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You might not wanna be Russia's president right now

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin leaves the stage after delivering his speech at the International Olympic Committee Gala Dinner on Feb. 6 in Sochi.
Russian President Vladimir Putin leaves the stage after delivering his… (Getty Images )
February 06, 2014|Tribune news services

In the next two weeks, you probably won't be able to go five minutes without hearing, reading or seeing Russian President Vladimir Putin's name. Depending on your perspective, he either had a good couple of days or two he'd rather forget Wednesday and Thursday.

GOOD: Rubbing elbows

Long-track speedskater Mitch Whitmore has yet to race in his first Olympics but already has experienced an unforgettable moment.

It involved none other than Vladimir Putin.

Whitmore, 24, was in the athletes' activity center Wednesday watching U.S. teammate Jonathan Garcia play a video game when Russia's president entered the room amid a sea of cameras.

"Putin walks in, and I'm like, whoa—just laughing, stared at him for a second—and then we made eye contact, and he comes around and shakes my hand," Whitmore told the Tribune. "He's about to walk away and I'm like, 'Hey, you're doing a good job.' Then he smiled, and a couple of reporters laughed. And then that was it."

He was tapping Garcia, who was engrossed in his video game.

"I didn't even look up," Garcia said, laughing. "I was in first place in the video game."

Also Wednesday, Team USA goaltender Molly Schaus was minding her own business in the athlete's village in Sochi when she spotted a man "dressed in world leader attire."

Which makes sense, because it was Putin who had entered.

"I was in the dining hall when he came in so I got to see him," Schaus said. "You're sitting in there and a throng of media comes in. It was pretty cool just to see."

BAD: Controversy won't quit

Russian snowboarder Alexey Sobolev crashed near the end of his second run at Thursday morning's slopestyle qualification round at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.

However, not all the questions from reporters afterward were about his performance.

After his run, he held up his board in the finish area, and on it was a design of a knife-wielding woman wearing a ski mask, which is what the members of feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot wear when they perform.

Some Russian reporters asked if this was a gesture of support for the controversial group.

In December, two Pussy Riot members were released from prison after they had been incarcerated for denouncing Vladimir Putin.

An Associated Press journalist tweeted that she spoke to Sobolev after the snowboarding event and that he would not confirm if he supported Pussy Riot.

Russian news agency R-Sport earlier asked Sobolev if the design was an homage to the band.

"Anything is possible," Sobolev said, also telling the reporter that he was not the designer of the board.

Meanwhile, the debate over Russia's anti-gay law continued, with American and Russian officials facing questions on the issue.

The discussion followed news that three sponsors of the U.S. Olympic Committee—AT&T, DeVry University and Chobani—had taken public stands against the law.

A USOC official insisted the controversy had not hurt the organization.

"We have not lost any revenue," USOC chief marketing officer Lisa Baird said. "Companies are drawn to Team USA because it is an incredibly diverse team."

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak repeated two common government themes. One holds that, despite the law criminalizing discussion of gay rights in the presence of minors, his country does not discriminate. The other focuses on protecting children.

"Every adult has their own right to understand their sexual activity," he said. "Please do not touch the kids, that is the only thing."

Tribune news services reporters Jared S. Hopkins, Chris Kuc, David Wharton and Lisa Dillman contributed to this report.

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