Cross country skiing, hockey and more from the 13th day of the Olympics.
Ashley Wagner’s suit of armor and others
The secrets behind the costumes that cost skaters thousands of dollars and the coveted designers who craft Sochi's most eye-catching uniforms
For an Olympic level skater, there are certain relationships that can make or break champions. Mom, dad and family rank pretty high, as do the coach and choreographer. But in figure skating, you can add one more – costume designer.
That’s because ocasionally the outfits become much more than showpieces, and the dressmaker much more than a seamstress. Take U.S. skater Ashley Wagner. After her disastrous performance at U.S. nationals, which were a big part of the Olympic selection process – she fell on two of her jumps in the free program – she was still named to the three-woman ladies’ team for Sochi based on her competitive record this season, over third-place finisher and Olympian Mirai Nagasu. She immediately became the target of hate mail, death threats and bullying about being gifted the spot on the Olympic squad.
“I have five kids, and all of a sudden, I lost the costumer perspective and became a mother first,” says Jan Longmire, who has been designing Wagner’s dresses for three years and designed for 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen. Longmire, who also creates outfits for Wagner’s close skating friends, knew from them that the skater was devastated by the response. “It wasn’t a happy thing, going to the Olympics again for me,” she says. “There was none of that excitement, and there was a cloud hanging over it, mostly because I was so concerned about her. She was demolished.”
So Longmire says she had a very different purpose in designing the dress Wagner will debut in the free skate in Sochi. “I never had a design process come from that place of not just wanting to make a nice dress for a skater that is well received because it’s pretty,” she says. “I needed to get her into a place of some kind of empowerment. I was not going to make her a dress, I was going to make her a suit of armor.”
That kind of suit doesn’t come cheap. Olympic caliber dresses can cost anywhere from $1500 to $3000 and up, and with most skaters commissioning several outfits per season, the annual bill for costumes alone can tally tens of thousands of dollars. Skating federations can pay for up to 50% of the cost of outfits for the most talented skaters, but for the rest, it’s up to them to find the right dressmaker who can sew up a competition-worthy outfit for the right price.
There are a handful of skating costumers that elite level competitors keep busy — from Jeff Billings, who designed 2002 gold medalist Sarah Hughes’ lavender creation; Tania Bass, who also worked with Hughes and was considered for reigning Olympic champion Yuna Kim’s costumes in Sochi; to Longmire.
The more, the better for some competitors, since skaters often keep tabs on which of their competitors are using a particular designer. Bass says she was asked by Korea’s Kim about her choice of outfits, which Kim debuted at an Olympic qualifying event in Croatia, after rival Mao Asada of Japan went to Kim’s longtime dress designer. Kim’s team decided to go with another costumer, but clearly wanted to ensure that the reigning queen of Olympic ice remained the only queen in the fashion department as well.
That’s likely why U.S. ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who won the country’s historic first gold in the event in Sochi, have used the same local designers, Stephanie Miller and LuAnne Williams, who live near them in suburban Michigan, since the duo began skating in 1997. Davis, says Miller, has come a long way. Davis was once too modest to have any cutouts that showed skin underneath but competed this season in a bare midriff (albeit covered with illusion fabric).
It’s just a piece of clothing, but it’s no accident that in skating it’s also called a costume. Like theater actors who become their characters when they don their costumes, skaters too get a boost from having the right outfit to portray their story on the ice. Wagner herself said she “wasn’t able to connect well” with the Juliet character she adopted this season in her free program, and ordered three different dresses to help her get more comfortable with the role.
After her disappointing performance at nationals, Wagner begged her coach to allow her to bring back the conniving Delilah of Samson and Delilah fame, who she played last year, in a slightly reworked routine. The decision was symbolic in a way; she had skating followers buzzing over her choice of color in playing Delilah at the time because her dress was…yellow.
“It was very controversial because skaters just don’t wear yellow; it’s one of those no-no things,” says Longmire.
Why? There doesn’t appear to be any rational reason for it, says Longmire, but may be based on color snobbery that considers yellow less classic than the more traditional colors on the ice.
Well, hold on to your sequins because when Wagner commissioned a new dress to portray Delilah in Sochi, “I said it could be any color as long as it was yellow,” says Longmire. “I told her, you are going to be the defiant girl you were last year.”
This time, however, Delilah got an upgrade. “Delilah last year was a working girl, and now she’s been paid off, and she’s gone downtown to do some serious shopping,” says Longmire. “The look this year has more jewelry, more crystal.”
She produced a new dress in a week a half, record time for couture-worthy creations that generally take 70 hours to 100 hours to make. Longmire rushed the costume over to Wagner’s last practice in California before she left for Sochi, and made it just in time for her to skate around in the outfit for a few minutes. She took the dress home for some last minute changes, and delivered it to Wagner’s house at midnight that evening, four hours before her early morning flight to Russia.
“I mentioned that this was her suit of armor, and I said that I thought of her with every bead I sewed on,” says Longmire. “I told her that this dress was for her to kick butt for no other reason than that she deserved the power in that dress.”
Whether Wagner brings home any hardware from Sochi isn’t important; for Longmire, she simply hopes that the girl who started paying for her dresses with earnings from selling jeans at the mall, comes back from the Olympics with positive memories instead of more demons. If a dress can do that, it’s worth every penny.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White win USA’s first ever Olympic ice dance gold.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White win USA’s first ever Olympic ice dance gold.
The party is warming up for the host team at the Winter Olympics
Eleven days into the Sochi Olympics, Russia finally broke into the upper echelons of the medals table on Monday with a surprise gold in the two-man bobsleigh event. The relief was palpable. For a week and a half, the host country was not even in the top five, and officials were getting worried that the ghosts of Vancouver, where Russia had its worst Winter Olympic showing ever in 2010, might still be dragging the athletes down. Now those fears have passed. With a total of 18 medals, five of them gold, Russia is now in second place in the overall tally, behind Germany but catching up fast. It already has two more gold medals than it took home at the end of the Games in 2010.
On Sunday night at Sochi’s seaport building, where the athletes go to unwind after competitions, the sense of redemption after Vancouver was already potent enough to make the Olympians start popping corks in celebration. Around midnight, six of the medalists got together for an old tradition: they dipped two of their medals into a jug of bubbly and then passed it around, taking big gulps from the communal chalice as if it were some ancient Grecian kylix. Asked afterward how it had tasted, Ksenia Stolbova, who won a silver medal last week in the pairs free-skating event, closed her eyes and said, “Divine,” drawing out the word as if to savor it.
That was a far cry from the mood at the seaport building on Feb. 6, the night before the opening ceremony, when the organizers staged a private party to kick off the Olympics. The celebrity guests at that event made a point to prepare reporters for the worst. “If we don’t perform well, please just don’t blame the athletes or the organizers,” said Iosif Kobzon, a famous Russian crooner. “There’s a lot of pressure on everyone. And we never promised to be the best.”
But on Sunday, the mood was good enough to bring back memories from the Olympic triumphs of the Soviet Union, which was a powerhouse in winter sports. Irina Rodnina, who won gold medals in figure skating for the Soviet team in three consecutive Winter Olympics — 1972, 1976 and 1980 — recalled that the champagne ritual was performed with a bit less flare in those days. It still went by the same name — obmyvanie, which means bathing or, more fancifully, ablution — but the term was used in a figurative sense in the frugal years under communism. “Back then, we didn’t have enough spare champagne to fill a whole bucket,” she told TIME. “So we drank from flutes, and you can’t fit a medal inside a flute.”
That ceased to be an issue in 2001, when the Russian apparel company Bosco Sport began dressing all of Russia’s Olympians. In Sochi, the firm set up this year’s Russian House in the luxuriously remodeled seaport building, which now boasts a nightclub decked out in red velvet with a view of the harbor full of yachts. More than a decade ago, at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the company’s managers were the ones who decided to take the ritual ablution of medals a lot more literally. “If you’re going to bathe, you have to bathe for real,” says the company’s president, Timur Guguberidze, who presided over the ceremony at the Russian House on Sunday.
So when the medalists were called up to the stage around midnight, a glass vase of champagne was poured out for them to bathe their medals. In a bit of an anticlimax, it turned out to be midshelf Italian prosecco, and only two of the athletes brought their medals for the alcoholic bath. “I didn’t want mine to get ruined,” says figure skater Maxim Trankov, who won gold in the pairs free-skating event on Feb. 12. “People keep asking to see it, to touch it. So I put it back in the box a few days ago and am keeping it hidden.”
The two medalists in the sport of skeleton, one the winner of a gold and the other of a bronze, turned out to be a bit less squeamish. But from the grimace on his face, it was hard to tell if Alexander Tretyakov, who won a gold medal in skeleton on Friday, was laughing or weeping as he dunked his treasure into the tub. “It had to be done,” Tretyakov told TIME afterward with a tired smile. “It’s a tradition.”
And even the athletes who didn’t get their medals sticky with prosecco got to sip from the chalice as it was passed around. Four of them then joined a banquet in the adjacent room, where a small group of Russian TV celebrities and politicians lined up to take pictures with them and continued drinking. The bad memories of the last Winter Games seemed as far away as Vancouver is from Sochi. But the guests were still careful not to jinx the final result. In the cautious words of Rodnina, who had the honor of lighting the Olympic torch at the opening ceremony 10 days earlier: “We still have a week to go.” And anything could happen.
Christin Cooper criticized by fans for questioning Miller about his brother who died last year
An NBC reporter brought American skier Bode Miller to tears Sunday after he won the bronze medal in the Super-G, with what many thought were excessive questions about his brother’s death. But Miller has since jumped to the reporter’s defense.
Miller made history as the oldest alpine skiing medalist when he won his sixth Olympic medal Sunday. NBC had been closely following the Miller family throughout this Olympics.
But fans said NBC may have pushed Miller too far after his bronze finish, focusing on the skier’s loss of his brother, snowboarder Chelone (Chilly) Miller,who was 29 when he died of a seizure last year.
Christin Cooper, a two-time Olympian and silver medalist who works as an alpine skiing analyst for NBC, interviewed him before the medal ceremony.
Cooper began by asking Miller if this medal was different from his last five.
Miller: “This [medal] was a little different. I think, you know, my brother passing away — I really wanted to come back here and race the way he sensed it. So this was a little different.”
Cooper: “Bode, you’re showing so much emotion down here, what’s going through your mind?”
Miller: “A lot, obviously. Just a long struggle coming in here. Just a though year.”
Cooper: “I know you wanted to be here with Chilly really experiencing these Games. How much does it mean to come with a great performance for him, or was it for him?”
Miller began to cry.
Miller: “It’s just a tough year. I don’t know if it’s really for him. I just wanted to come here and, I don’t know, I guess make myself proud.
Cooper: “When you’re looking up in the sky at the start… it just looks like you’re talking to somebody, what’s going on there?”
Miller doubled over crying, blocking his face from the camera with his arm. Cooper quickly apologized and comforted Miller.
Miller took a moment to compose himself squatting on the ground, before his wife came and hugged him. The camera continued to follow him for over a minute as he grieved. Critics expressed their outrage on Twitter. Some even pointed to Cooper’s quickly-edited Wikipedia page.
But after the furor on Twitter, Miller defended Cooper Monday morning. He tweeted that the correspondent only asked the questions any journalist would have asked:
The American team earned record-setting scores to reach the top spot on the medal stand
It only took 38 years, but the U.S. finally has a gold medal in ice dance.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White, skating a technically challenging program as the Sultan and Scheherazade, tallied up the highest scores of the free dance event to win gold. Adding more erotic passion to their story-telling, the pair evidently captivated the judges with their speed and precision.
The pair beat their rivals and training mates Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the Canadians who hoped to repeat their 2010 Olympic victory but earned silver.
Both teams have said their unique training environment—sharing ice time and the same coach—is a motivator for their practices.
Davis and White set the bar high early in the competition, outscoring the Canadians during the inaugural team event and then setting a record score in the short dance to the quick step and foxtrot.
The Americans finished 2.56 points ahead of the Canadians by getting credit for performing skills with the highest level of difficulty and being rewarded for their skating skills in the tight traveling spins known as “twizzles”.
The Americans continued their dominance in the free skate, earning 116.63 points to the Canadians’ 114.66 to win their history-making gold. Adding in the short program scores, overall, Davis and White outscored Virtue and Moir by 4.53 points.
The bronze went to Russia’s up-and-coming duo Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, who enthralled the judges with their rendition of Swan Lake. Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Maia and Alex Shibutani finished eighth and ninth, respectively, establishing a strong foundation for U.S. ice dance for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Since the event became an Olympic sport at the 1976 Games, Eastern European teams, primarily from Russia, have dominated the podium. Virtue and Moir became the first North American team to win in 2010 in Vancouver. This is Team USA’s fourth ever medal in the event; Colleen O’Connor and Jim Millns earned bronze in 1976, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto silver in 2006, and Davis and White skated to silver in 2010.
Wedged between railroad tracks and a freeway overpass, the Cathedral of the Holy Face of Christ the Savior has yet to find a congregation
On Jan. 7, exactly a month before the Winter Games in Sochi began, Russian President Vladimir Putin stopped by the host city’s new cathedral to attend Orthodox Christmas Mass. It seemed like a symbolic moment. In record time, Putin’s government had built an entire Olympic city, complete with stadiums, hotels, railroads and freeways, on a patch of swamp in Sochi’s suburbs. It was Putin’s little miracle, and what better place and time to celebrate than on Orthodox Christmas in Sochi’s new church? There were just a couple of problems.
The ornate Cathedral of the Holy Face of Christ the Savior, built mostly in the Byzantine style, was still under construction at the time. It had been consecrated only a few days earlier, before the altar had been assembled. And then there was the issue of its location. Wedged between railroad tracks and a freeway overpass, the church was nearly impossible for any locals to approach by foot without jumping fences and running across several lanes of traffic. So people had to be bussed in to stand behind Putin and his key Olympic managers during the Christmas Mass. With that, the cathedral served its first essential function — a photo opportunity for Putin. But whom it will serve when the Olympics leave town is so far a bit of a mystery.
“There’s an old Russian tradition that when you make a conquest of land, the first thing you do, before building a fort or a bathhouse, is build a church on top of it,” says Vasili Gromov, an amateur historian and restorer of Orthodox churches in the region of Krasnodar, which includes Sochi. “But this one doesn’t make much sense.”
On the second Sunday of the Olympics, Gromov, who is 76, came early to the evening Mass to voice some concerns to the priests. How could they put such a massive cathedral in a place where people can’t get to it? “I circled around for an hour before I figured out how to get here,” says Gromov. “There are fences and freeways everywhere,” he says. “It’s like a maze!” So he was not surprised to see the cathedral nearly deserted during the long evening service, with never more than a dozen parishioners at a time, most of them Olympic tourists. “And who’s going to come here when the Games are over?” Gromov asks.
(MORE: Sochi’s Sixth Ring)
TIME put that question to the cathedral’s abbot in January, a jolly old priest named Father Flavian, who is prone to bouts of giggling that make him place his hand over his mouth. He did not have any great answers. The church, he explained, was not really part of the original Olympic project; it was conceived as an afterthought a year before the Games began, the holy icing on the Olympic cake. “It’s a miracle that we even built it in time,” he said. “We only had four months to cover the whole interior in frescoes, which is some kind of Olympic record!” (Indeed, when two reporters visited on Jan. 17, workers on scaffolds were still painting the final touches.)
But with all the rush, few considered the placement of the church or its functionality. “I know, it’s true, it’s really hard to get here,” Father Flavian admitted. “We’re pretty much on an island.” Then, as another fit of chuckles started coming on, he added, “When I visit Moscow and the higher clergy asks me where I’m from, I tell them I work out on the bogs.”
That is technically true. Just like the stadiums hosting the Olympic Games, the church rests on marshlands in a suburb of Sochi called Adler, right on the Black Sea coast, and its lack of solid bedrock has bedeviled the organizers from the beginning. The ground was so moist and unstable that Olympic buildings had to be redesigned several times, contributing to the massive cost overruns that eventually brought the overall price tag to around $50 billion — more than all the previous Winter Olympics combined.
The result is undoubtedly impressive — but impressive enough to justify the costs? Only time will tell. So far, the Olympic Park that houses the stadiums feels like a fantasy land, the kind you might get if architecture students put all their final projects on a table and waved a magic wand to make them real. On Saturday, when the weather was fine, tens of thousands of tourists wandered dumbstruck among them, photographing everything in sight. But it was hard not to think about what Russia’s Olympic Oz will look like when the Games and the tourists are gone. Sochi, already the record holder for the most expensive Games, may get another dubious honor: home to the greatest arrangement of white elephants on the planet.
The stadiums, of course, will be used in the future to host sports tournaments, conferences and summits. But beyond abiding by Russian tradition, it’s hard to see the future function of this enormous church. Even during the Olympics, attendance has been dismal. “It hurt me to see it,” says Gromov, who works on the restoration of churches near Sochi that were destroyed in Soviet times. “They’ve banished it so far, even the athletes can’t come to pray.”
That wasn’t totally true. One of the volunteers of the Olympic organizing committee, Lina Balciunaite, who is from Lithuania, has been put in charge of shepherding athletes to the cathedral in search of an Orthodox blessing before their competitions. On Sunday, she took a pair of Georgians on the trek, but after parking their car on the other side of the freeway, it took them half an hour to walk the rest of the way. “Inside the Olympic Village we have a multiconfessional center for prayer,” she said. “But it looks like an office more than a church. So some Orthodox Christians have asked if there’s a real cathedral around, mostly Ukrainians or athletes from Kazakhstan.” In total, she said, there have been about six.
And what about when they’re gone? Not to worry. Father Flavian has a plan. He says the cathedral’s island of property between the railroad tracks and the overpass will also be home to a “cultural and historical” center for international religious congresses. There will be a hotel on the grounds, a restaurant where newlyweds can have their wedding receptions, a business center with office space, and a conference hall for 350 people.
“The Lord never frowned on entrepreneurship,” said the priest with another smile. The money for all this, he said, is meant to come mostly from the regional government, assuming it will have much to spare on developing Sochi after all the treasure it’s already poured into the Games. So far, there are no guarantees. “We are petitioning for assistance,” said Father Flavian. “And praying to the Lord.”
When the Olympics pass, he also hopes people will at least start making the hour-long trip from the city of Sochi for the high holidays, if not for Sunday Mass. “People just aren’t used to us being here yet,” he said. Only a few diehards made it to the evening service from Sochi on Sunday, among them Pavel Dranichnikov, an engineer with a handlebar mustache who works on the railroads. “Wherever my work sends me,” he said, “I always visit the local church. I’ll walk 10 to 20 km if that’s what it takes.”
But others may lack that abundance of zeal. Even if one does make it to the church from the Olympic venues, the best way to walk back goes right over a busy freeway, where a lone policeman named Aleksandr Tkachev was directing pedestrians on Sunday. “Most people coming from the church just walk this way,” he told me, pointing to the right lane of traffic. “It’s not very safe, but there’s no pedestrian walkway to get where you’re going.” For a few moments, no cars came into view, so this reporter ran directly into traffic, comforted only slightly by the recent blessings of Father Flavian.
From snowboarding to figure skating, highlights from Day 11
Tune apparently syncs perfectly with the Olympic bobsled course itself+ READ ARTICLE
After a 12-year hiatus, the Jamaican bobsled team has returned to the Winter Olympics, and this time around they’ve got an awesome new theme song. The catchy reggae tune is called, naturally, “The Bobsled Song,” and it was specially designed to sync with Sochi’s bobsled course.
The team will compete today, Sunday Feb. 16, so be sure to hit “play” right as they begin.
Of course, no Jamaican bobsled song could ever top the classic tune from Cool Runnings: