The 2014 Winter Olympics are ending this week. Even though I’ve watched relatively few of the events, it’s been comforting to know that we’re in a moment of time when our connectivity with the rest of the world is highlighted for 10 days or so, through relatively peaceful means.
The opening event was spectacular. It did what an opening event was supposed to do, that is, showcase the arts and cultural achievements of the host country. Russia has a brilliant cultural legacy, no doubt, and it was especially impressive to see their use of technology to complement and enhance the artistic presentations. They handled the turbulent history of the 20th century quite well, not shying away from the rigidity and authoritarianism that marked that time, yet depicting it in an effective artistic manner.
For a while during the opening I sparred with a friend about the music, on Facebook. She: “When will they stop this oppressive, boring music!” Me: “Tschaikovsky! Rimsky-Korsakov! Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances! Just incredible” She: “Ugh. Switched over to (another show) for a while then back to the opening. Still that awful, depressing music!” Me: “Finally, some Stravinsky! And it’s the Firebird, no less.” The comments made about both our posts verified that others watching the opening ceremony were equally divided in their opinions.
Our little online argument was typical of the divided opinion about the games. Human rights activists and gays have been boycotting the broadcast because of Russia’s policies. Other people protest the huge amounts of money that go into producing the games every four years. And what about that huge population of stray dogs, and the less than satisfactory hygiene facilities? What if there’s a terrorist strike in the volatile part of the world? Sochi has been a controversial choice from the word “go.”
Yet perhaps the most important part of the Olympics is seen in the parade of athletes during the opening ceremony. The seven representatives from the Bermuda marching in shorts and dress jackets; the teams of one, two, or three people from places like Zimbabwe, Colombia, and Togo; the independent nations that were formerly part of the Soviet Union; large groups from the U.S., Russia, the Asia nations, and Europe: there was such joy and exuberance on most of the faces in that parade. Here, for many, was the dream of a lifetime, even if a medal was not anywhere within their striking range.
I’ll miss knowing that the Olympics are taking place. Despite all the issues and concerns around the Sochi games, it has been, after all, a celebration of our connectedness as a global community and an affirmation of the spirit of humans to achieve their personal best.