While the athletes competing in the Winter Olympics are supposed to get all the attention, occasionally sideline characters manage to steal the spotlight.
Such was the case in Sochi where storylines about mascots, television hosts and stray animals gave viewers just as much reason to tune in as the athletic competitions themselves. If you missed any of the sideline stars and storylines, here's a recap:
TARA LIPINSKI AND JOHNNY WEIR
Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski and three-time U.S. figure skating champion Johnny Weir have reached a new level of fame in their debut roles as sport commentators. The pair has added a lightning bolt of energy to the figure skating competition with unpredictably flamboyant outfits, insiders' insight and endless sassy one-liners. Fans on Twitter have pleaded for them to stay on TV after the Games, as talk show hosts, year-round figure skating analysts or, really anything at all. Here's a taste of their sport's commentary at its best:
- “It is Nascar out here in the world of rhinestones.” — Weir watching near-collisions during men's warmups [New York Times]
- "Anyone feeling Hunger Games here?" — Tara, about a Uzbekistani skater's outfit. [Wired]
- “I find them very slow. I was watching curling earlier today, and I thought some of those curlers were going a bit faster. You have to really use your knees and dig deep.” — Weir on Australian ice dancers Danielle O'Brien and Gregory Merriman after explaining that ice dancing is one of the fastest disciplines. [New York Times]
- "She's 15 years old, but she ... skates like she's 15." — Weir on skater Elizaveta Ukolova from the Czech Republic. [Wired]
- "It's a lot" — Tara, on the suspender-based choreography in Kazakhstan's Abzal Rakimgaliev's program. [Wired]
- "He almost reminds me of what a very elegant hockey player would look like, should we put them in a costume" — Weir, on Czech skater Tomas Verner [Wired]
It all started when news organizations began reporting that Sochi's local government had a pest control company on its payroll that would be killing stray dogs throughout the Games. Then came the dog-loving Americans, smart phones in hand, who became instant animal rights crusaders. The spokesman for the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton foundation, Amanda Bird, was among the first to announce her intention to bring a Sochi stray home, and others fast followed her example.
Gold medal freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy was one of the most active pet savers in the Games, using his Olympic platform to spread the word about the problem and what Americans could do to intervene. He managed to team up with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who opened up shelters in a nearby town, as Kenworthy filled his Twitter feed with photos of heart-melting pups. He and snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis are among the Olympians who returned to the States as new parents to otherwise ill-fated dogs.
RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY POLICE CHOIR
Perhaps the biggest shock of the Sochi Opening Ceremony came when the Russian Interior Ministry Police Choir sang Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," in a performance the New York Daily News called "surreal." The selection, designed to appeal to a global audience, gave a celebrity boost to both Daft Punk and the brave officers who covered their hit.
THE LUGER WHO CRIED WOLF
Kate Hansen slowly built herself up as a social media star throughout the Games, first garnering attention for posts about her pre-game Beyonce dance sessions. She went out with a bang, teaming up with late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel for a stunt that had everyone from the U.S. media to Sochi security abuzz. Kimmel, secretly behind the wheel of Hansen's account, posted a video of a Timberwolf "stalking her hallway in Sochi." In fact, the wolf was was on an L.A. set and the whole thing was a hoax. Between the hours that the video first appeared on Hansen's account and the moment the truth was revealed, it picked up more than 1 million hits.
BOB COSTAS' EYES
Bob Costas hosted NBC's prime time Olympic coverage with a bad case of conjunctivitis. The infection was apparent and distracting to viewers who tweeted medical advice and general commentary about his appearance. (Singer Bette Midler suggested he try some diluted boric acid for eyewash.) Finally, he was pulled off screen for six days — Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira took over — and returned looking mildly better. Still, it will be hard for him to shake his new reputation as the legendary sports announcer who came down with pink eye in Sochi. “Taking the red eye (flight) home?" Lauer needled as Costas’ tenure was coming to a close.
JASON BROWN'S PONYTAIL
Jason Brown's short, tightly-tied brunette ponytail became its own star at the Sochi Games. Fans and enemies fought over the 19-year-old skater's hair on social media where threats to cut it off were met swiftly with counter threats. Luckily for Brown, his personal Twitter account has a good 34,000 more followers than his ponytail's account.
One of the mascots of the Sochi Games got an unintentional star power boost when he was caught on camera trying to fit into the passenger seat of a car. It didn't work. He struggled though for an entertaining minute and 40 seconds before finally giving the back seat a try. He was also spotted at a hockey match teaching fans the Macarena and holding his head in despair when Russia was eliminated from the men's hockey playoffs.
The bobsledder from McKinney, Texas had the misfortune of encountering a series of Sochi problems that only his strength could solve. The former NFL player first tweeted that he had gotten stuck in his hotel bathroom, leaving him with no other option but to ram himself through the jammed door. Next, he found himself stuck in an elevator, with no other option but to pry his way out. Now, Johnny Quinn is a verb. #Quinning.
While his teammate Gus used his silver medal win in the slopestyle skiing event to save the puppies of Sochi, Nick Goepper, who won the bronze, focused on finding a date. The 19-year-old invited the women of the world to explain why he should pick them for a Valentine's Day date, and the women of the world responded. YouTube serenades, baked cookie messages, poems and photoshopped pictures poured in, boosting the hashtag #iwanttodatenickgoepper to trending levels on Twitter.
PUTIN'S SOFTER SIDE
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been showing off a softer, friendlier side since the Sochi Games began. Days before the opening ceremony, he posed for photos with snow leopard cubs in an effort to call attention to a Sochi-related project aimed at saving endangered animals — or to divert attention from the pre-Olympic stray dog extermination.
In an act of Valentine's Day-inspired sports diplomacy, Putin also dropped in to the U.S. team house (wearing a "Happy Valentine's Day from Team USA pin on his lapel) to chat sports with the Amerians over a glass of red wine. He paid visits to other team houses as well, including Canada's where he so charmed one athlete that she tweeted her regret for not asking Putin to be her Valentine. The tweet caused a backlash that ultimately led Canadian Brittany Schusslter to delete the tweet and explain that she was joking and does not support Putin's values.
He also checked out some of the sports action, offering handshakes, back slaps and head pats to winning Russians and remaining publicly cool and collected after the Russian's hugely disappointing loss the American's in men's hockey.
The city known more for its financial woes than its Olympic talent got to bask in the gold medal spotlight after ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White called attention to their training base. It turns out that the pair, which trains in Canton, a neighbor of Detroit, are not the only Olympic skating stars to come from the area.
The Detroit Free Press reported that "15 of the 24 Olympic ice dancing teams have trained around Detroit: nine at the Novi Ice Arena, three at the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills and three in Canton." (Detroit also holds the less glamorous figure skating distinction of being the city where skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked in 1994.)