Olympics about athletes, not nations

The 2014 Winter Olympics are well under way and are establishing their character, as all games do, based in part on the host nation and the atmosphere surrounding the games, the athletes and the performances.

The games are not about President Barack Obama and President Vladimir Putin of Russia. They are not about gay civil rights in America. Americans would no more want the Russians to use the Olympics to issue calls about American politics or society than the Russians do. Yet, it seems to happen every time the two 20th century powers meet.

It was bad enough in the 1980s with the U.S. boycotting the games in Moscow in 1980 and the then-Soviet Union boycotting the Los Angeles games in 1984.

We’re glad a boycott didn’t happen this time. It is possible now that the games have begun to focus on the athletes instead of which athlete was chosen to light the torch, or comments made by athletes from the old days.

The Games are about skating better, sledding best, skiing faster, watching young men and women, and a few middle-aged athletes, enjoy their moment in the sun that they’ve worked so hard to reach.

It’s a different world when one focuses on the athletes instead of the stoic image of Putin. When the Russian skaters topped the team event, the boisterous cheer they let loose was every bit the same as what an American team would do in victory.

Their lead male ice skater, the veteran Evgeni Plushenko, even went so far as to say he was skating for himself and his comeback from surgery for one more Olympics as much as he is skating for mother Russia.

It’s about the smiles of athletes such as Sage Kostenberg, the U.S. snowboarder who won the first gold medal in the first running of slopestyle snowboarding in the Olympic games, as well as seeing event favorite Marc McMorris of Canada there to deliver the victor a bear-hug at the end. McMorris was competing two weeks after breaking a rib in another competition.

It’s about watching 40-year-old lugers from Italy and Russia be beaten in the final run by a young German winning gold for his second winter games in a row.

And it’s about seeing what one could think would be the most staid group in the world, a Russian police choir, singing “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk, something that could never have been imagined in the old Soviet era.

Yes, nations do use the games as propaganda. But a focus on the people, and the spirit of the athletes and the way people can relate as human beings is the refreshing and important part of the Olympic games.

Here’s hoping that is what the character of Sochi 2014 is long remembered for.