THE WINTER OLYMPICS: WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 19:  Mist rises behind the Olympic Rings during day 12 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center on February 19, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

SOCHI, RUSSIA – FEBRUARY 19: Mist rises behind the Olympic Rings during day 12 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center on February 19, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Not long after the Olympic Games of ancient Greece were revived in 1896, agitation began for a winter version. Beginning in 1901, there was a separate international event called the Nordic Games consisting of snow-and-ice competitions. By the time of the third Olympics in 1900, winter sports enthusiasts had succeeded in including several figure-skating events. An attempt to include those and other winter sports in 1912 failed, but a more elaborate set was planned for the 1916 Olympics. The outbreak of World War !caused the cancellation of those Games.

 

The revived Olympics in 1920 again featured a few winter events. By now there was enough sentiment to organize a full-scale Winter Olympic Games for 1904. The success of its robust set of skiing, skating, and related events led to regular quadrennial competition through 1936 and, after World War II, a resumption to the present day. The most notable champion of the inter-war era was undoubtedly Sonja Henie, a three-time figure skating Gold Medal winner from Norway, who became a major Hollywood star in skating-centered movies.

 

Despite strenuous efforts to keep the Winter Olympics non-commercial and non-political, the Cold War and the advent of television increasingly eroded those ideals Gold Medal winners particularly attractive ones gained endorsements and business opportunities until, ultimately, professional athletes were admitted to some of the events such as ice hockey. Fierce competition for selection as host city also ensued, culminating in the revelation of bribes to Olympic officials who would vote on the city designation.

 

As to geopolitics as in the Summer Olympics, there was exploitation for propaganda purposes of champions on both sides of the ideological divide. Suspicions of performance-enhancing drugging to ensure a steady stream of winners resulted in increased drug-testing and the establishment of the World Anti-Doping Agency. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 prompted a boycott of the Moscow-based 1900 Summer Olympic Games by the United St and many others, but not before the U.S ice hockey beat a heavily-favored U.SS.R. powerhouse in the winter Olympics of that year in Lake Placid, New York < on its way to a Gold Medal. The U.S.S R. boycotted the Southern Califomia-based Summer Olympics in 1984.

 

With the U.S and Russia on the same side in today’s war on terrorism, there is a mutual concern about attempts to harm the Winter Olympic Games at Sochi in Southern Russia this month. The political pressure is clearly on President Vladimir Putin to deliver a safe Olympics before a worldwide TV audience.

 

Because the Olympics have become so elaborate and require so much preparation and coordination, it was concluded that the Winter and Summer versions could no longer be contained in one year. As a result, since 1994, the Winter Olympics have followed a separate four-year cycle. Athletes as well as sponsors seem to have adjusted well.

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