Russia warms up for Sochi Olympics on the track

Bus drivers ferrying the athletes and fans got lost. Spectators

trudged their way to the stadium on a crude path through the trees.

Controversy over Russia’s anti-gay law flared.

The nine-day athletics world championships, which end Sunday,

have had more than a few rough spots.

As the biggest international sports event that post-Soviet

Russia has hosted, the gathering of nearly 2,000 track and field

athletes has been watched as an informal indicator of how well

Russia will do in six months as host of the Winter Olympics in the

resort area of Sochi.

Comparing one event to the other may be like assessing whether a

shot-putter can do a triple axel, but clearly there are lessons to

be learned.

Athletes spoke highly of the competition organization and

facilities. It’s off the track that troubles appeared.

The most vivid problem also may be the most intractable.

Russia’s recent passage of a law banning dissemination of pro-gay

”propaganda” to minors has sparked widespread criticism in the

West, including calls to boycott the Sochi Olympics. While athletes

at the worlds mostly tried to keep the issue at arm’s length –

saying they were too focused on competing or that politics and

sport don’t mix – a small, quiet gesture brought the matter center

stage.

Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro posted a photo of her

fingernails painted in the colors of the rainbow emblem of the gay

pride movement on the Internet, saying she did it to support

tolerance. It was the first overt sign among the athletes in Moscow

of objection to the Russian law.

Hours later, Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva said the

Swede’s move was disrespectful to Russia, adding that she supported

the law and that Russians are ”normal, standard people.” American

runner Nick Symmonds then piled on – despite an earlier vow to hold

his tongue while in Moscow – denouncing Russia for its

”atrocities.”

Isinbayeva tried to backpedal on Friday, saying her remarks were

misunderstood because she had been speaking in English rather than

Russian. But it left the sense that the woman who is an

international star for her exuberant performances had tainted the

gold she won Tuesday. While the issue has receded for the time

being, its volatility is clear and likely to persist.

Hoping Russia will repeal the law is more than a long shot.

Parliament passed it by a vote of 436-0, and a respected polling

agency found 76 percent of the population supports it. Some Russian

officials have suggested the law would not be enforced during the

Olympics, but the legality of that is questionable. In any case, it

would either be a tacit admission that the law is wrong or an

uncharacteristic show of submissiveness to Western pressure.

Other problems should be easier, in theory, to address – such as

making sure bus drivers have maps.

”The driver didn’t know where he was going and took us for a

trip around Moscow,” New Zealand runner Zane Robertson said about

his three-hour trip from the airport to the hotel, a distance of

about 35 kilometers (20 miles). ”We were frustrated. We were

almost pounding the seats. It took longer than it did to fly here

from Switzerland.”

Shuttles between some official competition hotels and Luzhniki

Stadium often took up to 90 minutes due to wandering drivers.

Moscow’s famously efficient subway system was a faster

alternative, but foreign users complained that confusion sets in

once off the trains because of a lack of directions.

”There’s not much signage,” said spectator Roger Cross of

Southampton, England, adding that walking from the nearest subway

station required a detour on a path where ”there are tree roots

and things.”

Transport will also be a key issue for the Sochi Games. The

light-rail link between the two venue clusters hasn’t yet opened

for visitors, so their ease of use isn’t clear.

Security will be a top concern in Sochi, too. The worlds showed

Russian police working efficiently, though sometimes

heavy-handedly.

Mark Takada of Calgary, Canada, said he was taken aback one

night when the competition was over and police swept through the

”fan zone” adjacent to the stadium where spectators were

listening to music.

”People were dancing, it was fun. Then the police came,”

Takada said. ”They shut it right down.”

Kevin Barnett of Newport Beach, California, was inclined to be

forgiving of low-level irritations.

”Look, it’s the former Soviet Union,” Barnett said. ”You

can’t complain too much.”