While some events began Thursday, this evening’s opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia, will be watched on television by millions of people around the world.
Because it happens once every four years, there is something beautifully inspirational about seeing the joy on the athletes’ faces as they parade into the stadium on the first step of their journey representing their country in sport.
There has been much talk of terrorism in the days leading up to tonight’s opening, but, we hope, between now and Feb. 23, the focus will be as it should on athletic achievement. This is not to downplay the threat of terrorism. It is very real, and close. The Chechen Republic, a hotbed of terrorism, is less than 300 miles from Sochi. In late December two suicide bombings on consecutive days in Volgograd, a city not far from Sochi, killed 34 people, and wounded several dozen more. These events shook the confidence of the world in Russia’s ability to protect the Olympians and the fans attending the games.
And the later veiled threat by someone calling herself a Black Widow, who threatened to bring violence to the actual Olympic games, did nothing to erase fears. Even on the eve of today’s opening ceremonies, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a warning to airlines flying to Russia of a potential threat of explosives being smuggled aboard in toothpaste tubes.
These risks certainly won’t go away with the beginning of the games – and should not be minimized – but perhaps the increased Russian security will be as thorough as Russian President Vladimir Putin promises.
The Olympics have a way of making a fan out of even the most jaded person. And while the games and athletes may not be as financially “pure” as in earlier days, they are still special for most of us. It is easy to root for someone – from any nation – who has for years spent thousands of hours training in relative obscurity for the chance to compete in an event that in a matter of seconds will bring heartbreaking defeat or the unimaginable joy of victory.
It is our hope and our prayer that the next three weeks will be about the competition taking place in Sochi between hard-working athletes striving to reach their dream, and not the cowardly face of terrorism.