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Despite Political Issues, Sochi’s Games Show Olympic Ideal Still Thrives

Sochi Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony

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As the torch has finally been extinguished, and the Winter Olympics in Sochi have come to a close, it seems a fitting time to take a look back at what the last 17 days brought to the world.

As the athletes began to arrive in Russia, at first it looked as though many of the questions about whether or not they would be able to pull off the events were proving valid. From stray dogs to incomplete or inadequate residential facilities, the tone was set early for an Olympic experience that could actually fail to live up to all of the host nation’s promises.

Of course, American skier Gus Kenworthy made it his mission to take care of as many stray dogs as possible, and then some. But even more importantly, once the competition got under way, the political and cultural drama largely gave way to the incredible performances the athletes from around the world gave us.

Many will say that the American team disappointed in Sochi, and to some degree that’s true. Our speedskating program brought home just one medal, in the 5000-meter relay. The women’s hockey team lost in the gold medal game for the second consecutive time, and the men failed to medal.

But to focus on the failures is to do disservice to all the amazing feats. Julia Mancuso and Bode Miller have become two of the most decorated skiers in American history, and Mikaela Shiffrin has shown that she’ll be a force on the hill for years to come. From Charlie White and Meryl Davis to Noelle Pikus-Pace or Steven Holcomb and the “Night Train” bobsled, Americans also enjoyed a great deal of success.

There is sure to be plenty more debate about whether Putin’s Russia should have been given the Olympic platform, considering that so much political and social turmoil still persists. With any luck, having these Games in Sochi has brought a renewed focus to those conditions, and even if it doesn’t change the Russian system, it can serve as a reminder to the rest of us that we can all strive for something better.

In the end, of course, this is about sport, and the Sochi Games showed us that the Olympic ideal is still alive and well. As the creed states: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.”

Brandon Raper is a golf writer and Olympic contributor for RantSports.com. “Like” him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @Brandon__Raper, and join him on Google+.