Sochi 2014 – After the lights go out

Johnny Shaw

Johnny Shaw

In the second part of our Sochi special, Daria Sukharchuk looks at the Russian media perspective on the games following its opening and in its aftermath.

After the Olympics had officially opened, the attention as naturally shifted to sport ‒ and to the opening ceremony itself (the infamous defunct snowflake in the centre of public attention). The main State-owned broadcaster, Channel One Russia,  chose to ignore the incident, and replaced the original image with a piece of footage from the ceremony rehearsal with all five rings in place.

After that, most of the news from the Olympics was about the sport itself. The first piece of big news ‒ even a sensational one ‒ was the story of Yulia Lipnitskaya, the 15-year old figure skater who, together with 30 year old



Plushenko ensured Russian team’s first gold in the discipline. No long articles about Yulia appeared online, but her victory was the second most discussed topic on Twitter for two days. Three days after Yulia’s victory the Internet had another darling to tweet about ‒ American Slopestyle silver medalist Gus Kenworthy with the  four stray puppies he planned to take home. Together with exclamations of overwhelming cuteness, this story triggered some gloomy jokes about the famous law forbidding foreign parents’ adoption of Russian orphans: “Should we expect the Mad Printer to forbid adoption of Russian animals by foreign citizens?”

As the national pride grew with each new medal, the media began sounding more patriotic. A few articles about gold medalists that have only recently acquired Russian citizenship ‒ Viktor Ahn (South korea), Tatiana Volosozhar (Ukraine) and Vick Wilde (USA) ‒ appeared in the media. Most of them focused on Ahn: his story was most dramatic, and, what’s even more rare, portrayed Russian sports management in a very flattering light. The author of ‘Why we should count Viktor Ahn as one of us’ begins with a stereotypical image of some corrupt officials who “buy” a greedy foreigner to win a gold medal and save their seats ‒ and proves it wrong. He then tells how Ahn, after sustaining a serious injury, dropped out of Korean team before 2010 Olympics and could have given up on his career as a sportsman ‒ if not for a meeting with Russian speed skating managers. They offered him treatment, support, a chance to take part in the Olympic game in Sochi ‒ so he gave up his Korean passport (Korean men are not allowed to have a double citizenship) and moved to Russia.

The first ten days of Olympics saw no active criticism or scandalous news from Sochi ‒ most of the opposition leaders and journalists’ attention was focused on Kiev. However, one of the top Russian bloggers and a known opposition supporter ‒ Ilya Varlamov ‒ spent a couple of days in Sochi before flying to Kiev for live blogging. His photo reports from Sochi have no pictures of sportsmen and competitions  ‒ but focus on small details of city life: sometimes positive, like better public transport and clean streets, and sometimes very negative ‒ like badly constructed roads, aggressive taxi drivers and cheap beer stalls at the main seaside walk. Some of the funnier ones included guards that shun foreigners because they don’t speak enough English, an autograph board for everyone wishing to leave a memory of themselves in Sochi with Putin’s autograph covered with a piece of protection film, and Russian team supporters chanting “Russia!” during a Canada vs Austria hockey match.



Ilya Varlamov

The mood of national euphoria was broken by one incident: a new performance by Pussy Riot interrupted by cossacks with horsewhips, both Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were arrested but quickly let out. The news spread fast, and soon enough the media were quoting well-known journalists and bloggers. Most of them were very emotional:  “I have never seen anything as disgusting”, “Oh, those so-called men hitting girls with horsewhips are adorable! What jerks. Are they real men?”. Someone pointed out that nobody, even Piotr Versilov who is married to one of the girls, tried to stop the beating, and quite a few wrote that Pussi Riot’s main goal was to win some publicity. The most radical comment came from Federal Youth agency : “Pussy Riot are provocateurs living off Western money. The cossacks are not beating helpless girls ‒ they are stopping another provocation”.  (all these comments are collected in an article by Snob magazine:  ). However, even this piece of news was not discussed long: Russian team was making it’s way to the top and protests in Kiev were getting more violent.

On the 23d of February the Olympics finished with a spectacular ceremony featuring another unopened ring (this time formed by dancers), Konstantin Ernst, member of the team that directed both ceremonies, came to a press conference wearing this T-shirt, which made the day’s news itself.

Finally, this Wednesday, Putin officially declared that “he thinks that the Western media did not succeed in their plan to use this Olympics for propaganda against Russia”. What Russian media are discussing now is what awaits us after the Olympics. What Sochi will look like in the coming years? What will State’s policies will be now, when the international media’s attention has turned away from Russia?

 The first part of our Sochi Special can be found here.

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