Sochi 2014 defend choice of flamelighter despite "racist" tweet about Obama

Saturday, 08 February 2014
By Nick Butler at the Main Press Centre in Sochi

The choice of Irina Rodnina of flamellighter has received criticism due to her allegedly racist tweet she posted about Barrack Obama ©Getty ImagesFebruary 8  - Any political significance behind the choice of Irina Rodnina as Olympic flame lighter has been dismissed by Sochi 2014 organisers.

Rodnina, who lit the Flame along with ice hockey legend Vladislav Tretiak at the climax of the Ceremony last night, posted a doctored photo of Obama and his wife Michelle looking at someone holding a banana last September.

The photo was deleted yesterday although no apology has been offered and the motives behind the photo remain unknown.

A tweet of Barack OBama and his wife Michelle looking at a banana posted by Irina Rodina was deleted just hours before she lit the Olympic Flame at Sochi 2014 ©TwitterA tweet of Barack OBama and his wife Michelle looking at a banana posted by Irina Rodina was deleted just hours before she lit the Olympic Flame at Sochi 2014 ©Twitter

Sochi 2014 President and chief executive Dmitry Chernyshenko claimed the issue had not been considered when Rodnina was selected as torch bearer, and that he still considered it irrelevant. 

"Irina Rodnina is one of the most respected Olympic athletes in the world and I want to stress the Olympics is not about politics", he said.

Along with 10 World Championship titles, Rodnina won Olympic gold at Sapporo 1972, Innsbruck 1976 and Lake Placid 1980, and in 2007 became a MP for President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party in the State Duma.

But, despite her sporting credentials, her selection creates further Olympics-related tension between the United States and Russia following the furore over the host nation's anti-gay rights legislation introduced last year.

Irina Rodnina, en route to a gold medal with Alexei Ulanov at Munich 1972, is one of Russia's most famous athletes ©Popperfoto/Getty ImagesIrina Rodnina, en route to a gold medal with Alexei Ulanov at Munich 1972, is one of Russia's most famous athletes ©Popperfoto/Getty Images






Obama was also one of a number of high profile Western leaders who opted not to attend Sochi 2014 - presumably in relation to this issue - and the US delegation is led instead by three gay figures in  former tennis player Billie Jean King, two-time Olympic ice hockey medallist Caitlin Cahow, and ex-Olympic skating champion Brian Boitano.

This latest twist comes after a key focus of last night's Opening Ceremony was that politics should be kept out of the Olympic Games, and IOC President Thomas Bach particularly criticised leaders, such as Obama, for using the Games for a political agenda.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams reiterated this point today in relation to Rodnina when he agreed with Chernyshenko over the reasoning behind the selection.

"It's clearly not the IOC that chooses torch bearers but, as Dmitry said, she was chosen for what she's done in sport and she's a triple gold medallist in skating", he said.

"She's done a great deal of work in sport and that's what she was chosen for, but it was a decision that Sochi took, as they did all with of the torch bearers".  

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