Mike Dingman: Focus should be on Olympic athletes, not on politics

Mike Dingman

Between the talk of yellow water, side-by-side toilets in restrooms, hotel rooms in shambles and hotels with no lobbies, it seemed like the Sochi Winter Olympic Games were going to be the worst ever -- before they had even started.

These Olympics have also had to contend with human rights concerns based on the strict anti-gay laws, the revelation that Sochi government officials ordered the death of every stray dog and, to top it all off, this quote from Dmitry Kozak, Russia's deputy prime minister:

"We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day."

They have surveillance video from the showers!

Russian officials have since backpedaled on that statement, claiming there are no cameras in any restrooms. However, it's pretty hard to claim that statement could mean anything else.

In a recent CBS News poll, 13 percent of respondents said politics should play a role in the Olympics, while 82 percent said the focus should be only on the athletes.

Understandable, but it's naive to imagine the Olympics without some political controversy.

Politics and the Olympics have always been strange bedfellows. When people from nations around the world compete on the world stage, controversy is sure to follow.

In 1938, the Games were held in Germany while the Nazis were coming to power. The U.S. sent African-American track and field great Jesse Owens, who became the hero of those Olympic Games, winning four gold medals.

In 1980, 40 nations, including the U.S., boycotted the Summer Olympic Games, which had been awarded to Moscow, to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing came with controversy as well -- activists called for the U.S. to boycott in protest of Chinese human rights violations.

With all of the political discussion, you would think the Olympics is a topic to be debated on Fox News rather than what it actually is -- the culmination of years of training for athletes at the very top of their sports.

The focus should be on the athletes, not the politics.

Of the 230 U.S. Olympians, six are Alaskans, including Kikkan Randall, Ryan Stassel, Holly Brooks, Jessica Shultz and siblings Sadie and Erik Bjornsen.

The most famous of that group is Randall. Her high hopes for Sochi gold were dashed unexpectedly yesterday in the semifinal round.

As the Daily News' Beth Bragg reported, Kikkan, "skiing in her fourth Olympics, placed fourth in her quarterfinal heat after getting out-lunged at the finish by an Italian skier who grabbed the final spot in the semifinals."

She still has a chance to medal in a couple of yet-to-come events.

Along with consistent world-class athletes like Randall, there are great local stories from around the world.

Nepal has one athlete at the Olympics -- 44-year-old Dachhiri Sherpa, who took four months off from his job as a bricklayer to train as a cross-country skier. Sherpa lives and trains in France. He says he's sure he'll finish last but wants to help people in his country feel the Olympic spirit.

Every four years, audiences around the world celebrate sports they know very little about and most of the time couldn't care less about. We all learn and quickly become temporary experts in the world of curling, luge, bobsled and "skeleton." (That last one is scarier than it sounds.)

We also get to learn the home countries of all our favorite hockey stars as the National Hockey League takes a break to allow its players to battle it out on the world stage.

Now that the games have begun and the athletes have taken the field, so to speak, let's block out the politics and keep the focus where it belongs: on the athletes who have worked so hard to reach the pinnacles of their careers.

Congratulations to all the athletes at the Olympic Games, thank you for providing such great entertainment and good luck.


Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s. Email, michaeldingman@gmail.com.

Mike Dingman