Field of Play: Sochi 2014, beautiful Games | Sports | CBC Sports

ParalympicsField of Play: Sochi 2014, beautiful Games

Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2014 | 10:16 PM

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The Paralympic and Olympic spirit burned bright in Sochi over the last few weeks. (Harry Engels/Getty Images) The Paralympic and Olympic spirit burned bright in Sochi over the last few weeks. (Harry Engels/Getty Images)

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Between the Olympics and Paralympics it's been something like forty days. Well over a month of intense, high performance, events that left many of us exhausted, exhilarated and yes, even wanting our Russian winter to never come to an end. 

We've been broadcasting from Sochi for the better part of six weeks this season.

Between the Olympics and Paralympics it's been something like forty days. It's been well over a month of intense, high performance, sport which has left many of us exhausted, exhilarated and yes, even wanting our Russian winter to never come to an end.

These have been beautiful Games.

As I watched the elaborate and passionate closing ceremony of the XI Paralympic Winter Games, I was struck by something I'd read about Nelson Mandela, the late freedom fighter and former president of South Africa.

"Sport has the power to change the world," Mandela told the Laureus Sport Awards in Monaco in 2000. "Sport can create hope, where there was once only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination."

I thought about these words as I reflected upon all that had transpired in our collective Sochi sojourn. Let's face it, these Games and the fantastic success of them, went against all the odds.

We had the brilliance of Vancouver/Whistler to compare them to. 

Those were the "home Games" that couldn't possibly be surpassed in our mind's eye. And yet, somehow, Sochi measured up quite nicely.

Largest Paralympics in history

The facts are that the Paralympic Games were the largest in history, which showcased around 700 athletes from 45 countries who competed in 92 medal events. 

More people around the world consumed the Games than at any point in history. Canadians connected with the Paralympics on every platform in record smashing numbers. Millions came to cheer the Paralympians and to celebrate sport unreservedly.

"An athlete is an athlete," said our sledge hockey commentator and gold medal champion Paul Rosen.

And he was never more right.

The Games in Sochi were attractive and welcoming and, in spite of brooding political considerations, revealed a Russian populace that was open and eager to embrace the rest of the world.

Canadians took notice of this.

"I was discussing with someone else earlier today about just how beautiful the Vancouver medals were and how depressed I was when I didn't win one, and thinking I'll never have a medal as beautiful as that," said Canadian sledge hockey star Brad Bowden. 

Bowden and his mates had just vanquished Norway and claimed the bronze medal at the Shayba Arena in front of a raucous and supportive crown made up mostly of Russians.

"But the Sochi medals are very beautiful from what I've seen," Bowden reflected. "And I'm very proud to have one and I'm happy to be able to bring one back for Canada."

Honest competition

I think the attractiveness of the Games may lie with the honest competitions that unfold. And there can be no denying that Paralympic sport itself has been the overwhelming winner in Sochi. The Games turned out to be less about the place and more about what transpired on the fields of play.

They were, by any estimation, an overwhelming success, and have set the bar very high for the next Winter Games in South Korea in four years time.

The allure of the Olympics or Paralympics, it seems to me, may lie in the eyes of the beholder and only when all of those things that threaten to scuttle the celebration fail to materialize, do we fully understand the importance of the fleeting and peaceful gathering.

"Sport has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does," Mandela said. "It speaks to youth in a language they understand."

The medals have all been won and the flame is out once and for all in Sochi. 

Sadly, it all went by far too quickly.

But there can be no denying that by anyone's estimation these were beautiful Games indeed.

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