Sports was defeated at the games in PyeongChang.
I got on the train, looked at my ticket, and my heart sank. 4A was a window seat. I’ve never liked sitting by the window. Behind me I could feel the crowd of other passengers pushing from behind. Everyone was in a hurry to get out of PyeongChang. The Olympics were over and now everyone wanted to get home.
A man was already sitting in seat 4B. He was middle-aged, with a stubbly chin and wearing a red sweater and glasses. I squeezed between the seats to let the people behind me pass and tossed my bags onto onto the top shelf. Oh that window …
“Excuse me, may I take my seat?” I asked my new neighbor.
He silently stood up, and I clambered over to the window and dropped my backpack onto my lap. I much prefer sitting by the aisle. There you’re self-sufficient. There you have freedom. But by the window … At the window you’re held captive.
“Where are you from?” The words were unexpectedly loud in my ear.
“From Russia,” I replied in a neutral tone.
He nodded silently and turned away. A sense of unease hung in the air. I felt it, at least. My seatmate did not mention where he was from nor introduce himself. He didn’t ask any more of these conventional questions or even smile. He simply turned away.
“And you?” I asked, somewhat offended.
“Canada,” he replied coldly, not inviting further conversation.
The remaining two hours to Seoul we passed in silence.
And for the entire trip I was tormented by a single question: would we have kept chatting if I had been from a different country?
Had my seatmate been aloof from the very beginning? But if so, why had he been the first to speak? Or did he suddenly get a lot less friendly once he found out I was from Russia? And his voice had sounded so severe…
I wonder what he was thinking about? Maybe he was afraid I was on doping drugs? Or does he feel that Russian athletes shouldn’t have been allowed at the games at all? Was the name McLaren the first thing that came to his mind? Does he in fact know the story about Rodchenkov?
We got off the train and merged into the post-Olympic crowd. And only then did I get it. Here it is, the key point about the Olympics. Sports are becoming less and less a way of bringing people together. At times now they’re even forcing us apart. Even involuntarily. As in my case.
There was so much my Canadian seatmate and I could have talked about: the hockey matchups, from which Canada took home two medals, although neither of them were gold, and Russia won one medal, but a gold one; or figure skating, in which Zagitova and Medvedeva swept everyone off their feet and the Canadians won four medals, including a gold in the team event; or short track; bobsled; curling; whatever! We could have even discussed women or the weather.
Theoretically we could have become friends and kept in touch in the future. But instead we sat in tense silence, not daring to start a conversation…
Sports was the big loser at this Olympics. It was not the athletes and fans who called the shots here, but the officials and lawyers. Here, destinies were decided not at the stadiums, but in the administrative offices. Not all the world’s strongest athletes were competing – from the players in the NHL to the skier Sergey Ustiugov. Different laws were applied to identical situations.
And I feel sorry for those nice Koreans. None of this was their fault. They were prepared to befriend and help everyone. They did a very good job organizing the games, which were spoiled by completely different people. Sometimes in life it’s important to take a global perspective. Looking at things from the point of view of people, history, and development. Witch hunts have never led anywhere good.
Later, you just wish you could have a do-over. Even if it meant going back to that despised window seat. Just for a chance to talk. To talk like two human beings. But it’s going to be too late – the train is leaving.
Travel notes by the Sport-Express Editor-in-Chief Maxim Maximov from PyeongChang are exclusively translated by ORIENTAL REVIEW.
As a complimentary footage we are sharing the most emotional and touching video from the farewell ceremony of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympic Games, which was remembered by its guests for years on: