The Sochi Effect

Over the course of this winter, parts of North America have felt the wrath of Mother Nature, from severe droughts to the nefarious Polar Vortex.  Meanwhile, halfway around the globe in the seaside playground of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, the temperatures hovered around 60 degrees.  Moreover, pre-Olympic worries hung over the region as terrorist hotspots surrounded this idyllic setting.  And since then, we’ve seen other geo-political events unfold and create unease throughout the world.

The Olympics are always an interesting mix of politics and sports, but for two weeks, the world came together.  During these two weeks we seemed to hit the pause button on all of our “stuff,” and the world competed, celebrated, marveled, wept, and, in general, acknowledged the better nature of our angels.

Sure the U.S. mens’ and womens’ hockey teams lost in gut-wrenching fashion to Canada, and Bode Miller and Sean White, and our speed skating teams may not have fared as well as expected, but there were some really cool moments to savor.

The U.S. women’s Half Pipe gold in snowboarding coming out of left field, was nearly as uplifting as the story of her farming family selling cows to pay for her to compete in preparation for the Olympics.  How about Josh Christensen and his fellow Americans winning gold, silver and bronze in Men’s slope style skiing?  They could barely contain themselves.

And who could forget Canadian, Alex Bilodeau’s gold medal performance in the freestyle skiing moguls, inspired by his hero and older brother Frederic, who wrestles with cerebral palsy.  What about Noriaki Kasai, the 44 yr. old Japanese ski jumper who first won a team silver in the Lillihammer games in 1994, had been skunked over the next four Olympics, and earned a silver on The Big Hill in the individual jumping.  He was mobbed by teammates and soon made the proclamation, “I want to go for gold in 2018!”  Pure unadulterated joy.

Remember Noelle Pickus-Pace, the mother of two children and Silver medalist in the Skeleton (scary name, even more dangerous event)?  Do you recall her immediately after the race, jumping into the arms of her husband, tears of joy and sacrifice streaming down her face?

The interview of this surprise “winner” and her family was both charming & telling:  here was a young mother, whose engineer husband helped with the design of the sled and who encouraged her in this venture, and their two adorable kiddos.  Her daughter sat in her lap and the boy sat in an adjacent chair to the Dad bouncing around like a young lab; he repositioned himself at least a half-dozen times, with his patient Dad quietly, but firmly planting his hand on the boy’s thigh or on the arm of the director’s chair.  Even in the midst of the interview, he realized the boy’s antics might likely result in a face plant :).

The story of her achievement is heartwarming and the visual imagery of this young family and reminders of childhood development was affirming.  She didn’t win, but she won.

I was also warmed by the sportsmanship displayed from the young American male player T.J. Oshie, who offered the humble shout-out after his dazzling, record-setting puck handling, sleight-of-hand shoot out with the Russians, “…it’s about the goalie.”  And I was equally intrigued and heartened by the same type of behavior shared by Sean White, a heavy favorite for gold in the snowboard, who failed to medal.  Sure, he was disappointed, but rather than make excuses, he simply said, “Today wasn’t my day; I am glad to live to fight another day…”

No doubt, we live in an increasingly dynamic and complex world; and the issues arise at such dizzying speeds, it is hard to keep the larger picture in focus.  In spite of its imperfections and all of the “professionalism” surrounding certain disciplines, and perceived or real hypocrisies of the countries’ involved, the Olympics still offer wonderful moments of grace, humility, and joy.

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