At the very end of Russia's Olympic opening ceremony, two of the country's greatest Olympic champions, figure skater Irina Rodnina and hockey player Vladislav Tretiak, were handed the Olympic torch and proceeded to light the Olympic cauldron. Lovely, right? Well, no, not really: It's Russia, and this is Vladimir Putin, so of course it wasn't that simple. Not only was one of the women who handed the torch to the cauldron-lighters Putin's alleged girlfriend, Alina Kabaeva — but gymnastics champion Rodnina, who actually lit the cauldron, managed to offend just about all of America by Tweeting a thoroughly racist photograph of President Barack Obama last year.
So who is Rodnina? Well, she's a three-time Olympic gold medallist and one of the figure skating's most-decorated champions. Rodnina also manages to find the time to be terribly racist. Last September, she Tweeted this photograph of Obama, which sparked outrage for fairly obvious reasons.
Rodnina quickly deleted the Tweet, but she barely apologized in the aftermath: "Freedom of speech is freedom of speech," she wrote, "and you should answer for your own hang-ups." (Even though she lives in Russia, which doesn't exactly have freedom of speech, as evidenced by their law that bans anything that could be defined as "gay propaganda.")
So, well, Rodnina is an interesting choice to light the Olympic cauldron, to say the least. And then you have Kabaeva, who is rumored to be Putin's girlfriend. (Putin's divorce from his ex-wife, Lyudmila, was finalized last year.)
Putin has claimed that he didn't pick Kabaeva, since the Sochi Olympic Committee chooses those who carry the torch —plus, Kabaeva won an Olympic gold medal for gymnastics in 2004, so she's not completely an out-of-the-blue decision. But if we know Putin, we're guessing he played a hand in that somehow.
So who else carried the torch to the cauldron? Well, tennis champion Maria Sharapova came into the arena carrying it, and handed it to pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who handed it to wrestler Aleksandr Karelin, who passed it to gymnast Alina Kabaeva. The torch was then given to Rodnina and Tretiak. Tretiak used to play goalie in the Soviet Union's ice hockey team, is considered one of the greatest ice hockey players of all time, and is a three-time Olympic gold medallist to boot.
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