Sochi 2014: Goodbye Sochi

About a week ago I was rummaging through my collection of baseball caps that both excites and horrifies me with the size that it has become. When I was about five years old I attended Sesame Street Live, and had my life changed by Ernie’s heartwarming rendition of “Rubber Ducky”. So much so that my parents bought me a six panel, yellow and white cap that barely fit my then blondish scraggly mop. I’ve treasured that hat for what it meant – wonderful moments with my family – but it also began a life-cycle of hat collecting that hasn’t slowed much in recent years.

Through the hundreds upon hundreds of hats in my collection, this particular week I dug bravely into the dark brown trunk that contains fabric memories of my younger days. At the very bottom of the pile, through the Chuck-E-Cheese, Goofy, and used tire themed caps emerged a solid red, corduroy number with a long leather strap, and not much wear and tear. Stitched together with red thick thread that made the cap tighter than it actually should have been, it was an 80’s beauty. In a sea of red were three words, written in helvitca font, and in heavy black thread. It simply read USA BOBSLED TEAM.

The hat, given to me by my uncle, came from the Lake Placid, New York Winter Olympics in the year of my birth (1980 for those curious). My uncle, whom was a native of the Lake Placid area, had several stowed away in his closet from the year of the Olympics as well as years upon years of visits to the US bobsled training facility. Nowadays, the Olympic Complex in Lake Placid gives tourists a halfway experience on the boblsed run with a brakeman and a driver. I’ve never done it, but it sounds fabulous.

From that hat to Sochi, Russia in 2014 I’ve experienced a solid 33 years worth of Olympics. My earliest memory of the Olympics is about as vivid in my mind as the day it took place. 1988, Calgary Winter Olympic games, that wonderful Jamaican bobsled team. Long before Disney spun the moment into a cartoon like existence on the big screen, the genuine site of a warm weather team playing in snowy Calgary was mystifying. My love of bobsled, the winter Olympics, and the games in general suddenly had a stranglehold on my senses. I’ve loved it ever since.

Then there was the summer games in South Korea followed by the two-headed-sensation of the Albertville/Lilehammer events with the Harding and Kerrigan saga. Sandwiched in between were the Barcelona, Spain games and “Magic”, “Michael”, and “Larry” were the headliners. The dazzling NBA infused US Team was Harlem Globetrotter-like in every possible way. David Robinson blocking shots like a monster, Magic dishing to Michael, it was like a dream come true. Hence, the “Dream Team” was born.

All points in between then have been magical. As an American I’m instructed, almost spoon-fed, the Olympics in a way that is very much focused on the success of the Stars and Bars. From the intentional sob story coverage to the let’s-watch-this-country-host-the-games-through-our-Westernized-completest eyes. It’s the US all the way, whether you like it or not.

Over the years I’ve digested enough of these international spectacles to know the difference between great story and great US story. A guy who is severely injured in a bus accident, resurrects his life both physically and emotionally, only to come in last place in the long jump – he’s a hero regardless of his nation of origin. The older I get, the less fluffy I want NBC/ABC to be, and the more I want true access to the athletes themselves. In the last two years, two Olympic games, I’ve done just that.

The emergence of technology, and the “always on” mentality of sports has revolutionized the way I am entertained. The London games two years ago allowed me to see events I’d never seen before. Or perhaps I saw them, just not in their entirety. For a guy that has long loved the Olympics, and mostly viewed them through the US-colored glasses I had to wear while watching a TV, I’ve found new life and new promise in international competitions. This is a great thing.

After two weeks of Winter Olympics in Sochi, I’m exhausted. In the states you could watch from 11:00pm on Tuesday night until 11:00am on Wednesday morning. Break for about 6-8 hours, then dive in to the primetime coverage at 7:00pm, only to start the cycle again in four hours. It is a pace that I (for obvious real life reasons like work, family, etc) couldn’t keep up with, but did my best to indulge in every square inch of viewing that I could. In the end, it was worth it. French, Canadian, Ukrainian, Russian, German, Swiss, and on and on – my love of the world, as seen through seemingly endless hours of sports has continued my passionate pursuit of the Olympics.

The Russian games in 2014 were met with much accusation in terms of what they meant. In the end, we all learned quite a bit about celebrating the differences that make us so vastly interesting. Through the distraction of sports, we might have forgotten about the struggles for equality in various corners of the world. In some instances, we forgot about it entirely. The Olympic games always have an impact, and sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad. For all the reasons one could have hated the Sochi Olympics, I think we found reasons to love them even more. Perhaps many of us even had our eyes opened to the harsh realities that the world presents. In short, we forget what life in the other 90% of the world is like. It’s very different.

So I bid adieu to the Winter games of Sochi, I fondly look forward to Rio in 2016 as well as Pyeongchang in 2018. I don’t want to sound grandiose about how sports unites the world, but sometimes it does. As we celebrate diversity in life, country, and personage, let that not only be for the two weeks of Olympic competition every two years. Let it be a lifestyle.

Goodbye Sochi.