Let friendship, excellence thrive at Winter Olympics


It has long been a truism that Olympian sports imitate world politics. Ever since their modern incarnation began in 1896, the Winter and Summer Games often have symbolized the best and worst of geopolitical relations across the globe.

At that first modern-era Olympics in Athens, Greece, lingering animosities from the Franco-Prussian War between France and Germany nearly prevented teams from those nations participating. Over the years, social activism and political tensions have creeped into the Games, sparking boycotts, sideline turmoil and even acts of terrorism at Olympian venues.

That not-so-fine tradition endures as the opening ceremonies for the XXIII PyeongChang Winter Games Olympiad roll out amid grand pomp and pageantry today in South Korea for the competitions that continue through Feb. 25.

On the one hand, the union of 2,800 athletes from 95 nations around the world in spirited but friendly competition represents the best in the Olympian values of global unity and cooperation.

On the other hand, the messy politics and hardline tensions that define the rigidly divided Korean Peninsula and its interactions with the rest of the world likely will rise as a subtext over the joyous international celebration.

To the credit of North and South Korea and in a bow to international unity and solidarity, some bright signs emerge. For one, athletes from the Communist North and Democratic South are scheduled to march together under one unified Korean flag at today’s opening ceremonies.

In the best-case scenario, the Pyeongchang Olympics could serve as a precursor to greater rapprochement between the North and South and as a catalyst toward defusing nuclear tensions between the North and the United States.

More realistically, the next two weeks of talented sportsmanship could play out as a committed short-term truce among those rivals.

OLYPMIAN VALUES

That latter scenario would enable the Winter Games to nobly carry on the long-standing core values of all Olympics competitions: friendship, respect and excellence.

According to the Olympic Museum, those values form the very foundation upon which the Games unite sport, culture and education for the betterment of world harmony. Advancing those goals should not represent any insurmountable hurdle.

As for friendship, the host nation has spent an estimated $10 billion to roll out an inviting welcome mat of state-of-the-art competitive facilities. In them, athletes of all political stripes will carry on the tradition of friendly and talented competition.

As for respect, South Korea, like other host nations before it, has placed a premium on inclusiveness and tolerance for this month’s Games. Players from all nations – including hard-core political enemies – will put aside differences to respect the talent and athleticism of all athletes.

As for excellence, the XXIII Winter Games promise the singularly exciting Olympian spectacle of sporting events on the ice, in the snow and inside the hockey arenas.

From our perspective, all eyes will be focused on the robust American team of 224 athletes.

Many true-blue Olympian aficionados will be watching closely some of this nation’s best bets for bringing home the gold. They include Alpine skiiers Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, figure skater Nathan Chen, snowboarder Chloe Kim and the dynamic U.S. women’s hockey team.

The International Olympic Committee estimates 5 billion people around the world will have their eyes glued to at least a portion of this year’s Winter Games.

In the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, Channel 21 WFMJ-TV, an NBC affiliate and locally owned broadcast partner of The Vindicator, will again provide blanket coverage. NBC plans a total of 2,400 hours of coverage on its television networks and online platforms.

As the Games play out over the next two weeks, we’re hoping that the focus of the world sharpens clearly on the strong athleticism, shared international experience and healthy competitive spirit on display there. With political animosities placed on the back burner, the Olympian values of friendship, respect and excellence can thrive.

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