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World Class Gymnast Natalia Godunko Gives Up Gold to Aid Ukrainian Army

[L] Natalia Godunko performing Rhythmic Gymnastics  [R] Gold Medal being auctioned for Ukrainian Army

Natalia Godunka, a 29 year old world class Rhythmic Gymnast from Ukraine, decided to auction her team Gold Medal from the 2001 World Championships in Madrid to support the Ukrainian army in the War of the Donbass (Eastern Ukraine).

To get an idea of the caliber of athlete Godonko is, witness her frenetic but flawless ribbon performance at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.

Godunka boyfriend, musician Sasha Polozhynsky, announced the auction of the medal on Facebook.  Plozhynsky regrets that Godunka put the medal up for auction but since it has been bid upon, he hopes that it will raise more money and inspire others to also help fund the cause. 

In one day, the auction had garnered bids had garnered bids up to $843 US.   The auction runs until August 10th, 2014.

During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia  a couple of Ukrainian athletes protested violence at the Euromaiden protests in Kiev by Russian backed paramilitaries  by not showing up to their events.

Godunko sacrificing her gold medal  to support her country’s army to inspire shared sacrifice to forestall Finlandization of Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s expansionistic incursions using  non-linear warfare.

Many celebrities will spout off about causes about which they know little or that lending their support comes at no cost.  It is admirable that Ukrainian athletes like Natalia Godunko as well as Olg and Bohdana Matsohski are willing to personally sacrifice for their country and their freedom. 

h/t: Ukrainian Pravda 

Orthodox Priest Condemns World Cup as Abomination

Alexander Shumsky, a Russian Orthodox priest who is also a member of the Russian Writers Union, gave the foot fashion on World Cup players the boot.   
Shumsky’s critique is centered on the bright colors of the Puma Trick shoes, which were designed for the 2014 World Cup being held in Brazil.

Puma’s reasoning for the exotic color palate for the football boots was because Brazil is all about vibrant colors. The context for Shumsky condemning the World Cup as anathema has not been widely circulated outside of Russia.  However, the thrust of the critique does mirror the homosexual tolerance controversy which shrouded the 2014 Winter Olympics. 
Shumsky’s perspective on FIFA had better lighten up, considering that Vladimir Putin has secured the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with the finals being held in Sochi.  Maybe by then the hotels in Sochi will be finished.


Figure Skating Folderal on Judging at Sochi

There have been a couple of prominent voices at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics which have been fervently complaining about judging at Figure Skating competition.  There was prior to the start of the Olympics, there was a rumor that there was a backroom deal which would allow for Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White to win Gold for the Ice Dancing discipline while the Russians would again be at the top of the podium for figure skating.

Toronto Star sports writer Rosie DiManno spewed bile at the second place finish of Canadian skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir being edged out of their repeat Gold medal in Ice Dancing by Davis and White.  Dimanno went so far as to exclaim that : “If the fix is not in against Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, then I’m the Princess of Wales.”  That seemed like jingoistic jive from the Great White North.

Ashley Wagner, the 22 year old American Figure Skater, placed in seventh  at the Womens’ Figure Skating competition at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.  Yet  Ashley Wagner felt “gypped” because of the judging in the individual competition.  Wagner’s scrunched face in the “kiss and cry” after her performance during the Team competition showed confusion at the judging.

Wagner’s overall 193.20 point total was 7.37 points behind Yulia  Lipnitskaia who placed in fifth.  Lipnitskaia seemed like the darling of the Sochi Olympics when her skating lifted Russia to Gold in the Team Figure Skating competition.  But during the individual Womens’ Figure Skating  the 15 year old Russian falling once during the short program  and once during the free skate. But Lipnitskaia had the home crowd behind her and was scored higher than Wagner

Wagner’s ire may also extend to Gold medal winner Russian Adelina Sotnikova, fellow American Gracie Gold who finished fourth as well as Japanese skater Mao Asada who placed in sixth who also fell during their performances at the Iceburg Skating Palace in Sochi.

Prima facia, Wagner’s rant sounds like it has some credibility.  But several points seem to extinguish the flame of figure skating ire.

Firstly,  Canadian Ice Dancer Scott Moir’s mom told her son when he was starting in the sport that it was a judging discipline which can be fickle.  Wagner’s suggestion of ending anonymous judging at the Olympics might somewhat curtail nationalistic favoritism.  The USFSA associates judges names with scores but it uses all of the scores, whereas international competitons drop the high and low score and have anonymous, randomly selected panels

Secondly, Ashley Wagner barely made US Figure Skating team to Sochi because of her disastrous skates at the US Nationals in Boston.  The US Figure Skating Association chose fourth place finisher Wagner over the US Nationals Silver Medalist Mirai Nagasu.  Some questioned the fairness of Wagner’s selection, even though the USFSA thought that Wagner had a better chance at the Olympics.  A few voices thought that it was racism.  That seems silly considering the prior US figure skating successes of Debbie Thomas ( Calgary 1988), Kristi Yamaguchi (Albertville 1992) and Michelle Kwan (Nagano, 1998 and Salt Lake 2002).   Perhaps it was a choice based on international competition experience along with marketability, good interviews for NBC Olympics up close and personal glossy videos as well as the ability to make headlines.  On the latter quality, Wagner wins a Gold.

Mao Asada jumping

A third compelling counter-argument to Wagner’s competitive cri-de-coeur is the change in Figure Skating judging.  After a Figure Skating judging scandal at the Salt Lake Games in 2002, the scoring system for Figure Skating was revamped.  No longer did judges start from perfection and deduct points, but you needed to earn points, with a full point being taken off for a fall.  There is also a clock for midway through a skater’s program when extra points are awarded for jumps performed at exhausting stages of a skate.

Mao Asada seemed in the zone of Wagner’s criticisms about falling during performances.  But Asada has a very challenging program and was rewarded for that, despite her flaws.  Asada does all six kinds of jumps and is the only female skater to land eight triple jumps at Sochi.  Wagner should not be so jumpy about figure skaters’ scoring well despite falls.  Wagner won the 2013 US Nationals despite having two halls during her free skate.

[L] Tara Lipinski [R] Johnny Weir 

As much as one is tempted to criticize Johnny Weir’s flamboyant sense of fashion when covering Figure Skating at Sochi for NBC Sports, he was spot on in predicting where Wagner fell short with her free skate and he anticipated fewer points awarded.  Weir observed that Wagner changed music for her free skate from   Romeo and Juliet   which fell poorly in Boston to a more familiar Samson and Delilah.   Weir’s commentary caught some jumps where Wagner landed on two skates and also kicked up some “snow”.  So simply landing a jump might not cut it for the judges.  These nuances might not be seen by casual fans, but it seems to matter to judges and competitive skaters.

It is easy to understand the disappointment of athletes who worked hard for years to compete on the international stage at the Olympics and who follow short of their potential or expectations.  But short of exposing a conspiracy among judges, this is figure skating folderal.

Ashley Wagner has expressed her intention to compete for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.  If that falls through, she may pursue a career in modeling.  But finishing seventh on the Olympic stage in Sochi does not set her up for as many lucrative endorsement.

Lamenting the Lack of a Sochi Olympic Truce

Dmytro Mystak is an 18 year old downhill skier for Ukraine.  The day before his first Olympic ski race, there was organized violence against Euromaidan protesters at Independence Square in his native city of Kyiv.   The Euromaidan protests demanding an end to corruption and tyranny were attacked by paramilitary forces.  At least 25 people were killed and 1,000 persons injured.  And Mystak is supposed to compete in this environment.
Mystak’s lament about the lack of an Olympic truce is a reasonable reaction for an athlete.  While Mystak’s sympathies are clear, the skier does not want to politicize the situation.  Sergey Bubka, the head of the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee also urged his countrymen for an Olympic Truce.  Bubka wrote on his website: “I am once again urging all parties to stop the violence! There is no ‘their’ Ukraine, or ‘your’ Ukraine. It is OUR Ukraine.”
The IOC prohibited Ukrainian Olympic athletes from wearing black armbands to commemorate the loss of life at Independence Square presumably to maintain neutrality, which also would not embarrass the Sochi Winter Olympics host, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is closely aligned with Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych.
[L] Russian President Vladimir Putin [R] Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovch
  Some Ukrainian athletes were willing to sacrifice their chance for glory which they trained for years by intentionally missing their events in protest of the bloody crackdown in Kyiv.   Marina Lisogor and Katerina Serdyuk failed to appear for their cross country team sprint semi-final race.   Andre Sannikov, a prominent opposition leader from Belarus, indicated that it was a gesture originating in the prohibition on black armbands.
A  Facebook statement indicated that Bohdana and Oleh more explicitly refused to perform at Sochi in solidarity with the Euromaidan protesters.  Oleg and Bohdana Matsohski also refused to compete in solidarity with the protest movement.
Oleg and Bohdana Matsohski, Ukrainian Olympic Skiers 

Although  generally I am skeptical about athletes opining about public affairs, like the Protect Our Winters Manifesto, as the details of the policy are often beyond their ken.  However, it is easy to understand that Yanukovych blessed paramilitaries attacking peaceful demonstrators and violated the idea of an Olympic truce.  I am chary about politicizing the Olympics but I admire individual athletes following their consciences at great personal cost.

For those who need background information on what sparked the controversy, please see Understanding the Euromaidan Unrest at

Gretchen Bleiler on the Olympics


Meryl Davis on Her Ice Dancing Partnership

Meryl Davis was paired with Charlie White to ice dance when she was ten and he was eleven.  After seventeen years of partnership, their athletic efforts culminated in a Gold medal for Ice Dancing at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Dave Barry on Winter Sports

The foggy weather in the mountain venues of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics which postponed snowboarding events may test this witty observation.   However, all is not lost for finding humor in the situation.  The Sochi Olympic organizers tried to use the snow guns to blow the fog away.  It didn’t work.


Bode Miller on Winning

 Congratulations to Miller, who is said to be the oldest Alpine downhill medalist in the Olympics.

Victor Ahn on Speed Skating


Silver Lining for Veteran Ski Jumper Noriaki Kasai in Sochi

Noriaki Kasai, a 41 year old ski jumper from Japan who is competing in his seventh Winter Olympics, won a silver medal at the Large Hill Ski Jump at the Sochi games.  Kasai’s two jump totals at the RussKi Gorki Jump Center were 277.4 points. Kasai was just edged out by Poland’s Kamil Stoch for the Gold with a 278.7 margin.
Kasai did win a silver medal in Lillehammer (1994) with the Japanese team on the normal hill.  But winning an individual medal was quite important to the veteran olympian.
Kasai won plaudits from fellow competitors for his achievement.  Kamil Stoch, the 26 year old who also won Gold in Sochi on the normal hill,  was particularly gracious in recognizing Kasai’s success.