Dispatches from Sochi

Political issues are on the rise at Olympics

A video of the punk band Pussy Riot being assaulted by Russian authorities under a sign that reads ‘‘Sochi 2014’’ is garnering worldwide attention. A Ukrainian skier has pulled out of the Olympics as a political statement against the violence in Kiev. A gay activist drew headlines earlier in the week after being led away from Olympic Park.

As the final weekend of the Winter Olympics approaches, political issues are trickling into the daily happenings in and around Sochi. The International Olympic Committee takes great pains to try to keep the competition free of any discussions or story lines that would take the focus off games themselves.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams says he doesn’t think the events of this week are overshadowing the athletes in competition.


‘‘I think if you spoke to most people they would be rightly concentrating on the sport, which is what the Olympics is about,’’ Adams says. ‘‘Those events, as I say, people are well within their rights to demonstrate anywhere in the world about anything they want to.’’

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‘‘What we ask is that the games themselves are not used as a platform for demonstration. The games are a great show of how different people from different backgrounds can move together in harmony and we want to try to preserve that.’’

Stone love

Curling fever has gripped Britain — again.

Ever since Rhona Martin won the gold medal for the British with her so-called ‘‘Stone of Destiny’’ in 2002, the country gets hooked on a sport that is mocked by some and loved by others.

Even more so this year, with Eve Muirhead’s women’s team winning bronze on Thursday and David Murdoch’s men’s team advancing to Friday’s final against Canada.


Sebastian Coe, one of the country’s greatest Olympians and current chairman of the British Olympic Association, describes the scene on Monday as he sat in his car in a traffic jam on the notoriously busy M25 ring road around London.

‘‘We were all stationary and when David Murdoch’s stone went in, people were opening their windows, horns were being [beeped] and headlights were being flashed,’’ said Coe, speaking outside the Ice Cube Curling Center after Muirhead won bronze. ‘‘It was an extraordinary moment to be witnessing the globalization of curling on the edges of Surrey and Middlesex.

‘‘You felt the globe was wobbling a bit.’’

Here to learn

The Sochi Games are heading into their final weekend, so the focus will soon start turning to the next Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Members of the Pyeongchang delegation have been in Sochi trying to learn from the Russian organizers to help them prepare for the 2018 Winter Games.


Once the Games in Sochi draw to a close, all attention will turn to South Korea, and IOC spokesman Mark Adams playfully teased Jerry Ling, the Pyeongchang 2018 head of games coordination, about the hot seat he’s about to take.

‘‘I'm sure you’re quaking in your boots,’’ Adams said.

‘‘Before I begin, can I ask for a request that somebody takes a photo of that picture for me, please, because I need to show my son that his father is working here,’’ Ling said with a big grin.

Ling said the Koreans were finding their trip to Russia very helpful as they study best practices and try to ready themselves for their turn in the spotlight.

It will be the first Winter Games in Korea and a chance for a city to introduce itself to the rest of the world.

They brought 154 people to Sochi to examine all aspects of the games.

‘‘We will try our best to deliver as much as we can and to [give] you a pleasant stay in Pyeongchang,’’ Ling said with a grin. ‘‘So those are the official words I have to say to make my boss happy.’’

Team gathering

Everyone wants to get their picture taken in front of the Olympic rings in Sochi. The US men’s hockey team is no different.

One day before they take on Canada in a highly anticipated semifinal, the Americans walked into Olympic Park for a team photo in front of the rings. After the team picture was taken, they welcomed in some family members who made the trip to Sochi as well.

Most of the players were wearing Navy blue jerseys with their names and numbers on the back, so it wasn’t long before fans realized they were in the company of stars.

Several players were approached for photos, including the team’s newest star. A woman quickly grabbed T.J. Oshie, who carried Team USA to a victory over Russia with four shootout goals, for a photo.

After a few photos, the team hurried away to resume preparations for its showdown with Canada on Friday.

Black out

The IOC’s reluctance to allow competitors to wear black arm bands, or any other individual badge, to honor fallen loved ones might seem on the surface to be insensitive.

That’s hardly the intent, the Olympic committee says.

Athletes the world over have routinely worn some kind of arm band, jersey patch, or decal to pay tribute when someone close to them dies.

Many use it as a way to shine a bit of light on a dark situation, to make sure that others mourning the loss can see that they are in their hearts and on their minds.

At the Sochi Games, the IOC has reprimanded Norwegian competitors for wearing an arm band to honor a family member of one of the athletes and told Australian snowboarder Torah Bright she could not wear a sticker on her helmet in memory of snowboarder Sarah Burke, who died in 2012.

On Wednesday, Ukraine officials said the IOC denied them permission to wear arm bands to honor those killed in a clash between anti-government protesters and police in Kiev.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams says that they never made a firm denial and that Ukrainian officials decided on their own to make a different gesture before it got to that point.

But either way, Adams says the IOC isn’t trying to appear cold or insensitive.

‘‘We try to concentrate on the sport. There are 2,800 athletes here,’’ he said. ‘‘As you can imagine, there are a lot, sadly, a lot of people with personal tragedy in their lives.

“Some with big political tragedies, some with personal tragedies, friends, loved ones, some athletes, some nonathletes. The idea is to try to help them to find other ways, individual or collectively, to mark those moments.’’