Shared pain, shared values

Dan Wetzel

ATHENS, Greece – They've already started calling last Tuesday, when terrorists took down two Moscow airliners, Russia's September 11.

That made Saturday their September 15, which should make every American appreciate and understand the bawling eyes of Yuriy Borzakovskiy.

Days after the planes went down, Borzakovskiy tried to lift his country back up, dramatically coming from behind to win gold in the 800-meters here at Olympic Stadium.

That placed him on the highest medal platform, watching the flag of his country, the country the terrorists want to fracture, get hoisted highest of all as the anthem of his country, the country the terrorists want to destroy, played proudly on.

So he cried his eyes out. And covered his face. Then cried some more before he broke into a smile wider than Siberia.

"I think it was a gift from God," he said.

For years and years it seemed the Olympics were about good vs. evil. There were countries to root for and alliances to back and international politics behind every cheer or jeer.

Miracle on Ice type stuff.

With these Olympics, it just seems like the same sad story.

These days it seems every nation is a victim. These days everyone understands each other's medal-stand emotion. The rivalries are no longer defined by geographic boundaries.

Russia, once our mortal enemy, is in the grips of the same horror that we are, terrorized by terrorists. Even if the body count and destruction costs aren't as great as September 11 – 89 died in the two crashes – or that the killers are domestic not foreign – the fear and hurt and uncertainty are just as strong.

Friday Iraq and Italy met in the bronze medal match of men's soccer.

Italy has troops in Iraq, part of the coalition that toppled Saddam Hussein. Earlier in the week terrorists in Iraq kidnapped an Italian journalist.

That very night Iraq's coach, Adnan Hamad, was asked if he had a message for those thugs.

"I want to tell them to let him go back to his family and to his country to be free," he said. "We Iraqis, we love all people."

When the journalist was murdered before Friday's game, Team Iraq expressed sympathy and shared values. The Italians wore black armbands. The game was played under pained emotion on all sides. Italy won and barely celebrated.

"Our feelings are with the Italian people," said Amir Al Saadi, of the Iraqi Olympic Committee. "We are very sad about what happened."

This is our world, seemingly gone mad in every corner.

While there is certainly resentment from some to the U.S. and its allies in the "War on Terror," it is mostly over how we are trying to rid the world of terrorism, namely in Iraq, not whether we should.

On that, everyone can agree because everyone is dealing with it. The sympathy comes easy. The solution is what's difficult.

"Russia has had several major terrorist acts recently," said Borzakovskiy, shaking his head in helpless disgust. "It is all really quite dreadful."

On Tuesday evening the Russian athletes were carefree in the Olympic Village, preparing for their various sports.

But early Wednesday morning the news broke about the plane crashes and it spread quickly, word of mouth, cell phone calls from home, sketchy news reports. Just the way it did in America on September 11.

"We were really shocked for all of it," said Borzakovskiy.

The Russians did not want to pull out of the Games. They instead vowed to represent their entire country in the face of an attack from a group that wishes to split it in half and influence an upcoming election.

"It was very difficult for all of us," he said. "The entire Russian team felt strongly we should be worthy representatives of our country in the Olympic Games.

"All of us as a team felt we should devote our efforts to Russia as a whole and those who suffered."

It is naïve to think this will do much to ease the shock of those who lost a loved one. But perhaps a simple 800-meter race can make everyone else forget for a moment.

Maybe, as we did in the United States, symbolic events can serve as inspiration to pull together against evil, to remember their similarities and forget their differences.

Perhaps those tears on the medal stand can help make Russia stronger.

We all can hope because these days we can all understand.