Reflecting on the hours I spent watching the Sochi Olympics, I have reached a conclusion worth sharing. While much attention naturally befits the spectacle of the Olympic Games, the pageantry of the call of athletes, the fireworks and floating figures, the climactic lighting of the massive cauldron, I believe what truly defines the Olympic spirit are the small gestures, those simple, spontaneous acts that inform the universal humanity of both fans and athletes.
The USA/Russia shootout will undoubtedly find its way into the rich history of American hockey, a proper bookend to the "Miracle on Ice." It will surely be a "where were you when you saw it" moment.
Much praise deservedly will be lavished upon T.J. Oshie, who stared down the Russian goalie in the eighth. Rather than bask in self-congratulation, rather than seek to exploit the attendant celebrity, rather than do a taunting dance that we see far too often in other sports, Oshie reflexively raised his gloved finger toward his goal. It was a small gesture, indeed, but one that separates the Olympics from so many other sporting events.
For many who don't appreciate the individuality of the quadrennial fortnight, the focus is solely on medal counts and rabid nationalism. However, for those who understand its true nature, like Canadian cross-country couch Justin Wadsworth, the event stands for much more than medal colors.
Upon seeing a Russian skier dragging himself along the course due to a broken ski like "an animal stuck in a trap," Coach Wadsworth, cognizant of the athlete's sacrifice and hard work, offered him a ski. Coach and athlete exchanged no words; none were required. A simple nod was enough, and the skier finished the race. A small gesture I will take from Sochi, long after I forget who took home the gold, silver or bronze.
The Olympics are also a time for celebration for both the athletes and those closest to them. Even at the highest levels of a sport, world-class athletes dig deep to find that something extra.
Take, for example, the case of the winner of freestyle moguls. Alex Bilodeau was already a world champion, enjoying the throne at the top of his sport. At the Olympics, however, nothing is a sure thing. His family, particularly his brother, stood in the crowd waving his country's flag and cheering. Bilodeau did not let his brother down, winning the gold with gravity-defying deft.
For anyone who watched the event, I guarantee that he may not remember the winner's name, nor the country he represented. What shall remain is the exuberant smile of a brother, a pure testament of love. A smile. Another small gesture.
Now that the Olympic flame in Sochi has been extinguished, we must wait for the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018. By that time, names and countries will be blurred. Curling rules will require an overhaul with a Zamboni.
Most assuredly, I will watch for even more small gestures, for the next smile, for the next selfless act, for the simple gesture that reflects the best in us all.