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Tuesday, February 25, 2014
The Olympic spirit
Athletes at Sochi Winter Games remind us of the true importance of the Olympics

In the weeks leading up to the beginning of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, the event was overshadowed by controversy and concerns. Many would-be spectators from overseas decided to stay home, turned off by recent terrorist bombings in Russia, the difficulty of getting a visa to travel to the country and the large expense of visiting the winter wonderland on the Black Sea coast.

Even when the Games started, the issue of empty seats came up, as it does in the early days of almost every Olympics. In Sochi, some senior officials voiced concern about less-than-capacity crowds and a lack of spectator excitement. Gerhard Heiberg, a Norwegian member who heads the International Olympic Committee's marketing commission, noted that the Games wasn't as lively as hoped. "We feared this a little bit," Heiberg said. "I feel the lack of enthusiasm and the joy of sports. There are not enough people. You have seen that the stadiums are not filled."

But as the competitions kicked into high gear and the medals started to be handed out, the atmosphere began to change. People stopped talking about the security, the cost and the empty seats. Instead, the Olympics became about the competitions and the joy shown by the athletes, often whether they won or lost. "For everybody, it's like Christmas," French figure skater Brian Joubert said. "Everybody is happy, excited. I love this feeling."

Just a week before the opening ceremony, people in Russia and abroad appeared numb to the idea of the Sochi Games, which cost an estimated US$51 billion (approximately NT$1.5 trillion), making it the most expensive Olympics in history. But then the Games began, and the Olympics started doing what it always does — bringing contestants and spectators together through the spirit of athletic competition.

It was Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris who said his sport's venue had "an amazing vibe." It was American figure skater Gracie Gold who estimated her excitement level at being part of the Games at "100 out of 10." It was Brazilian cross-country skier Jaqueline Mourao who called the Games "the biggest gift from God I could have."

The Olympics is about the athletes and the spirit they inevitably foster — the shared understanding and appreciation they have for one another, in victory and defeat. The collective spirit they displayed in Sochi is something we'd all do well to copy. "We can see that all the countries are like a family," Joubert said. "Peace and love and that's all."

Through the eyes of the athletes, we can see the true value and importance of the Olympics. It was Swedish cross-country skier Anna Haag who said, "When you're in it, you just do what you have to do. It's only afterward you think, 'Oh, my God. I was in the Olympics.'" It was Japanese figure skater Akiko Suzuki who, when asked what her goal for the Games was, said, "I want to make a change in people's hearts."

After his gold-medal performance, U.S. snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg, speaking about the competitors who stood with him on the podium, said, "We love each other." That is the true spirit of the Olympics and it is something the athletes always embody, no matter where the Olympics is held.

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