SOCHI, Russia – In the late days of the 19th century, a wonderful idea turned into a wonderful reality.
Athletes across the globe gathered every four years for a true world championship, and on a planet plagued with strife and bloodshed these games somehow remained peaceful.
Julie Chu started watching these Olympic Games in the late days of the 20th century. She was a freshman in high school, and she could not escape the grip of her TV. She watched hours of the 1998 Nagano Games, with a special emphasis on women’s hockey.
“I was hooked for life,” Chu said. “That was it for me.”
Chu formed a vision for her future. She vowed she would play hockey in the Olympics. She made this promise, even though she didn’t fully believe her vision ever would come true.
Her vision became reality.
She earned a spot on the U.S. team in 2002. And again in 2006, 2010 and 2014. On Sunday night, Chu carried the American flag at the closing ceremony of yet another peaceful, joyous, dramatic, entertaining Olympic Games.
Chu symbolizes all that is right about these games. As a young woman she employed diligent, obsessive labor to become a world-class athlete. She grew into a fierce competitor for her country.
As she stood in the middle of Olympic Stadium on Sunday night, waving the red, white and blue, some of the sting was gone from yet another loss to Canada. Chu was surrounded by hundreds of celebrating athletes from across the globe. She kept waving the flag, and those hundreds kept dancing.
Turns out, this Olympic party remained full of joy and laughter for 17 days. The terrorists failed to invade the fun, thank God. The promised carnage never arrived, and the worries that kept thousands of sports fans home proved groundless.
The Olympics were dreamed up by a throng of optimists, by those who believe our collective good outweighs our collective bad. This belief will always remain belief. I’ve been living in the Olympic cocoon for three weeks, but those images from Kiev found their way here, too. The corpses were reminders of our never-ending failure to find peace.
Sure, there were glitches at these Olympics. Judging in women’s figure skating was baffling and infuriating. Unbiased judges don’t hug performers minutes after a performance. The conditions on the Alpine slopes at times resembled skating rinks. A skiing friend told me he would never have braved those conditions.
Chu suffered through her own glitch. She and her American teammates were a minute away from dumping Canada as Olympic champs. The Canadians revived, tied the game and were soon dancing and shouting as champs in overtime. Chu, once again, failed to walk away from the games with a gold medal hanging from her neck.
For U.S. fans and leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee, this trip to Sochi delivering an unsettling jolt. Americans ruled the Vancouver Games in 2010 with 37 medals. America did not rule these games, collecting only 28 medals, five behind Russia.
Still, Chu was smiling and waving her nation’s flag on a night that sailed somewhere beyond winning and losing.
As the fireworks exploded Sunday night on the edge of the Black Sea, it was clear yet another edition of Our Games had concluded in triumph. A wonderful idea became a wonderful reality.