TIME

Incredible Images from Day 8 of the Sochi Olympics

Moments and mishaps from Day 8 of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

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Plushenko’s Retirement Is Proof He Should Have Quit Before Sochi

Sochi Olympics Figure Skating
Evgeni Plushenko of Russia waves to spectators after he pulled out of the men's short program figure skating competition due to illness at the Iceberg Skating Palace, Feb. 13, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. Ivan Sekretarev—AP

The iconic Russian figure skater, hobbled by injuries, should have given way to a younger generation before the Sochi Olympics began

After his aborted performance on Thursday—and the subsequent announcement of his retirement—it became all too clear that Evgeni Plushenko should have passed the torch to a younger skater before the Sochi Olympics commenced. For nearly a decade, the flamboyant figure skater has dominated the sport in Russia. At the age of 31, which is right around retirement age for an Olympic figure skater, he decided to try his Olympic luck for the third time despite a recent spinal surgery. It worked out well for him on Sunday, when he won a gold medal along with nine of his teammates in Sochi as part of the team figure skating competition. But four days later, when it came time for him to perform in the men’s singles, he skated up to the judges booth after a warm-up and told them he couldn’t go on. With that, Team Russia’s chances of a gold dropped to zero in the event where it has long been dominant.

As TIME reported earlier this week, Plushenko’s back was troubling him toward the end of his solo performance at Sunday’s team event. But he and his coaches boldly decided to carry on. “There are no healthy athletes in the major leagues,” said his coach, Alexei Mishin. “Everybody hurts.” Plushenko even suggested that he might compete in the next Winter Games four years from now.

That sounded almost delusional. On the strength of his remaining talents, it had been hard for him even to make it into these Olympics. He lost a key qualifying round in December to a young upstart named Maxim Kovtun, who is 12 years younger than Plushenko and approaching his prime. But the veteran wouldn’t give up. He refused to compete in the last qualifying round for Sochi, saying that he was too busy training for the Olympics, and he used his celebrity status in Russia to help lobby for another shot. After much debate in the press, he got it.

The Russian figure skating association allowed him to dance a “control run” for a committee of skating experts less than three weeks before the Games. Although that performance was never shown to the public or the press, the committee ruled that it was enough to give Plushenko a ticket to Sochi.

That now looks to have been a mistake. The pain that began bothering him during the team event on Sunday never went away, his coach said on Thursday. Then things got worse. The day before the singles event, Plushenko took a heavy fall during training. “The pain didn’t let up in the morning,” Mishin told a Russian newspaper. “We took medication, but it didn’t help.”

Russia, which has no replacement for him in the men’s short program, is now out of that contest, which should have offered one of its best chances for another gold. And they needed it. A week into the Games, Russia has only two golds and stands in seventh place in the overall medals tally, behind Switzerland. Plushenko had a chance to turn that around, but the chances of a younger skater would clearly have been better.

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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.

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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 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.

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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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Move Over Shaun White: The I-Pod Is Here

Shaun White of the U.S. reacts after crashing during the men's snowboard halfpipe final event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor
Shaun White of the U.S. reacts after crashing during the men's snowboard halfpipe final event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, in Rosa Khutor February 11, 2014. Mike Blake—Reuters

American snowboarder Shaun White was considered a near-lock for a gold in the halfpipe until he fell on his first 2 attempts then didn't land smoothly on his third, sending him home with no medals at all after he backed out of another competition

Just as quickly as the Olympics can lift you into the hearts and minds of the masses, they can send your reputation careening down a halfpipe.

Shaun White won’t be longing to return to Sochi anytime soon. First, he decided to pull out of the slopestyle competition, citing the dangers of the course and his desire to concentrate on his money event — the halfpipe. Fellow boarders started chirping: another worthy American could have taken his slopestyle spot, you know? We found out that White, despite the attention — and thus money — he brings to the sport, isn’t all that popular among his peers. Not unlike Tiger Woods, when Woods was winning.

Then, he started griping about the half-pipe conditions. Granted, he was far from alone. But it was Jack Nicklaus who once remarked that as soon as he heard kvetching about a course, he knew he had an edge. White is the Jack, the Tiger of his sport. Now, he was doing the complaining.

White was shooting to become the first American man to win a gold medal in the same event in three consecutive Olympics. On his first run in Tuesday’s halfpipe finals, White fell twice. White went big on his second attempt (in snowboarding, only the top score counts), but it wasn’t smooth enough. He finished in fourth. Iouri “IPod” Podladtchikov, a Russian-born boarder now competing for Switzerland, took gold – how peeved is Putin? — thanks to his signature trick, the “Yolo.” That’s a double flip with four rotations in the air. You only live once dude.

No Yolo, no gold. White’s loss won’t diminish his contributions to Olympic snowboarding. But those Flying Tomato days seem pretty distant. And it seems pretty bizarre to write this: Shaun White, such a sure thing for so long, has actually kinda killed the good U.S. snowboarding vibe. After dual American wins in the new slopestyle event, we’d have White, and then maybe Kelly Clark taking home halfpipe gold in the women’s competition on Wednesday.

Now, there’s a hole in the U.S. medal count. Few expected White not to fill it.

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