Final Thoughts on the 2014 Winter Olympics
Make no mistake, Vladimir Putin wanted everyone to ignore all the problems with his regime and all the atrocities they've committed. The jailing of journalists and political dissidents, the heinous anti-gay laws, even the stray dogs that were murdered. Putin wanted those things swept under the rug, and for the most part they were. The IOC certainly was going to tow the line. NBC promised to touch on these issues, but touched isn't even the right description for how little they covered it. The rest of the mainstream press mostly talked about their hotel rooms. Everyone pretty much compiled with Putin whether they realize it or not. That includes us, as we watched the Games with the horrors out of sight, out of mind. Before you think I'm sermoning from up high, that most definitely includes me, as I binged on the Olympics both on television and online likes I always do. The pull of the Games got me, because in the end that mindset of keeping sports separate won out. It usually does.
The Games are over now, and make no mistake, with the eyes of the world gone, Russia will return to what it was, what it never really stopped being. Journalists will still be jailed, gays will still face discrimination, and the Russian people will face totalitarianism. The group Pussy Riot was beaten and jailed during the Olympics. Ukraine's government, backed by Putin, was just ousted and Kiev has suffered riots and fires. This kind of geopolitical turmoil does not go away because athletes are skiing and skating and sliding, and they certainly don't go away once it's time to go home.
As an athletic competition, there was little wrong the 2014 Winter Olympics. The venues were complete and everything ran smoothly, and by all accounts the Russian people were friendly and gracious hosts. We had the shock win of Sage Kostenberg, the US sweep of ski halfpipe, historic medals in luge and bobsled. We had Noelle Pikus Pace's euphoria, Mikaela Shiffrin's breakout, and Bode Miller's Bode Miller. We also had the failures of Shaun White and the US speed skating team. We had the Dutch turned the speed skating rink orange, Russian teenagers delight the home fans in figure skating, and curling, always always curling. On television, we had the professionalism of Leigh Diffey, the excitement of Chad Salmela, and the no *bleeps* given of Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski.
As we leave Sochi and look ahead to Rio 2016 and Pyongcheng 2018, we should probably realize that this kind of political "intrusion," while not as significant as Sochi, will likely continue during future Games. The world is too big and too complicated and no country is perfect. Brazil is dealing with displaced people and riots about spending public money on sports, both in regards to the Olympics and the upcoming World Cup. The general hope is that politics and sports can be separate, but reality is much more messier than that. Thus, the decision we had in Sochi will arise again and again. Given how we'd like life to be, the decision in many ways has already been made. That's not necessarily a good or bad thing, but it is the reality of our Games, big and little, in today's age.