Wednesday, February 12, 2014

WSJ on Sochi-14: Yammer & Sickle: Russians Can't Live Down Lake Placid

Yammer & Sickle: Russians Can't Live Down Lake Placid

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Updated Feb. 12, 2014 12:34 a.m. ET
Forget the Many Other Times When We Destroyed You
The Russians in Sochi can't live down memories of a 34-year-old miracle.
The Soviet Union's loss to an underdog Team USA at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics loomed large as Russia's men's hockey squad met the media for the first time on Tuesday in a news conference attended by virtually the whole team, as well as a standing-room-only crowd of reporters.
Asked about the significance of that game, Russian Ice Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretiak first reminded the several hundred journalists in attendance that the "Miracle on Ice" represented a brief interlude in decades of Soviet hockey dominance.
"I want to say that in '84 we fixed our mistake and again became Olympic champions," Tretiak said, to applause from the Russian press corps.
Tretiak, who was back then the Soviet Union's star goaltender, was famously pulled from the net by coach Viktor Tikhonov in the first period of that game. On Tuesday, Mr. Tretiak went on to try to put a positive spin on the repercussions of the loss.
"In 1980, they really created a miracle," Mr. Tretiak said. "After that, hockey started developing strongly in America."
—Anton Troianovski
Health Worker to Sochi Locals: You Don't Look a Day Over 82
The Olympics are supposed to inspire people to shape up and go for their inner gold, right?
In Russia, maybe not quite. A quarter of men here die before they are 55, according to a study in the Lancet journal, largely from drinking too much vodka. More than 60% of Russian men and 22% of Russian women over 15 smoke, according to the World Health Organization.
Stats like those are precisely what has prompted a local organization called "Choice" to set up a health expo on a sidewalk in downtown Sochi during the Games. "What is your bio-age? Find out today," reads a banner advertising the event.
Dozens of Russians were having their height, weight and blood pressure measured on Monday afternoon as part of the free program. They stepped up and down repeatedly on a stool while a volunteer monitored their heart rates.
At the end of the line, a volunteer entered all participants' measurements into a computer program, which spit out the age their bodies really are.
"For me it's probably 90," Inna Tishkova, a 68-year-old doctor, said as she waited with her husband for her results. "I'm healthy but overweight."
Sure enough, the computer said she should be 82. As for her husband, Eduard, a 77-year-old retired nuclear submarine commander, the computer said he should be 79. "You should stop drinking alcohol," said the volunteer who gave him his results.
"Give up beer?" Mr. Tishkov said. "What are you trying to suggest?"
—Betsy McKay
Even This Move's Name Has A High Degree of Difficulty
At Wednesday's ski slopestyle competition, American and medal favorite Nick Goepper will perform a trick that has the sport's insiders buzzing. In it, he launches himself backward off a snowy ramp, does two flips and 2½ spins simultaneously while crossing his skis and grabbing one of them from behind—all before straightening out and landing.
He calls it the Switch Double Rodeo 900 Screamin' Seaman. But who was the original Screamin' Seaman? Some people—including Goepper—believe it is named for Chris Seemann, a coach of the U.S. freestyle ski team and a former competitor in the event of aerials, in which skiers do flipping, twisting tricks off one giant jump. But Coach Seemann said the trick was actually named after another man with a similar name.
That would be Curt Seaman, a pro freestyle skier in the 1970s. Seaman, reached by phone at his home in Fairbanks, Alaska, had heard that young skiers had adopted and updated the Screamin' Seaman but didn't know that it had become the staple of an Olympian. "He's going to get a lot of high scores if he's throwing those," Seaman said. "That's really cool."
—Rachel Bachman
Costas's Eye Infection Finally Too Icky for NBC to Stand
Bob Costas was swilling his vodka. It was Tuesday morning in NBC's studios in Sochi when Costas, the face of the network's Olympics coverage, clinked glasses with his colleague Mary Carillo. He also pointed to his face.
"My eyes can't get any redder," he said. "Here we go. Down the hatch!"
In the opening minutes of NBC's first broadcast last week, a bespectacled Costas announced he was staring down an eye issue, having woken up with one eye swollen shut by a viral infection. It spread to his other eye for Monday's broadcast. His blurry and sensitive eyes made it impossible for Costas to complete his hosting duties, he said. For now, Matt Lauer will replace Costas on the network's prime-time and late-night Olympics broadcasts, part of a package that cost the network $775 million.
Tuesday would be the first night since 1988 that someone other than Costas hosted NBC's prime-time Olympics show, according to NBC publicists. The network has listed its star anchor as day-to-day, and Costas said he hoped for a quick improvement.
"The last thing I want to do is go through the rest of my life owing Matt Lauer a bunch of favors," Costas said in a news release.
—Ben Cohen
Kelly Clarkson and Kelly Clark Are Two Different People
Snowboarder Kelly Clark Getty Images
Singer Kelly Clarkson NBC
Kelly Clark is pretty famous. The American snowboarder is a four-time Winter Olympian with two medals in the women's halfpipe, and she's expected to win another medal in Wednesday's final.
But Clark isn't "American Idol" famous. That explains why it says atop her Wikipedia page: "Not to be confused with Kelly Clarkson." Nonetheless, Clark often is confused with Clarkson—especially on Twitter.
"I would say at least five times a week I get some pretty funny Kelly Clarkson misinterpretations, like, 'I love your music,' or 'Congratulations on getting married!' " Clark said.
Not only do the women have very similar names, they also vaguely resemble each other and are close in age: Clark (Twitter handle @KellyClarkFdn, for her charitable foundation) is 30, a year younger than Clarkson (@Kelly_Clarkson). They also had their breakout performances in 2002: Clarkson won "Idol" and Clark won the Olympic halfpipe gold medal.
One Clarkson fan tweeted: "MUSIC IS LOVE THANK YOU!!" and included Twitter handles of the Dave Matthews Band, U2, the Doobie Brothers … and Kelly Clark.
The snowboarder often gets news of Clarkson milestones first. Last June, a radio station in Raleigh, N.C., tweeted: "@Kellyclarkfdn lost her canary yellow engagement ring! Find out what happened." Clark also learned of Clarkson's pregnancy and the release of her Christmas album.
A spokeswoman for Clarkson said she was unavailable for comment because she was "enjoying time with her new family and preparing for her baby." But of course, Clark already knew that.
IOC Responds to Questions About Gender Differences
The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday tried to address a lingering question: Why so many differences between the men's and women's events at the Winter Games?
Sandrine Tonge, a spokesman for the IOC, told The Wall Street Journal that the Olympic events slate "is established with the active contribution of the international federations and contains similarities and distinctions between the two genders. In cross country and biathlon for example, there are similarities in sprints while traditionally, the long distances are shorter for women."
This is only partly true. The women's sprint Tuesday was 1.3 kilometers, compared with the 1.8-kilometer men's track, a significant relative difference.
Tonge also wrote that the international federations "review the format of their competitions" after each Olympics and that the IOC relies on the federations' expertise to make proposals about any changes to events. She added that the IOC believes it is important that events in the Games correspond to events run by the federations, such as World Cup competitions.
In other words, don't blame the IOC. It is the international federations that set the standard race distances.
—Matthew Futterman
Despite Tuesday's Outcome, Shaun White's Still a Rock Star
It may seem like Shaun White was trying to shed his rock-star image by cutting his famous locks. Turns out, White is actually a real, live rock star.
White is the guitarist for the rock band Bad Things, a quintet that just released its debut album for Warner Bros. Records. So far, at least, the band doesn't appear to be trying too hard to traffic in White's fame as a world-class snowboarder and skateboarder. He appears, stone-faced, in some promotional photos, but some of the band's shots don't even include him.
After he failed to defend his gold medal in the men's halfpipe on Tuesday, White said, "I'm planning to go out and play some music" and that he had "a tour to look forward to."
As for the music, Bad Things has a poppy rock sound with some catchy guitar licks from White. In one of the band's online videos, he can be seen shredding a solo at last year's Lollapalooza in Chicago.
—Nathan Becker
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Russia's Ban on Alcohol in Sochi Arenas Leaves Drinkers Flat

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Feb. 11, 2014 10:53 p.m. ET
Fans at the Sochi Games crowd a rare tap serving beer in Olympic Park. Brian Costa/The Wall Street Journal
SOCHI, Russia—At long last, Morgan Simms thought. Inside the Olympic curling center Tuesday afternoon, the 25-year-old Canadian spotted a welcome sign—Beer.
"I got excited," he said. But like most beer sold inside the Olympic Park, these cans of Russian brew Baltika were nonalcoholic. "They're just playing games with my heart," he said.
Russia, whose most famous export may be vodka, is staging the driest Olympics in memory. For many fans, it is the biggest upset of the Winter Games. A new federal law last year prohibited the sale of alcohol inside sports stadiums and arenas. And a local ordinance last month banned alcohol sales within 50 meters of some sports venues.
The strict approach reflects both the Kremlin's recent efforts to wean Russians from their legendary love of the sauce, and the unpleasant memories of drunken, unruly fans at the last Winter Games in Vancouver.
For the Sochi Games, real beer is a scarce commodity in the Olympic Park, and vodka even rarer. "We were looking for a sports bar or something, but we haven't seen one," said 26-year-old Alyona Minakova of St. Petersburg, walking with her twin sister near the speedskating arena Tuesday. "It seems like there should be one."
In the mountain Olympic venues, which are outdoors and not subject to restrictions, the alcohol flows freely. At the snowboard halfpipe Tuesday, fans drank from cans of alcoholic Baltika and cups of mulled wine.
But at indoor ice venues along the Black Sea, drinking options are limited. The lone restaurant in the Olympic Park has a full bar. And alcoholic beer is sold at two Coca-Cola food stand areas and a larger food court. But with so much nonalcoholic beer on sale, the real thing is hard to find.
"It's not advertised very well," said Canadian visitor Erin Gagne, 27. "We had no idea they sold beer at the Coke tent until we asked someone."
Alcohol sales restrictions were a deterrent to potential beer sponsors. Heineken was the official beer of the London and Athens Summer Games but had never sponsored the Winter Olympics. "I must say that, Sochi, we weren't too keen to become the sponsor of the Winter Olympics," and alcohol restrictions were one consideration, said Hans Erik Tuijt, the company's Global Director of Activation.
A rare sight in Sochi
Baltika is the official beer supplier of the Sochi Games.
The sober atmosphere is a departure from past Games. In 2010, drunken revelers in downtown Vancouver made headlines for their bad behavior. While the Summer Games had no such problems in 2012, it wasn't for a lack of fuel. In London, red wine and Heineken beer was served at all sporting venues except the one owned by the Salvation Army.
Even Utah, the state with the most restrictive alcohol laws in the U.S., loosened the taps ahead of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, allowing booze in some public spaces where it was normally prohibited.
Sochi is trending the other way. During Russia's official receptions at the Vancouver Games, vodka and whiskey flowed from imitation gasoline pumps. But following Russia's poor showing, the Kremlin banned alcohol at receptions for athletes and Russian officials at the London Games two years later.
"Olympic values are not compatible with the consumption of alcohol," a government spokesman told a Russian newspaper at the time.
The sentiment has surprised some foreign visitors, particularly at events where drinking is common in other countries. "Who wants to watch curling sober?" said Scott Simms, the 27-year-old brother of Morgan Simms. "No one. I'll tell you that right now."
Just off the Olympic Park, temporary fan houses offer alcohol to visiting countrymen. The Canada house, for instance, has a refrigerated dispenser of Molson beer, free with a swipe of a Canadian passport. But entry to the houses is often limited to visitors with ties to national Olympic committees.
Russia's restrictions concern more than sports. In 2009, the government declared war on alcoholism in an effort to reverse dismal life expectancy rates, particularly among men. Since then, the government has raised taxes on alcohol, increased restrictions on sales and banned alcohol advertising.
Still, Russia ranks fourth in the world in total alcohol consumed per capita, behind Moldova, the Czech Republic and Hungary, according to 2011 World Health Organization statistics.
Russians inside the Olympic Park on Tuesday said they generally supported the restrictions, particularly on vodka and other liquor.
"You don't want to mix vodka and sports," said Ivan Polezhayev, a 24-year-old regional government employee.
"The English drink at stadiums," said 62-year-old Alexandr Kalashnikov of Moscow, leaning against an empty vendor's booth with Baltika beer taps. "We don't."
Others said they wouldn't mind a drink.
"It would help to have a little vodka here because people who don't have tickets to the competitions get cold outside," said Ildar Khairetdinov, a 40-year-old driver from Bashkortostan, who was sitting at an outdoor table in the park.
Then he qualified his remarks. "There should be some here, but not enough for someone to buy a whole bottle," he said. "Having a lot of vodka here is harmful for a Russian person."
Sitting across the table, Meri Kameneva, a 36-year-old Sochi resident, complained she waited in line for a beer and when it came her turn all that was left was a warm beer made especially for the Games, a Baltika concoction of cinnamon, vanilla, clove, ginger, honey and alcohol.
Ms. Kameneva made a face as she sipped. "I don't like it, " she said.
—Betsy McKay, Joshua Robinson, Lukas Alpert, Gregory L. White and Kevin Helliker contributed to this article.
Write to Brian Costa at
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And the Sochi Crowd Goes Mild

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Updated Feb. 11, 2014 11:42 p.m. ET
Russian fans can be noisy. And at the Winter Olympics, Sochi's Russia Fan House wants them to be noisy too. Just not too noisy. WSJ's Dipti Kapadia finds out exactly why Russia wants its fans to be a bit toned down.
Sochi, Russia
Russia built a "fans house" the size of a warehouse near the entrance to Olympic Park to get the home crowd for Team Russia fired up. Just not too fired up.
"We don't want people to be too active and bother the athletes or the fans from other countries," said Yevgeny Tkachev, spokesman for the fan house, where visitors can meet former Olympians and test their own fitness. "We're not trying to turn people into sports fanatics."
The hundreds of thousands of Russians with tickets to the Winter Games have so far been more stoic than stoked, more Bolshoi than Boston Garden.
Tkachev wants fans warmed up but not noisy. Horns? That would be a nyet. "We don't give out anything that makes noise," he said.
In Sochi, there is little to rival the earthshaking "U-S-A" chants of big American crowds, or the deafening vuvuzela horns that blared at the South African soccer World Cup in 2010. Even the British overcame their stiff-upper-lip DNA with effusive, often emotional outpourings at the 2012 LondonOlympics.
The Russian crowd occasionally chants "Ros-see-ya," Russian for Russia, but rarely for more than a few beats.
At some venues, they are drowned out by smaller groups of fans from rowdier countries, including the Dutch. The biggest ruckus supported by the Russian fan house is the quiet thumping of the inflatable red, white and blue sticks it gives away.
Russians tend to be more restrained because "it's seen as indecent to highlight joy about your own victory if it's been won at someone else's expense," said Vladimir Aseyev, a psychologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences. "That's the way people have always been brought up."
In Russian culture, open displays of emotion are strictly regulated.
The home crowd at these Games is offering polite rather than raucous support for Russian athletes.Reuters
"Emotions definitely run high, but we do not jump up and down like the Japanese or the Chinese," said Alexei Musharin, academic director at the Moscow Institute of Physical Culture and Sport. "Our pride for our athletes does not depend on how we show it. If a Russian is sober, then he can be quite reserved in how he expresses emotions."
And sober is the word at the Sochi Olympics, where most beer is nonalcoholic and stronger stuff is harder to find than tickets to the hockey final.
Hometown fans are expected to be on their best behavior.
Vladimir Pozner, a popular TV journalist, complained to a Russian radio station this week about fans hitting the exits before visiting athletes finished their events: "Not everyone leaves, but the stadium empties out noticeably. That's disrespectful to the others."
Locals attribute the relative reserve to the fear of making a bad impression before a global audience. "One should behave in a dignified way," said Sochi resident Larisa Merkulova. "We've been waiting so long for this and we want to show ourselves in the right light."
Merkulova arrived Monday at Olympic Park to root for Russian speedskaters. She carried a flag, and wore sparkly red, blue and white flags painted on her cheeks and a colorful antennae on her head.
"We're feeling good," she said, but promised nonetheless to maintain her composure.
The Russian crowd has had its moments. At Monday's short-track speedskating competition, fans greeted Viktor Ahn, a favorite from the Russian team, with a roar that drowned out the bell for the start of the final lap.
In 2012, hundreds of people took to Moscow streets to celebrate Russia clinching the World Ice Hockey Championships with a victory over Slovakia. Crowds waved flags and shouted "Russia! Russia!" while cars sounded horns through the night.
Fans also flooded the streets in 2009 when Russia beat Canada to win its first hockey championship since 1993.
Some Russians say the Sochi crowds are just warming up.
"The Olympics just started," said Grigory Byrukov, a 25-year-old resident of Voronezh, who watched a curling match. "When Russians start to win many medals, I think we will root more."
He chalked up the quiet crowds to inexperience. "For many people, it's their first Olympics," Byrukov said. "They've never been here. They don't know how to root."
Byrukov predicted that would soon change.
"Wait until hockey," he said. "That will be one hell of a show, for sure. Just wait."
—Olga Razumovskaya, Brian Costa and Nonna Fomenko contributed to this article.
Write to Gregory L. White at