Former Olympic figure skater and politician Irina Rodnina, 64, helped carry the Olympic torch to its final destination, signifying the official start of the Sochi Winter Olympics.
She might seem a natural choice for the honor of lighting the cauldron — until you consider she’s an apparent racist who crudely taunted President Obama. Or maybe that makes her the perfect choice in President Putin’s estimation.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Tweeted a Picture of Barack Obama With a Banana
— me myself and I (@daHawkeyeCaller) February 7, 2014
In September 2013, Rodnina posted an altered picture on her Twitter account of U.S. President Barack Obama chewing, with a banana photoshopped in front of his mouth. This tweet ignited a racism scandal that made headlines across the world.
At the time the United States ambassador to Russia called the tweet “outrageous behavior, which only brings shame to her parliament and country.”
According to the Guardian, the Kremlin-sympathetic media was quick to bury the scandal, and Rodnina herself wondered if the outrage was a ploy by the political opposition.
The use of a banana as racist prop is reportedly a common occurrence in Russia. Black soccer players from around the world, who are often in Russia participating in the popular sport, are often subjected to racist slurs and behavior. When Brazilian soccer player Robert Carlos played in Russia in 2011, he was routinely offered bananas by fans of the opposing team.
2. She Won Three Olympic Gold Medals
During her career as a competitive figure skater, between 1969 and 1980, Rodnina became one of the most highly decorated Russian Olympians. She won three Olympic gold medals for figure skating in 1972, 1976 and 1980. She also won 10 world championship gold medals, and 11 European championship world medals.
3. She Was a Parliament Member in Putin’s Party
The Guardian reports that Rodnina was serving as a Russian member of parliament when she tweeted the racist picture. She is part of Putin’s own United Russia party.
4. This Is the Latest Fiasco to Strike These Games
Amid complaints that hotels and the Sochi infrastructure are not ready for the thousands of people flocking to Russia to see the Olympics, this morning the opening ceremony saw a major embarrassing glitch.
When five giant snowflakes were supposed to open to form the five Olympic rings, one failed and stayed a snowflake causing an awkward moment for spectators. It so happens the unformed ring is the one that represents America in the Olympic symbol — fueling chatter that it was a deliberate snub.
5. Her Daughter is a Well-Know Political Pundit
Rodnina’s daughter is American-raise 28-year-old Alyona Minkovski. Minkosvski was educated at University of California, Santa Cruz where she studied political science. After college, she went to work for Russia Today (RT) where she rose through the ranks to get her own successful show, The Alyona Show.
At RT she was a voice for progressivism and advocated against the U.S.’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as intrusive anti-terrorist efforts. Above you can watch an interview she did with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange in 2010.
Minkosvski currently works at The Huffington Post’s new network, Huffpost Live.
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