The 88 participating nations and their 2,800 Olympian athletes owe their host country hearty congratulations for its stellar first-place finish at the just-ended Winter Games. The Eurasian nation also deserves an ovation for its unexpected success in overcoming myriad obstacles toward staging a largely problem-free spectacle of international athleticism.
Russia ended the 22nd Winter Olympics on Sunday with a breathtaking ceremony of pomp and pageantry befitting the proud host country and its success in winning 33 medals. The United States came in second place, with 28 medals, followed by Norway with 26 and Canada with 25.
As near record television viewership illustrated, the Games captured the fascination of America and the world. In the snow, on the ice and inside the hockey arenas, the display of athletic talent was awe-inspiring and spectacular. Despite our nation’s disappointments in the meltdown of the U.S. men’s hockey team and in perennial favorite Shaun White’s failure to place in several events, Yankee ingenuity and talent inspired Americans of all ilks and ignited our collective competitive spirit throughout the Games’ 17-day run.
On the world stage, the events went off with only a few relatively minor hitches. Sochi became ground zero for breathtaking spectacle and Olympian spirit. Indeed Russia merits credit for transforming a relatively remote town into a first-class contemporary venue that carried on the Games’ historic heritage of greatness.
What’s more, the much feared smackdown of a terrorist attack never happened. The money Russia invested in security and intelligence clearly was well spent. The only stains on the game came from hotels lacking adequate amenities, warm weather dampening the cold-weather energy of some events and the shooting of stray dogs that angered many animal lovers around the world.
As the games ended, however, Russia clearly garnered more than just the 33 coveted pieces of gold, silver and bronze. It also gained a much needed dose of positive momentum and respect in the eyes of the international community.
That’s why Russia should take advantage of its new-found praise and respect to build upon the positive momentum. Despite its stellar standing in the Olympian athletic venues, President Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders remain isolated and snubbed by America and many other justice-loving nations of the world.
Victory at the Games did nothing to change the nation’s harsh laws targeting homosexuals that have resulted in an escalation of persecution and physical attacks on gay Russians. Victory at the Games did nothing to change some of the misguided foreign policy of Putin, including his brutal battle with Muslim separatists and his unwavering backing of Syria’s tyrannical leader Bashar al-Assad. And victory at the Games did nothing to lessen the violence and killings ignited by the autocratic rule strongly supported by Russia in its former Republic of Ukraine, which ironically played out in the shadow of the skiing, snowboarding and skating at the pristine Olympic sites.
If the positive image the Olympics cast on Russia is to last for more than a fleeting few weeks or months, Putin should apply the same Olympian standards of humanitarian outreach and compassion to his own people that he put on display to the world during two memorable weeks in February. Then and only then will Russia earn more robust congratulations, admiration and respect from the United States and other freedom-loving nations throughout the global arena.