Update: Olympic Figure Skating Analysis

Interior of the Iceberg arena where figure skating events were held at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Flickr photo by Atos

Interior of the Iceberg arena where figure skating events were held at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Flickr photo by Atos

Please note: This article discusses the results of the ladies’ event, which some  American readers may be waiting until tonight to view on NBC. If you don’t want it spoiled, don’t read the last part.

Having written two articles examining the field of skaters at this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, and having made predictions in the second article as to who would win all of the medals, it seems only fitting that I now call attention to both my successes and failures. I am going to keep it brief, as I have already devoted a substantial amount of space to the subject.

The previous articles are here and here. Continue reading

Why is Vladimir Putin so Popular?

Russian president Vladimir Putin poses with members of the gold medal winning Russian figure skating team. (He's the guy in the middle of all those hot ladies.) Official Russian presidency photo

Russian president Vladimir Putin poses with members of the gold medal-winning Russian figure skating team. (He’s the guy in the middle of all those hot ladies.) Official Russian presidency photo

If you have been paying much attention to American commentators lately, you would be tempted to think that the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi has less to do with the athletes than it does with the Russian president. Vladimir Putin, never one to cede the limelight to anyone, has been at the center of these games every step of the way, from the time he helped to convince members of the International Olympic Committee to let Russia’s beach resort town host the Olympics (a questionable decision given that there seem to be more naturally occurring palm trees there than piles of naturally occurring snow), to the visually stunning Opening Ceremony (a perfect propaganda opportunity, some would grumble), to posing for photos with newly minted Russian gold medalists in the team figure skating competition. You might be tempted to think these are Putin’s games rather than Russia’s.

There are few international leaders who are demonized in the United States as much as Putin, rightly or wrongly. From his body language in bilateral meetings with U.S. President Obama, to his championing of an anti-homosexual “propaganda” bill, to his insistence on masculine self-promotion, practically everything that Putin does is viewed by many in the United States as arrogant, power-hungry, or downright evil. Likewise, Americans often assume that the Russian president is a dictator and national elections are marred by fraud. Even if they do believe that Russians like Vladimir Putin, most Americans would be hard-pressed to explain why this is the case. Continue reading

What was Missing in the Sochi Opening Ceremony (Other than the Fifth Olympic Ring)

These images show a brief portion of the international broadcast of the 2014 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Sochi, Russia.  They were captured and posted online by Twitter user @BuzzFeedUK.

These images show a brief portion of the international broadcast of the 2014 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Sochi, Russia. They were captured and posted online by Twitter user @BuzzFeedUK. Their use for commentary purposes qualifies as fair use.

The introduction to the 2014 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Sochi may have told us something about how much success women have had in Russian history. Is the United States any better?

The opening ceremony at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games began with a recorded video segment in which a Russian girl went through the Cyrillic alphabet and assigned a prominent Russian personality, achievement, or location to each letter. While I admittedly did not understand all of the references, one thing was fairly clear: there was a notable absence of women, unless you count the little girl narrating the piece.

This made me wonder, “Are there no Russian women who could have been included in this list?” Perhaps Russian history has not been very open to female advancement over the years.  The main Russian females who leap to my mind are Catherine the Great (who was actually German), Anna Karenina (who was fictional), and a bunch of athletes. Were I an expert on ballet, I could undoubtedly find some female names there, but the point still stands that most of the prominent Russians throughout history have been men. Women have not been absent, but they seemingly did not merit inclusion by the team organizing the opening ceremony. Continue reading

2014 Olympic Figure Skating Preview and Medal Predictions

The Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia, where the 2014 Olympic figure skating events will be held.  Flickr photo by Atos International

The Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia, where the 2014 Olympic figure skating events will be held. Flickr photo by Atos International

I have now published an analysis of where I was right and where I was wrong, as well as a few general comments about the competitions. You can read the new post here.

Last fall, I posted an article looking at the potential medalists in the ladies’ figure skating competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  It was rather a diversion from the usual topics I cover on this site, but given my better-than-average understanding of the sport, I decided it was worth a try, if only so I could have a little bit of fun.  Who would have thought that the article would become the most read in the history of this site?  Not me!  It was a welcome surprise, much like seeing one of the U.S. pairs teams skate a clean program. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

In part because of the obvious level of interest, I am making a return to the subject with just over two weeks before the start of the Olympics on February 6.  There has been almost a full season of competitions since my original article, so there are plenty of updates to share.  This time, I will be covering all five figure skating disciplines: men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pairs, ice dancing, and the first-ever team competition at the Olympics.  Without further ado, let’s get a move on! Continue reading

Olympic Preview: Ladies’ Figure Skating

2013 Worlds podium Flickr { QUEEN YUNA } - Copy

Medals winners in the ladies’ event at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships: (L-R) Carolina Kostner, Kim Yu-Na, and Mao Asada. Photo by Flickr user { QUEEN YUNA }

Editor’s Note: A newer article covering all five figure skating disciplines – men, ladies, pairs, ice dancing, and the team event – is now available.  Check it out here.

Figure skating is a dying sport, or so the media has led me to believe.  Nobody understands the new scoring system implemented after the judging scandal at the 2002 Olympics.  Arenas in North America are half empty where they used to be packed.  Hardly any events are shown live on television anymore.

I understand where these complaints are coming from.  Americans’ interest in figure skating has dropped substantially since the good old days of Nancy Kerrigan vs. Tonya Harding.  More than any changes to the judging system, I think what has really killed public interest is the lack of big time American stars on the ladies’ side.  Michelle Kwan was a fan favorite for an entire decade, and no one has been able to successfully fill her shoes. Continue reading

Sochi Blues

Friendly mascots prepare to welcome the world to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi - but will they be welcoming the U.S.?

Friendly mascots prepare to welcome the world to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi – but will they be welcoming the United States?

What was meant to be an example of international cooperation is once again a cause for international bickering.

Since the Russian city of Sochi was awarded the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, there have been concerns in some circles that this would give the spotlight to a country with a poor civil rights record, not to mention a city located very close to the tense Caucasus region.  However, it wasn’t until a certain NSA whistleblower decided to take shelter in a Moscow airport that we had a prominent senator suggest that the U.S. should boycott the games.

In an interview with The Hill (a local D.C. paper), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was asked if the U.S. ought to consider a boycott of the Sochi Olympics if Russia grants asylum to Edward Snowden.  Graham agreed that such an action might be in the cards.

“I would. I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them,” Graham (R-S.C.) said when asked about the possibility of a boycott.

“It might help, because what they’re doing is outrageous,” he said. “We certainly haven’t reset our relationship with Russia in a positive way. At the end of the day, if they grant this guy asylum it’s a breach of the rule of law as we know it and is a slap in the face to the United States.”  Continue reading