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Feb. 9, 2018 — The overall themes of the PyeongChang Olympics

This morning was the opening ceremony for the 23rd Winter Olympics, held a scant 40 miles from a place which has been a war zone for nearly 70 years.

PyeongChang is located in the northeast part of South Korea, a bit of a ways away from the ocean, where plenty of cold and snow already exist.

Over the next three weeks will be thrilling competition. And, I think, there will be some interesting themes:

1. The Asia Era. Even though the Olympics are going through an Asian phase with the next three major Olympics in Korea, Japan, and China, I don’t think we will see quite the bump that occurred in Beijing 2008, where it seemed every single event had a Chinese athlete or team in medal contention. The cautionary tale, however, is the followup for many of these athletes. China was second in field hockey in 2008, but have not been close to the same form the last eight years. Also, have you heard a single peep out of Jia Tian and Jie Wang, the volleyball finalists who were beaten by Kerri Walsh and Misty May? That’s because, between the two of them, they played in exactly three events after 2008.

2. Eurocentricity. The time is coming where more and more skiers and skaters are coming from mountainous countries which have not as of yet been powerhouses in winter sports. Places like Slovenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, and Iceland are looking to muscle in on the territory usually held by Sweden, Holland, Finland, and Norway. With more money coming into the Olympics from Europe than any other continent, I’ll be interested to see the caliber of athlete coming from many of the post-Soviet countries.

3. Diversity. This year, Bolivia and Ecuador make their Olympic debuts. There will also be a Nigerian bobsled team. The usual climate of equatorial countries often makes it difficult for aspirants to the Winter Olympics, but climate change may play a much greater future role.

4. The steroid embarrassment. A few days ago, sharp words were exchanged about the International Olympic Committee’s decision to reinstate a small number of Russian athletes who were banned for steroid use. None other than former World Anti-Doping Agency head Richard Pound had these scathing words for the situation: “I believe that in the collective mind of a significant portion of the world, and among the athletes of the world, the I.O.C. has not only failed to protect athletes, but has made it possible for cheating athletes to prevail against the clean athletes. We talk more than we walk.” Let’s see what happens when the first O.A.R. (Olympic Athlete from Russia) tests dirty.

5. Reunification … to a point. Usually, the only reason to watch women’s ice hockey at the Olympics is to see the United States and Canada in the final. But there is a group of 20 women who are looking to change all that, and perhaps, the perception of the world. Meet Team Korea, which has 23 players from the South, and a dozen from the North. But the players aren’t living together during the Olympics; the North Koreans are being herded by minders to and from the Olympic sites, and about the only time the team is fully together is at practice. The team is wearing blue and red uniforms, the common colors of both of their flags. Tellingly, the team isn’t wearing orange, the color adopted by the unification movement on the peninsula.

6. And in other hockey …. This Olympics, professionals under contract to NHL teams are not being allowed to play, leaving behind journeymen from lower leagues, college players, and recent retirees such as Brian Gionta. A medal for either the United States of Canada would be a bonus since the best players are not in PyeongChang.

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