Maybe it was his unique name or maybe the soul patch on his chin. Perhaps it was the flash of silver skates or the simple fact that he was an American Olympic athlete.

Regardless of the reason, as a young girl watching the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games I became an avid fan of Apolo Anton Ohno, one of America's most celebrated winter Olympic speed skaters.

Like many children involved in athletics, I watched the games with dreamy eyes and followed the athletes with a distinct sense of awe. When Ohno and other American Olympians triumphantly won medals, I felt a thrill of pride, as though I somehow shared in their victory. Few things seem more thrilling or patriotic than acquiring an Olympic medal for one's country.

Undoubtedly, the Olympics express nationality in an athletic sphere and provide an opportunity for nationalistic competition and celebration of physical achievement. Athletes from across the globe compete for shining medals and personal success – but also for national pride and for the opportunity to represent their people.

As the most recent Olympic Games begin in Sochi, the world's eyes are once again directed towards athleticism and nationalism in an exhilarating series of competitive events.

Yet, to view the Olympic Games as a simple contest between international athletes would be to greatly underestimate the largely political implications of each set of games. History bespeaks the sociopolitical importance of the Olympics; within the recent Sochi Games, the cultural and political statements of Russian leaders and policy have been magnified.

Russia's government under Vladimir Putin has caused a stir for their issues in budgeting: estimates predict the final costs totaling up to $51 billion, compared to London's $14.3 billion price.

Additionally, policies concerning LGBT rights and Russia's new laws banning the promotion of "non-traditional" relations for minors have generated an uproar from athletes and national leaders alike

Beyond the question of human rights, safety remains a concern in light of the notorious "Black Widows" and other suicide bombers; the city of Volgograd – roughly 400 miles from Sochi – dealt with the death of 34 citizens by a suicide bomber only two months before the games began.

Interestingly enough, a recent poll by CBS indicates that people prefer the Olympics largely remove any political aspects; a recent poll by CBS of American citizens revealed that as many as 82 percent believe that "political expression should not have a role in the Olympics." 

To believe that international athletic competition can remove all political ties is idealistic and naive. History alone exposes the highly-political undertones of Olympic Games and how the competition often directly mirrors political and sociocultural trends.

For example, the decision to allow Nazi Germany to host the 1936 Olympic Games forced the world to recognize the legitimacy of the Third Reich's new regime. Over a decade later, the turmoil of World War II had barely come to a conclusion when London hosted the 1948 Games – and notably excluded Germany and Japan from the competition. Tokyo's 1964 Games marked the first time an Asian country hosted the events; the United States' ascent to the world stage coincided with the first Games held in St. Louis in 1904

As the world increasingly becomes more globalized, the importance of one's geographic location becomes increasingly subjective; however, national identities largely define political and ethnic boundaries.

The distinct differences between political systems cannot be ignored, especially during the Olympic Games, and Sochi has already exposed differing ideals and governmental positions. Every host city and its respective country will receive a great deal of international speculation, and the world's diverse political ideology cannot simply dissolve under the Olympic torch.

International competition provides a unique avenue for global relationships and can highlight intriguing world cities. But to expect political preference to be left outside the Olympic arena is like asking middle school girls to stop obsessing over Harry Styles – desirable in theory, but impossible in practice.

Sarah Hagaman is a sophomore in English. She can be reached at shagama1@utk.edu.