A Sports Junkie’s Reflections on Putin’s Winter Olympics

Alas, after over two weeks of thrilling competition in no less than 15 disciplines, the 2014 Winter Olympic Games is now over. The overwhelming majority of reviews suggest that the event was one of the best ever. That’s quite a big achievement considering the many ominous clouds – including the ever-present threat of terrorist attacks – that hung low over the Games during the lead up. In many people’s eyes, the (major) incident-free way in which the Olympics played out more than vindicates the decision to spend the reported $50 billion that was ploughed into getting Sochi ready for the quadrennial winter sporting spectacle.

There were, of course, a few relatively high profile developments that were less than tasteful. However, by and large, I imagine that, like me, there were many people who bade the Games of the 22nd Winter Olympiad farewell with pretty heavy hearts. (Then again, I’d probably be the first person on the admission list for the sports addicts’ version of Alcoholics Anonymous.) Anyway, without further ado, here are a few of my big takeaways from Sochi 2014.

1.      Jamaica’s culture is a very, very potent force

If there was a “Buzz Per Capita Index” which measured how much international media attention each team generated in Sochi, the chances are pretty good that Jamaica would’ve been right at the top of the standings. Despite the fact that our two-man bobsleigh pairing of driver Marvin Dixon and brakeman Winston Watt never got into serious medal contention, they still managed to grab more headlines than many of their better placed competitors.

Their improbable journey to get to the Olympics, which saw them overcoming a last minute cash crunch, was always a big part of the story. However, it was their ambassadorial purveyance of our infectious culture (and this little ditty) that made so many people fall in love with this “likkle but talawah” island of ours. Kudos to you, gentlemen!

Now, if only we could project the best of “Jamaicana” and suppress the not so good elements. I’m personally not an endorser of terms such as “cultural hegemony”, which has often been bandied about in reference to the mass exportation of Americana around the globe. Suffice it to say, however, I do think there’s quite a bit of scope for us to become a cultural juggernaut on the world stage.

Jamaican bobsleigh team

2.      Not many people really remember Cool Runnings           

The news of the Jamaican two-man team’s 29th place finish at the recently concluded Winter Olympiad elicited a largely lukewarm reception here in Jamaica. Some of the people deriding the duo’s efforts even referenced Cool Runnings as if the team depicted in the 1993 cult classic film had managed to win the Olympic gold. However, it’s worth remembering that the Jamaican four-man bobsleigh team portrayed in this iconic movie didn’t achieve medal success on the ice track either. (They suffered a crash during their last race.) As with the real-life 1988 Winter Olympics quartet who inspired the movie (and the latest two-man unit to represent the country), they triumphed by virtue of just making it there. Yep, making it to the Olympics is no mean feat for men who hail from a country where resources are always scarce and a snowflake has a snowball’s chance in hell of migrating. Again, very well played!

3.      There’s power in pragmatism

Former Olympic 100-metre silver medalist Lauryn Williams made the decision to try her hand at bobsleigh when she realized that her recent performances in her pet event weren’t good enough to consistently make the U.S. team to major athletics championships. A few months on, she’s the proud owner of (another) silver medal won in the two-woman bobsleigh event. If only other athletes would follow suit and emulate the pragmatism of this little dynamo.

4.      Canada is the most dominant force in ice hockey right now

The Canadian women overcame a 2-0 deficit to win the ice hockey gold for the fourth consecutive time. Meanwhile, their male counterparts made it into the winner’s enclosure for the second Games in a row. Yep, Canada is definitely the most dominant force in global ice hockey at the moment.

5.      Rags-to-riches stories make sports even more worth watching

As a former taxi driver, Alexandr Zubkov worked in obscurity to earn a modest living. Now, as the double gold medal-winning driver for both the Russian two-man and four-man bobsleigh teams, he’s a bona fide national hero who’ll probably only ever see the inside of a taxi from the backseat going forward.

6.      There’s a reason why speed skating is so popular in the Netherlands

The Dutch dominated long track speed skating at the Olympics like very few teams have ever dominated any sporting discipline at a major championship. The flying Dutchmen (and women) sped away with 23 of the 36 total medals which were on offer in Sochi. Their men racked up clean sweeps in three of the six events contested. Meanwhile, their women walked away with at least two medals in three of the six events in which they competed.

7.      Curling is quite captivating

I must admit that curling has really grown on me. Though I didn’t understand much of what was unfolding on my TV screen, I was still transfixed as those stones came sliding down the ice. The only thing that could make curling cooler is if they replaced the brooms with mini Zambonis.

Combating withdrawal symptoms

Every time a major sporting event ends, I go through a period of withdrawal. Thankfully, such interludes have become less and less lengthy as I’ve aged. Maybe that’s due to the fact that there are so many sports extravaganzas on the calendar to keep me sedated these days. I just need to find a way to keep calm until the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships begins on March 7.

Do svidaniya!

The Benchwarmer’s Point of View

The tragic passing of former St. Jago High School student and national cross country representative Cavahan McKenzie is truly one of the most heart-rending stories I’ve heard in recent times. My sincerest prayers are with his family as they try to cope with the deep bereavement that they’re dealing with. I don’t want to speculate regarding the reason why such a healthy young man would suddenly collapse after competing over a distance that he must have run scores of times – in conditions that he must have been intimately familiar with.

I would, however, like to implore coaches to encourage their athletes to listen to their bodies. Pushing through the pain barrier is something which innumerable athletes are cajoled or commanded to do on a daily basis. I’m sure many of them are repeatedly told that if they can’t push through the pain they’ll never be able to achieve the athletic success that’s within their grasp. In a country like Jamaica, where excelling in sports (or music) is seen as the only way out of poverty for so many, I assume that the attendant concerns about overall success in life are often subsequently voiced. However, we all must keep in mind that there are many things in this life which are more important than sports or sporting success – including life itself.

Rest in peace, Cavahan.

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