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The Russian Olympics: Observations of a Perplexed Spectator

My friend Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE Magazine and creator of Maker Faire, went to Sochi with his wife, Nancy. He wrote a long, fascinating account of their stay in Russia for Medium. He included lots of pictures.

“You are such a sports fan,” Nancy said to me, as though she just noticed it after 30+ years. I do love and hate being a sports fan. I’m conflicted. I’m not always sure why I like to watch sports — and it is as a spectator that I’m most intensely involved.

The conflict for me is that I really don’t care anymore who wins or loses. This is true in the Super Bowl, World Series and the Olympics. I don’t have a team I’m rooting for. I’m looking for something else and I think I realized what it is at the Russian Olympics.

It’s hard to watch the Olympics on TV in America because of the way they package it for Americans, trying to develop a sense that we are rooting for our country and making a connection to American athletes. So much is fabricated, and I wanted to see beyond that. I didn’t come to root for TeamUSA, although I do care what Americans are doing and how American athletes are competing. But it is not why I came to Sochi.

The Russian Olympics: Observations of a Perplexed Spectator

Pussy Riot use footage of cossack horsewhipping in new music video

One day after a video of Pussy Riot being horsewhipped by cossacks in Sochi went viral, the band had released a new music video in which the footage is heavily featured, amid anti-Putin rhetoric.

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Cossacks horsewhip Pussy Riot at Sochi

Members of Pussy Riot, including the recently freed women Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were brutally whipped, sprayed and beaten by cossacks representing Russian authorities at the Sochi Olympic Games. The women call the Olympics a political event, and report that they have been harrassed and detained continuously since arriving in Sochi to protest them.

Some other members of Pussy Riot have repudiated Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina and do not consider them to be representatives of Pussy Riot any longer.

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Winter Olympics wipeout GIFs

The Winter Olympics offer us a great lesson in GIFs--specifically, the power of a well-made GIF to condense much longer-form content into its highest-impact few seconds. Where you've got weeks of serious content and coverage, the GIF has to focus on what brings you the most oomph. Wipeouts.

4chan's worksafe GIF section has been collecting the best of the wipeouts from the 2014 Winter Olympics for the last week. It's an impressive thread. Not only is it emotionally wrenching to see these athletes try so hard and fail, but the wipeouts highlight the magnitude of what they're trying to do. One big crash puts all the perfect runs and tenths-of-a-second into perspective. Here are some of my favorites.

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Sochi's black-market Starbucks, courtesy of NBC


NBC's Sochi headquarters includes a secret, prohibited Starbucks with a crew of 15 imported baristas that keeps the NBC crew fuelled and in good spirits.

NBC and Starbucks say that having drinks dispensed by a non-sponsoring organization (Starbucks) doesn't violate the Olympics' corporate lickspittlery rules because the Starbucks, being located inside the private NBC pavilion, is a "personal item." The Starbucks presence at the Olympics is larger than 57 of the national delegations, and there's a whole elaborate supply-chain of beans being specially imported.

For me, the bewildering thing about this whole deal is that they went to all this trouble to import what is ultimately pretty shitty coffee. I mean, go big or go home -- bring in some beans from Tonx or Intelligentsia or Square Mile, get some of those badass baristas from Melbourne or Wellington, and really go to town. It'd probably be cheaper, and it'd taste about ten million times better. (via Super Punch)

(Image: Starbucks: Breeds Like Rats, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from hillaryandanna's photostream)

AT-ATs versus the Olympics

This is the only footage from Sochi that you really need to watch: when the AT-ATs of Russia attacked the skiers, it was sheer, Olympian magic. Watch it now before the IOC exercises its right to humorlessly obliterate anything that interferes with the corporate integrity of its celebration of human potential and indifference to human rights.

Star Wars OL (via Kottke)

Russian Olympic official to reporters: stop complaining about hotels or we'll release CCTV footage of you in the bathroom


Dmitry Kozak, Russia's Olympian deputy prime minister warned a Wall Street Journal reporter that he would release hidden-camera footage of journalists in their hotel bathrooms if they continued to complain about the substandard hotels in Sochi.

Just a reminder for anyone thinking of travelling to Sochi after the Olympics for a spot of tourism: according to Russia's deputy prime-minister, the hotel bathrooms have surveillance cameras that watch you in the shower.

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Reporters document Sochi's Potemkin hotels

As journalists descend on Sochi for the most corrupt Olympics in history, they're discovering the region's Potemkin hospitality industry. The hotels that were meant to billet them while they reported on the games are half-built, unbuilt, falling to bits: but at least they've had their portraits of Vladimir Putin installed. Slave labor just isn't what it used to be.

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Sochi: the most corrupt Olympic Games in history


Russian opposition member Alexei Navalny created a website to document the rampant corruption at the Sochi Olympics. The site is a map with clickable regions showing how illegal dumping, graft, inside dealing, and general sleaze caused billions of dollars to disappear into the pockets of Russian political elites and their mafiyeh buddies. The site was translated to English by the Interpreter, which notes:

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Pussy Riot in Putin's gulag: daily forced gynecological exams


When Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova walked out of the Siberian prison camp IK-50, they were defiant. The Pussy Riot members said they wanted acquittal, not amnesty, and an affirmation of the right to protest in Russia. Tolokonnikova gave the press a V-for-victory and shouted "Russia without Putin!"

But afterwards, in a phone interview with the Guardian, Alyokhina described the horrific conditions inside, where women were put to slave labor, and where Tolokonnikova faced daily, punitive forced gynecological exams for three weeks.

Pussy Riot has called on western countries to boycott eh Sochi Games in February.

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Stephen Fry to David Cameron and IOC: a Russian 2014 Olympics would be a repeat of the 1936 Berlin games


Comedian and national treasure Stephen Fry has written an open letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the International Olympic Committee calling on them to move the upcoming Winter Olympics from Russia to another country, specifically, any country in which homosexuality is not criminalized and LGBT people are not violently scapegoated as they are in Russia. Vladimir Putin recently rammed through legislation that bans being gay, talking about being gay, or advocating for the rights of LGBT people, and violent gangs routinely and savagely attack LGBT people, with impunity. Vicious practices like "corrective rape" and murder are ignored by the police. Fry compares bringing the Olympics to Russia in 2014 to cowardice that led to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which legitimized Hitler and the Nazis on the global stage.

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Major sporting events are corrupt and corrupting

AirShowFan sez, "Insightful article about the protests in Brazil, which make clear that it's absurd for a government to spend billions in public funds for sports tournaments that (a) bring no clear benefits to the country and (b) violate citizens' rights. Boing Boing readers will be familiar with the many unreasonable demands made by the International Olympic Committee to their hosts, from restricted use of the word 'Olympic' to disallowing political speech. (The article recaps these issues by describing the trials of people who violated such rules during the recent World Cup in South Africa). Key take-away: If current trends continue, these games will soon only agree to be hosted by the (hopefully decreasing) number of nations with overly authoritative regimes." Cory

Why does nobody think Usain Bolt cheated?

Covariation theory is a psychological idea that helps explain why we instantly suspect some record-breaking athletes of doping, while giving others the benefit of the doubt. (Via Melanie Tannenbaum) Maggie

WARNING: STREET ART TOURS ARE ILLEGAL!


My neighbourhood in East London has a lot of very nice street art, and a fair number of hipster entrepreneurs who lead tourist parties on "Street Art Tours." Artist Dr D combined the Olympic police-state with the Street Art Tour phenomenon to make this great prank notice, which I snapped on the way to our weekly Sunday brunch.

The Daily Duff: *STREET ART TOURS- ILLEGAL!*

Why do Olympic records keep getting broken?

Over at Discovery News, Emily Sohn asks the question I've been wondering for the last two weeks. Why are Olympians today better at their sports than Olympians of the past? Why do speed records keep getting broken? Why can gymnasts do more elaborate routines?

I mean, I have plenty of reasonable, speculative answers for those questions. But I hadn't seen them addressed in a factual way. This is great. And fascinating.

The answer, experts say, involves a combination of incremental technological improvements, as well as a growing population of people attempting a larger variety of sports that they start earlier and stick with longer. The mind plays a big role, too, especially when it comes to toppling seemingly insurmountable barriers, like the four-minute mile of the past or the two-hour marathon of the future.

"There is almost certainly a species limit in terms of physical capabilities, and I suspect we might be in the range of that," said Carl Foster, an exercise physiologist at the University of Wisconsin, Lacrosse. "But every time scientists say humans are not going to go any faster, they've been shown to be wrong. You can take that one to the bank."

Through calculations of maximum power output, oxygen use, heart function and other factors, some researchers have attempted to predict what the absolute limits of human ability will be. Much-debated estimates include 1:58 for the marathon (a five-minute improvement over the current men's record of 2:03.38), and 9.48 for the men's 100m.

Read the rest at Discovery News