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by Tom Kolovos



Published on February 16th, 2014 | by tomkolovos


SOCHI SPORTS AUTHORITY: Irina Rodnina and the politics of Olympic figure skating

Dressed up like a million-dollar trooper
Tryin’ hard to look like Gary Cooper
Putin on the fRritz 

To say that Irina Rodnina is no Katarina Witt is an understatement.

The rise and fall of Rodnina in the international sports community has now tripple jumped the shark as sordid tale of woe is me.

The tale, is partly an international diplomatic smack down not seen in the skating world in an Olympic year since 1994 when Tonya Harding and her goon husband unleashed their fury on America’s Sweetheart Nancy Kerrigan.

It is partly a primer on the half- life of toxic posts on new media.

But mostly it’s old fashioned silent film era slipping on a banana peel slapstick.

The Sochi Olympics began as a sport story mired in  Vladimir Putin’s plan of attack to deal with  the international politics of terrorism and “black widow” suicide bombers, the sports community’s outrage over Russia’s newest anti gay  laws, and even his distaste for free speech which had just resulted in the end of the 2 year jail sentence for the anti-Putin punk music group Pussy Riot.

As anyone with even a cursory familiarity with figure skating will tell you, forget the Slap Shot “this is hockey!”


Before Sochi, Ms Rodnina was known as a “figure skater, who is the only pair skater to win 10 successive World Championships (1969–78) and three successive Olympic gold medals (1972, 1976, 1980). She was elected to the State Duma in the 2007 legislative election as a member of President Vladimir Putin‘s United Russia party. As a figure skater, she initially competed with Alexei Ulanov and later teamed up with Alexander Zaitsev. She is the first pair skater to win the Olympic title with two different partners, followed only by Artur Dmitriev,” notes her Wikipedia page.

No wonder , then, that she was chosen to light the Olympic flame.

And then the Sochi hit the fan.

Headlines like this, “Irina Rodnina, Former Russian Skater Who Lit Olympic Flame, Tweeted Racist Obama Photo,”  began to surface, as did Putin’s heretofore thinly veiled distaste for Barack Obama. 

Relations between Russia and the US have been chilly at best during the past 6 years, as a result of disagreements over the Syrian crisis, most publicly, and what is undeniably a personality conflict between the two men.

Mr Obama recently observed that “My sense is that’s part of his shtick back home politically as wanting to look like the tough guy. U.S. politicians have a different style. We tend to smile once in a while.”

Perhaps Mr. Putin doesn’t smile in Mr. Obama’s presence because he’s much too busy laughing behind his back, as Ms. Rodnina’s tweet would suggest.

Chief Foreign Correspondent for ABC News tweeted


The headlines get even stranger after this revelation. Ms Rodnina had vociferously defended her right to free speech in tweeting the image, Ms Rodnina denies posting the tweet, Ms. Rodnina tweets that her account was hacked, Ms Rodnina apologizes. Ms Rodnina’s daughter’s tweets suggest that the tweet wan neither accidental nor hacked. Ms Rodnina just wants world peace.

“I respect the Obama family and apologize for not clearly stating earlier that I don’t support the tweeted photo or racism in any form,” she wrote on Twitter.

So, here we have the sorry tale of the graceless Olympic exit of a former champion skater long past her prime  who finds yet another partner, and though incapable of landing any axel, they bond over the axe they have to grind, and she’s more than willing to attempt pairs skating most dangerous move the quadruple throw salchow .

The man throws the female partner up in the air sand across the ice so that she completes four revolutions and lands on one foot.

Except by now we know all know how most such  bullish stories end. She doesn’t even have a leg to stand on.

Even worse, in a sport that has a tradition of naming moves after the skaters that invented them, the skating world can now add to the list that includes the  Boitano Twist and the Ina Bauer  a new move called the Rodnina, heretofore defined as “any jump combination landed flat on your face.”

It did not of course have to end this way. And here is where we get back to Katerina Witt, the two time Women’s Gold medalist, first in the  1984 Sarajevo Olympics and then in 1988 at the Calgary Olympics, and the  four-time World champion (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988)

By the time of the 1994 Lillehammer  Games she was well past her prime and not in contention for a medal. But she had  been so  affected by the changing times and the killing in Sarajevo and  Bosnia-Herzegovina that resulted in the breakup of Yugoslavia.

That conflict too was  rooted, it should be noted for those with short historical memories or just plain indifference, as Muslim versus Christian.

She came. She stumbled as expected.  Yet she conquered.

She skated to Pete Seger’s   “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”  in which Seeger incorporated lines from a Cossacks (Ukraine) text and adapted them to the tune of the Russian folksong “Koloda Duda.”

The prescience today of that moment, as Ukrainian ‘black widows” terrorize Putin and the Games themselves, should send chills down your spine.

“I was looking for something special. I feel I’m old enough to not just portray a character. I wanted to bring something else across. I was there in Sarajevo. They were the best Games. I have the best memories. I felt I want to use my sports, my possibilities for the artistic side, to bring something peaceful across: That we are one world and we should live together in peace.”

Art imitates life. Life imitates art.

In the meantime Rodnina and Putin are skating on very thin ice to “Yes, we have no bananas.”


Tom Kolovos is EIC of aControlledSubstance.com



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One Response to SOCHI SPORTS AUTHORITY: Irina Rodnina and the politics of Olympic figure skating

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