In case you missed it (and, apparently many did) Team USA ran off the rails as the Sochi Olympics drew to a close.
Beginning with the Women's Hockey Team's monumental choke, blowing a 2-0 advantage with three-and-a-half minutes to go, the final four days in Sochi were, shall we say, not what we hoped for. The Men's Hockey Team, stocked with NHL All-Stars, followed with an even bigger choke, getting shut out in both of its medal games and coming away empty handed.
In fact, anything this Olympics that involved Americans on ice skates, save the electric and mesmerizing gold medal performance of ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, was disappointing. In a rarity, none of our men or women made the podium. The speed skating team, heavily favored in numerous events, won a single medal and even in that one, an event where almost every other team fell down, Team USA blew a lead to settle for second place. The good news? If the time has come to replace a few folks on that speed skating team, it'll certainly be easy to catch up with them.
The only gold of the final days came on snow as 18-year-old phenom Mikaela Shiffrin powerfully demonstrated the future of U.S. skiing. Well, actually, there were two other gold medal performances of note. American Vic Wild won both in Snowboard Slalom, but he won them for Russia because his country of origin didn't care enough to send him, or pretty much anyone for that matter, having all but abandoned the sport.
Yet through the agony of defeat, there's actually a much larger victory. For two weeks, nearly 3,000 athletes from 88 nations played together peacefully, competing in nearly 100 events. Instead of shooting at each other, as nations often do, they shot at targets (the U.S., of course, despite loving its guns like a mother loves her baby, missed those targets with regularity). While many athletes failed to win medals, most of them flew half way around the world to demonstrate the skills into which all of them had invested a lifetime of hard work.
Yes, Vladimir Putin is a near dictator who suppresses freedoms and tramples on the rights of individuals and many thought these games should never be awarded to such an asshat. They are not wrong. The IOC has rarely exercised judgment that demonstrates the ideals the Olympic games are supposed to encourage. There were games in China, yet another dictatorial regime, Munich and its poorly handled aftermath and, yes, even Hitler got to host an Olympics. But the games should not really be about nations, the IOC or politics.
The games are about the athletes, only some of which compete in sports that curry year-round adoration. It's about men and women, boys and girls, over coming limitations physical, mental and, often, economic. It may sound cliche, but it really is about reaching for the best in all of us, pushing our bodies to the max, showing what's possible when a human puts in the hard work. And it's about sportsmanship, friendship, camaraderie and peaceful competition. And, even when you're not the best of the best, showing up is a victory in itself. As Scarlett O'Hara opined, tomorrow is another day. But only if you show up.
Vince Lombardi was wrong. Winning isn't the only thing. Though I will admit, it does feel nicer when it happens.