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Friday, February 7, 2014

The Sports Thread #1 For 2/7/14: Opening An Already Open Can of Worms


It seems the Sochi Olympics every hour gives us more negative news than the amount of times we exhale carbon dioxide and inhale oxygen in an entire day.

The latest to provide more unfortunate headlines is the opening ceremonies for the much maligned games. Thankfully for Vladimir Putin and Sochi committee president Alexander Zhukov, the first problem with tonight's official curtain raiser of this Olympiad had nothing to do with their social issues controversies or obscene price tag. Instead, it had to do with us here in the US. For yet another Olympics outside of North America, NBC decided to not air the ceremony on TV live (as they will chose to air it tape delayed once again in the primetime slot of 7:30 PM at in all time zones). Even more annoying is that NBC didn't even bother to stream the ceremony live on its web page.

Then again, with what would have transpired in front of our faces, it may have been best if most of America would have to avoid spoiler alerts because of NBC's willingness to love The Today Show and forever think we are still in the 20th century.

Not even an hour into the ceremony, an embarrassing malfunction occurred when one of the five rings failed to open. With how these Olympics are going, consider it an actual victory that no one was hurt when that happened, although you would never know it if you were in Russia, as they cut their TVs away from their latest humiliation that their $50 billion figure for these games couldn't fix.

But despite everything else in the ceremony going according to plan, a few new moments that will increase the negativity of these games would unfold. The first was a bizarre cartoon animation featuring three characters that could have been labeled as bootleg mascot versions of Bugs Bunny, Tony the Tiger and Yogi Bear skating around the Fisht Stadium. If it wasn't for the jumbotron there, the crowd and athletes in attendance would have been even more bemused than they already were. That peculiar, light heart moment paled in comparison to the social gaffes that would conclude the night.

The final torch passers on the lighting of the Cauldron featured two of the greatest Russian female athletes in history, who did their part in adding to the worst buildup ever for any Olympic game.

Yelena Isinbayeva, the greatest women's pole vaulter ever, made the wrong headlines last summer when she was asked about the pro-gay painting of rainbow fingernails by other athletes at the Track & Field World Championships last year. Right after winning her third and final world outdoor title, Isinbayeva labeled the fingerpainting as "gay propaganda." Her quotes there, always never a good thing, came at an even worst time considering that she was named as an ambassador for the Sochi games and will be welcoming athletes as "mayor" of the Olympic village.

Isinbayeva immediately clarified her statement, saying she is opposed to any discrimination against LGBT athletes and not bringing the really awkward scenario of being against the Olympic Charter. At least for Isinbayeva's sake, her shaky dabbling in passive homophobia was not captured on social media like figure skating legend Irina Rodnina's racism was.

All Rodnina did was tweet a photo of President Obama appearing to chew and admire a banana from afar this past September. The three time Olympic, 10 time world champion, and current member of the Russian Parliament showed no penitence in her "money referring tweet" despite doing the not so courageous thing to delete it. In fact, Rodnina stood strongly by her free speech and racism, tweeting later, "Freedom of speech is freedom of speech! Deal with your hangups yourself." Whether she considers deleting her own words and actions as part of that free speech is another story altogether.

Yet both Isinbayeva and Rodnina, who was the lighter of the Olympic Cauldron with hockey legend Vladislav Tretiak, were there in full display to represent their nation and its latest, proudest moment. Their presence even managed to overshadow American-Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova, who despite this not even being her Olympic games (and barely spending time in her native land) was deemed worthy enough to carry the flag for Russia for the second Olympics in a row.

An Olympics that is proud of many awful things, including letting a remorseless racist be its cauldron lighter. Our breathing in and breathing out couldn't keep up with Sochi's shamefulness.

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