Rumors that Russian President Vladimir Putin's girlfriend, Alina Kabayeva, would light the Olympic cauldron during the Opening Ceremony in Sochi were unfounded, but the host's choices still had a strange twist.
Two of Russia's most famous Olympians, three-time gold medalists Irina Rodnina and Vladislav Tretiak, were the country's final torchbearers. Both have unique ties to U.S. President Barack Obama — one more offensive than the other.
An Olympic figure skating gold medalist in 1972, '76 and '80, Rodnina came under fire for what many perceived as racism in September, when she posted a photo on Twitter of the commander in chief and first lady Michelle Obama with a digitally manipulated image of a hand holding a banana superimposed over the couple.
While Rodnina, currently a member of parliament for Putin's United Russia political party, has since deleted the photo from her Twitter account, she insisted she had done nothing wrong in a follow-up tweet, according to the Guardian. "Freedom of speech is freedom of speech," she wrote in September, "and you shoud answer for your own hang-ups."
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul quickly responded on Twitter, calling Rodnina's actions "outrageous behavior, which only brings shame to her parliament and country."
Rodnina's selection to light the Olympic cauldron seems to suggest otherwise from Russia's perspective.
Her torchbearing partner Tretiak's link to Obama isn't nearly as controversial. Also a member of the United Russia party, the goalkeeper for Russia's hockey team in the 1970s and '80s has served in the Federal Assembly of Russia since his election in 2003.
Along with Rodnina, he reportedly voted for Russia's Dima Yakovlev Law in 2012, banning certain U.S. citizens from entering the country and outlawing Americans from adopting Russian children. That legislation was an alleged response to the Magnitsky Act, which was signed into law by Obama that same year and designed to punish Russian lawmakers believed responsible for the death of a tax auditor.
Apparently, the Olympic cauldron lighting wasn't the first time Rodnina and Tretiak worked together.
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