Just before the 2014 Winter Olympics were set to begin, a photo snapped in a men's room set off a mystery and a bit of panic. There was a problem in the Russian host city, and even today some might say it was an urgent matter.
Toilets. Sochi had a problem with toilets. Not too few, but too many, “at least too many in one stall,” reported Kathy Lally, The Washington Post’s Moscow bureau chief at the time.
"As if the Russians didn't have enough problems ... fending off talk of terrorism, defending themselves against accusations of homophobia, denying any corruption was involved in the $51 billion construction project."
And add to all that, they had to face ridicule from domestic and international audiences about the loo-loos. The buddy bathroom system. The toilet twins.
Rio has taken a lot of heat for all that’s gone wrong in the lead-up to the Summer Olympics -- and plenty has gone wrong. But Rio, take heart! Something always goes wrong before opening night, no matter the city or season.
Here are a few Olympic memories from the archives of Post staff covering the Games of the recent past.
Sochi 2014: More bathroom humor
First, another double toilet sighting.
But also, mirrors that were too low, as reporter Will Englund and others soon discovered. Not a problem.
And signs instructions that made us giggle:
Sochi also had problem with too many dogs – journalists reporting seeing “thousands” of strays. (This was reportedly also an issue before the 2004 Games in Athens, but we're not going back that far.)
Reports that many of the dogs were being put to death drew the attention of activists, who hustled to the city for secret rescue missions. However, dog advocates told Englund that the culling of strays in Sochi "was happening long before the Olympics began to take shape. But they’ve been happy to exploit the publicity that comes with the Games.”
London 2012: Look kids, there's Big Ben and Parliament!
What could wrong? "Quite a lot," Anthony Faiola reported from London in 2012. Among our favorites: At least two buses carrying athletes to the Olympic Village got lost on the way for several hours. But of course it eventually worked out.
And a more serious matter: The private contractor hired to supply guards conceded it was a few guards short – by 3,500 or so.
“It’s a humiliating shambles for the country, isn’t it?” the firm’s chief executive was asked by angry British lawmakers. To which he replied: “I cannot disagree with you.”
Vancouver 2010: Operation haul it
It was the warmest January in 74 years, with "a historic lack of snow accumulation," Amy Shipley wrote from British Columbia just before the Games began. Athletes and fans were alarmed by the unseasonably mild winter weather as organizers rushed to to arrange a tremendous effort to haul snow into the area.
"Before the massive snow-hauling began last week, the freestyle skiing course that will feature gold medal competition in moguls on Saturday sported little more than grass and mud, giving a double meaning to Vancouver's environmentally conscious effort to put on the greenest Games in history."
"So I didn't need to bring the foot warmers, hand warmers, leg warmers, head warmers, heavy-duty winter coat with liner, snow boots, wool socks, scarf, double-lined gloves, Bunsen burners and firewood. I should have just packed an umbrella. Rats," Tracee Hamilton wrote on arrival.
Beijing 2008: The views
Time was running out, and the athletes were still deeply concerned about the city's pollution problem. "American runners are trying out face masks. Dutch cyclists will train in South Korea. Fearful of the effects of air pollution on their performance," Ariana Eunjung Cha wrote from the scene.
China was also faced criticism about human rights, including concerns about the jailing of dissidents.
The Olympics will return to China in just a few years. "Despite concerns about the geography and climate — not to mention the toxic air — Beijing sold itself as the safe bet, an expert in infrastructure with a population big enough to fuel a boom in the niche business of winter sports," Emily Rauhala and Michael Birnbaum explained.
What to expect at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Bejing? Possibly perfect: “No mountains? No problem.”