Brock: When Russia was the enemy in real life and the Olympics
The Winter Olympics started Friday in Sochi, Russia, and I can’t help but think it wasn’t that long ago when the United States boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow.
Growing up in Arizona, the games played at the Winter Olympics were completely unfamiliar and fascinated us who gathered around our television. The only thing we knew about the games played is what we learned from friends who had relocated from the frozen north or at school.
We were taught at school, church and television that the Soviet Union and its allies’ athletes were the bad guys, and it was a matter of national pride to always root against their athletes at the Winter or Summer Olympics.
They had the nuclear capability to destroy us and the world in a moment, and it was only our own military might that kept it from happening.
The communists were to be feared because they were a godless group and hell bent on world domination along with the elimination of democracy and our way of life. Our soldiers had fought and died in Korea and Vietnam to stop them in their tracks. The 1980 invasion of Afghanistan and the reason for the Moscow boycott just reinforced our fear.
The announcers couldn’t stress stronger that the Iron Curtain athletes were seasoned, grizzled and paid professionals who would probably be exiled to Siberia if they failed to win a medal. Our American competitors, on the other hand, were young and impoverished amateurs who played simply for love of the game and country.
The Olympics, in our eyes, were more about the battle between the good and — to quote President Ronald Reagan — “the Evil Empire,” than they were about sportsmanship and building goodwill.
We cheered mightily whenever one of our athletes outdid theirs are won the occasional medal at the Winter Olympics. The win by the U.S. men’s hockey team at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, dubbed the “Miracle on Ice” was a stunning achievement that caused mass celebrations across our country.
When the Berlin Wall came down, and after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the world instantly shrunk. People from behind the Iron Curtain started immigrating to the U.S. and families tore apart by the dividing of Europe after World War II were reunited.
Human nature is to fear the unknown and once there was interaction between former enemies, we found that we were more alike than we had been led to believe.
I still feel a bit of national pride when American athletes medal in an event. Thirty-plus years of living so close to the Canadian border, along with working alongside folks from the former Iron Block, and now that I have personally been on skis, skates and sleds, I have a greater appreciation of the accomplishments of all athletes, no matter what country they represent.