My social media streams are lit up like fireworks. With protests and fury over the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia this year. Many of my friends are disturbed by the culling of stray dogs in the town of Sochi and rightly so. For months, Russia’s horrific stand against basic human rights for its LGBTQ people has played out in the news. And while I don’t think we’ll see much “action” during the games, I fear for what will happen after the world turns its attention away in a few weeks.
Then there are the deplorable conditions (both for those who live in Sochi and those who are visiting) of the games. Buildings unfinished. Plumbing, what plumbing? The “don’t drink the water” memos. Sochi is a hot mess. And the games haven’t officially opened yet. Well, they have, but NBC doesn’t want you to know that until 7:30 tonight. But that’s a different post.
Yes, in its totality, the Sochi Winter Games are a debacle of historic proportions. My twitter feed is likening the games to Berlin and dropping the H word when talking about Putin. The pictures are demoralizing. And I get why many of my friends and social acquaintances are boycotting the games. Either from sheer disappointment or in political protest, it’s just not something they want to invest their time in. I can’t blame them, I really can’t. I get it.
Growing up, I didn’t have a television. So, when the games would roll around I didn’t get to see much of them. Long before the internet made news instantaneous, I had to rely on my friends to sum up the events of the previous night. Sometimes, we would be invited to come view the opening ceremony at a friend’s house. And the thing that always stood out to me was the interviews with the athletes. Even as a child, I could hear how excited they were to just BE there. How important this experience was for them: representing their country, meeting new friends, experiencing different cultures, and knowing that the eyes of their country were upon them. These athletes would talk about what an honor it was to carry their country’s flag. Or their jitters before taking the ice. Or how charming the host city was and how honored they were to be a part of the games. Their enthusiasm was contagious. Their tears heartbreaking. Their smiles. . . electric.
In a world where being notorious can make you a “Star” Olympic athletes are Super Novas in contrast.
The TV commentators would do back-ground pieces about the host city and give all of us folks back home a taste of this world that was, for at least two weeks, magic. And you couldn’t help but want to be part of the magic. To be an Olympian. And because you couldn’t be — you revelled in being part of the moment. There are iconic Olympic moments we can all point to: moments that marked a sport in ways we can all identify with. Moments of courage. Moments of determination. Moments of utter defeat.
Moments that those athletes will hold in their hearts forever are also moments we, the audience, witnessed. We watched with baited breaths and cheered with abandon. We wiped tears from our eyes, and mouthed the words to our National Anthem as our athletes stood on podiums and our flags majestically rose. Proud to be American. Or Canadian. Or French. Or Russian.
We rooted for the underdogs. We cheered for the victorious. And we wept with those who came so close. All of them, elated to have just been a part of something special. All of us, privileged to bear witness to the remarkable: Super novas bursting across our television screens.
The Sochi games are plagued with problems. There is even a twitter account to collect all the horror in a humorous way. My heart breaks for the Olympians who have worked so hard to get to these games. I don’t think this is the Olympic Games they expected. So, it is tempting to throw in the towel (I mean, have you seen the freak show of an uniform the USA has to wear tonight? Memo to Ralph Lauren, NOBODY looks good in white pants) and boycott. To not watch. To make a political statement. To side with human rights and dignity.
And you are free to do so, whatever your reason. But I will be watching the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Because every one of these athletes deserves a magical moment. Their handwork deserves to be seen. Their determination deserves to be witnessed. I am so sorry if these games are not all they expected or deserved, but I don’t want to part of that failure. So, I will watch. I will cheer with the victorious. Weep with those who came so close. And I will bear witness to the magic they create: holding the other part of their memory. All of their determination, the sacrifices of their families, their sheer grit and determination to get there was worth it, because their moment was amazing — and I, watching from my living room back home, witnessed it all.