TIME olympics

Americans Win All Three Medals in New Skiing Event

Silver medalist Gus Kenworthy of the United States, gold medalist Joss Christensen of the United States and bronze medalist Nicholas Goepper of the United States stand on the podium during the flower ceremony after the Freestyle Skiing Men's Ski Slopestyle Finals on Feb. 13, 2014 in Sochi.
Silver medalist Gus Kenworthy of the United States, gold medalist Joss Christensen of the United States and bronze medalist Nicholas Goepper of the United States stand on the podium during the flower ceremony after the Freestyle Skiing Men's Ski Slopestyle Finals on Feb. 13, 2014 in Sochi. Al Bello—Getty Images

This is the third time an American sweep has happened in the history of the winter Olympic games.

Americans took home the gold, silver, and bronze medal in the inaugural men’s skiing slopestyle competition at the Winter Olympics in Sochi on Thursday.

Joss Christensen, a 22-year-old from Park City, Utah, might have only been a discretionary pick for the U.S. team, but he finished the event, sliding from rails and catapulting from ramps, with the best time and a gold medal.

He had a score of 95.80 followed by Gus Kenworthy at 93.60 and Nick Goepper at 92.40.

“I am shocked,” Christensen said after his win, the Wall Street Journal reports. “I am stoked to be up here with my friends. America, we did it.”

This is only the third time Americans have ever swept a Winter Games event.

More: Meet The Athletes of Team U.S.A.

TIME Baseball

Derek Jeter Will Retire After 2014 Season

Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees looks on from the on-deck circle in the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum on July 19, 2012 in Oakland, California.
Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees looks on from the on-deck circle in the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum on July 19, 2012 in Oakland, California. Thearon W. Henderson—Getty Images

The Yankees captain said in a Facebook post that he was grateful he’d gotten to live his dream for the past 20 years, but that injuries were taking a toll

New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter announced on Facebook Wednesday that the 2014 MLB season will be his last. He wrote in a long post that he was grateful that he’d gotten to live his dream for the past 20 years.

“From the time I was a kid, my dream was always very vivid and it never changed: I was going to be the shortstop for the NY Yankees. It started as an empty canvas more than 20 years ago, and now that I look at it, it’s almost complete,” the famed shortstop wrote.

But, Jeter said, his injuries in the last year have taken a toll on his playing. He played only 17 major league games in the 2013 season after fracturing his left ankle.

“The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward,” he wrote. At the end of the post, he hinted at future philanthropic and business plans.

Here’s Derek Jeter’s Facebook message:

Video: Retirement: It’s not Forever

TIME Sports

Pass The Sick Bag For Derek Jeter’s Farewell Tour

FILE: Jeter Announces 2014 To Be His Last Season Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees
New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter announced via Facebook February 12, 2014, that this year would be last season playing baseball. Jim McIsaac—Getty Images

No. No. No.

When I heard the news today that Derek Jeter announced on Facebook that he was retiring after this season, those were the first three words to pop in my head. Not because I’m sad that an all-time great is leaving the game. No, because we now have to suffer through another New York Yankees goodbye tour.

Too soon. Opposing teams, please keep the stupid gifts you’re preparing to shower on Jeter. We just went through this with Mariano Rivera last season, and while Rivera is no doubt cool and classy and deserving, the whole just got to be too much. There seemed to be 8,000 or so Rivera celebrations. Mariano Rivera Day. His last appearance at the stadium. It’s surprising the Yankees didn’t fete his last locker room shower. Or did they? If so, I missed it, because I found myself hiding under my chair last September, in an attempt to dodge all Rivera stories.

OK, here’s the requisite disclosure: I’m a Mets fan. But this isn’t about any anti-Yankee sentiment, I swear. (Okay, maybe just a little bit). I respect Jeter as much as anyone. He’s earned one of these sendoffs. But his timing is terrible. Back-to-back sap is just too much. I’d rather the Mets lose 100-games two straight seasons than endure another pinstripe bye-bye parade.

Baseball, call A-Rod. Reinstate him for this season. It’ll be worse punishment.

TIME russia

Russia Cancels Homework So Kids Can Watch the Olympics

Children wait for the start of the final run during the men's doubles luge at the 2014 Winter Olympics, on Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Children wait for the start of the final run during the men's doubles luge at the 2014 Winter Olympics, on Feb. 12, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Natacha Pisarenko—AP

The Sochi Olympics have enlivened Russian national pride—and authorities are cutting back on homework for kids to keep the euphoria going

The Russian constitution does not actually grant parliament the right to assign homework to every kid in the land. But during the Olympics, the chamber seems to have vested itself with those powers. On Wednesday morning, the ruling party of President Vladimir Putin told all of Russia’s teachers to reduce homework for students during the Winter Games in Sochi so that they all have time to watch Team Russia compete.

“In my view, that would be the right decision,” said the chamber’s speaker, Sergei Naryshkin. To justify the measure, Naryshkin said that Russia’s Ministry of Defense had likewise cut the training hours for all military personnel during the Olympics. “Now our servicemen have more of a chance to follow the competition,” Naryshkin noted.

But these measures were not done just for the love of sport. They were an effort to capitalize on the surge of national pride that the Sochi Olympics have brought. For years, Putin has made it his mission to promote patriotism among the Russian youth, even claiming that western powers are in a constant “battle” with his government over their moral character. “Russian society today is experiencing an obvious deficit of spiritual staples,” Putin said in a speech last year. “We must not only develop confidently, but also preserve our national and spiritual identity, not lose ourselves as a nation.”

And what better way to promote Russia’s sense of national purpose than to watch Russian Olympians skiing, curling, bobsledding and riding the halfpipe on their own home turf? Maybe it would help if they were doing a little better in the medals tally. So far, Team Russia is in seventh place, one slot behind the United States, having won only one gold medal during the first five days of the Games.

But merely having the Olympics in Russia has already brought a boost to national pride, especially after the opening ceremony on Feb. 7 presented a historical collage of Russian triumphs. That night, even some of the jaded urbanites of Moscow got swept up in the moment. “Most of my fellow citizens, including me and many of my friends, are willingly succumbing to a patriotic surge,” the prominent banker Igor Kulchik wrote on the website of Snob magazine. “And for the first time in many years we are saying without sarcasm or venom, but with pride, ‘We are Russia, this is our country.'”

Now the trick will be to keep that euphoria going, to make it permanent. A couple more hours a night of Olympic hockey and figure skating may not be enough to achieve that for a whole generation. But at the price of a few lousy algebra quizzes and a couple chapters of Tolstoy, it’s worth a try.

TIME Sports

Medals Aren’t Enough: Female Olympians Still Have to Sell Sexiness

Figure Skating - Winter Olympics Day 1
Ashley Wagner competes in the Figure Skating Team Ladies Short Program during day one of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 8, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

Sochi stars sound off on the fine line between marketing their beauty to get much-needed sponsorship money and being taken seriously as athletes

Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner, Julie Chu, Lolo Jones. These women will become household names this month at the Sochi Olympics before fading again out of the nation’s imagination. During the two weeks of the games, female athletes will get more screen time than they usually do—the rest of the year, all but four percent of airtime is dedicated to male athletics. In that short period of time, each Olympian needs to capitalize on media exposure and endorsements to fund the next four years of training. For women this has traditionally meant playing up sex appeal.

“I don’t think there’s any question that there’s a double standard,” says Kevin Adler, Chief Engagement Officer at Chicago-based sports marketing agency Engage Marketing. “For male athletes, it’s primarily about their performance. And for female athletes it’s definitely as much about their looks as it is about their performance.”

The double standard ranges across women’s sports: the WNBA offers makeup seminars to rookies in hopes of attracting a larger male audience; athletes even in the less sexy sports like skiing or golf are posing in bikinis or less in magazines; and women who compete in sports that require helmets are spending 30 minutes in front of the mirror putting on makeup before competition preparing for their HD close-up when that helmet comes off at the finish line.

These efforts can earn sponsorships—though not nearly as many as the men get. Even though most female athletes make the bulk of their money from endorsements, Sports Illustrated’s 2013 list of the 50 highest earning athletes didn’t include a single woman.

And then there’s the inevitable backlash: a woman athlete’s beauty can also be used against her, as famed 22-year-old figure skater Ashley Wagner found out last month when she was accused by several members of the media of earning her spot on the Olympic Figure Skating team based on her looks rather than her talent. Though figure skating has always been a sport focused on aesthetics, such focus on beauty undercuts women athletes’ achievements across other sports too.

“I feel like the media and society in general—because it’s easy—put female athletes into two boxes,” Ashley Wagner says. “You’re either a very pretty athlete or you go to the opposite end of the spectrum and you’re very sexy.”

Not attractive is not an option.

Despite all the progress women’s athletics have made since Title IX in 1972, the law that required girls and women’s sports to get equal public funding, female athletes are still asked to walk the narrow line between empowered and sexy in order to earn endorsements.

Getting Naked

ESPN the MagazineGretchen Bleiler on the cover of ESPN the Magazine’s 2011 Body Issue

When initially approached about posing naked for ESPN the Magazine’s Body Issue, which features naked athletes, U.S. Women’s Hockey forward Julie Chu was skeptical. “I think there are some that look at that issue, and their initial reaction is anything done posing nude has to be trying to sell sex or a certain image,” she says. But once she understood that the issue (which includes both men and women) was about strength not sex, she agreed.

“I don’t know if it was the first issue if I would have done it, but…I think that issue really highlights that there’s a lot of different types of bodies for elite athletes, and all of them can be beautiful and strong and confident,” she says. The bodies ESPN the Magazine features stray from the skinny, large breasted women you typically see on the covers of magazines in grocery stores. “For hockey players, we have big legs. We’ve got to be able to motor on the ice and have balance. But we can still have more muscular body types and be beautiful in our own right.”

She was reassured when her mom saw the picture. “When the image came out, I asked my mom, ‘So, mom, what do you think about it?’ And she said, ‘The first word that came to my mind was powerful.’”

Many other winter Olympic athletes have posed for the Body Issue, including snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler (on one of the 2011 covers above). Twenty years ago, most moms would have balked at even the suggestion of such a picture. It’s a testament to the growth of American popular culture that we can accept a naked female as an empowering picture that can bolster young girls’ body image.

But Chu’s initial skepticism wasn’t totally misplaced. Female athletes who strip down still undergo media scrutiny.

When I spoke to Kevin Adler, he happened to be flipping through a spread on America’s favorite skier Lindsey Vonn in the newest issue of Red Bull Magazine. “All the pictures are of her in super skimpy outfits with almost, you could argue, a little bit of an S&M theme with high heels. And then I flip through the rest of the magazine, and all the male athletes are depicted in a completely different way,” he says. (Vonn won’t be competing in this year’s Olympics due to a knee injury.)

Though some feminists may look down on Vonn for agreeing to pose for such a photo because it draws attention away from her athletic achievements, Adler argues that consumers shouldn’t blame the player but the game. “It’s a basic pragmatic issue that that’s the way the game is played, and you’re an athlete that has the ability to cash in on that game, then I suppose you might as well.”

He points to someone like Anna Kournikova, who was as (or more) famous for her body as she was for her tennis skills. Kournikova racked up $15 million despite never winning a major title. She did, however, practically break the Internet when an email that lured people to open a link by promising sexy photos of her crashed computers across the world in 2001. USA Today sports reporter Christine Brennan wrote a satirical column about the best-looking male tennis player who has never won a major during Kournikova’s heyday (spoiler alert: you’ve never heard of him).

Summer Olympian and hurdler Lolo Jones—who is competing now in the Winter Olympics as a bobsledder—has also been accused of leveraging her looks for fame. A carefully cultivated social media following earned her deals with McDonald’s, Aesics and Red Bull. But a scathing New York Times article accused her of getting media attention “not based on her achievement but her exotic beauty and a sad and cynical marketing campaign.” Some even said Jones should give the sponsorship money back when she didn’t medal at the London Olympics.

Jones fired back in the ESPN Nine for IX documentary, Branded, “I have a chance to get sponsors every four years, and that money has to last. If you know anything about the Olympics, in between—those four years in between—it’s like the desert [financially speaking].”

Jones’ point rings true for most female athletes, all of whom spend precious little time on television. A study conducted by the University of Southern California’s Center for Feminist Research found that men’s sports receive 96 percent of airtime on local affiliates for NBC, CBS and ABC. And Olympic athletes only make national news about once every four years. So it’s not just a once-in-four-years chance at a medal, it’s a once-in-four-years chance to land ads that can fuel years of training.

And even athletes who get more screen time year round like NASCAR driver Danica Patrick know that their appeal as females is often limited. To those who say she discredits her work by signing on to do salacious GoDaddy commercials that usually feature her in a towel, she says: “I’m going to use what I can to get money, to get a ride because I feel like it’s opening a door. All it does is open a door to get inside and show what I can do,” she said in a clip from Branded.

Pretty Still Matters

But while Danica Patrick has earned millions from her GoDaddy commercials—and therefore earned much of the scrutiny that was bound to accompany those ads—Ashley Wagner found herself at the center of a media frenzy about her looks without solicitation.

A reporter at the Wall Street Journal accused U.S. Figure Skating of giving Wagner (one of the most heavily-endorsed athletes of the games and the face of CoverGirl cosmetics) a spot on the team because of her appearance, not her skill. And he did it using language that reveals a lot about how female athletes are portrayed in the media even when they’re not in an ad.

“Wagner’s flowing blond hair, bellflower-blue eyes and sculpted features mark her as a sporting archetype: She’s the embodiment of the ‘golden girl’ the media has extolled…a marketer’s dream who’s already signed up tent-pole sponsors like Nike, Pandora Jewelry and CoverGirl, which assessed her Teutonic beauty as being worthy of serving as one of their global faces…[W]ith Wagner, silver winner Polina Edmunds and gold medalist Gracie Gold (talk about central casting fantasies!) the U.S.A. will be taking to the ice with a porcelain-skinned, blond-tressed triple-threat…”

U.S. Figure Skating denied that race or beauty played any role in their decision (rather, they judged her based on her body of work), and Wagner herself could not understand why she became the target of vitriol on Twitter. “I’m not the one who put myself on the team,” she says. “It’s not like I walked in and voted for myself.”

But, more importantly, the debate over whether Wagner earned her spot based on her looks would not even have happened had she been a man. “The fact that this conversation is even taking place in the public discourse is such a discredit to Ashley as an athlete. Because if this were a conversation about male athletes, the fact that one of them was better looking than the other wouldn’t even come into play,” Adler says. He couldn’t remember a single time when there had been speculation that a man had lost out on an athletic opportunity because of his looks.

Skating has always been about aesthetics to some degree and Wagner is the face of a popular makeup brand. But the discussion about Wagner’s hair and eye color distracts from conversations about her actual routine, which Wagner hoped would stand out because of its empowering message. “This year, I’m skating to ‘Shine On You, Crazy Diamonds’ by Pink Floyd. Super, super strong music,” she says. “It’s not something overly sexual, and it’s definitely not just pretty. It’s about me on the ice, confident in what I’m doing—fierce and powerful. That’s the role model I’m trying to be.”

Even in sports that aren’t traditionally judged based on looks, athletes are feeling pressure to doll themselves up. Skier Mikaela Shiffrin told the Today Show (in a segment called “How Skier Mikaela Shiffrin Conquered Pull-Ups, Splotchy Skin, and More”):

“With the Olympics coming up there are cameras everywhere, and I’m more aware of my beauty habits. On the hill, under the helmet, nobody sees your face or hair, but then you take it off and they do—that’s part of what I’m nervous about. Now I literally spend 30 minutes in the bathroom every morning…I never thought makeup had a place in athletics, but now I do.”

P&G, which owns CoverGirl and sponsors dozens of athletes, even has set up a “Beauty Challenge” sweepstakes in which women can be “inspired by” athletes’ beauty tips and submit their own glamorous photo. The athletes featured in the campaign, including Vonn and Wagner, are labeled “goldgetters.” (Things are even worse for the Russian female Olympics athletes.)

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Strong, athletic women ought to be allowed to be feminine too—especially when fans at home are seeing close-ups of their faces on HD TVs. But a 30-minute makeup routine will not be the part of most male athletes’ rituals—and certainly not a part of their interview. And those kinds of articles are popping up more and more (and not just in women’s magazines). So can women who don’t worry about hair or makeup—whether it be on or off the court—compete for endorsements?

This question is especially pressing for young athletes who are happy just to have endorsement offers at all. “When I was first approached by different sponsors, the concept of being sponsored, it was amazing that someone wanted me to represent their brand or their product just because I was doing something I love—skating,” says Gracie Gold who at a tender 18 is the number one ranked figure skater in the U.S. and the country’s best hope for a medal in skating. “It was kind of just living in a dream—I have an agent, I have commercials—that’s crazy!”

Marketing Female Empowerment

There is another option for advertisers: marketing empowerment. Advertisers have long known that Title IX sells. In 1999, the U.S. women’s soccer team won the World Cup for the first time after an intense shootout against China. It is still the most-watched women’s sporting event in history, and the most-watched soccer match (played by men or women) ever in the U.S. “There were 20 women in baggy shorts and soccer jerseys and long socks and soccer cleats who just captivated the nation in a way we’d never seen before from women dressed that way,” Brennan says. The story was the first in history to make the cover of Time, Sports Illustrated and People magazines.

That team inspired a generation of female athletes. Chu lists famed soccer player Mia Hamm (who led the U.S. women’s soccer team that year) among her role models and recalls a 1997 Gatorade commercial in which Hamm and Michael Jordan compete at various sports to the tune of “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” The ad ends with Hamm throwing Jordan over her shoulder—an image that probably wouldn’t have made the cut in an ad just a few years before.

“The 1999 World Cup—I remember that so clearly, and then Mia Hamm’s Gatorade ad… That was such a special moment because at the time, women athletes weren’t really in predominant ads like that. That really set the bar.”

Empowering ads like Hamm’s set the groundwork for Olympic commercials celebrating women’s achievements you will see this week on TV, like the Visa ad that dubs Amelia Earhart’s voice over a commercial starring ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson. This is the first year women will be able to compete in the ski jump at the Olympics after a long battle for a women’s version of the event. Nineteen-year-old Hendrickson made Team U.S.A. despite suffering a serious injury in August when she crashed in training, tearing her ACL, her MCL and her meniscus. She had surgery and rehabbed her legs at an unprecedented pace to make Team U.S.A. Even those who don’t know that story know from her commercial that she is the face of women’s progress: “I am woman. Watch me fly,” it reads.

“People are like, ‘Well, you’re so young, you’ll have other Olympics,'” Hendrickson told the New York Times Magazine in November. “And it’s like: ‘No, you just don’t understand. For women’s ski jumping this is the year to compete.’…I see myself at the top of the ski jump in Sochi,” she says. “I see myself walking into the opening ceremony.”

Commercials like these suggest that things have gotten better for women athletes in the marketing world. “I’ve been covering this kind of thing for about 20 years, and I think things are better for women,” Brennan says. Even Danica Patrick (the fifth-highest earning female athlete this year) donned a muscle suit rather than a bikini for this year’s Super Bowl GoDaddy ad after female business owners complained about the sexist marketing campaign. And some athletes who refuse to play the into feminine stereotypes, like basketball all-star Brittney Griner, are being featured in high-profile ads. Griner models men’s clothing for Nike, but as the most talented player in the WNBA, you can’t ignore her. She’s the exception to the rule.

Athletes in sports with the highest TV viewerships tend to get the most money. It’s no mistake that eight of the 10 athletes on that Forbes best-paid female athletes list are competing in highly feminized sports like tennis and ice skating. Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams topped the list this year, and while both women are certainly talented and embody a powerful image, they both play in skirts.

The conversation about women’s looks isn’t over yet. As long as more men than women watch sports, report on sports and create sports ads, we will continue to talk about female athletes’ looks. (The objectification is so prevalent, it’s now an Onion headline.) Here’s hoping my peers—male or female—who watched the 1999 World Cup with their elementary schools soccer leagues and were inspired by those women go on to become athletes, advertisers, reporters and network executives.

TIME olympics

Topless Photos of Lebanese Olympic Skier Cause a Scandal Back Home

Lebanese skier Jacky Chamoun speaks during an interview at the ski resort of Faraya, northeast of Beirut, March 8, 2013.
Lebanese skier Jacky Chamoun speaks during an interview at the ski resort of Faraya, northeast of Beirut, March 8, 2013. Bilal Hussein—AP

Three years ago Jackie Chamoun posed as a pin-up girl; now, the behind the scenes footage has come back to haunt her as she makes her Sochi debut

Topless photos and racy video footage of Lebanese Olympic Skier Jackie Chamoun have gone viral in Lebanon, prompting a potential government inquiry just days before the Olympic veteran is due to compete in the women’s giant Slalom in Sochi. But government claims that the revealing footage may have damaged Lebanon’s “reputation” have precipitated an enormous backlash in a country that has suffered far worse than the publication of images that wouldn’t look out of place in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

The photos, taken three years ago at Lebanon’s Faraya ski resort as part of an annual Austrian cult calendar shoot featuring male and female Olympic ski instructors, are tame by most calendar criteria—her breasts are concealed by a strategically placed ski or a half-zipped parka. The accompanying behind-the-scenes video (NSFW, to be sure) is more revealing, if chill inducing. The 22-year-old skier-turned model, clad in little more than ski boots and thong underwear, gamely acquiesces to a photographer’s request to lounge in the snow or climb a treacherous-looking icefall. During a brief interview at the end of the 1:38 minute long video, Chamoun admits that it’s much easier being a ski racer than a model because “I’m not used to posing with no clothes on.”

The 2013 calendar was released last year, but the video only surfaced a few days ago, when the local Al-Jadeed television highlighted it in a news broadcast, calling it a “scandal.” The images took Lebanese social media by storm, and the country has spoken of little else for the past few days. Chamoun admitted on her Facebook page to posing for the photos “with other professional athletes”and apologized for offending her critics. But she also implored fans and critics alike to drop the issue so she could ski her best at Sochi. “Now that I’m at the Olympic Games … All I can ask to each of you who saw this, is to stop spreading it, it will really help me focusing on what is really important now: my trainings and race,” she wrote. The post earned her more than 13,000 Likes and an outpouring of support. “Jackie, many Lebanese people including myself would rather see a Lebanese naked beauty than what we see in our country,” wrote one fan. “You have not done anything wrong.”

Faisal Karami, Lebanon’s caretaker minister of youth and sports, was less enthusiastic. According to Lebanon’s National News Agency, he ordered the country’s Olympic committee to launch an inquiry and take all steps necessary to avoid “harming Lebanon’s reputation.” That statement elicited an even greater scandal, as Lebanese across the spectrum ridiculed the minister for his shortsighted take on what really ails Lebanon. In an editorial titled “What Reputation?” the English language Daily Star newspaper lashed out at Karami and Chamoun’s critics. “Since the beginning of 2014, there have been no fewer than six car bombs,” the editorial said. “There is a general lack of law and order, not to mention the lack of a working government. Is there a better definition of a failed state than ours? This woman, who should be a source of pride to the country, … is being blamed for something she chose to do with her free will, while the everyday concerns of citizens are being wholly and fundamentally neglected.”

Lebanon’s online news portal, NOW, was more blunt, placing Chamoun’s pinup alongside an image of a heavily armed man in camouflage under the headline “Boobs over Bullets.” And Lebanese human rights activist and blogger Melkar El Khoury was apoplectic in a recent post: “In a country that is overburdened with debts, embezzlement and corruption, political deadlocks and terrorism, drug and human trafficking, uncontrolled spread of personal weapons, economic decay and unemployment… Jackie’s [rear end] is undermining Lebanon’s image and sending the wrong message?”

Allegations of hypocrisy aside, the “scandal” has caused a bit of head scratching among many Lebanese. Yes, many parts of Lebanon are conservative, but billboards spanning the length of the country’s highways feature cosmetic surgery and laser hair removal clinic ads that reveal almost as much as Chamoun’s photo shoot. While topless bathing is frowned upon at most beach clubs, a summer stroll down Beirut’s seaside corniche offers a wide spectrum of female dress, from ground skimming shapeless black veils to high-heels and hot pants. That tolerance for diversity, forged in the crucible of a 15-year sectarian civil war, is a fundamental part of Lebanon’s reputation as the most liberal and fun-loving country in the Middle East, no matter what crises come its way. The suggestion that an Olympic skier’s brief foray into modeling is a scandal is what undermines Lebanon’s reputation, not the act itself.

TIME russia

Exclusive: Sochi’s Gays Had Protection From the Mayor Who Claimed They Don’t Exist

Performers Penelopa, right, and Veranda, left, get ready backstage before a performance at the Mayak cabaret, the most reputable gay club in Sochi, Feb. 8, 2014.
Performers Penelopa, right, and Veranda, left, get ready backstage before a performance at the Mayak cabaret, the most reputable gay club in Sochi, Feb. 8, 2014. David Goldman—AP

The owner of Sochi's only gay nightclub tells TIME he received preferential treatment from the city's mayor in the run-up to the Olympic Games. But will the LGBT community enjoy the same protections when the world is no longer watching?

In early January, about a month before the Winter Olympics in Sochi began, Andrei Tanichev, the owner of the city’s only gay night club, got a call from the local government summoning him to a meeting with the mayor. It did not sound promising. Just a few days earlier, a special security regime known as the “ring of steel” had put Sochi authorities on high alert for any Olympic disruptions. And although Tanichev is a businessman, not an activist, Russia’s new law against homosexual “propaganda” among minors had thrust his cabaret into a legal grey zone. He went into the meeting prepared for the worst.

What he got was a supporting role in Russia’s gay Potemkin village. While gay rights activists in other parts of Russia have continued to face court appearances and fines even during the Olympic Games, the gay community in Sochi has been put under the state’s protection, at least while the eyes of the world are watching. In his office that day in January, Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov, the Kremlin’s plain-spoken Olympic enforcer, welcomed his guest with a smile. “It was weird,” recalls Tanichev. “He was super nice, really pleasant.”

After asking about the sanitary conditions at the club, which is called Mayak, or Lighthouse, the mayor inquired if there were any problems he could help resolve, and Tanichev said that the luxury hotel being built next door had dumped all kinds of trash in the neighborhood. It was a lot like the complaint Pakhomov had faced in April during a town hall meeting of his constituents, who were up in arms over the felling of trees to make way for Olympic sites. “Anybody who doesn’t like it,” Pakhomov yelled at that packed auditorium, “had better calm themselves down or move away. End of story!”

But with the owner of Mayak he was much more obliging. The week of their meeting, Tanishev says the mayor sent an official to get the trash problem cleared up. “They didn’t publicize it at all,” he says. “I guess they were trying to keep it quiet.” That seems to have been the mayor’s approach to the issue of gays in his city. During an interview with the BBC in December, he said he was not aware of any homosexuals living in Sochi at all, although he later insisted that he was only talking about an absence of gay activists. Since early January, Pakhomov has declined numerous written requests for an interview with TIME, citing his busy Olympic schedule. But his spokesman, Mikael Nersesyan, confirmed that the mayor’s meeting with Tanichev “probably” took place. “If Tanichev says they met, then yes, they probably met,” he says. “The mayor meets with dozens of people a day. There’s nothing abnormal about it.”

As the Olympics grew closer, the government’s pampering did start to seem like the norm for Mayak. During a routine inspection late last year by the Federal Drug Control Service, Russia’s version of the DEA, Tanish says the agents didn’t even go past the doorway before giving Mayak a pass. Had they been a bit less squeamish, they could have stuck around for the nightly drag show, which features a Lady Gaga lookalike and plenty of audience participation. The decor inside is posh but tasteful (Tanichev, whose partner of many years helps run the club, has a degree in design), and the clientele is not shy about public displays of affection even when the foreign news cameras are rolling all around them.

Reporters from all over the world have become a fixture at Mayak in recent months, all eager to cover the impact of Russia’s anti-gay legislation. But in all the dozens if not hundreds of interviews he’s given lately, Tanichev says he neglected to mention his meeting with the mayor. “Nobody asked,” he says. His message, which reporters have asked him to repeat on a nightly basis for months, is that gay rights are doing just fine in Sochi, which had a thriving gay community even in Soviet times, when sodomy was technically against the law. That also seems to be the message local authorities want to transmit to the world: everything is rosy, please move along. “They are scared to cause some kind of scandal,” says Tanichev. “You have to remember these guys are from the provinces. They’ve never dealt with gay issues before. And all of a sudden they have these reporters talking about LGBT this and transgender that.”

The public signals coming from Moscow have only seemed to confuse them further. In his most recent remarks on the subject last month, President Vladimir Putin said that homosexuals “should feel relaxed and calm” in Sochi during the Olympics. But in the same breath, he seemed to suggest that foreign gays were out to prey on Russian kids. “Just leave the children alone, please,” Putin told them.

With all that, officials in Sochi have begun to feel “unsure what side they’re playing on,” says Tanichev. “The law says one thing. Putin says another. Of course their instinct is to make as little noise as possible around this issue.” So it is no surprise that the headlines in the western press have recently painted the city of Sochi, and in particular the Mayak night club, as a living rebuke to Putin’s anti-gay legislation. But the gentle touch of the local authorities have not extended very far outside of Sochi’s city limits.

On Jan. 31, a week before the Winter Olympics began, authorities in the Ural Mountains city of Nizhny Tagil, part of Russia’s industrial heartland, used the gay propaganda law to shut down the only organization in the country that councils gay teenagers through the process of coming out. Elena Klimova, who founded the Children-404 center last year and coordinates its 14 volunteer psychologists, was charged for posting information on her social networking page that “promotes non-traditional sexual relations among minors,” according to her subpoena, which she sent to TIME via e-mail. The document goes on to charge that Klimova’s work was aimed at spreading “skewed ideas about the social equality between traditional and non-traditional sexual relations.”

The charges, she says, refer to the letters from Russian teenagers that she has posted on her Facebook page as a solace to others. They make for heartbreaking reading. In one of them, posted earlier this month, a 19-year-old woman describes how her parents tied her up and invited a stranger to rape her after they learned of her lesbian relationship. The assault, which her parents believed would “cure” her of homosexuality, resulted in pregnancy, the woman wrote, but police have ignored her attempts to file charges. This month, when Klimova stands before a Russian court, she faces a fine worth several thousand dollars for posting such stories online. In an email to TIME, she wrote that the law being used to prosecute her “has directly given free rein to many homophobes. It officially declares that gays and lesbians are inferior beings… That truly amounts to fascism.” And as far as she’s concerned, there is not much comfort in the fact that gay clubs are allowed to operate freely in some Russian cities. “Any gay club amounts to a ghetto,” Klimova says. “And it doesn’t at all mean that gays in Russia have it good.”

Over drinks at his night club, Tanichev says he agrees. The easy ride Mayak has gotten amid Russia’s Olympic posturing does not change the fact that the government seems to be nudging society in a very hateful direction. “I often think about where we’re heading as a nation,” Tanichev says while the drag queens in the make-up room are preparing for the night’s cabaret. “Sometimes it seems like we’re rolling backwards toward some kind of theocracy,” he says. The walls of the room around him sure don’t make it seem that way. They are covered with giant photos of almost-naked men. But the view from Mayak, and from Sochi, is deceptive.

TIME olympics

U.S. Snowboarder Arielle Gold Drops Out Of Olympics

Snowboard - Winter Olympics Day 5
Arielle Gold after crashing at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 12, 2014. Mike Ehrmann—Getty Images

Snowboarder Arielle Gold hurt her shoulder during a practice run Wednesday and was forced to sit out of her Olympic competition. The 17-year-old's injury comes on the heels of Shaun White's disappointing fourth-place finish Tuesday

Team USA snowboarder Arielle Gold suffered a shoulder injury Wednesday and will not compete in the Olympics.

Gold, 17, was training before her heat when she crashed in the Rosa Khuto halfpipe, USA Today reports. She was considered a medal contender in the event after becoming the second-youngest snowboarder to win the FIS World Snowboarding Championship last year.

American snowboarder Shaun White dropped out of last Saturday’s slopestyle snowboarding competition and came in a disappointing fourth in the men’s halfpipe Tuesday.

[USA Today]

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