Kamila Valieva’s experience in Beijing summed up the complicated nature of the Olympic ideal (Photo: Getty Images.)
You must have felt Russian teenage figure skating star Kamila Valieva as she slipped or fell at least four times in the free skate and missed an Olympic medal of any kind after being favorite for gold .
Of course, she shouldn’t have competed at all, having failed a drug test after the team skating event last week. But, in the end, she’s a 15-year-old child who has been abandoned by the adults who control her life in front of a global audience – and it was heartbreaking to see her devastated and in tears after her. fateful performance.
One can only imagine the pressure she has been under in recent days. Already considered one of the greatest figure skaters of the modern era despite her young years, she was clearly the most talented competitor in the field. But what should have been a triumph that would set her up for a legendary career turned into a nightmare. I hope she can recover both personally and competitively.
I couldn’t believe it when Russian coach Eteri Tutberidze berated Valieva as she walked off the ice rather than comforting her after such a traumatic experience. During a press conference, the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, rightly challenged Valieva’s entourage for their “chilling” reaction to her conflict.
It was also a little convenient, for everyone else involved, that she finished fourth. The Russian skaters – one of whom shared a coach with Valieva – still finished first and second and the medal ceremony could take place, which would not have happened if Valieva had finished in the top three due to the ongoing drug investigation.
However, it’s no surprise that American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson feels underwhelmed by comparison. She missed the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year because she tested positive for cannabis.
The main difference between the two athletes? Well, aside from the fact that cannabis is considered a non-performance enhancing drug, Richardson is black and Valieva is white. And, given that she is under 16, the Russian was still allowed to compete in the individual competition as she is considered a “protected person” under the World Anti-Doping Code.
As a concept, the Olympics are truly special and provide a unique global opportunity to celebrate the human spirit and transcend politics. They can represent a fantastic opportunity for brands to partner with the Olympic movement to take advantage of the respected feel-good factor and tell their stories.
But, as on many previous occasions, the Olympic oath has been sorely tested in the past two weeks despite the best efforts of athletes, who often represent the Olympic spirit despite – rather than because of – the efforts of their coaches, country of origin, organizers and governments.
The oath was first devised at the ancient Olympics where competitors swore on a statue of Zeus. It was introduced in 1920 – with an athlete reciting it while holding the Olympic flag: “We swear. We will participate in the Olympic Games in a spirit of chivalry, for the honor of our country and for the glory of sport.
In many ways, the athletes achieve this, from the pageantry of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies to the sportsmanship and sportsmanship among competitors across a variety of disparate events.
Who can forget the remarkable friendship forged between legendary black American sprinter Jesse Owens and German long jumper Luz Long during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin in the presence of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler?
Or the Beijing Olympics in 2008 when American sprinter Shawn Crawford sent his silver medal to first runner-up Churandy Martina when the latter was disqualified after briefly leaving her lane. Crawford sent the medal with the note, “I know it won’t replace the moment, but I want you to have it, because I think it’s yours by right.”
In 2022, the Olympic motto was updated to read “together for a shared future”. And “faster, higher, stronger – together”, with the emphasis on “together”.
However, the reality is that despite the noble significance of the Olympic rings representing the joining of the five continents of the world, politics, conflict and controversy still rear their ugly heads.
There was the terrorist attack on members of the Israeli team at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. And a deadly domestic terrorist attack at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
The United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets and 13 other Eastern Bloc countries retaliated in 1984 by missing the Los Angeles Summer Games.
In many ways, the Olympics are a metaphor for the Cold War, currently being rekindled by Russia’s aggressive moves toward Ukraine and the West’s reaction. That’s why the US hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics was so epic in its celebration and proportion. It was a proxy for the war played on ice.
In modern times, athletes such as Valieva compete under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee after the country was banned for four years in 2019 for running a state-sponsored doping scheme.
The Valieva incident has cast a veil over the entire Winter Olympics, which have already started on a negative note as countries including the United States, Australia, Japan and Great Britain have implemented a diplomatic boycott of the games due to China’s human rights record.
And there are many other stories on display in Beijing that reflect the complexity and culture of the modern world.
San Francisco-born, 18-year-old Chinese freestyle skier Eileen Gu won two gold medals and a silver in competition for China. She previously represented the United States but changed affiliations in 2019, with the stated Olympic ideal of helping to inspire millions of young people in China and “to unite people, promote common understanding, create communication and forging friendships between nations”.
She spends her summers in China with her mother and is fluent in Mandarin and English. Gu still lives in California and is heading to Stanford University later this year. She says she’s American when in the US and Chinese when in China – a very Gen Z attitude towards the nation.
Eileen Gu Brand Approval
A brand icon in China, where she represents more than 20 brands, she is also popular in the United States and the West, counting Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Red Bull and Beats by Dre among her endorsements.
However, 19-year-old figure skater Zhu Yi, who renounced her US citizenship and moved to Beijing, has come under fire for her sub-par performance in the free skating single event that lifted China out of medals .
Zhu was called “too American” due to the quality of her Mandarin and told to “go back to America”, at least proving that racism has no national borders.
Similarly, US-born Olympian Nathan Chen, whose mother grew up in Beijing, has been dubbed a “traitor” on social media in China for being “too white” and “Americanized” and also for not speaking Mandarin well enough.
Elsewhere, Kaillie Humphries, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in women’s bobsleigh with Canada, won the first pilots-only monobob race at her first Olympics representing the United States.
She abandoned her country of birth after filing a harassment complaint against Canada’s bobsleigh governing body in 2018, claiming she had been “repeatedly and horribly verbally and mentally abused by the head coach”.
Many other complicated social, cultural and political narratives unfolded in the Olympic maelstrom in China.
But just like the Russian, American and other gymnasts at the Tokyo Summer Olympics last year who consoled and congratulated each other after their respective performances, I prefer to remember the camaraderie of young athletes and the camaraderie that truly represents Olympic nobility ideals and gives us hope for the future of the world.
The world is a much smaller place than it was at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s and 1970s and these athletes know each other through their social media footprints, mutual brands and shared cultural references. .
Think of the respect shown to American snowboarding icon Shaun White by his young competitors around the world when he passed the baton to the younger generation of a sport he essentially established, popularized and inspired.
Or the female snowboarders in the big air final who are clearly having fun and just enjoying competing against each other and being part of the unique Olympic Games experience.
The Olympics are complicated, that’s for sure. But, call me naive if you will, I still think they give us hope for a better future inspired by a more progressive and tolerant generation that genuinely embraces those treasured Olympic ideals.
To chivalry, to honor and glory and to go faster, higher and stronger – together. For a shared and united future of a common understanding.