Sunday, 16 February 2014
Jon Bear Journal: The Sochi Winter Olympics
The Olympics have always been something that I've enjoyed watching, first every four years when I was growing up and now every two years with the Winter and Summer Olympics alternating on the world stage. What I love most in 2014 about the Olympics is how to me it's a made-for-today/modern event. I say that because of the manner in which social media has linked us and made our world in so many ways smaller and made us as people from separate nations closer to one another.
Growing up in New York in the early 1980s as a child the Olympics were mostly about one thing and one thing only. The "Cold War" between the Soviet Union and the United States. Keeping track of medals wasn't nearly as important as beating the Soviet Union. I was a little too young to remember the 1980 U.S. hockey team's Gold medal in Lake Placid, New York, but just old enough to feel the spirit and national pride that sprouted out of that victory propelling the U.S. into the 1984 Olympics (my first Olympics as far as really watching events was concerned).
Ever since the '84 Olympics the event has held appeal to me for a variety of reasons. I've been introduced to so many other sports by watching the Olympics and find an appreciation for the athletes in virtually every event. As a wrestler, growing up in a wrestling family I knew what it was like to partake in a sport that does not get the money or the limelight or fan fare of sports like football, American football, baseball, basketball or hockey. The Olympics allows the athletes who compete in those sports whose continuity depends largely on the support of family members and small communities of athletes the opportunity to shine on a Global stage. To me that's kind of special.
It has also been an opportunity to see that as separated as we might be by distance that we're not really all the different. When I was younger most of the Olympic events were televised in replay and there were few if any media outlets (and no social media) to let us know who had won and who had lost. There were no "spoilers" when you watched an event. Even if it had taken place the day before it was taking place LIVE and in real time to me. There's something I miss about that with today's Olympics. Perhaps we're always nostalgic for the era of our youth? The other thing the networks did when I was a kid was show a lot less coverage and a lot more behind the scenes kinds of looks at Olympic athletes, both from the United States and from other countries. What those little segments helped do for me was move me past the whole, "it's us versus them" mentality by humanising athletes from other countries, making them more identifiable and easier to relate to. I'd imagine natural maturation factored into how my view of what the Olympics were about developed and grew as well. Having said that, I do enjoy the greater coverage and the greater live coverage of events available to us in 2014 relative to 1984.
It is so much more enjoyable to watch the Olympics as a uniting event that's used to show, "we're not all that different from one another" and not as a divisive event used to announce "we're the best and bow before our superiority ". Obviously there is a competitive aspect to the events that will always exist that will make me cheer for the United States. The desire to achieve and be the best is also important in athletics so that element is not gone. The thing that has changed as I've grown older is that now I can be just as taken or impressed by the performance of an athlete from Brazil, or Norway, or England or Australia or China or Nigeria or Russia as I could only be by that of a U.S. athlete when I was little. While it might take away some aspect of the intensity as I watch I think it ultimately adds to my enjoyment of the events.
I took a long time to get to Sochi here, but the build up had a purpose. On the whole the U.S. media has been very good about this Olympics and when ever any country has the opportunity to host the games it becomes a kind of "show case" for them, and understandably so. Sometimes the "we're the best" mentality that is part of what makes America great but also part of what alienates us from parts of the world as well, comes through in the opinions of certain U.S. media personalities. A good portion of today's media personalities in the United States grew up during the heart of the Cold War or the end of the Cold War era as I did. As such, with the Olympics being held in Russia and Vladimir Putin trying to bring more notoriety to Russia, some objectivity gets lost at times. I think it's great to have national pride and I do miss some of the competitive burn behind the former U.S./Soviet Olympic match-ups but there is a part of me that wishes we could just leave the chest thumping to the athletes in the sporting world, on the fields of play, and not make it part of a political discussion in the media.
One thing the U.S. media has come down hard upon Russia for and Putin for is their perceived stance on the LGBT community ( I say perceived because I don't want to get into the nuances of some of the discourse to which I'm largely an outsider looking in upon). I'm not naive enough to believe that politics will never creep into these things, and any world event is an opportunity to bring light (understanding) where there is darkness (close-mindedness and fear). That does not bother me. I think that it's not only fair but also our right to try and help all people to open their eyes to the world we're living in and the world their neighbours, friends and family are living in. So hopefully as we do that we are keeping in mind our own issues and needs to encourage acceptance of the LGBT community here in the United States. That's something that I am proud of when it comes to my country... our willingness to speak and have our voice heard. Especially knowing that when we speak, people listen.
With that said.... do I really need to be told each and every night about the stray dogs that are running around Sochi or the housing conditions of the athletes relative to the opulence they might enjoy visiting the United States? I mean... come on. Those stories have almost been beaten to death and they've been an omnipresent part of the Sochi Olympics used in part by the media to validate that we're the best place to live in the world. Now let me say... I do love living in the United States and would not chose to make my home anywhere else, but I don't need to shit all over Russia to prove it. I'm sure that many Russians are perfectly happy living in Russia and have a great sense of national pride that they're just as entitled to as we are to our pride in the U.S.. I am relatively certain that many athletes from around the world are enjoying luxuries and having fun in Sochi. Isn't that what's most important? That these young men and women from other parts of the world (most of whom will not win any medals) get to enjoy the culture and history and diversity of people they will meet? I'm highly skeptical that the majority of athletes have even seen a stray dog (and highly skeptical that the reason they haven't seen one is because Putin ordered that they all be euthanized). Let's let our pride be pride and not arrogance. I said that when the U.S. speaks people listen, but that means they listen to both the smart and stupid things we say. Some of the stupid stuff we focus on about minutia detracts from the important things that are being said.
I am still annoyed with myself for having missed the opening ceremonies at Sochi, but on the whole, what I've seen is an Olympics that has been run quite well. There will always be issues as there has been with the warm weather and as there was with the warm weather during the Olympics in Vancouver as well. Those are not in the control of the host countries and have been managed well by the Russian event organisers from the events I've watched. I've had the good fortune to watch ice skating, ski-athelon, a few of the snowboard events, hockey and curling thus far. I hope to get to see a lot more and would really like to see some more of the ski events that I have missed thus far. I hope everyone is enjoying these Olympics! Currently I'm watching a medal ceremony where the Russian crowd is singing their national anthem in honor of one of their gold medallists. I AM proud that my country shows many of the medal ceremonies and it's particularly special to see the honor and pride of the home country as they honor one of their athletes. I hope for the well being of all fans and athletes for the remainder of these Winter Olympics... and....
As always... Go U.S.A.!