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Harmony in Sochi

Olympic spirit transcends political stigmas in Russia after rough beginning

features editor

Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014 00:02

sochi bobsled

Mark Reis/Colorado Springs Gazette/MCT

The USA-2 bobsled team of Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans celebrate their bronze medal finish in the women's bobsled finals during the Winter Olympics on Wednesday.

For the last week and a half, 88 nations from around the globe have come together to focus on one thing: the Olympics.

The 2014 Winter Olympic Games, which began Feb. 7 in Sochi, Russia, have brought several social issues into the public eye.

Stacy St. Clair from the Chicago Tribune tweeted on Feb. 4 about the lack of safe water in her hotel, accompanied by a photo of the yellow water coming from the sink. The next day, Harry Reekie, a CNN sports reporter, tweeted about the conditions of his hotel room, using the word “shambles” to describe it.

Despite these complaints, some feel the American media has been too critical of conditions, both physical and political, in the host country.

“I just wish that the American media were just a little bit less mean about it,” said Taira Koybaeva, USU associate professor of global communications. “I watched a show on TV the other day, … and (the host) said the whole world is watching for Putin to fail. Well, wait a minute: This is not Putin’s Olympics. I mean, these are people and this is a country. Don’t want a whole nation to fail just because you don’t like Putin.”

Koybaeva is a dual citizen of both the United States and the Russian Federation. She was born and raised in Russia and said she claims both countries as her own, “like having two parents.”

She said many countries have issues but feels criticism is not the answer.

“If we do not stop criticizing, we will never like each other,” Koybaeva said. “So what good does it give us to say, ‘Well, they’re so bad. Well, they’re so inept.’ … We’re not ideal either. I say a little bit better sportsmanship would be a wonderful thing to have.”

Matt Ditto, a junior majoring in exercise science, spent two years in Russia while serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and said he was there when it was announced the country would host the 2014 games. He said he felt the excitement of the people there.

“They’re just super unified when it comes to athletics or anything else that has their name attached for Russia,” Ditto said.

He said at first he found the posts about conditions amusing because he remembered having similar experiences, but after a while, they started to bother him.

“It makes me upset,” Ditto said. “It makes me frustrated with our culture — I don’t know if frustrated with our culture is the right word, but probably just disappointed to think, ‘OK, here we’re going into a situation where they’ve tried to improve something. … We’re going outside of our county and then bagging on somebody else’s country.’ It’s kind of not cool.”

Alina Androsova, a Russian citizen volunteering in Sochi as a timekeeper for the curling events, said what she’s seen of the Olympics has been beautiful. She said she works with people from at least eight different countries, and the Olympics have helped her feel connected.

“I’m just enjoying talking to people, learning new things,” Androsova said. “The world becomes more open, if you know what I mean. In U.S.A. there are probably lots of legends about Russia, but the same is in Russia. So when you are talking to people, you can recognize what the truth is and probably learn more about other people, countries and cultures.”

Others, like Utahn David Zumbrennen, said they agree the Olympics have a special way of connecting people.

Zumbrennen has worked at nine different Olympics, including the one this year in Sochi, and he said it has changed his life.

“You can’t describe it,” Zumbrennen said. “Sometimes the feelings and magic can get lost, but I try to take my time each day and just soak in the atmosphere, etc. … (The experience has) changed my life just by what I do for work, friends I have, how I value myself and culture and people.”

He said the criticisms are fair, but they disappear when people begin to focus on the games.

“They (the criticisms) may be there physically, but the games are about the athletes, the human spirit, global peace and friendship, and without fail, it always turns to that because that’s what the Olympic games do,” Zumbrennen said. “It’s what they are.”

He said the games inspire passion, hope, goodwill and love.

“It changes people and cities forever,” Zumbrennen said. “Sochi and the people of Russia will never be the same. They will be stronger, a better people. I have greater love, respect, etc. for these people and their culture (now).”

He said as the games begin and develop, the petty complaints disappear and people are able to focus on what really matters.

“The criticisms are fair, but you tell me, have you heard a hotel story in the last few days?” he said.

Ditto said the way he gained appreciation for the Russian people and culture was through being there and spending time with them.

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