It goes by different names. The Czechs say Olympijské hry. The French Jeux olympiques. Russians Олимпийские игры, pronounced Olimpiyskiye igry, but universally, it’s all the same.
Individuals from around the world travel to the attend this international sports competition that most people could only dream about attending. They come with faces masked in paints, flags draped across their shoulders and awe on their faces from being at the Olympics.
But attending and hosting the Olympic Games is not cheap.
A plane ticket to Moscow from the U.S. ranges anywhere from $500 to $1,000, depending on your location. Dave Morrow from Sand Springs, Okla., said he and his organization spent $5,000 to get there.
Not to mention, Russia spent $50 billion just to host the Games in Sochi. Yet countries continue to spend the money to host them.
“The Olympics are tremendously symbolic,” said Kevin Smith, chairperson of the department of history and associate professor at Ball State University. “Everybody wants an opportunity to have them. Now they’re really expensive to run, and there are some countries who are really badly damaged by having them, economically, but they’re a symbol that you arrived if you’re a developing country.”
South Korea hosting the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul was their way of emerging as a modern nation that was no longer a colony of Japan, said Smith.
What’s the big deal? Why spend thousands of dollars to attend the Games when you can watch all the events for free on your couch?
“Why would you go to the Super Bowl?” said Steve Williams, an Army officer stationed in Japan. “I think it’s the excitement of being present when that competition is going on. You feel a part of that competition. You feel a lot closer to it. You see less events when you’re not sitting in front of a TV, but sitting in front of a TV is no way to go about life.”
“Olympics to me is kind of a–because it’s so infrequent–a very special sporting event,” Williams said.
The Games are essentially a sporting event, yet there is a deeper meaning for attending.
“It’s a bucket-list item,” said WTHR anchor Anne Marie Tiernon. “Everyone in the world knows the Olympics, unlike the Super Bowl.”
Tiernon has attended four Olympic Games now. She says the attendance rate at the Games depends on the location. The Vancouver and London Games were popular because of the popularity of those host cities.
It’s too soon to know how many people from each country attended this year’s game, but a look at the 2012 Summer Games in London shows that 471,000 people traveled overseas to attend, a majority of them coming from the States.
“People weren’t coming for Sochi; (it’s) unfamiliar. They were coming for the Olympics,” said Tiernon. “It sucks seeing the people you profile fall short, but it’s about seeing what it takes to be the best.”
Even the unfavorable living accommodations that many spectators faced didn’t deter the experience of being at the Olympic Games.
“I find some place that’s comfortable for me because I only sleep a few hours,” said Elena Pershina from Russia. She would wake up early and be at the park from 9 in the morning till midnight.
“It’s the best Olympic Games because in Russia I have possibility to be here,” said Pershina. “You forget about every problem.”
Though everyone has a different reason for coming to the Games–a family member is competing, it was a convenient location or something else–it’s safe to say the Olympic Games are simply a big deal.
BSU at the Games is a freelance news agency operated by 41 student journalists reporting from the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games through an immersive-learning program at Ball State University.