Lost in this year’s Olympics were the very people who were supposed to be the center of attention — the athletes.
Four years of hard work and countless hours of training and dedication by the athletes who sacrificed so much to make their respective nations’ Olympic teams were overshadowed by the controversy of the Sochi Olympics.
From the uncharacteristically warm temperatures for a winter Olympics, the mass killing of stray dogs in the Sochi area, poor conditions in the Olympic Village to Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay laws causing protests across the globe — it seemed as if the world and the media forgot what the games were really about.
In the months leading up to the February 7 opening ceremonies, the media buzz was focused on the political and environmental aspects of the games, far from the intended ideals of Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics vision of education through sport.
Once Albania walked out of the tunnel with their flag during the opening ceremonies, once the Olympic cauldron was lit, once Sage Kotsenburg stood on that podium listening to the Star Spangled Banner, receiving the first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics, the clouds disappeared — the focus of the games returned to the athletes.
“I think once the games get started, people get back to what they’re all about,” alpine skier and Treasure Valley native Erik Fisher said. “They are about sport, trying your hardest and giving it your all.”
According to Nick Cunningham, a member of the U.S. bobsled team and former track and field athlete at Boise State, it was a tough pill to swallow to have the Olympics be associated with so much negativity.
“The last thing we want to do is be a part of something that everyone has this negative thought about,” Cunningham.
Despite the negatives and the controversy caused by the Sochi Olympics, Cunningham, Fisher and biathlete Sara Studebaker, a 2003 graduate of Boise High School, felt it was important to have the games bring everything back to reality.
The goal of the Olympic movement according to the Olympic Charter is to “contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating young people through sport practiced in accordance with Olympism and its values.”
In Studebaker’s opinion, the Sochi Olympics informed the outside world of the events occurring in Sochi — without the spotlight of the Games, the controversies would have been buried.
In an attempt to combat the negative aspects which were the focus of the media during the Sochi Olympics, Cunningham, Fisher and Studebaker attempted to bring as many positive aspects of the games to light.
Cunningham and his bobsled crew took as many pictures as possible and used social media platforms to highlight the positives of their experiences in Sochi.
Studebaker and her teammates joined in the efforts of organizations such as 350.org to raise awareness.
“I think that as athletes, as social figures, you had a little bit of a duty to be aware and bring some of these issues to light,” Studebaker said. “(We) talked about the devastation because of the games and try to keep that from happening in the future.”
All three felt the media brought unwanted negativity to the Sochi area however, especially in regards to the conditions in the Olympic Village.
In the pre-Olympic build-up, the only reports from the media were on the horrendous conditions in the Olympic Village.
From pictures of dirty water and reports of the delayed construction of the facilities, many Olympic athletes had the expectations of living in slums during the duration of the Games.
Upon arrival in Sochi, they found media reports overly exaggerated.
“We get there and the accommodations were amazing,” Cunningham said. “They literally built two cities in the past four or five years.”
“To have a couple of doors not open, or something like that, who are we to go out there and bad mouth them,” Cunningham said.
Studebaker spoke of the negatives with social media in that regards — if one person has a negative experience, everyone knows about it.
“Things started out with some rough edges and people went about fixing the issues,” Studebaker said. “Unfortunately with social media, it’s really hard to come back from that with the bad initial (start).”
“All the negative stuff wasn’t coming from (the athletes), it was coming from the media trying to get out the story and looking for an issue,” Cunningham added.
Despite the negatives and controversies associated with this year’s Olympic Games, Fisher was at least able to take one positive from the experience:
“Free Big Macs.”