Olympics bring controversy and intrigue to Pyeongchang
By Zachary Fletcher
The wide world of sport converges on Pyeongchang, South Korea this month for the 23rd edition of the Winter Olympic games. Over 90 countries will be represented by close to 3,000 athletes, according to ABC News. Six countries will make their debut during these games, and the winter tournament is set to host a range of events including everything from luge to ice hockey. According to CNN, this will be the first Olympic games to host over 100 medal events.
There is excitement around the event across the many sporting disciplines that will be on display come Feb. 9. Sophomore Nalin Richardson (Wakefield, Rhode Island) has a particular interest in the various ski and snowboard events.
“I really like the snow events, the snowboard cross and the ski cross,” Richardson said. The United States has had a history of success in the halfpipe and on throughout the various ski and snowboard events.
According to the LA Times, the United States has one of the highest medal counts in the snowboarding events and the total Winter Olympic American medal count sits at 282.
One of the most famous athletes to grace the snowboarding stage is American Shaun White. White has two gold medals and has been competing in the winter games since the 2006 Torino games.
“I think the halfpipe is going to be really interesting this year because Shaun White has been kind of a super long-standing force in the snowboarding community now and he lost last year,” Richardson said.
Richardson has kept up with Shaun White after his defeat at the 2014 games. After discussing a video of White, Richardson had this to add: “He was saying that he had never lost before and he didn’t know what was going to happen when he lost and when he did lose his fans were still really proud of him.”
The sheer skill of the skiing events attracts sophomore Nico Heyning (Hermosa Beach, California) to the games.
“I’m look forward to the alpine skiing; how fast these people go down a hill is unbelievable,” Heyning said. “It always makes your gut wrench when they hit a pole and wipe out,” he added.
One of the main headlines coming out of this year’s Winter Games is Russia’s absence. In December of 2017, the International Olympic Committee banned Russia from competing in the 2018 Winter Games. This comes after a report of widespread cheating from the Russian team at the 2014 games in Sochi.
Olympic laboratories that handled drug testing at the 2014 games had been corrupted by the Russians, switching out tainted urine samples with clean ones, according to the New York Times. The Times also reported that as many as 15 Russian medal winners were involved in the cheating ring.
In addition to the team not being welcomed into South Korea in early February, Russian officials are banned from attending the games, the Russian flag will not be displayed, and the national anthem will not be played. Any Russian athlete who has been exempt from the ban will compete under a neutral flag, but the country’s medal count for these games will remain at zero.
“I don’t know if I necessarily agree with the punishment itself, but I like the fact that punishment is very substantial and definitely sends a message,” Richardson said about the Russia sanctions. “I think it’s really cool that the committee is really trying to send a message about doping and trying to keep the games fair,” he added.
Heyning paralleled those thoughts, but also acknowledged that this sort of cheating wasn’t exactly new to the sporting world.
“It’s good that took a severe action, but at the same time, it’s not really new,” Heyning said. “Having these bans on Russia is damning but it’s not going to do a whole lot in the long because they’ll be able to get back in,” he added.
When asked about the big picture of the Olympic games and what they mean to us as both citizens of America and of the world, Richardson and Heyning stressed the importance of unity.
“Throughout history there’s so much violence and so much hatred between countries,” Richardson said.
Heyning added the more enjoyable aspect of competition to his reasoning, “It’s a social event not only for the world but even between friends where you have a good time.”
“It’s a time to put aside our differences and come together in a friendly competitive spirit with the world,” Richardson added.
The globe descends on Pyeongchang in early February to see the world’s best athletes take their shot at Winter Olympic history. From ice hockey to luge, the Winter Olympic games offer athletes a chance to prove their skill and are a special celebration of worldly competition that comes only once every four years.