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Sochi 2014: Putin’s Costly, Controversial Winter Olympics

Sports and politics at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. We’ll talk with top Olympians — Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin and figure skater Jason Brown — on the games in Russia.

This Oct. 24, 2013 file photo shows the illuminated Olympic Bolshoy stadium, in the background, and Iceberg stadium, the location for figure skating and short track speed skating events during the 2014 Olympic Games, in the Olympic park in the coastal cluster in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. (AP)

This Oct. 24, 2013 file photo shows the illuminated Olympic Bolshoy stadium, in the background, and Iceberg stadium, the location for figure skating and short track speed skating events during the 2014 Olympic Games, in the Olympic park in the coastal cluster in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. (AP)

Russia’s Vladimir Putin loves Sochi.  Next month the whole world will get an eyeful.  The summer resort on the Black Sea hosting the Winter Olympic Games.  The longtime Communist elite retreat, hosting history’s most expensive Olympics.  The storied idealism of the games up against the harsh politics of Russia today on gay rights, dissent, and more.  We’ll talk this hour with two hot young American Olympic stars:  skater Jason Brown and skier Mikaela Shiffrin.  And we’ll take on the hard issues.  This hour On Point:  sports and politics at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

– Tom Ashbrook


Angela Stent, professor and director of the Center for Eurasian, Russia and East European Studies program at Georgetown University. Senior fellow at the Brookings Insitution. Author of “The Limits of Partnership: US – Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century” and “Repairing US-Russian Relations: A Long Road Ahead.” (@AngelaStent)

Mikaela Shiffrin, Olympic Alpine skier, member of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team. (@MikaelaShiffrin)

Jason Brown, figure skater, member of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team. (@jasonbskates)

John Cherwa, Tribune Newspapers Olympic bureau chief, deputy sports editor at The Los Angeles Times. (@jcherwa)

From Tom’s Reading List

Globe and Mail: In Sochi, anger and controversy of Olympic proportions – “When this southern Russian city was awarded the 2014 Winter Olympics seven years ago, most of the country celebrated, feeling a burst of national pride. But Yulia Saltikova quietly cursed the television set. Life in her native city, she felt, was about to go from difficult to worse. That premonition has proved sadly correct. Winning the Olympics has brought a carnival of construction to this palm-tree-lined resort on the Black Sea, to prepare for the most expensive Games ever, slated to cost at least $50-billion (U.S.).”

Bloomberg Businessweek: Putin ski run fails to ease Sochi fears – “Security experts are pretty confident that Putin’s police will manage to seal off the mountain-fringed Black Sea resort town of 343,000, shielding the bobsled runs, ski-jump courses, the athletes’ village and the high-end hotels. Putin will have a more difficult time to make his Jan. 3 hit-the-slopes message carry far beyond Sochi. It didn’t get through to whoever was responsible for the six bullet-riddled bodies found in abandoned cars last week. The incident less than an hour’s flight from next month’s Olympic venue continued a wave of violence.”

USA Today: Olympic charter places athletes in tough spot for Sochi — “As controversy has overshadowed the Sochi Games and gay rights groups have called on the IOC to take action, IOC president Jacques Rogge has pointed out that the IOC is a sports organization, not a government or a political body. ‘One should not forget that the International Olympic Committee cannot be expected to have influence over the sovereign affairs of a country,’ Rogge said. Tuesday a new president will be elected, one who will inherit an issue not expected to fade. So how to reconcile this? One of the IOC’s roles is: ‘To act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic movement.’”

Watch U.S. Figure Skater Jason Brown’s Routine At the 2014 U.S. Figure Skate Championship

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  • Ray in VT

    In the field of competition, I would very much like to see the U.S. knock Canada off of the top of the hockey podium. I would also like to see Vermonters conduct themselves honorably on and off of field of competition.

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    I was hoping to hear about all the efforts they have been going through to make enough snow for the Olympics. Will any of it be natural?

    • jefe68

      Of all the places to put the Olympics in Russia they picked Sochi. One has to wonder why as the climate is mild compared to the rest of the country.
      But I understand that the mountains outside of the city do have snow.

  • tbphkm33

    After spending over $50 billion, the most expensive Olympics in history, I am afraid the Russian government’s stance on homosexuality will overshadow the games.

    It is a question of basic human rights. Putin today was quoted that gays would be welcome if they stayed away from children??? Pure ignorance. Gays have no higher rates of pedophila than the general population and the wast majority of pedophiliacs are actually heterosexual.

    I for one am glad the US and other nations are not sending high level delegations to the Olympics mainly over this issue. The Olympics is a global event and a stance should be taken.

  • Cronous

    To be fair, Russia’s homophobia is on a whole different level than what the US had in any recent period. I mean I am agnostic on the whole gay marriage issue. However, violence against gays is common place over there and state sanctioned it seems.

  • Yumiko

    I like your podcast a lot in general but was very disappointed with this one: Tom is trying over and over to put political statements into athletes’ mouth. To their credit they didn’t, they just said they are concerned with their competitions. Why trying to cast political shadow on this sports festival for the humanity? I think US politicians still carry “cold war” inertia and always want Russia to look bad. There are plenty of other opportunities to criticize Russian anti-gay laws. Why mix it with Olympics? I lived with russians for over 10 years and I know russians well enough to say that ordinary people are very decent and peaceful, they are not aggressive or homophobic. It’s always politicians on either side manipulating public opinion. I liked Angela Stent a lot–very objective, level headed, obviously knowledgable about Russians and Russia.
    It’s totally disgusting to compare Russia to Nazi Germany. Soviet Union paid heaviest cost in WWII, almost half of total 50 million lives lost were citizens of former Soviet Union. If there is next global war like between China and USA, most likely Russia will come to help USA. There are more commonalities between Russian and American people, and Russian government is far more decent then Chinese Government. Open your eyes America, try to be objective, don’t still be blinded by “red scare”. It’s long over…

  • Tatiana2013

    Regrettably, as soon as Sochi has been selected by the
    Olympic Committee the vicious and often hypocritical and biased campaign
    against Sochi has been unleashed in the western media. This post adds the oil in the fire. Better read what Pat Buchana says: President Obama, in a gesture of solidarity
    with the Russian people, who have suffered more than any European people from
    Islamic terror since 9/11, should announce he has changed his mind and will be
    going to Sochi. The impact would be dramatic. The Western boycott of the winter
    Olympics would collapse. The attention of the world’s TV cameras, along with
    the rest of mankind, would turn to Sochi. Success of the games would be
    assured. And who would get the credit? President Barack Obama…when it comes to
    the war on terror, we are in it together. A quarter century ago, Ronald Reagan was being
    cheered as he strolled through Red Square. Is Putin responsible for the fact
    that the Russian people themselves no longer view America as a friend? Or did
    we, by pushing NATO onto Russia’s front porch and cutting her out of the
    Caspian Sea oil, contribute as well? And did not Americans collude with the
    oligarchs who, in the Boris Yeltsin years, looted Russia of much of her
    national wealth? – Patrick Buchanan

Apr 23, 2014
In this Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, file photo, Chet Kanojia, founder and CEO of Aereo, Inc., shows a tablet displaying his company's technology, in New York. Aereo is one of several startups created to deliver traditional media over the Internet without licensing agreements. (AP)

The Supreme Court looks at Aereo, the little startup that could cut your cable cord and up-end TV as we’ve known it. We look at the battle. Plus: a state ban on affirmative action in college admissions is upheld. We’ll examine the implications.

Apr 23, 2014
Attendees of the 2013 Argentina International Coaching Federation meet for networking and coaching training. (ICF)

The booming business of life coaches. Everybody seems to have one these days. Therapists are feeling the pinch. We look at the life coach craze.

Apr 22, 2014
This undated handout photo, taken in 2001, provided by the Museum of the Rockies shows a bronze cast of the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton known as the Wankel T.rex, in front of the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont. (AP)

As a new Tyrannosaurus Rex arrives at the Smithsonian, we’ll look at its home – pre-historic Montana – and the age when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

Apr 22, 2014
Security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in the town of Suwayrah, 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, April 21, 2014. Suicide bombings and other attacks across Iraq killed and wounded dozens on Monday, officials said, the latest in an uptick in violence as the country counts down to crucial parliament elections later this month. (AP)

We look at Iraq now, two years after Americans boots marched out. New elections next week, and the country on the verge of all-out civil war.

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