Reflecting back on the winter games, one moment in particular comes back to mind and with it an uncomfortable feeling: the opening ceremony.
How grandiose and flamboyant the spectacle may have been, it could not overshadow Putin’s presence. At any glitch or missteps, seconds seemed to become minutes as eyes and cameras turned to Putin expectant, waiting for Russia’s president to calmly rise from his seat and lift his hand, and, slowly but firmly, drop his thumb down to get rid of the guilty, looking down the arena, past exhausted performers and technicians, at a glorious and impeccable Russia.
When each country entered the venue one by one, proudly waving their nation’s colours, Putin was forgotten. Finally, it seemed that the world could be at peace. How magnificent was it to see Georgian and Ukrainian athletes walk in under the cheers of the crowd, parading on the ground of the oppressing superpower. Or Americans getting a warm welcome as if old grudges had finally been forgotten and old enemies befriended.
There is something utopian about the Olympics, where world conflicts and politics could be put aside. For some times, at least.
As the games started the true Olympic spirit resurfaced, and this feeling of unease disappeared. And for a few weeks, the game of power gave way to sport and solidarity.
And spectators all over the world watched Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth help Anton Gafarova, a Russian cross country skier, with his ski so he could finish the race.
They saw women slope riders waiting and cheering for each other regardless of their nationalities. They held their breath with the other athletes when Czech Republic snowboarder Sarka Pancochova fell on her head and passed out on the slope and they breathed out in relief when she got up and slid to the final line.
But reality was never far and the conflict in Ukraine meant athletes had to withdraw.
Today, Russia has won and the games are over. The mascots that seemed to have been brought from another era are just an odd souvenir, and the athletes’ prowess are memories in shades of gold, silver and bronze.
Now that the games are over we are forced back to reality: three days ago Putin ordered drills to keep his western troops on alert as Ukraine continues to bleed.
Meanwhile Russian gold medalists are showered in gifts and money. Qu’on les couvre d’or!* and throw the rest of them to the crocodiles.
*Let’s cover them in gold – reference to the Belgian comic book ‘Asterix and Cleopatra’ (1965).
This article was first written on Friday, February 28th, 2014.