Shaun White crashing out of the medals and more from day 6 of the Sochi Olympics.
After a battling and ultimately losing to what appears to be a rapidly-spreading eye infection, the NBC broadcaster is ceding his nightly Olympics hosting duties to fellow anchor Matt Lauer for the first time since 1988
Bob Costas put forth an Olympian effort, but his red, swollen eyes have gotten the best of him. For the first time since 1988, the veteran sports anchor will cede his his nightly Olympics hosting duties to Matt Lauer while his mysterious infection clears.
It’s not clear how Costas’ eyes got so inflamed – but pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is the most common infection among U.S. children and adults. It’s caused by both bacteria like staph and strep, and viruses like the cold virus (which means it is highly contagious). It can also be caused by allergies or chemicals. Pink eye causes red, inflamed, and swollen conjunctiva, or the membranes that cover the white parts of the eyes. Infections are common wherever people are in close contact: day care centers, classrooms, college dorms and work places. Worried about your risk? Here’s what you need to know.
How do I avoid getting eye infections?
There’s no way to foolproof yourself, especially if you have an allergic reaction to something you touch or something that you are exposed to in the air.
But the best way to protect against the bacteria and viruses that trigger infections is to wash your hands and not share things like washcloths, pillows, sheets or eyewear.
If someone near you is already infected, make sure you avoid touching anything that has been near their eyes. It’s also a good idea to disinfect common areas such as bathroom and kitchen surfaces.
How do I know if my eyes are infected?
Infections can cause a runny discharge that can dry to form a crusty layer, making it hard to open your eyes in the morning. You may also feel some pain and itchiness in your eyes. Use a disposable paper towel and warm water to clear away any residue, or, if you use a towel, wash it thoroughly afterward.
Costas appeared on air Thursday with one swollen pink eye, but as of Monday evening, this is how he looked:
How long do infections last?
Viral infections can cause redness and itching for up to a week, while other reactions, particularly those caused by allergic responses to chemicals or smoke, can last as long as three weeks or more.
What’s the best treatment?
For viral infections, there is no real treatment other than artificial tear drops, which can help to relieve itchiness and pain. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics for bacterial infections, which can clear up pink eye in several days. See your doctor to determine which treatment is appropriate for your case.
How do competitors who train their entire careers to look out for number one adjust to relying on others to get the gold?
The debut of the team figure skating event Thursday at the Olympics didn’t go so well for the Americans. After less than stellar performances by both the men’s entrants and pairs members, the U.S., a gold medal favorite going into the Games, is in danger of not making the second round of competition.
That’s the danger of a team event – or, in this case, a hybrid team event – in which athletes compete as individuals but their standing depends on the performance of others. In team figure skating, each discipline – ladies, men, pairs, and ice dance – accumulates points for a each team’s total. Only those with the top five point totals go on to skate off for a medal in the finals.
Tying their fate to the performance of others isn’t something that figure skaters are accustomed to doing. Same for the single luge athletes, who are used to racing the clock alone on their slides. “Every elite athlete, has to have a certain degree of selfishness,” says Mark Aoyagi, director of sport and performance psychology at the University of Denver. “They have to look out for themselves by definition to become elite, at a level that normal people don’t understand.” Shifting that self-centered focus and accepting that their fate may now be in the hands of others may, he says, “be a hard pill to swallow.”
There’s no data suggesting that people who are more me-focused tend to gravitate toward solo sports and shun team endeavors, but those who pick up tennis or ski jumping or figure skating do tend to be more independent and self-reliant. Participating in a team event requires a shift in that mentality to accept that others may have different ways of training, different ways of preparing, and vastly different ways of handling stress and competing.
“It’s a different kind of pressure,” says Cory Newman, director of the center for cognitive therapy and professor psychology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. “Now it’s not just your own face you risk falling on if you have a hard time, but there are other people invested in you, and depending on you.”
How potentially paralyzing, or helpful, that pressure can be depends on the rest of your teammates. With the right atmosphere, he says, the experience can be inspiring and uplifting, and there is evidence that such collaborative efforts can even lead to better performances. In a 2002 study by researchers from University of Western Ontario and Brock University, scientists found, for example, that strongly cohesive groups of athletes who performed individually but had their scores pooled into a team effort performed better than those who were collaborative in traditional team sports such as basketball and football. Aoygai says it’s possible that because these teams didn’t normally function as a team, they took more time to address ways to bring the individual athletes together to foster a sense of camaraderie and fellowship.
One way to ease the transition is to help athletes see the change as a positive, which many do. For one, in a team event there is less pressure on each individual since each performance becomes part of a group score. There’s also the support of your teammates to celebrate victories and commiserate in defeats. “There must be an inherent loneliness in the life of a figure skater,” says Newman, “since everybody is your competitor. It must be nice to have an opportunity in which not everybody is your competitor, but there to help you.”
But what happens if things don’t work out well, and some athletes bring the entire group down? That’s what the U.S. team faces now. For sports psychologists, that’s an opportunity to ensure that the instinctively independent athletes don’t revert to their me-first mentality, and, as Aoyagi says, “look for the first fire exit to get out and protect themselves and their ego,” but instead remain committed to the team. Agreeing to be part of a team, as any player knows, requires sacrifice, and for self-minded athletes, that may include accepting that there is a risk that the outcomes may not always reflect their own abilities. “You have to be willing to compromise that things might not work out the way you like it,” says Gregory Dale, director of the sports psychology and leadership program at Duke University. “And you need to understand that your teammates are not going to do anything to screw things up on purpose. They’re in it like you are.”
Coming to that understanding can be easier if the team builds cohesiveness before the competition; some go-to techniques respected coaches have used include bringing athletes outside of their training setting to share a meal or participate in an activity that will allow them to collaborate and learn more about each other so they can establish trust and respect. Mike Candrea, who heads up the softball teams at the University of Arizona and brought together players from around the country for the U.S. Olympic women’s softball team, used holiday parties to bring his players together. Others have turned to rock climbing or other activities that force athletes to communicate and rely on each other. “Trust is the foundation of any dynamic in a team,” says Dale.
And that trust, says sports psychologists, will be the key to determining which teams of normally self-minded athletes pull ahead of others. “If you look at it the right way,” says Aoyagi, “research shows that even if a team is made up of individual athlete performances, they can truly be a team and that does lead to a better outcome.”
His eye infection is getting visibly worse
Updated: Feb. 11, 9:00 a.m.
Bob Costas, who’s anchoring much of NBC’s primetime Sochi Winter Olympics coverage, is battling an eye infection — and he appears to be losing.
Costas acknowledged having “some kind of minor infection which should resolve itself by the weekend” on Thursday. It has not resolved itself. It has, instead, spread to both of his eyes:
Props to Costas for hanging in there despite what looks like double pink eye (Or is that just “pink eyes?”). Just two more weeks to go, Bob!
Update: But on Tuesday morning, NBC announced that Costas would be taking the night off from his Olympic duties, to be replaced by Matt Lauer. Costas managed a humorous toss to Lauer despite his cringe-worthy eye infection, saying: “Reluctantly, I was trying to throw a complete game here, but I think we’re going to have to go to the bullpen, and I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but you’re Mariano Rivera, at least tonight.”
Costas’ appearance has, of course, invited all sorts of jokes on Twitter:
Y'all are ripping on Bob Costas like you've never had pink eye before. Leave the man alone, he's an institution.—
Ben Jacobs (@benhjacobs) February 11, 2014
This post has been updated to indicate Costas taking Tuesday off from reporting.
Molson beer refrigerator offers free brews when Canadians scan their passports
Carter (@SideCG) February 10, 2014
Canadians competing at Sochi have a leg up on their rivals, at least when it comes to beverages: A beer fridge has reportedly been installed in country’s Olympic House. Canadians love their beer so much that beer company Molson Canadian made a vending machine that made sure nationals could get a free brew at any moment, just as long as they have their passports. Also spotted last year in London and Brussels, the beer fridge works by taking a photo of people’s passports to verify their authenticity, then doling out a cold brew.
Canadian have plenty to toast at the games, too. As of Monday night, they were in a three-way medal tie with Norway and the Netherlands, with seven medals each.
It's crunch time for Evgeni Plushenko, a Russian Olympic figure skater and beloved athlete, who had the 13th major spinal surgery of his career last year and nearly had to sit out this year's Games. But he dared to skate, and grabbed a gold
The Olympic figure skater Evgeni Plushenko, one of Russia’s most beloved athletes, was nearing the end of his performance at the Winter Games in Sochi on Sunday night when he felt a sharp pinch in his spine. Few in the packed stands of the Iceberg Arena, whose audience that night included Russian President Vladimir Putin, noticed the subtle change in the skater’s posture at that moment. But his trainer, Alexei Mishin, froze as Plushenko came out of his two final jumps. “They were flawed,” he told TIME afterward. “You could tell he was hurting.”
Hardly a year has passed since Plushenko, the home-crowd favorite of the Games in Sochi, had major surgery on his spine—the 13th operation of his career—which left him with debilitating pain through much of his Olympic training. Although he won a gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, he is, at 31, now in the twilight of his career, and his wife has warned that another bad fall could paralyze him.
But none of that has kept him from competing. On Sunday, after his performance in the team figure skating event, Russia finally won its first gold medal. It was the highlight of an Olympic showing that has so far given the host country little to celebrate. Team Russia now stands at sixth place in the overall medals tally, one spot behind Germany, and of all the athletes it needs to help the country pull ahead, none have quite as much pressure on them as Plushenko.
For two years running, national surveys have found him to be Russia’s favorite athlete, well ahead of his peers in more mainstream sports like tennis and boxing. Off the ice, his reputation as a prima donna has also given endless fodder for the tabloids, which never seem to tire of featuring his blond mullet and shimmery suits on their covers. In 2010, when his performance fell just shy of the gold medal at the last Winter Games in Vancouver, Plushenko threw such a tantrum that Putin felt obliged to assuage the skater’s ego in a personal telegram which declared: “Your silver is worth gold.” Plushenko’s big chance to make up for his loss in Vancouver was always meant to come in Sochi.
So in December, when he lost a key qualifying round for the Sochi Olympics to a 19-year-old newcomer, a national scandal broke out. “Everybody was like, ‘What? How could that be? How could we have the Olympics in Russia without Zhenya,” says Yana Rudkovskaya, his wife and manager, using a pet name for her husband. To make matters worse, Plushenko refused to compete in the final qualifying round for the Sochi Games—the European figure skating championships—explaining with his typical aplomb that he was too busy training for the Olympics to compete in any more Olympic qualifiers.
That presented Russia’s Olympic officials with a serious dilemma. They could either bend the rules and give Plushenko another chance to join Team Russia, or they could risk angering his legion of fans by keeping him out of the Games. After much debate behind the scenes and in the press, Plushenko was allowed to perform a special “control run” for a committee of Russian officials and figure skating experts. The performance was held behind closed doors only two-and-a-half weeks before the Olympics commenced, and it has never been shown to the public. But whatever Plushenko did on the ice that day, it secured him a ticket to Sochi.
So far, he has used it to fine effect. His four-minute solo performance on Sunday helped push the national figure skating team to the top of the podium, even though, according to his trainer, Plushenko was holding out. “He didn’t go out there to show his full power,” Mishin said Monday. “He did just enough to get the right team result.”
Minutes after that result earned a gold medal for him and his nine teammates, Plushenko announced that he would be performing for another one in the men’s singles event on Thursday. And what about that whole back problem? The pins surgically implanted in his spine? The risk of paralysis? “There are no healthy athletes in the major leagues,” Mishin said. “Everybody hurts.”
Though her tone is a bit less cavalier, Plushenko’s wife and manager agrees that it would have been wrong to pull out of the Olympics because of her husband’s health. While driving on Monday to the medals ceremony to see him on the podium, she told TIME by phone that, because of the pain, “He could have decided to ask for a replacement. And he didn’t do that. He decided to compete to the end like a real man, a real athlete. Who could fault him for that?”
Well, maybe his doctors. But certainly not his fans.
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.
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.
Images of elite athletes in action
The 55-year-old German prince representing his birth country Mexico at Sochi already stands out for being one of the oldest male competitors, but his mariachi-themed speed-suit may make him stand out even more. Off the slopes, he is a photographer and pop musician who has recorded albums like Shopping Bags & Religion, which features tracks called “While the Pope is Sleeping” and “Values Bye Bye.”
Raised in Rockville, Maryland, the 24-year-old forward for the Swiss women’s hockey team boasts dual citizenship because of her father’s nationality. While preparing for Sochi, the University of Connecticut graduate worked as a barista at Coffee Bar, a Washington, D.C., coffee shop, in the mornings and trained in the afternoons, NPR reports. Recently her fellow baristas crafted a latte illustrating the five Olympic rings in her honor.
Born in Singapore and raised in Britain, the 35-year-old violin prodigy known as “Vanessa-Mae” on stage will represent Thailand using her Thai father’s surname “Vanakorn.” Known for fusing classical music with pop and techno, she landed one of the top spots on the U.K. albums charts with her breakout album The Violin Player (1995), and People listed her as one of the “50 Most Beautiful People in the World.” “When it comes to music I am a perfectionist but when it is skiing, I have no delusions about a podium or even being in the top 100 in the world,” she told Reuters. “Living my dream of being a ski bum is great but the best job in the world is being on stage, making music.”
The 30-year-old American bobsledder from Alpine, Utah, is also an Army Captain. Through the Army World Class Athlete Program, he competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics, then deployed to Iraq for a year. After Sochi, he is expected to report to Fort Huachuca in Arizona in May, he told the New York Times. “I love wearing the flag on both uniforms,” he says in a United States Olympic Committee video.
A Minnesota native, the 23-year-old lead on Team USA’s curling team is a civil engineer who started a job at Lake Superior Consulting in Duluth after graduating from the University of Minnesota-Duluth with a civil engineering degree. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, he works on energy pipeline projects and “typically hops on a plane every other Thursday night, curls over the weekend, and returns jet-lagged to his desk,” which he calls “a sanctuary.”
The 30-year-old vice-skip on Team USA’s curling team, the Minnesota native also teaches science at Eveleth-Gilbert Junior High School. “It’s never ending, so it’s been a very tiring year trying to do both,” he told Minnesota Public Radio.
The 32-year-old Australian aerial skier developed “Body Ice,” a line of ice packs, after injuring her knee during 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. She went on to win Gold and set a new Olympic record in aerial skiing at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.
The 32-year-old U.S. skeleton racer from Ewing, New Jersey, and fellow skeleton athlete Chris Nurre founded A Tiny Tribe, which makes apps for iOS devices like Moodboard, a tool that helps creative professionals organize their projects.
The 40-year-old Italian luger, who some consider the greatest in the sport’s history, is also a member of the Carabinieri, the country’s paramilitary police force.
The 39-year-old skip for Canada’s curling team is a lawyer for National Bank Financial and has been juggling the two passions throughout her career. In 2008, she told The Lawyers Weekly in Canada that she is glued to her laptop and smartphone in between competitions: “my team will usually go out for dinner but I’ll just order room service and work and that’s fine.”
The 28-year-old skip for Canada’s curling team is an account manager at RBC Royal Bank. He told The Toronto Sun that his co-workers have been very supportive, dressing in red and white, the colors of the Canadian flag.
To raise money for her competitions, the 28-year-old British snowboarder founded IsleofDeals.com, a website that offers daily deals in her hometown, the Isle of Man. She also runs ExpertHealth.me, which promotes a nutrition and exercise regime developed by Gillings and her coaches.
The 31-year-old three-time U.S. Olympian and ice hockey forward holds a psychology degree from Harvard College and worked as an assistant coach to the women’s ice hockey team at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. before resigning in March to train for Sochi.
Russia struggles to attract Olympic tourists to its newly completed alpine ski resort
It should have been the busiest day of the season. The weather was perfect. The snow at the Mountain Carousel, one of Russia’s newest skiing resorts, had been groomed like a Japanese sand garden. The slopes were kitted out with the best ski lifts money can buy. Thousands of foreign visitors had descended on the area two days earlier for the opening of the Winter Olympic Games in nearby Sochi, and on Sunday, while all the other resorts in the area were hosting Olympic events, the Mountain Carousel was the only ridge open to the general public. But the crowds never came.
“I don’t know what went wrong,” says Vladimir Drevyatnikov, a skiing instructor at the resort who was looking around for students at the top of the mountain on Sunday afternoon. “This was supposed to be our big debut.” More than that, it was supposed to help introduce the world to a new skiing destination, one that Russia hopes to rival the European Alps one day or, at the very least, prevent the pampered mountains near Sochi from becoming Olympic white elephants after the Games leave town.
That has been a central part of President Vladimir Putin’s grand, decadelong design for these Olympics and, more broadly, for the restive mountain range where they are being held. The North Caucasus, a strip of highlands on Russia’s southern edge, is by far the most volatile part of the country, home to an active Islamist insurgency that wants to break the region off into an independent state. No amount of military force has yet been able to subdue these rebel fighters, who continue to carry out terrorist attacks as far afield as Moscow with stunning regularity. So Putin came up with a new approach to the Caucasus dilemma — turn the region into a giant ski resort.
In July 2010, Putin announced plans to create a “mountain tourism cluster” stretching across the North Caucasus from the Black Sea to the Caspian. It would create 160,000 jobs throughout the region, he said, jobs that would break the cycle of poverty that has pulled the region’s men into Islamic extremism for years. “We’re talking about a living, absolutely real business idea,” Putin said, insisting that investors would gladly finance the project in order to reap the profits from tourism later on.
It did not take long for the local insurgents to give their response. In February 2011, a group of masked gunmen stopped a minibus full of skiers holidaying in the North Caucasus mountain of Elbrus and shot three of them dead. Tourism to the region slowed to a trickle, while Putin’s critics said he was delusional for trying to turn a war zone into a holiday destination. But the Kremlin pushed ahead with its plan.
A new state corporation was founded, Northern Caucasus Resorts, to help develop not only the future Olympic sites around Sochi but other skiing destinations across the region. The firm was put in charge of developing the Mountain Carousel resort for amateur skiers and, on the same ridge, a world-class set of ski jumps and bobsleigh tracks for the Sochi Olympics. Putin kept tabs on the project personally, and when it fell behind schedule in February 2012, he came to the Mountain Carousel resort and fired the official in charge of the project on the spot.
“That put some fear into the rest of the bureaucrats, and things started moving,” says Vladislav Ovsyannikov, a local historian who has studied the development of the ski resorts around Sochi for most of his life. The region’s original skiing infrastructure had not been built to appeal to European tastes, he says. In 1978, the Soviet government in Moscow sent Ovsyannikov’s father Vladimir to develop a training base for the Soviet national ski team in Krasnaya Polyana, a mountain town above Sochi. What emerged was a bare-bones operation called Alpika (a Russian play on the word alps) with rudimentary lifts and hotels that looked more like barracks.
It remained that way until around 2005, the start of Putin’s second term as President, when state-connected billionaires and corporations started building ski resorts in the area, partly to prepare for Russia’s Olympic bid. When that bid won out in 2007, “a lot of people around here panicked,” Ovsyannikov says. The locals were afraid the mammoth construction project would destroy the small mountain community of ski buffs and outdoorsmen in Krasnaya Polyana.
Those fears were justified. During the first five years of construction, water and electricity supplies were constantly disrupted, roads dug up and houses demolished, says Ovsyannikov, who has lived in the town ever since his father was sent to develop it. “The construction dust was so thick you couldn’t see the sun,” he says. “So believe me, people here cursed these Olympics a thousand times before they finished building them.”
But when they were finished, locals could see that the result was remarkable. The skiing village at the bottom of the Mountain Carousel now looks like a mock-up of an alpine resort, impressive for its gargantuan scale if not exactly for the grace of its design. In the brand-new Gorki Plaza hotel, where the first gondola begins to take skiers up the mountain, no effort or expense has been spared in trying to appeal to foreigner visitors. “We speak every language,” chirped one of the six waitresses who fluttered around me at the door of the hotel’s restaurant when I came in off the street to have breakfast on Sunday. The obsequious attention was no surprise; I was the only person in the place.
The rental office and the ski runs felt equally deserted, and the handful of foreigners I met throughout the day were all there not to ski or watch the Games but to do some form of Olympic business. Gilles Maynard, a Frenchman, charters airplanes, and his firm is running six jumbo-jet flights from Paris to Sochi every four days during the Olympics, mostly carrying journalists, athletes, businessmen and government officials. But will that flood of Frenchmen continue when the Games are over? “They won’t come,” Maynard flatly says. “Why would they come from Europe when they have the Alps next door for less money?” And as for Russia’s efforts to clone French ski resorts in the Caucasus Mountains, Maynard didn’t seem impressed. “It’s built a bit tacky, you know? All the bling-bling, Russian style. That’s not very nice.”
The only draw, both for the locals and the foreigners, seemed to be the summit of the Rosa Khutor resort where the Olympic events are playing out, which has been closed to amateur skiers during the Games. The Olympic staff had a chance to ski its pristine runs before the Games began, and some of them described it as a skiers’ Shangri-la. “The summit is 2,000 m, and from there you can watch the sunset over the Black Sea as you go down,” says Danilo Batinich, an Olympic security contractor from Serbia. “It’s just amazing,” he says. Amazing enough, hopefully, to breathe some life into Putin’s vision for these mountains. But if its big debut is any indication, building a grand resort is one thing. Attracting the world to its slopes is another.