Field of Play: Sochi 2014 Games about the Olympians | Sports | CBC Sports

Field of Play: Sochi 2014 Games about the Olympians

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 | 07:39 PM

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Team Canada athletes wave the flag during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium on Sunday. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images) Team Canada athletes wave the flag during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium on Sunday. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

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The Olympics, I've always found, are much easier to anticipate than to reflect upon. And after plenty of fears heading into the Games about security and climate, the Olympians shone through in the end.
The Olympics, I've always found, are much easier to anticipate than to reflect upon.

Like Christmas, for instance, the Games entice you to look ahead to see what's under the tree. But once the festive season is gone there is an unmistakable melancholy that lingers.

The Olympics are like that.

They take forever to arrive and then they are gone in an instant.

On a personal note, I am so affected by this fleeting nature of the spectacle that when the cauldron is extinguished in the lavish closing ceremony, I am incapable of speaking. I am at once inconsolable and somehow joyously saddened because all I can hear are the gasps of the new disciples of the Games who are taken aback when the Olympic light suddenly goes out.

These Olympics in Russia have been just like that.

Most of what we heard in the lead up to Sochi was negative.

There were legitimate fears about security, climate, corruption and human rights abuses. They were based on realities and the actions of politicians and government officials. They were the news stories that once again threatened to scuttle the more essential Olympic narrative. These fears prevented many from making the journey to Russia to see what actually could transpire.

In the end, not much of what we were told to fear came to pass. We at the Olympics were not threatened. 

There was plenty of snow, it arrived naturally and was handily preserved. Athletes and those who respectfully gathered to engage in the Olympic celebration were not persecuted, but rather, as far as I can tell, they were welcomed regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual persuasion.

"Act on this Olympic message of tolerance and peace," implored the new IOC President Thomas Bach as the Games in Sochi closed. "Russia has delivered on all that it has promised."

Indeed these Olympics had done just that.

People coming together

But it wasn't the politicians and the officials who delivered what was essential.

Oh sure, they spent $52 billion to build a sort of Disneyland for the Games. There were shining new stadiums and high speed rail lines to whisk us all magically from the sea to the sky scraping mountains which were only minutes away.

They had somehow constructed a city in seven short years.

But it was only glass and steel, and what put the Games over the top were the people. They were the volunteers who we were told would be dour and unforgiving. They were completely the opposite. Friendly and open, they embraced us and we them.

I walked back from the closing ceremony on the final night talking hockey with a member of the Russian security service. 

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"Congratulations on the gold medal," he said. "I wish our players could be more like yours. The Canadians know how to form a team in not much time."  

I thought to myself, that was an extremely generous thing for him to say.

As I was checking out of the hotel, the man at the front desk thanked me for coming to Russia for the Olympics. I said, no thanks were necessary it was I who was grateful. At that moment, one of the women working alongside him excused herself and wiped away a few tears.

"Please forgive her," the man said.  "She is just so sad that everyone is going home now."

The Olympics can have that effect on many of us.

The Games bring people together and allow them the opportunity to overcome their fears. They celebrate the potential of extraordinary beings who come to life in the form of the athletes. The Olympics gather us at the field of play and afford us the chance to speak in a language we all understand. In its purest form, there is nothing mean about the observance of the Olympic spirit.

"For me it's about more than the medals," said Jean-Luc Brassard, Canada's Assistant Chef de Mission, himself an Olympic champion. "It's a great learning experience. It's an amazing bunch of human beings together."

"You have to feel the Olympics."

'Our Russia'

These words were echoed by Dmitry Chernyshenko, the head of the Sochi 2014 organizing committee. 

"This is the new face of Russia," he declared at the closing ceremony. "Our Russia."

The Olympics can make it possible for something like that to happen.

I've always felt that if we can get past our fears and actually arrive at the Games then the magic has a decent chance to occur. Honest competition will win us over every time. There is nothing that can draw us together more effectively than a great game, a thrilling race or a dramatic performance. But only if we are willing to be spellbound by the wonder of it all.

At the outset the overarching personality was the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. So influential and omnipresent was he that Sochi 2014 was dubbed by the critics as "Putin's Games."

The Olympics in Russia were reduced to an exercise in vanity by the legions who were cynical enough to jump the gun.

Then the Olympics took over and the reality set in.

The people came, the venues were more often than not full, the weather was brilliant and the competition was unparalleled. Putin became, at best, a member of the supporting cast.

It was the Olympians themselves who stole the show.

"These were the athlete's Games," Thomas Bach confidently announced to a roar of approval. 

And he was right. It was the highest compliment he could have paid to Sochi 2014 and to the expectant Russian hosts.

Because in anticipating the Games and all of their potential shortcomings, you must never forget to reflect upon the truth of all that has happened once they are over.

In other words, you have to open yourself up and make an effort to feel the Olympics.

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