On the 25th of February the Russian Olympic Hockey team clenched the gold medal after a highly competitive match against Germany which went into overtime where Russia won 4-3. Apart from being a well played match that was intense until the final goal, it was all the more meaningful due to the fact that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) prohibited the Russian players from using the name Team Russia and to add insult to injury, the IOC also prohibited the playing of the Russian national anthem during the medal ceremony. Instead, the Russian team and their fans belted out the national anthem as a rather anodyne Olympic Hymn played over the loudspeakers.
This was an Olympics where international bodies beholden to mainly US interests, attempted to humiliate Russia on a stage where Russian athletes traditionally performed with excellence, the Winter Olympics. While they tried to humiliate Russia, the hockey gold medal truly said it all:in spite of all odds, Russia achieved victory.
Since the Olympics which are supposed to be about fostering peace through sport were made overtly political to begin with, it was all the more symbolic that the victory came against Germany, the country whose fascist regime was ultimately destroyed by the Soviet Union on the 9th of May, 1945.
This storybook ending to an Olympics that was already held in the shadow of a Korean war that the US seeks to revive, is on par with the greatest international sporting stories ever told. The problem is that no one is telling it.
The Russian gold in hockey was in fact the moment where sporting excellence met political resistance to a shameful status quo, more thoroughly than at any time since the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City when African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in the black power salute during the playing of the US anthem, to protest injustice and racism in America.
Today, when Russian athletes broke out in song during the playing of a foreign anthem at their gold medal ceremony, this too was an act of political defiance against an Olympic establishment trying to erase any trace of a Russian identity at the Games. While the Olympics is supposed to be above politics, this years’s Winter Games were awash with geopolitical overtones, ranging from the highly positive phenomenon of the two Korean states marching under a Unity Flag to negative blight of Russia being prohibited from flying its flag and singing its anthem. Stories have even abounded regarding US athletes refusing to shake the hands of their Russian counterparts.
In spite of all of this, Russia won the gold in the most iconic sport of the Winter Olympics and did so on its own terms. Russia has made sporting history. The team that they tried to run out of the Olympics and embarrass when they showed up, has clenched a victory on the ice that no one can ever take away.