Rings of the World, the three-hour official film of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, is an excellent example of what an official film can do, combining competition footage, interviews with athletes, beautiful cinematography and thoughtful editing. The director, Sergei Miroshnichenko, produced a 55-minute documentary, Unknown Putin, about Vladimir Putin in 2000, shortly after Putin assumed power. So, it is not surprising that Putin is shown three times in Rings of the World in the first minute and a half and several more times thereafter.
The film opens with joyous scenes of the Torch Relay intercut with arresting shots of the Opening Ceremony and the credits, which are accompanied by a naked woman, Irina Shayk, who also carries the placard for the Russian team at the Opening Ceremony.
The first event to be highlighted is the inaugural women’s ski jump, seen from the perspective of the eventual gold and bronze medal winners, Carina Vogt of Germany and Coline Mattel of France. As more events are shown and more athletes are interviewed, Miroshnichenko frequently refers back to previously highlighted athletes to comment on such themes as rituals, fear, losing, dealing with fans (good and bad), winning, not cheating, making mistakes, the meaning of the Olympic rings, God and love.
Although the film concentrates on the athletes, it also gives an instructive view of many of the other people who make the Olympic Games possible. There are many dancers and musicians, and we frequently see the media, particularly cameramen, at work. Workers are preparing the courses of ice and snow. People are cleaning official national flags in preparation for medal ceremonies, and medal bearers are seen putting on makeup and rehearsing. There are also many shots, and even interviews, with coaches.
Miroshnichenko does a much better job of pulling out interesting quotes from athletes than other makers of official films.
He devotes three separate sections to biathlon. Martin Fourcade of France says of Norwegian rival Emil Hegle Svendsen, “I hate him and love him at the same time.” Later, another Norwegian biathlete, Ole Einar Bjørndalen, says, “I need to learn how to defeat myself in any situation. And that’s much harder than beating Martin Fourcade.” Dutch speed skater Jorrit Bergsma also speaks of the need “to race against yourself; to compete against your mind.” On a similar subject, 15-year-old Russian figure skater Yulia Lipnitskaya explains, “When you start, you shouldn’t think. The body remembers. It will do the work by itself. So, when pesky thoughts get in the way…you have to be really smart to not let them get in the way.”
When Swiss snowboarder Iouri Podladtchikov wins the halfpipe after two-time defending Olympic champion Shaun White of the United States falls, he embraces his father and tells him, “Dad, I got him.” Nearby, U.S. radio reporter Ted Emrich asks White, who placed fourth, what he will do next. White replies that he will return to his family, “be a little depressed for a while and then snap out of it.” Podladtchikov says that he aims to make his halfpipe performances “like the Mona Lisa of Paris.”
Also prone to similes, U.S. figure skater Patrick Chen, explaining his costuming, says, “I try to shy away from shiny crystals,” and instead “dress like a Ferrari.”
There are many telling images. The Canadian women’s moguls team includes three sisters, Justine, Chloé and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe. Justine and Chloé earn the gold and silver medals. Maxime places twelfth and cannot hide her disappointment as she watches her sisters accept their medals.
Russian-born ice dancing coach Marina Zoueva coaches both the Canadian pair of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and the U.S. pair of Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Jr. After sitting with the Canadians as their scores are posted, Virtue and Moir urge her to move over to the coaching spot to help Davis and White, where she removes her Canadian team jacket and replaces it with a U.S. one.
Czech biathlete Gabriela Soukalová acknowledges that her sport is generally considered an obscure one. However, after a scene in which men line up to have their photo taken with her, Soukalová notes, “Some men told me that they like to watch the women’s biathlon because they consider women with guns very sexy.” She also relates one of the more memorable anecdotes of an athlete’s pre-Olympic career. Competing in Slovakia, the wind was so strong that, at the shooting range, it blew away a piece of her equipment. Knowing that her father was in the crowd, she turned to him for advice…but she forgot to lower her rifle. The spectators all ducked, and Soukalová was disqualified.
There is one unfortunate inclusion of one of the Russian “heroes.” Short track star Viktor An had previously competed for South Korea. Between Olympics, he became a Russian citizen and won three gold medals and one bronze medal. However, four years later, the IOC banned An from the PyeongChang Olympics because he failed to prove that he was “clean.” In Rings of the World, An says that after changing his citizenship, Russia “charged me with positive energy.” Apparently, his new nation charged him with something else as well.