After an amazing 39,000-mile journey that included a spacewalk at the International Space Station, a plunge into the world's deepest freshwater lake and a hike up Mount Elbrus, the Olympic flame has arrived in Sochi, Russia.
When the flame lights the cauldron Friday as part of the opening ceremony, the XXII Olympic Winter Games will begin. And for 17 days, the world's attention will be focused on the world-class male and female athletes competing in various snow and ice sports. A record 98 events will be staged in the Caucasus mountains regions at a specially built resort. Russia spent an estimated $51 billion for the transportation infrastructure and facilities that also will be used for the Paralympic Winter Games following the Olympics.
Even before the first event takes place, much attention already has been paid to the Sochi Games. Security at the Games has been a primary concern for Russian President Vladimir Putin, as his country has experienced terrorist bombings in recent months. Sochi also is relatively close to Chechnya, where the brothers accused of the Boston Marathon attacks hail from.
A new law in Russia that bans the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" has been viewed in the international community as discriminatory and a human-rights issue. The anti-gay measure has resulted in many western nations not sending their leaders to the Games. President Barack Obama will not attend. Instead, the American delegation will include three openly gay athletes: former tennis star Billie Jean King, 2006 Olympic hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow and figure skating wizard Brian Boitano. The group will be led by ex-Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano.
Other distractions have included environmental protests, Putin's order to have stray dogs shot in Sochi, corruption in building projects and unfinished hotel rooms.
Still, once the Games begin it all will be about the athletes. One hundred teams will represent 99 countries and one unusual entry. Three athletes from India will be competing under the IOC flag as the country remains suspended from the Olympic movement because of the way it elects members to its national committee.
The United States is sending its largest-ever contingent to an Olympic Winter Games, with 230 athletes set to be a part of Team USA in Sochi. Many of the nation's representatives have trained their entire lives for this potential shot at glory. Their stories are unique, yet collectively they offer the rest of us something to cheer for. Most of the winter Olympic sports are not huge draws in the American conscience, except perhaps figure skating and men's ice hockey. But for the next two and a half weeks, we'll watch skeleton, biathlon and curling just as passionately.
National pride is on the line. The United States always is expected to do well -- and generally does, including a few "Miracle" outcomes.
Enjoy the Games. Go, U-S-A!
Editorial by Patrick Lowry