The job of lighting the torch at the opening ceremony of the Olympics is one of the highest honors an athlete can receive — which is what makes Sochi’s choice this year so peculiar.
That honor went to former Russian figure skater turned politician Irina Rodnina who just five months ago for tweeting out a photoshopped picture of the Obamas, considered racist by many. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Dmitry Rozhkov)
Mashable notes the tweet, showing the President and First Lady with a superimposed banana, has clear racist undertones.
“In some parts of Europe, including Russia, it's not uncommon for black soccer players to be insulted with fruit and monkey sounds by fans at matches.”
Rodnina never did apologize, and at the time blamed the criticism on a conspiracy.
She told The Guardian, "Freedom of speech is freedom of speech, and you should answer for your own hang-ups.”
Given the controversial tweet, it may be hard to imagine why she was tasked with such an high-profile honor, but USA Today's Christine Brennan suggests maybe it was the tweet that got Rodnina the job in the first place.
"Is it possible that she also was chosen to send a message to Obama, who sent a very big message of his own to Putin in December when it was announced that he was sending three openly gay athletes as part of the official U.S. delegations to the Games?"
Interestingly, Rodnina's partner in lighting the flame — Russian hockey great Vladislav Tretiak — also has his share of controversy. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Alexey Chernyadyev)
Yahoo notes he voted for a law banning some U.S. citizens and prohibiting Americans from adopting Russian children.
When asked about their choice of Rodnina to light the torch, Olympic organizers reportedly stressed her accomplishments as an athlete and said her Twitter account had nothing to do with their selection.