Joel Reichenberger: It’s about the games, not the gaffes
February 7, 2014
Sochi, Russia — I expected Friday to write about the bad reputation these Olympics have gotten in the United States.
I wanted to say that those labeling the games a "disaster," that those describing the venues and facilities as a "hellscape," that those saying the Olympics should have been moved back to Canada were wrong.
I wanted to point out that Twitter and the websites that feed off it are an echo chamber where one funny photo of two toilets in one stall becomes "the way it is" in about one hour and 1,000,000 retweets.
I wanted to say that hasn't been our experience, that we can flush our toilet, turn on our lights and lock our door, and that even though the wireless Internet still doesn't work, the TV stand covers up 75 percent of a nice painting that hangs on the wall and all the shops that are supposed to surround our condo building are still under construction, there's nothing at all wrong with the facilities we've encountered and that the people manning them, from the ever-present volunteers to the staff to Alex, the security guard from St. Petersburg who sits at our door, has been overwhelmingly helpful and friendly.
But then I went to the opening ceremony Friday night, and quite frankly, who cares about any of the rest of that stuff now?
I didn't expect to get so emotionally invested in Friday's opening ceremony, but there was something about it that summed up in a way I didn't anticipate what these first days have been like for us here, and why I feel compelled to correct people who get this place and this experience wrong.
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I thought there would be more Americans here, and that we'd come together over that, different but countrymen and thus easy friends in a foreign land. But we've run into very few such brethren, most notably two reporters from Lake Placid, N.Y., with whom we bonded over Billy Demong.
I sat next to a Swede on Friday, the two of us and about 150 others taking photos with long lenses from a distant section of seats.
I sat next to a Japanese woman on the bus here and later was interviewed briefly by an Estonian TV anchor.
I was wandering through the Olympic Park, in front of Fisch Olympic Stadium a few hours before the ceremony. He was just looking for someone to say something interesting and I didn't help him much, answering "What are the Olympics all about?" with a stammering cliche: "The whole world coming together to have fun."
It's not wrong, but it's only half the story.
The opening ceremony was special because they did represent that world coming together, each nation with a bit of personality. There were the Jamaicans from their bobsled team, Team Bermuda with its shorts and the Americans with a jovial, jogging Todd Lodwick.
But that moment coming up a ramp then around a track in front of the world was really more about each individual than it was the "world coming together." Yes, this is the world's Olympics. It's Russia's Olympics. It's Sochi's Olympics. But it's Todd Lodwick's Olympics, too. It's Arielle Gold's Olympics, Justin Reiter's Olympics and Bryan Fletcher's Olympics.
Friday was their moment to celebrate that without worries about competition or anything else.
It's Steamboat's Olympics, too, with our friends and neighbors and classmates competing, the people we know so well doing their thing on the world's stage. We take pride in their success and their joy.
In that individual sensation, there's a spirit that is the backbone of these games. We all feel a little part of it, like we were walking with them, whether we know them or not. Whether we actually marched through the spotlight Friday or not, the opening ceremony celebrated that fact.
It was an awesome sensation, and it certainly outshined the fact that our hotel room has a shoddy paint job.