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Get on with the Games

Attention surrounding the PyeongChang Olympics swirls more around the politics and less around the athletes.

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Though the Olympics normally symbolize unity and competition, this time is a little different. With all of the controversy and drama surrounding these 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, it seems there is little harmony and that sports are the least of the focus.

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea begin Wednesday, February 7. For 19 days, the world will watch as athletes compete in winter sports ranging from hockey to ice skating to skiing to curling, all the while wondering if controversy will overshadow the actual athletes.

The last Olympic games in 2014 took place in Sochi, Russia, which is ironic considering Russia plays a major role in this game’s drama. The nation, who won both the most gold and most overall medals in the last winter Olympics, is banned from these games due to their athletes’ doping and drug use. The Russian doping scandal was exposed by a whistle blower who worked in the Russian lab that processed Olympic drug tests. He showed evidence of Russian officials tampering with urine tests that were steroid laced.

Doping, typically taking anabolic steroids, is a serious subject for Olympic officials. “Athletes take steroids to improve strength, speed, endurance and muscle mass. But the long-term effects can be deadly. I saw a 24-year-old who had taken steroids when he was 18 and 19 die of a dissecting aortic aneurysm. Steroids had weakened his vessels, and they ruptured,” said Upper School Nurse Mrs. Lori Liles.

Although Russia will not be participating in these Olympics, a few of their athletes who have proven to be drug free are still allowed to participate representing a neutral flag. Their athletes may not have the Russian flag on their uniforms, and if they medal, the Olympic flag will fly for them.

In an interview with Canada’s Global News, Russian skeleton athlete Elena Nikitina said, “We were hoping for justice, and it has prevailed. It’s a matter of my life, what I do, and when you’re accused like that it’s very unpleasant and everything falls apart for you.”

In addition to the Russian controversy, tensions between the United States and North Korea have risen over the last few months with President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un publicly tangling on social media about nuclear warfare. While no North Korean athletes qualified to compete in 2014, North Korea does have athletes prepared for 2018.

The games’ proximity to North Korea had US political officials uneasy. Only 60 miles south of the Korean demilitarized zone dividing North and South, there was some talk of the United States even boycotting the 2018 Winter Olympics altogether due to safety concerns. When asked about the situation on Fox News in December, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called the boycott an “open question.” As recently as January, Mr. Kim reminded the world in a video address that the nuclear launch button is always on his table.

“Kim Jong-un can literally, with the push of a button, destabilize the entire region. Plus, some question his mental stability, and many others wonder who is really in charge of North Korea. The fact that China has not been able to restrain him in advancing his nuclear weapon capability is a bit unnerving. Adding the fact that many view him as unstable makes it rather shaky ground,” said History teacher Ms. Cindy deLeon.

The United States Olympic Committee, which makes the final decision on whether US athletes compete, met with the State Department, South Korean law enforcement and officials and US military leaders stationed in Korea to assess the situation. They determined the US athletes will be part of the games.

In an unusual turn, South Korea and North Korea have come together in a very unexpected way. Talks between the two estranged countries led to the North Korean and South Korean team marching as one under a unified flag at the opening ceremony. They will also field a combined North and South women’s hockey team.

“South Korea’s current leader, Moon Jae-in, ran on the campaign promise that he believed in and would work toward re-unification. The people elected him, so he sees it as a mandate from the people to move toward re-unification. Competing as a unified team seems like a pretty safe first step toward attempting to fulfill this promise,” said Ms. deLeon.

The fans of the United States Winter Olympic team have a lot to look forward to, including several star athletes. Youth will be highlighted in the figure skating competition. Things look good for 18-year-old and first-time Olympian national figure skating champion Nathan Chen. He is the first to ever land five quadruple jumps in a single routine. Joining him on the men’s team is 17-year-old Vincent Zhou and on the women’s team former national champion 18-year-old Karen Chen.

Junior Karen Scully said, “I am mostly looking forward to freestyle figure skating because we have two 18-year-olds going from the US, and they’re both really good.”

Spanish teacher and former competitive skater Mrs. Allie Cordova said, “I am obviously looking forward to the figure skating. There’s lots of drama, and it will be interesting to see how the international judges score the routines as scoring was very inconsistent at the different qualifying events.”

Last Winter Olympics were somewhat disappointing for the US. In 2010, the team brought home 37 medals, and in 2014, the US only had 28 medals. This is still high, but for a US team with high expectations, it was a letdown. On the bright side, out of the nine gold medals the US earned, seven were earned by first time Olympians. This bodes well for the 2018 Olympics because many of those first time Olympians will be returning.

The PyeongChang Winter games will be broadcast on NBC Channel 5. With 15 types of competitions to choose from, fans have many different kinds of events to watch.

Junior Brendan Sweeney said, “I am very excited about this Olympics. I used to snowboard and look forward to seeing Shaun White compete. I feel that this year especially the US will medal the most.”

There is curiosity surrounding men’s hockey as the National Hockey League decided not to participate, calling the Olympics disruptive to their schedule. Instead of the normal set of all-stars, the team consists of collegiate and American players currently in European professional leagues. Even so, Sophomore Peyton Chapa said, “The US National Hockey team will have a high scoring offense, an amazing defense and are for sure a contender for the gold medal.”

“I also just look forward to the excitement of all the events and hearing the stories of how the athletes got to where they are,” said Mrs. Cordova.

The opening ceremony featuring the parade of nations is Friday, February 9, at 7 p.m. on NBC 5. Olympic coverage can be found on NBC, NBCSN, Olympic Channel, CNBC and USA Network.

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