I was running behind for several reasons but resumed with my blog from the Russia Open Games in Moscow where I departed after the Games were over. My plan for this particular blog was to report on some of the sports accomplishments and feats I found most notable. Of course there were many, but one friend asked me to summarize what were my proudest moments. For the sake of brevity, I will say there were three. I think my proudest moment of the Olympics was when I witnessed the women’s biathlon relay where the Ukrainian girls won the only gold medal for Ukraine just days after over 100 of their fellow countrymen died in Independence Square massacre in Kiev in what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. I was screaming encouragement to them out on the course as I had a good position to watch as they would pass by. Most everyone was from Russia, but I had my Ukrainian flag yelling their names and “Davai (go)” as they would pass me. They did Ukraine proud in their performance. It was their plan to wear black arm bands to honor the victims of Euromaidan, but the IOC didn’t allow them. Instead at their press conference after their win, they held a moment of silence for them. I also got to attend their medal ceremony the next night in medal’s plaza of Olympic Park under the flame. It was indeed amazing and emotional to see the Ukrainian flag raised above the others while the anthem was played, although the Russian band butchered the melody such that it didn’t sound right((. My two second proudest moments of the Olympics were when Russia won the medals competition on the final day and attending the victory ceremony for Viktor Ahn who competed for Russia in short track speed skating. You see, Viktor Ahn was formerly named Ahn Hyun Soo, was born in South Korea, and won gold medals in 2006 competing for South Korea. However, he defected to Russia in 2011 for training purposes and because it suited him. I thought perhaps the ethnic Russians would be less enthusiastic, but saw that night how much he was embraced as one of their own. It seemed they even cheered louder for him because he chose his Russian nationality and contributed 3 gold medals to the 13 won by Russian athletes. Another gold was won by American born Vic Wild, who in 2011 changed nationality to Russian after marrying his Russian snowboarding girlfriend Alena Zavarzina. He was embraced too by the Russians there now calling him ‘Vitya’. I said a sarcastic comment to my friend from Moscow that it used to be that Soviets would defect to America for freedom. Now with Victor Wild and Edward Snowden, the famous whistleblower on how our National Security Agency spies on our own citizens, and others, Americans are now seeking freedom in Russia!!! I heard that Russia might be able to clinch the medal championship the last day as I went to Krasnaya Polyana to attend the bobsled. Suddenly on the train there, there was a buzz among the people in my wagon as word was spreading from people’s smart phones that something exciting had happened. I asked what it was, and a neighbor sitting close to me said that Russians swept all 3 medals in the men’s 50 km cross country skiing!!! Russian Alexander Zubkov also later won the bobsled gold as well. When I exited the Sanki bobsled Center, I was greeted by a victory line of volunteers shouting their enthusiasm at winning the medals competition and wishing us a fond farewell (pictured here). I embraced and congratulated many of them. Some of their signs after all said, “Free Hugs!” For me, the volunteers (who actually came from 66 countries) made the Sochi Olympics special. They constantly greeted me both when I was coming and going from the venues and always ready to help me with directions or questions. They were the friendly face of Russia as most of them were from Russia and came from every distant region of the country purely out of a love and pride for themselves and their country at what an opportunity this was to shine. Shine indeed they did. I was proud too to be a part of it in my small way as I love all Slavic people.
You know, I told people Sochi indicated to me the kind of country Russia can become: progressive, open, warm, and welcoming to the world and all its minorities. It seems Russians indeed want to develop the region in this way as a sports and entertainment capital much like Las Vegas with a twist of the Olympic Training Center for athletes of all sports to train and compete. Indeed after the Paralympic Games which are now being contested, Olympic Park will host the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Russia in October a week before the US Grand Prix in Austin, TX. Sadly however, Moscow indicated to me the kind of country Russia is today, with some people still intolerant of sexual, gender, and racial minorities with an infrastructure that still dates back to its Soviet past. To be honest, my country the USA, was once in this condition too not that long ago and is now becoming a more open country toward its LGBT community in both its population and laws beginning to protect equal rights of all.
Sincerely, this trip has been a life-changing one for me. I hope it has been as well to my readers. Perhaps there will be an opportunity again to share a moment in history from a personal perspective. For our world to change however, I like to state my motto that I may have copied from someone else but embrace as my own:
“Be not merely one who is a part of history. Instead, be one who makes history.”
May we all be role models of the change we seek our world to become.