Torchbearer Irina Rodnina must have thought that lighting the Olympic cauldron for the Sochi Games would be one of the highlights of her career, but instead it has embroiled the three-time gold medallist in an international race row.
Rodnina, who won gold medals in figure skating in Sapporo in 1972, Innsbruck in 1976 and Lake Placid in 1980, became one of the figureheads of the Winter Games when, in conjunction with former ice hockey star Vladislav Tretiak, she set alight the Olympic flame.
Honored to light the Olympic flame in Sochi in the spirit of the games with respect for every nationality, race, sex and background.
— Irina Rodnina (@IRodnina) February 8, 2014
But perhaps fittingly for a Winter Olympics shrouded in controversy over issues of discrimination, it has now come to light that Rodnina was once involved in a racism row after posting a deeply offensive picture of US President Barack Obama.
The offending tweet came back in September when Rodnina, who is an MP with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, posted a doctored photo of a chewing Obama alongside his wife, Michelle, with a banana in the foreground.
Her actions drew stinging criticism from US ambassador Michael McFaul (below) before the controversy died down and Rodnina was free to go about her business in the Duma, the Russian parliament.
However, after her star turn at the Sochi opening ceremony, the row has erupted once more and this time Rodnina has changed her tune, claiming that she was hacked and apologising for not explaining the chain of events clearly enough.
I respect the Obama family and apologize for not clearly stating earlier that I don't support the tweeted photo or racism in any form. (1/2)
— Irina Rodnina (@IRodnina) February 10, 2014
My account was hacked and I should have shown better judgement in my initial response and handling of the event. (2/2) — Irina Rodnina (@IRodnina) February 10, 2014
So was her account hacked, or, as she claimed back in September, is it the case that she believes "freedom of speech is freedom of speech"?
Either way, after a build up to the Games which focused intently on Russia's anti-gay laws, this is yet another unwelcome headache for the Sochi organisers.