FISU is committed to putting on a cultural and educational event and to stay away from as much politics as possible. Therefore, it will only be the FISU Anthem that is played. It's actually a fairly depressing song - from what I can tell it's based off an old drinking song. But that could be wrong - remember, you can't trust everything you find on the Internet!
What I saw on the final day of competition, I think, was the epitome of what FISU wants. Sure, the Russians far outstripped the rest of their competitors in medals. It's their home turf and they should bring out their best, as long as they are within the boundaries of being eligible to compete. Did every swimmer want to win? Absolutely. Were there national rivalries - you bet! But it was the last day that summed it up for me. No pictures to show that I know of. Perhaps that's the way it should be.
It was after the final medal ceremony for the Men's 400 Medley Relay. 1st was Russia - 2nd was Japan - 3rd was the United States. The athletes received their medals, came down off the podium, stood under the large screen for pictures, then marched down the far side of the pool. There, lined up, were the U.S. coaches and the Japanese coaches and many of their swimmers. There could have been others but I was sitting in the opposite corner.
The teams were marching in 2nd, 1st and 3rd order, per their position on the medal stand. The U.S. coaches began high-fives with the Japanese, then the Russians, before getting to their swimmers. Then the Japanese formed one of those tunnels. It appeared to me that the Russian swimmers weren't going to follow the Japanese through, but with some encouragement, they did. So did the Americans. That was it. The language of sport transcending politics and things that might divide us.
I read this afternoon a silly news article about one politician suggesting a boycott be considered for the Sochi Olympics. Hogwash! Never should anything like that be considered or done again. Sport can go above and beyond the things that divide us. I experienced it as a swimmer - I've seen it as a coach - I've observed it as a parent and now as an official.
I was proud of the way the U.S. swimmers and coaches conducted themselves but never more so than in that final gesture. Many probably did not see the U.S. men congratulate the Russian relay behind the blocks. Few outside of the Aquatic Palace saw the congratulatory tunnel and hand slapping. Swimmers were glad, coaches were smiling.
Then of course, the Special Olympics athletes who swam a 50 free at the very end. It's great to get gold. It's wonderful to be recognized. Who doesn't enjoy that? It's sport that bridges a gap, communicates across cultures, helps us mend some fences and move forward.
I'm by no means a proponent of "everyone think happy thoughts at the same time and the world will be a better place." I am a believer that our commonalities are far more than our differences.
Here in Russia I've seen the same things I've seen around the world - couples holding hands, people waiting for a bus, shopping malls with the same things we have in the U.S., restaurants, parks and grandparents enjoying grandchildren as they play around a fountain. The people want the same things. The politics and approach to life are different.
We bridged gaps as officials. We couldn't speak the same language with our tongues but we did speak the same language around the pool deck. There are significant implications in that for the follower of Jesus. That's for another post.
It's been an awesome journey - so far. Off to St. Petersburg for a couple of days, then onto Tallinn, Estonia for 2 days where I'll get to share in a church service, touch base with a Seminary, spend time with my friend Taavet (a student at Asbury Seminary) and then finally home, which I miss.