Words by Phoebe St John
Illustration by Cameron Baker
With its ginormous mountains, wacky uniforms, extravagant arenas and continuous controversies, this year’s Winter Olympics held in Sochi, Russia, sometimes felt a million miles away from Melbourne. But that’s not entirely the case. This year, two University of Melbourne students proudly donned the green and gold to represent Australia and achieve their Olympic dreams on the snowy Sochi slopes.
25-year-old ski cross racer and Masters of Property student, Katya Crema, couldn’t have been happier with her experience. “Representing Australia in my second Olympic Games was an amazing feeling,” she tells me. “I came into Sochi with a completely different approach to Vancouver. This time around, being my second Olympics and with a few extra years of experience, the focus was all about the race.”
Meanwhile, it was the first time at an Olympics for 20-year-old freestyle mogul skier and Bachelor of Environments student, Brodie Summers. “I was immensely proud to wear the Aussie colours on the biggest sporting stage in the world,” he says. Summers names the Closing Ceremony as a particular highlight, calling the event “the most surreal experience I’ve ever had.”
While many of us spent last year locked up in the Baillieu on a diet of salted caramel crepes, coffee and Facebook procrastination, these two trained intensely all over the world in preparation for competition. Summers lists Sydney, Mt Buller, Canada’s Whistler, Steamboat Springs in the USA, and Switzerland as his training locations. He emphasises the work ethic and commitment involved in his intense moguls preparation, from strength and conditioning to water ramping. Similarly, Crema’s training for Sochi was a four-year process. “On-snow training consists of basic skiing skills and drills, gates training, jumping in the terrain park, free skiing, starts and obviously ski cross course specific training,” she explains. “Off-snow training out of the ski season is almost more time-consuming than on-snow training. In the lead up to the Games in the off-season, I was doing 12 dry-land sessions per week.”
Finishing 13th in the men’s moguls finals at Sochi, Summers was thrilled to be on the team. “My expectations going into the Games were simply to ski to the best of my ability,” he says. “I had only qualified to be there [at the Games] at the last World Cup of the season just a few weeks beforehand. Just being there was the best motivation for me to work as hard as I can to make sure I’m standing on that podium four years from now in Korea.”
Crema also did incredibly well, with a seventh place result in the women’s ski cross. “I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself at important races like the Olympic Games or World Championships. I seem to perform better,” she says. “Even with a shaky start to the season after a knee injury in the first World Cup in November, my goal was a top 8 result. My world ranking coming into the Games was 20th, so you definitely couldn’t say I was a favourite. I feel like I gave it my absolute best effort on the day, and finished with a 7th place result. It is extremely satisfying to come home having achieved my goal.”
As for the quirks of their time in the ever-controversial country, the athletes’ memories of the St Tropez of Russia are nothing but positive. Although admitting he was probably in a bit of a security bubble, Summers maintained that the Sochi infrastructure “was a great investment … and a great show for the world to see. I hope it boosts the appeal of winter sport for people around Australia.”
Crema agrees. “Russia put on an incredible event. Sochi was the first Winter Olympics in a very long time to host every single snow event on the same mountain. The competition venues were world-class.”
While Crema mentions activities such as babushka doll painting as a fun introduction to Russian culture in the Olympic Village, Summers speaks particularly fondly of another aspect of their accommodation. “I think the standout part of the village was the McDonald’s … I have never eaten so much McDonald’s in my life!” he laughs. “Definitely a popular place for athletes to go after their events—don’t tell our coaches!”
Spots in the Olympic team are undeniably competitive, but Summers is adamant he’ll be back for the next Winter Games held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “Competing in Sochi was an incredibly motivating experience for me. I want to make sure I use the next four years as best I can so that when I arrive in Pyeongchang in 2018 I am ready to win a medal.” As for Crema? She’s planning on taking a well-earned season off to focus on her Masters here at Melbourne before tackling the upcoming World Cup winter.
World-class athletes studying among us? We couldn’t be more proud.
Words by Michael Roddan
Most people know that the Cold War ended in 1991 when the USSR was dissolved into its many different incompetent nations. But if you’ve heard a sentence with the word “Sochi” in it in the last year, you’d be forgiven for thinking the ANZACs had finally broken through the Bosphorus, landed on the shores of the Black Sea, and had begun another Gallipoli at the Olympic Venue.
Anti-Russian sentiment is running at an all-time high in the Western world, fuelled by progressive-minded dinner party conversations about Pussy Riot, Putin, and Pride in Sochi. But in the midst of all the chatter, you’d also be forgiven for thinking people actually give a damn.
The advent of Click-tivism has meant that being a progressive in the West is now as easy changing your profile picture, re-tweeting, and adding your email to a bunch of change.org petitions. Because of Russia’s ban on gay propaganda, multiple Heads of State have turned down invitations to Sochi, corporations have advertised pro-gay messages during broadcast, and Stephen Fry did something.
The law, a kowtow to the Russian Orthodoxy, is a half-arsed attempt to “protect” children by banning “propaganda on non-traditional sexual relationships”. This could mean anything from a flyer discussing the practice of safe homosexual sex, to an article discussing the abstract existence of homosexual people.
First, let’s be clear: the law is a fucking abomination and has no place in time or space. But 88 per cent of Russians support the gay propaganda ban. The West fought in Cold War against Russia for 50 years to bring democracy to the nation. Now that the Russians are exercising it, we want to punish them. Contemporary progressivism is synonymous with feeling good: if your opinion makes you feels good, it must be the right opinion to hold.
On the first day of the Olympics, Google changed its homepage to a rainbow flag and fooled dimwits across the internet into believing one of the most powerful corporations in the world gives a damn about human beings. Let’s not forget: Google loopholes out billions of dollars of tax revenue in countless countries. In Australia alone, Google paid $74,000 in tax on revenue over $1 billion—money that could be spent by governments on policy that helps homosexual people. But for contemporary progressives, empty symbolism wins out.
You must remember this is for Russia, where it’s perfectly legal to be gay. There are gay bars in Sochi and some Russian TV stars seem hugely camp (though the locals don’t always pick it up). What this criticism boils down to, more than anything, is a Cold War relic media bias against Russia and the habit of contemporary progressives to be disgusting cultural relativists who only criticise white people.
If you see Google change its home page to Brazil forcing their poorest citizens out of the favelas before the soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, let me know. If you see them put up anything about Qatar’s treatment of women or homosexuals—where it’s actually illegal to be gay—don’t let it bypass me.
It’s easy to criticise Russia. We’ve been doing it for years. When you bring in Brazil or Qatar, however, economics, race and ‘culture’ come into it, and people have to think. And thinking, for the contemporary progressive, is hard.
Take for instance the West’s love affair with Pussy Riot, who were convicted by the same laws against hooliganism that operate in many places they’ve been celebrated. Forget the fact that they weren’t actually a band before the West started calling them, but a loose collection of nominally feminist artists whose raison d’etre was to be offensive in the simplest possible way.
Do the same progressives who champion their staged concert in the cathedral defend the cruel hurling of live cats through McDonalds restaurants? How about the filming of, admittedly quite blasé, pornography in public places while pregnant? Or stealing food from small grocery stores by inserting pieces of chicken into their vaginas? Art that makes you think? Does it challenge you? Perhaps, but if you don’t think very much about it, it just seems subversive.
But the West latched on regardless. Because they think that Pussy Riot, or protesting the anti-gay laws will bring change to Russia. But it doesn’t. The Russians have been through a lot. They’re a tough, proud bunch of people. Western-enforced neo-liberalism after the Cold War killed millions upon millions of innocent people in the Eastern Bloc, increasing the death rate in the early ’90s by 13 per cent. The West celebrated and acted as if the opening of another shopping mall would solve all that ailed them.
When Putin stands up to the West, Russians support him. When the West tells Russia what to do, they recoil. It is not by force, or progressive superiority via memes on the internet, that Russia will change. It’s through proper engagement, dialogue and, largely, economic growth and reductions in inequality—it’s no coincidence the gangs beating up gays on the streets are lower-working class skin heads, born from xenophobic views that immigrants, gays and the other are taking their livelihood.
When two people were killed during the the Boston Marathon , a small electronic city was set up by the media who reported every development. On 30 December last year Volgograd was bombed, killing 34, but it was brushed over by the media and quickly forgotten.
Are Russian lives worth less than those of Americans? You could say our media act like they are. But the media, like any free-market service, work to serve the interests of the consumer first. That way, it ends up being our view, too. The people of Russia will not be swayed while we still think like that.
Words by Phoebe St John
It’s time. Dust off that mink coat, retrieve your finest Russian vodka, and switch on ye olde telly box, because the 22nd Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, have officially begun.
If you’re anything like me, Russian geography isn’t exactly your speciality, so allow me to enlighten you of the Olympics’ whereabouts. Sochi is a city in the Krasnodar Krai territory just north of Georgia, along the border of the Black Sea directly opposite Turkey. This city, which boasts a population of 400,000, is apparently so far removed from the icy throes of winter it is affectionately labelled the “Russian Riviera”, or the Florida of Russia. Famously remembered as the location of Stalin’s summer home, some news sources have even gone so far as to call Sochi “subtropical” and “balmy”. Temperatures rarely drop below 8 degrees Celsius, and at press time, there was no snow to be seen other than in the 500 faux snow guns specially imported from Finland. Yes, a seaside town seems a questionable choice for a Winter Olympics in an otherwise arctic Russia, particularly if it means Speedos could be involved.
Still, who are we to judge? No doubt these Games will be spectacular, if its total expenditure of US$50 billion is anything to go by. President Putin is footing the bill of one of the costliest Olympics of all time, with brand spanking new infrastructure including the Fisht stadium, rumoured at 14 times over its initial budget, and some highly fascinating double toilets. For the next ten days, we will watch as 6,000 athletes from 85 countries compete in 89 events and, according to CNN, consume 265,000 litres of Russian borscht in their Olympic Village. More importantly, we will see some outrageous uniforms that may make you simultaneously snort and cry (Norway, anyone?), and even the return of another Jamaican bobsled team, “Cool Runnings” style. We’ve already witnessed the Olympic torch being shot into space and completing a space walk, so no doubt future Games antics will be, well, out of this world.
Still, not everything about this Winter Olympics is as pure as the driven snow (oh yes, pun definitely intended). Russia’s recently adopted, draconian legislation banning gay “propaganda” to minors has been internationally criticised, with the global spotlight now shining on Russia’s LGBTQI community. With politically motivated social conservatism at a momentous high, things are unbelievably tough for gay and lesbian people in Russia right now. There are widespread calls for the criminalisation of homosexuality, only encouraged by public figures, such as TV anchor Dmitriy Kiselyov, and growing anti-gay violence in city centres. As a result, it seems calls for boycotting the Winter Games have quite literally snowballed. 27 Nobel laureates have signed a letter demanding a repeal of the laws essentially denying homosexuality. A 200,000 signature strong petition headed by Amnesty International has condemned Putin’s new legislation ahead of the Games. Even the International Olympic Committee asked its Russian organisers last week to respect press freedom and freedom of speech during the event, when it comes to athletes speaking out about the controversial legislation.
When coupled with the country’s already controversial political situation, threats of terrorism, and the 150th anniversary of the Circassian genocide, Putin may have hit a bit of an iceberg. Barack Obama, Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel and David Cameron, to name a few, have announced they will not be attending the Games as spectators, citing the Kremlin’s anti-gay legislation as highly contrary to the Olympic spirit (China’s leader Xi Jinping will be attending, however- his third trip to Russia in just 12 months). While the United States is not withdrawing their team, Obama has made a statement of sending openly gay LGBTQI sportsmen along to Sochi. “If Russia doesn’t have gay or lesbian athletes, then that would probably make their team weaker,” he said in August.
None of this seems to be an issue, of course, because Sochi mayor Anatoly Pakhomov has told the BBC in an interview that aside from foreign tourists, there are no homosexuals in his city (and don’t we all believe that?). Luckily, then, it appears no one will have the urge to protest at Sochi. But if they were to, surely any one of the 37,000 security officers deployed for the Winter Olympics could step in and, er, break the ice.
Thankfully, Russia’s horrific treatment of their gay and lesbian community hasn’t deterred too many athletes from going for gold. “I want to be proud of who I am and be proud of all the work I’ve done to get into the Olympics,” openly gay Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff revealed in a recent interview. And she’s not too pleased with President Putin. “After I compete, I’m willing to rip on his ass,” she has said.
This is the first time Russia has held a Winter Olympics, and it seems the event is already sending chills down some international spines. So, the expected global television audience of 3 billion waits with bated (foggy) breath for news of the shenanigans in the snowy city by the sea.