Editorial: Resilient competitors praised

Feb. 25, 2014 @ 11:41 PM

Women’s biathlon relay wasn’t the buzzword sport before the Sochi Games commenced a 17-day run three weeks ago.

Even the most casual of sports observers, as tends to be the case for the Winter Games, were looking more at skating and perhaps hockey. The U.S. contingents, to put it mildly and broadly, endured struggles in those.

But we should remember the women’s biathlon relay. The winner on Friday two days before closing ceremonies was Ukraine. That would be host Russia’s next-door neighbor, and that would also be the site of deadly riots and political turmoil.

Ukraine is torn between Russia and the West, battling its most turbulent time since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Twins Vita and Val Semerenko, Juliya Dzhyma and Olena Pidhrushna are the relay team that did not break apart, that stayed unified while their country fractured. They surely mourned for what was happening across the border, seeing a capital burning and hearing of their countrymen dying.

But they stayed together.

We like to think of the Olympics as a time when war and hostilities between nations cease­—never mind within a country. It is a nice thought, just not quite true. What we have seen is athletes from warring countries able to compete, and let squabbles between their homelands be set aside, often albeit begrudgingly.

In the U.S., those who lived as the Cold War with Russia carried on will recall 1972 in Munich and 1980 in Lake Placid. Their basketball team robbed us of gold in the former. We upset the greatest hockey team ever in the latter.

In both cases, there was belief the Cold War and competition were one.

But throughout time, athletes for the most part have competed for love of country and sport, not necessarily politics. And the Olympics have sought to bring unity and harmony to the world through athletic competitions.

Sochi will be remembered for the terrorism that didn’t happen. It was marked by more dollar signs than ever. It played against the backdrop of Russia’s deteriorating democracy and human rights under President Vladimir Putin.

But like all Olympics, it delivered shining moments worth remembering.

We lament the conflict in Ukraine. We offer praise for its resilient competitors.