NOTHSTINE: Cold War echoes from a pool

Rob Schumacher—USA TODAY Sports
Lilly King (USA) celebrates next to Yulia Efimova (RUS) after winning the women's 100m breaststroke final on Aug. 8during the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Olympic Aquatics Stadium.

Before and after Indiana’s Lilly King won the gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke in Rio de Janeiro, she made a point of taunting Yulia Efimova, her Russian opponent. King mocked Efimova’s finger wag after the Russian won her heat in the semifinals. “You wave your finger No. 1 and you’ve been caught drug cheating? I’m not a fan,” King said to NBC after her race.Efimova has been caught doping twice, most recently in March. Her suspension has been put on hold while the International Swimming Federation researches her positive test for a banned substance named meldonium. Efimova, who was booed by fans and taunted by King, broke down in tears after the race.NBC, for the purpose of ratings, only fed and relished in the feud. Some viewers might have perceived King as a brat or a poor sport, but doping is a major issue in international swimming with a long and consequential history.Over a hundred Russians from the Olympic team are banned from competing in the games in Rio. King’s comments, however, helped to recall old rivalries with the former Soviet Union and a time when Olympic sport was often used as a moral tale for world affairs.It’s probably of little coincidence that while Vladimir Putin seeks to expand his empire across Europe and the Middle East, Russia was recently caught engaging in state-sponsored doping of athletes. The former Soviet Union was once a global superpower that had the free world on edge, but NATO has gobbled up many of its former satellite states. Putin, of course, wants to restore Russian dominance and reignite the Cold War. International athletic dominance is just one visible way to do that.The international rivalries were indeed starker in the Cold War era, often making for exciting matchups between what was generally viewed as the American everyman or woman versus Soviet athletes who trained like machines while being supported by the full power of the state. (See “Rocky IV.”)A lot has changed in the world since the fall of the Berlin Wall. After the collapse of what Ronald Reagan once labeled “the evil empire,” Francis Fukuyama published “The End of History and the Last Man,” an essay where he proclaimed a final victory for the world of democratic-capitalism.In 2009, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton presented Russia’s foreign minister with a red button with the word “reset” on it. The gift was meant to symbolize a new start in American-Russian relations but the word printed on the mock nuclear button was incorrect and translated more accurately as “overcharged.” The typo was guffawed by Clinton and State Department officials.The other major candidate in the election, Donald Trump, has criticized the NATO alliance and has observed America bares most of the military and financial burdens of the treaty. Most citizens in Western Europe are against being involved in any sacrifice or defense of Eastern Europe from Russia. Trump himself has been lambasted for his frequent praises of Putin while blaming the Russian president’s aggression on President Barack Obama’s weakness on the world stage.In an interview on Tuesday, Russia’s Efimova accused King of trying to ignite the Cold War again. In a way, she’s right. King’s brashness had the intended affect of blowing up the issue of Russian doping and her comments reflected the kind of moral absolutes that were better known during the Cold War. King even said she believed her statement was made on behalf of the United States and other athletes. King, whether she intended to or not, gave Americans a welcomed glimpse and nostalgic look at when the U.S. and the Western world once had enough purpose and courage to stand up to the Russian Bear.