Olympics, Danger and Being a Good Neighbor

February 11, 20223 minutes to read

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You're probably glued to the news this week. No, not due to the impending Russian invasion of Ukraine (we'll get to that) but because of the XXIV Olympic Winter Games.

Olympics fever has gripped the McConnell household as I’m sure it has for many of you. It’s brought my family together (on the couch at least) to stream new feats of speed, agility, and mental fortitude each night. Luge and Freestyle Skiing have been the big draw so far but we’re looking forward to the Bobsled this weekend.

Skeleton is nuts

The Winter Olympics especially captures my imagination because it elevates the spectacle by combining athletics with outrageous danger. Want to fling yourself 3 stories above the ground while spinning on all 3 axes? Yes, please. Or maybe you like to mix skiing uphill with firearms? We got you. Strap swords to your feet and bump elbows with 8 other people while spinning around hairpin turns? Let’s go! How about hurtling face-first down a sheet of ice at 120km/h? I. Am. Here. For. it.

Oh, and by the way, Skeleton sledders are amazing athletes. They’re basically doing a plank in 4Gs for 2 minutes while getting shaken like a martini. 😳

Some of you might be inclined to point out the serious problems the Olympics needs to resolve with corruption, racism, and environmental impact. You’re right. The IOC could charitably be called unscrupulous; even compared to FIFA, UCI, or the NFL. But, have you seen the size of the “Normal” hill ski jump? I can’t watch but I can’t look away. The athletes are pressing the boundaries of what’s possible and they deserve this forum, flawed as it is. It puts product design in perspective.

Unlike those other sporting events, the Olympics have a unique draw because the athletes are representing their country and heritage rather than their sponsor. They compete while standing for an idea that instills potent emotions in fans and athletes alike. For Americans with complex heritages, it’s an opportunity to celebrate our roots and cheer for people from places deep in our past. My great-grandfather emigrated from Kyiv, Ukraine with nothing but the coat on his back (and some diamonds sewn in the lining but we don’t talk about that).

I’ve been thinking more about the Ukraine athletes this year. Not just because of my heritage but of course because of the geo-political context. This is a nation being pushed toward the brink of war, yet they still assembled their ambassadors of sport to engage in the diplomacy of athletic competition; sometimes against their could-be belligerents from the ROC. Neighbors in state but enemies on snow.

I can’t help but wonder how the athletes must feel. Do they feel more pressure to deliver? Are they inspired in a way that pushes them to new personal bests? Are any of them even old enough to remember when Ukraine and Russia were the same nation, as I do? What will happen to the Ukrainian delegation if Russia assumes control of Ukraine before the next Olympics — or in the middle of this one? It hurts my head to contemplate the juxtaposition of geopolitical alliances against just playing a game.

V Putin must agree, as today Russia announced that no military action would be taken until the Olympic flame is extinguished. Regardless of what happens on the Ukrainian border, the Olympics will go on. There’s no timeout in the parallel slalom snowboarding but there is for land invasions evidently ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Anyroad. The Olympics are awesome but war is not. Have a great weekend everyone. Get out in the snow if you can, and maybe do something nice for your neighbors.