser’s commercials, and they didn’t disappoint this year. I didn’t want to chose between the two, so we’ll give both of them the first place ribbon. Although some will say that it was cheesy and overblown, the raw emotion in the hero’s arrival home was chilling and beautiful. “I’m Coming Home” has become the de facto song for military arrivals, but it worked flawlessly here. What could make the already great horse commercials even better? A puppy. Cute all around. Budweiser wins yet again.