Sochi Sidelines: amusements, politics and bloopers at Russia's Winter Games

In this installment: organisers face some snags; a celebratory lap nearly turns embarrassing; and presidents try to party (with varying results)

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 3:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 7:57pm
Lost in translation

It’s like the United Nations, Olympic-style. Volunteer interpreters scrambling to communicate while transcribing quotes for the Olympic News Service. Journalists fighting over which language athletes should speak when they answer questions. And the jargon of youth – how the heck do you say “stoked” in Korean?

American gold medalist snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg forced interpreters to translate that seven times on Monday, in seven languages besides English for those listening on headsets in tongues they could understand.

The 20-year-old from Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, also called Great Britain’s women’s slopestyle bronze “sick” – in the approving slang. The word became “slick” in a transcript later distributed to journalists.

While interviewing a Russian speedskater in the mixed zone, a Russian interpreter struggled with double-duty, catching minor heat from her supervisor when she could not write down the athlete’s quotes at the same time.

A day later, a news conference with Canada’s freestyle skiing sensations Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe was delayed several times by language lobbying. By the last answer, Justine double-checked if she really had to repeat herself in English on an answer she had already given in French. Her handler told her yes, but keep it short.

“OK,” Dufour-Lapointe said with a slight sigh.

President Vladimir Putin had just watched his country’s ice dance team take Russia’s first gold of the Sochi Olympics on Sunday. What better way to celebrate than by heading to one of the top party venues in town?

Putin headed over to the Holland Heineken House briefly that evening and even cosied up to Dutch gold medallist speedskater Ireen Wust, who was there to be honoured by hundreds of fans for her victory earlier in the day in the 3,000-metre race.

He was happy to see me, but then he had to leave again. But I cuddled him
Ireen Wust, speedskater

“I got a cuddle from him,” Wust told Dutch national broadcaster NOS. “He congratulated me and asked if everything was OK in Russia and I congratulated him on [Russian speedskater] Olga Graf, of course, for her third place [in the 3,000m]. He was happy to see me, but then he had to leave again. But I cuddled him.”

Holland Heineken House is renowned at recent Olympic Games as a great place for a party, drawing thousands of fans with a cocktail of live music, the chance to see a Dutch medal winner and perhaps a couple of beers.

A series of incidents have strained relations between the Netherlands and Russia in recent months, including a diplomat being arrested by police in The Hague and Russia’s detention of a Dutch-flagged protest ship and its crew.

But there was no sign of any lingering tensions as Putin made his way out of the house and spoke to a reporter in English. “Fantastic,” he said of his brief visit. “Very good. Good people and good results ... good party.”

No hard feelings for Team USA's injured skier

Maggie Voisin didn’t come all this way to let a fractured leg keep her from experiencing the Olympics. The 15-year-old freestyle skier won’t be able to compete when slopestyle skiing makes its Olympic debut on Tuesday after she crashed during practice.

She still managed to walk during the Opening Ceremony and even with her Games over before they even began, the youngest member of Team USA is not about to sprint home.

It’s sad but I can’t dwell on this. I want to enjoy the rest of the Olympics
Maggie Voisin, injured freestyle skier

“It’s sad but I can’t dwell on this,” Voisin said. “I want to enjoy the rest of the Olympics and enjoy what the experience has to offer.” Even if it means watching her teammates from the bottom of the tricky Rosa Khutor Extreme Park course rather than hanging out at the top.

A fractured fibula in her right leg ended all that, but she is not blaming the 610-metre roller coaster covered in snow for her misstep. “It was super safe, super fun,” she said. “I got the flow. It was a good competition. ... Unfortunately, it was just freak accident. That’s part of our sport."

“I’ll be back,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Strict brand control

It’s hard to find fruit on the menu in Sochi’s Olympic Park — and Apples are definitely not welcome. Olympic workers are swooping on reporters sitting in competition venues with Apple laptops, and hastily taping over the iconic logo with duct tape.

In fact, any laptop that isn’t made by official sponsor Samsung is likely to face an Olympic cover-up. Apple iPads escape the tape treatment only if they are lying flat on the media tables in the venues.

Outside, the three-cornered star on the front grille of a Mercedes van is also masked by packing tape. Volkswagen is the official supplier of vehicles to Sochi 2014.

Olympic organisers go to great lengths to prevent ambush marketing, and have covered non-sponsor emblems at previous games. In London, even toilet logos were taped over by Olympic workers, despite the fact there was no competing cistern sponsor.

Friday night, just before the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, in what’s called the “presidential lounge” of Fisht Stadium.

Here was the president of Ukraine, Vladimir Yanukovych, facing fierce protests in his home country but at this moment waiting it out until the festivities began. Here was Vladimir Putin, heavily criticised in recent weeks but eager to open the Olympics that meant so much to him and his nation.

And over by the bar, waiting for a cup of coffee, was Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, the nation that Putin’s country had invaded in 1979.

Karzai had no entourage to speak of. He might have been with one other person, but while in the room he was basically alone. An AP photographer became intrigued.

“I noticed him waiting at the bar, alone. He waited patiently, waiting to kind of be noticed,” Goldman recalls. “Just like any other regular Joe trying to get a drink. That’s what kind of struck me about it.”

After a time, Karzai received his coffee and turned away from the bar. He was, still, alone: no one to talk to, no one to run interference for him.

Finally, his eyes found the president of Azerbaijan. They turned towards each other and talked, two world leaders in a presidential lounge, watching others of their kind – the biggest names of their nations, up close, looking human after all.

Naked enthusiasm

A moment of triumph nearly turned embarrassing for Russian speedskater Olga Graf. 

The 30-year-old gave the home country a reason to cheer on Sunday, winning Russia’s first medal when she took a surprising bronze in the women’s 3,000 metres on Sunday. She even got a note of praise from Putin.

We have very good suits and they are very tight. ... You just want to breathe and you want to take off your suit
Olga Graf, champion speedskater

When Graf’s time flashed on the scoreboard - 4 minutes, 3.47 seconds was a personal best - the crowd at Adler Arena erupted in cheers. She whooped it up on her warm-down lap, then unzipped her skin-tight suit right down to the belly button.

Except, she was wearing nothing underneath. 

“I totally forgot,” Graf said sheepishly through a translator. “We have very good suits and they are very tight. ... You just want to breathe and you want to take off your suit.”

When she realixed her faux pas, Graf quickly zipped the suit back up with a mortified smile. “Only afterward,” she said, “did I realise that maybe this video will appear on YouTube. But I don’t think it will be so bad.”

Watch: A report on the incident


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