By Sonja Nikcevic
Ten days into the 2014 Winter Olympics, and all eyes are still firmly set on Sochi. The longest, largest and most highly covered Winter Games to date has had its fair share of drama from ground zero. With over 7000 competing athletes and almost double that amount of journalists reporting live, the sporting world and beyond has not been wanting of Sochi correspondents, for the good, bad and the hilarious. However, life and perceptions of it seem to take on a slightly altered form from within the eye of the Olympic storm, and visions inside and outside the Olympic rings might not always be exactly the same. This is what the 2014 Winter Olympics look like to those of us outside Sochi 2014’s direct glare.
The lead-up to the competitions in Sochi was a potentially explosive cocktail of political statements, security concerns and unfinished accommodation. It was then topped off at the Opening Ceremony with the now infamous snowflake that refused to turn into an Olympic ring. The World Wide Web imploded with creative responses and the #OnlyInRussia hashtag, and mindset, lived to see another day. However, it was not long before it and its #Sochiproblems relative faded into the background of some truly amazing shows of sports and sportsmanship. When the Norwegian women’s cross country team heard that the brother of one of their own had passed away, they donned black armbands and won gold in his name. When the German cross-country and biathlon team found that their ski equipment had malfunctioned, their Russian colleagues stepped, lent their own equipment and made sure their rivals could compete. “Once the competition starts, and until it finishes, we are rivals. But beyond that that we are all part of the biathlon family,” –the Russian team stated, summing up the human compassion and unity the resounded from the Games.
The Games were also a first for many, including IOC President Thomas Bach. Along with him, twelve new events across eight disciplines debuted in Sochi, including women’s ski jump and snowboard slopestyle, gaining worldwide fans instantly. And while there are growing concerns about athlete safety on some of the slopes, the disciplines are still a hit.
The one inaugural sport that might sum the Games up best though, is the team figure skating event. For the first time ever, men, women and pairs teamed up with their fellow countrymen to shift the sport away from some of its individualistic values and fought for gold, together. Those outside of the world top three, like US skater Jeremy Abbot, now had a medal chance, and others, like Russia’s young Julia Lipnitskaia, became darlings of their teams without as much of the solo pressure. The US won bronze and Lipnitskaia took her team to gold, but as ten figure skaters held hands to celebrate their medals, it was unity, again, that stood out.
Power of women
As women competed in more sports than ever at a Winter Games, their representation in the press boxes also reached new levels. Leily Khorsand, the first Iranian woman to cover a Winter Olympic Games, became the most sought after journalist in Sochi and on the web, becoming an inspiration for young Muslim women everywhere. In the competition, Darya Domarcheva of biathlon became the greatest Belorussian Olympian ever, as she not only won the country’s first Winter Olympic medal, in gold, but then went on to grab another two.
Domarcheva’s success only built on what was an astoundingly high level of competition throughout the last ten days. Records were broken as Lee Sang-hwa skated faster in the women’s 500m, as figure skating’s Yuzuru Hanyu jumped higher and as Britain’s curling team stole an astounding five points in one end. Newcomers like Denis Ten showed us that Kazakhstan could figure skate too. Tina Maze from Slovenia and Dominique Gisin from Switzerland proved that, sometimes, one gold medal in alpine downhill just isn’t enough. And old rivals USA and Russia brought hockey to new heights.
The athletes also showed us that laughs and relaxation were vital to the Games. Team Canada brought along their own beer fridge – to be accessed only with a Canadian passport. Competitors from all over took some time to make 3D ‘selfies’ and unwind in the Olympic photo booth, crazy wigs and all. The Jamaican bobsleigh team became the all-round heroes of Sochi by qualifying for Olympic duty after a 12 year hiatus, raising the money to come to the Games, and still managing a smile when their equipment got lost on the way. They even created their own theme song, and won the respect of all of their rivals.
So yes, outside the Games, ‘Only in Russia’ is a thing, but despite the hiccups and obvious divisive issues, it’s a positive thing indeed.