The 2014 Winter Olympics has created quite a sensation amongst fans all over the world. As an event that invites an international audience to root for their respective athletes, a controversial reaction is unavoidable. Complex emotions and rationales arise, ranging from patriotism to exhilaration, and are expressed openly to the world. Hence, as technology grows more and more sophisticated, these opinions spread throughout the countries like wildfire through the help of social media.
In these moments of quick wits and sharp judgments, we tend to overlook the true goal of the Olympics: the celebration of human achievement. As we watch each athlete’s trials, we are watching the blood and sweat of their teams, their supporters, and themselves. Hence, before we judge the sacrifices of these athletes and pronounce them out into the world, we should remember to consider the different perspectives of every battle. Instead of spewing such harsh emotions externally to the world, perhaps to truly appreciate the Olympics is to internalize the triumph of human struggles and accomplishments.
One of the most controversial events that occurred within this week was the women’s figure skating arena. Yuna Kim strived for the two-time gold medalist title and were greeted by her fans as “Queen Yuna” from all over the world. Yet the startling results defied many expectations. Adelina Sotnikova, the 17-year-old Russian skater, had won gold by a questionable peak in her points. Sotnikova finished with a total of 223.59 and Kim scored 219.11 after a seemingly flawless performance.
To simplify, the women’s figure skating point system is based on two components: Technicality and Artistry. For every execution of speed, spin, landing, and move, the skaters receive a range from a scale from -3 to 3, and for the artistic elements including choreography, time, and skills, the scale ranges from 1 to 10.
Yuna Kim competed with elegance. Although some have expressed that she played it too "safe" in her choreography, an amateur audience would not be able to easily pinpoint the flaws of her performance. Yet every execution landed safely and Kim had later expressed relief for finishing well. In the very realm of aesthetics, Yuna Kim had succeeded.
Adelina Sotnikova sparked interest as the young skater who made bold moves- moves she also tragically stumbled in finishing. Many have commented on the level of difficulty in her footwork and harsh executions. She did seven triples, four in combination while Kim did six triples and only three in combination. So does Sotnikova’s technical execution weigh heavier than Kim’s aesthetic work?
Terms like “home-cooking,” “Russiaflation,” and “robbery,” were openly used in U.S. news articles to provide context to the Korean fans’ outrage and disappointment. Yet the problem is no longer the result but the process: Anonymous judging.
Needless to say, the world should not look for a scapegoat- but the world is also entitled to knowing some answers. Who is accountable for these scores? How do we explain Carolina Kostner who had just as many triples as Sotnikova or Mao Asada who had greater- a total of 8 triples? The politics behind figure skating have been put in the spotlight before, including one of the judges of this year’s Olympics who had been suspended for an entire year for attempting to fix the 1992 Olympics in Nagano.
An online petition on change.org accumulated 1.8 million signatures prompting for an investigation on the very judging of the figure skating in Sochi. Pictures of one of the judges hugging Sotnikova surfaced on the Internet and parodies of Kim standing on the highest podium were circulated. Yet no officials openly justified the claim that Yuna Kim “should have received the gold instead,” and hence no official investigation is currently taking place.
However, the very attention and questioning of the 2014 figure skating arena’s results had already stained the “value” of the gold medal. By questioning its validity alone, the gold medal is losing its worth. On top of the politics, the wildfire of questioning and doubts expressed throughout the world denigrates what each Olympic athlete strives to compete for.
Yet the medal itself is a medal. Arbitrarily, it is what the medal represents to us- a symbol of victory and success. So why do these athletes dedicate their lives to compete? What do they receive for pouring out their souls to perfect their virtuosity? And do we have the right to judge them simply for their successes, let alone shame them for their failures, their sacrifices, and their pains?
Perhaps as fans and supporters what we need to do is internally receive and accept what these athletes had surrendered to make their dreams come true. Instead of exposing doubts and anger onto the arena they dream of one day standing and succeeding on, all we simply have to do is appreciate what they’ve poured out to be a part of this celebration. And perhaps this is when we can truly take Yuna Kim’s words to heart: “‘A gold medal wasn’t really important to me and being able to perform in the Olympics is meaningful enough. I made no mistake today and I am satisfied. I did everything I could,’ Kim told reporters after the result”.
Here is an excerpt written by Guggenheim fellowship-winning poet, Kwame Dawes, who "wrote [these] verses to capture the spirit of each day [of the 2014 Olympics]'s action” published on the Wall Street Journal.
for Yuna Kim
And when she said softly,
that she was happy now
that it was over, this
when she had lost the gold,
and the bedlam around
her told her she was cheated,
I believed her, believed
her relief, her sense that
the weight of it all
was now gone, that the queen
unburdened of the stone
around her to tutor
her body through pain
and to carry the flame
of envy, anger, awe and fear
inside her, stoking it
for years and years
as a flame—that this was
over now, and all she felt
was relief, gladness, and peace—
when she said, I am happy,
it is over, I believed her.
The truth is, no one can possibly put a value on Kim’s efforts nor on the infinite passion for what she does. In the end, I believe that even a gold medal would be inadequate to fully praise her and thank her for the sense of belonging and pride she has granted us throughout her career. Yuna Kim will always be remembered as a symbol of grace that embodied a dream, a dream that became a legacy.
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