Odd winter games keep getting odder in Sochi
It was hotter in Sochi than it was in London the day Usain Bolt won his 100m gold in 2012
No cold, no war. (From left to right) Minister of Sport Russia Vitaly Mutko, Chief Executive officer of the US Olympic Committee Scott Blackmun, Russian President Vladimir Putin, US Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst, an interpreter and Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Kozak share a drink at the USA House in the Olympic Village in Sochi.. Photograph: Marianna Massey/Getty Images for USOC
Details have started to emerge of what Vladimir Putin and the American delegation spoke about during his 20-minute visit to USA House in Olympic Park yesterday.
Rumour has it that during a lull in conversation, one of the Americans attempted to turn the conversation to the weather, only to be met by a Russian president suddenly extremely keen to talk about gay rights. Anything to avoid having to explain the temperature at the warmest Winter Olympics in history.
The mercury rose to 18 degrees in the afternoon causing snow to melt all over the mountain. Practice sessions for the ski jump have been cancelled, as have training runs on the aerials course where dry ice has been used to cool it down. Alpine skiers have had to dig holes in the snow at the top of the mountain so they could sink their boots down into it to stop the plastic softening in the heat.
It was hotter in Sochi yesterday than it was in London the day Usain Bolt won his 100m gold in 2012. The downhill portion of yesterday’s super-combined was brought forward by an hour so as to lessen the chances of the sun melting the snow. Participants in the cross-country 15km classic competed in shorts. Temperatures didn’t get close to freezing until well into the evening after locals had spent the day swimming in the Black Sea.
So yeah, no wonder Putin decided the time was right to pop along to USA House and guarantee front page coverage across the world. Around lunchtime yesterday, his head of security arrived a few hours ahead of time to taste the wine, the Budweiser and the brownies that would be on offer for him.
Russia face Team USA today in the pick of the ice hockey first-round matches, so that came up in conversation. “Of course we’ll be supporting our guys,” said Putin when asked about it. “I assure you there are many fans here who know and love the American players. We’ll all enjoy the game. I’ll watch it on TV or maybe come to the game.”
Maybe he was trying to distract from the weather, a legacy of the decision to plonk the Winter Olympic in a sub-tropical resort. Maybe he was building bridges.
Whatever his motives, he was full of conciliatory words for his erstwhile Cold War foes. “What I like in you is that you have strong competitors in almost every discipline, in almost every event you fight for medals,” he said. As of last night, Russia had won 12 medals, two of them gold; USA had 13, with four gold.
Putin stayed for 20 minutes, drank a glass of red and ate a brownie as members of the US team frantically took selfies with him in the background. The head of the United States Olympic Committee Scott Blackmun pointed out that politics never came up in the course of the conversation. “We’re sport people,” said Blackmun. “We’re not political people. When a head of state called and asked if he could visit, we were delighted. We certainly didn’t get into any of the things that are deeper issues. All we talked about was sport and that’s appropriate given that that’s all we do.”
Russia and America. No cold, no war. The oddest Winter Olympics keeps getting odder.