Every Olympics since 1972 has had an official mascot. There’s your standard animal variety (Roni the raccoon in Lake Placid, Misha the bear in Moscow), and then there are outliers—everything from cartoon characters (Håkon and Kristin in Lillehammer) to droplets of steel (Wenlocke and Mandeville in London).
For the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia selected a trio of mascots: the hare, the polar bear, and the snow leopard. The polar bear seems to be the only one with a name (it’s Bely Mishka, by the way), but the leopardis definitely Vladimir Putin’s favorite. It’s a symbol, the Russian president contends, of a modern Russia interested in reviving the species and the country’s natural resources.
Now, being the object of Putin’s affection has its pluses and minuses. The Russian leader, it turns out, has a long and complicated history with wild cats—one explored recently by Bill Donahue in the the Natural Resources Defense Council’s OnEarth Magazine.
The central question in Donahue’s article is whether Russia’s “declared commitment to wildlife conservation … has any basis in reality,” and the snow leopard’s symbolic presence in Sochi offers a perfect lens through which to investigate.
Read more. [Image: Markus Schreiber/AP]
“Redemption” is a word that gets tossed around a lot in figure skating—sports reporters have used it more times in this Olympics than I could even begin to count.
But in the end, figure skating at the 2014 Winter Olympics really was about redemption. This year’s event was full of occasions when no other word would do.
Read more. [Image: Vadim Ghirda/AP]
How do you find reliable information?
Back in 2005, a study in Nature concluded that Wikipedia—at the time, a free upstart just eking its way into the Google results—was about as good a source as the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica. Though it found Wikipedia had slightly more factual errors than the older reference, the study gave the website a major commendation when it needed one.
OpenStreetMap, a free-to-edit and free-to-use world map often compared with Wikipedia, received a similar—though less validated—commendation last week, when the reporter Greg Miller at Wired found that its maps exceeded Google’s at describing Sochi, the home of the 2014 winter Olympics.
Miller compared not only the city but also its Olympic surroundings in the two maps. OSM, he found, often contained far more information than Google Maps, especially on features like ski slopes.
Read more. [Image: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]
The overall medal count obscures how these small countries are outperforming their rivals in 2014.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
In the USA’s 7-1 drubbing of Slovakia in the preliminary round of men’s hockey tournament at the Olympic Games in Sochi on Thursday, two Americans appeared to be able to communicate telepathically on the ice. Forwards Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, who are both among the NHL scoring leaders this season, combined for two goals and three assists against the overmatched Slovaks and seemed to be a half-step ahead of the defense when they were on the ice together.
The two forwards are teammates on the Toronto Maple Leafs, and U.S. coach Dan Bylsma paired them together on the same line because he believed that all the ice time Kessel and van Riemsdyk have shared together in Toronto would pay dividends in Sochi. Though it was just one game and Slovakia is not nearly as talented as the Canadians or Russians, Bylsma looked like a genius as the two Maple Leafs led the offensive onslaught during America’s six-goal second period.
Read more. [Image: Matt Slocum/AP]
Just before Russian figure-skating pair Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov took the ice in last night’s free-skate event, NBC cut to a short package about the gold-medal favorites (and eventual gold medalists). After a few moments’ worth of practice footage and behind-the-scenes stories from the four years the pair has been skating together, NBC’s reporter asked Trankov and Volosozhar the inevitable question: Is the palpable, sensual chemistry they exude on the ice based in real-life romance?
Given the unique talent, rare achievements, and all-consuming dedication of these two world-class athletes, it’s obviously somewhat silly for a reporter to push past the discussion of their professional accomplishments and instead ask about love lives. But the modern Olympics, whether we like it or not, have become an opportunity for viewers to get to know elite athletes by proxy, to feel like they’re rooting for their friends-once-removed. It’s only natural to want to know what kind of love drives a champion to succeed at the Games—in this case, whether it’s love of sport, love of country, or love of teammate.
Listening to the reporter’s paraphrasing during the segment, you might get the impression that the Volosozhar and Trankov are simply elusive or private about the status of their relationship off the ice; they’d effectively skirted the issue for some time now, the reporter summarized. But Volosozhar and Trankov’s assessment of whether they’re a couple was both direct and quietly astonishing: They are, sort of.
One of the warmest Winter Olympics in history is getting warmer.
Temperatures reached the low-60s today in Sochi, and they’re expected to stay there on Thursday and Friday. For some perspective, the weather in the coastal resort is now roughly as warm as it was during certain days of London’s Summer Games in 2012. According to Forecast.io, the average temperature for the Sochi Olympics so far has been45 degrees Fahrenheit,three degrees lower than the average during the previous Warmest Winter Olympics Ever: the 2010 Vancouver Games. But Sochi’s highs have been higher than Vancouver’s. And Vancouver’s daily average never rose above 50 degrees, while Sochi’s has surpassed that level several times.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Alexander Demianchuk]
Wednesday’s preliminary match was totally thrilling. Just imagine what it’ll be like if the two superpowers of the women’s game meet again for the top Olympic prize.
Read more. [Image: Matt Slocum/AP]
After months of speculation and skepticism, halfpipe skiing and slopestyle skiing are making their Olympic debut this week in Sochi. But it seems not everyone is ready for it.
On a January 6 appearance on The Today Show, Bob Costas was asked his opinion about slopestyle, a sport in which skiers and snowboarders perform a variety of tricks on rails and jumps. “I think the president of the IOC should be Johnny Knoxville, because basically, this stuff is just Jackass-worthy stuff that they invented and called Olympic sports,” Costas said, laughing.
While older men in suits questioning progress is nothing new, the ski industry never expected the host of NBC’s Olympic coverage to publicly disrepute the sport. Skiers and fans were justifiably offended.
Read more. [Image: Felipe Dana/AP]