The Sochi Games have hardly begun, and they're already proving Hall of Fame basketball Coach John Wooden's axiom: "Sports don't build character. They reveal it."
The emergence of San Jose's 15-year-old Polina Edmunds as one of ice skating's fearless new faces of the Games is especially heart-warming. It may be too much to ask for Edmunds to break into the ranks of the world's top skaters in her first Olympics, but it will make for must-watch television.
Bay Area sports fans also have a special interest in the hockey competition this year, with four members of the San Jose Sharks taking the ice. Should Sharks' star Joe Pavelski's U.S. squad falter, we can always cheer for Sharks on Canada's and Finland's teams, promoting the sort of good will the Olympic spirit cherishes.
That spirit may yet triumph at Sochi, but it's going to be a struggle. Speaking of Wooden's quote about revealing character.
Russian President's Vladimir Putin's production of the Olympics is the most corrupt in history, and that's saying something, given the financial boondoggles of the past. The Sochi Games will cost a staggering $51 billion -- seven times the cost of the 2010 Vancouver Games and more than the combined cost of every Winter Olympics in history.
Russian businesses have no peers when it comes to grabbing Olympic gold, having snagged an estimated $20 billion through overcharges and outright embezzlement.
The International Olympic Committee has a nasty habit of letting the leaders of some of the world's most repressive regimes use the Olympics to portray their nations in the best light possible. It rationalizes this by marketing the games as an agent of change in the world.
Well, let's see. Has anyone seen lasting political effects in China as a legacy of the Beijing Games? How about Leonid Brezhnev's Moscow games in 1980? Or Adolf Hitler's Berlin in 1936?
We'll rest our case.
The IOC demands that host countries adhere to the Olympic ideals of nonviolence, openness to the world and individual expression. Maybe Putin didn't think that included the gay community. More likely, he knew his Olympic history and figured the IOC would be gutless in enforcing that promise. Which it is.
But the corruption should not stretch to the games themselves, or tarnish the sparkle of the finest athletes in the world. The contrast between their honest dedication and their host's craven ambition may turn out to be poetic justice.
And who knows. Perhaps the world will see a 21st century version of the brave protest Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Mexico City Games, a milestone in the civil rights movement.
The beauty of the Olympics is the world never knows what to expect from it. Let the Games begin.