Smith: Refocus Olympic attention on athletic accomplishments

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Leanna Smith, Columnist

The Olympics have been hijacked. It is clear that the same hype that precedes the Summer Olympics does not accompany the Winter Olympics – high-level curling just does not seem to draw the same crowds as Michael Phelps’ eight gold medals. This is not to make light of curling, nor the terrorist threats or the heavy-handed anti-gay sentiments that seem to be synonymous with holding the competition in Sochi, but the focus leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics has not been on the athletes, and wrongly so.

It is a shame that a forum meant for showcasing the most elite athletic talent is being taken over by other issues of varying severity. Russian president Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay remarks and measures are horrifying. Even if he retracted them, the issue is already a focal point of the Olympics. It would be impossible to ignore the homophobia that Putin has propagated. His bigotry has put a damper on the upcoming Games — and understandably so. On the other hand, on the eve of the Olympic opening ceremonies, the hashtag “#SochiProblems” is trending on Twitter. This hashtag, though funny, calls attention to the subpar accommodations, the legions of stray dogs and Sochi’s seeming unpreparedness to host the Olympics. This event is meant to pay tribute to people who have dedicated their lives to the elevation of winter sports and pushing the bounds of athleticism, but instead we seem more preoccupied with the absence of toilet partitions.

There is a shortage of support for American athletes who are going to represent our nation in the most prestigious competition in the world. The U.S. Olympic Committee regularly sends out blurbs with spotlights on particular athletes that highlight their sports achievements, but these are not receiving nearly as much attention as the Sochi housing drama or the color of local tap water.

Journalists on assignment in Sochi are reporting about their hotel conditions as the first few events kick off. To be fair, amidst allegations of “the most expensive Olympics ever” it is editorially valid that media spotlight how world-class athletes are being bunked in rustic quarters. But does this really stoke excitement of the events to come?

A Facebook user posted a link to an article listing problems that Sochi is facing leading up to the Olympics with the comment, “I am glad I am not an Olympian at this moment.” More than two years ago, social media was used as a platform to glorify the Olympics at the Summer Games in London. Even Ryan Lochte’s famous #Jeah and the viral “McKayla Maroney is not impressed” meme popularized and celebrated the athletes and their accomplishments.

Let’s worry about snowboarder Shaun White’s performance on the halfpipe and be less concerned about whether his toilet flushes.

Leanna Smith is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].