I can understand why Yevgeny Plyushchenko's silver medal in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics men's figure skating competition was such a huge disappointment for him and for the whole Russian team. And although I generally try to stay clear of discussing sports events, let me say this: in the controversy between "without a quad, it's not men's figure skating, now it's dancing" and "it's called figure skating…not …figure jumping", I tend to support the latter statement. In other words, I believe that Evan Lysacek has earned his gold.
But this isn't why I'm writing this post. Incredibly enough, another Russian has been dragged into the competition between Plyushchenko and Lysacek. Who? You bet: Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. All Putin had to do to become a Vancouver Olympian was to congratulate Plyushchenko with his silver: "My sincere congratulations on your excellent performance at the XXI Olympic Winter Games. Your silver is worth of gold. You were able to overcome all the difficulties and obstacles to make a brave and gutsy move – to come back with brilliancy into big sports and to show the most difficult program on the Vancouver ice."
It turned out that some folks took offense with Putin's "your silver is worth of gold." Why? This is exactly what many parents in this country (including yours truly) tell their kids: it's your effort, not your mark that matters the most. Would you prefer your kid's hard earned B+ to an A- for nothing? (A rhetorical question, I guess, if your kid is going to apply to Harvard…).
But then the creative interpretation of Putin's words began. The Washington Post's Tracee Hamilton reported: "Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Plushenko's finish was worth a gold medal." And Reuters' Gennady Fyodorov (whose name suggests that he, in contrast to Hamilton, could read Putin's quote in the original) took it a step further:
"Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin climbed into the controversy surrounding Evgeni Plushenko's surprise defeat in the Olympics figure skating by claiming on Friday that he should have been awarded gold."
The headline of Fyodorov's article is even more creative: "Putin attacks Plushenko judging."
To me, the allusion that Putin attacks judging doesn't sound funny anymore. I can almost see how judges who awarded Lysacek with the gold begin mysteriously dying. You know: dioxin, polonium-210…
Vladimir Putin is obviously the world's most misquoted public figure. Volumes have been written – and, I suppose, millions in fees were earned – about what he said about the "collapse" of the Soviet Union or the death of Anna Politkovskaya. His Vancouver Olympics quote/misquote will go down the history as yet another example of the Western media-perpetrated political mythology.
As I wrote recently: "…the West’s obsession with Putin’s persona (like ruminating over his K.G.B. background or deciphering the meaning of his bare-chest vacation pictures) sometimes borders on the irrational." And yet, there is logic in this madness. The fact of the matter is that Putin sells. Attaching his name to a piece of "analysis" helps sell this questionable product as efficiently as attaching the name of another celebrity to a product that consumers would be reluctant to buy otherwise.
So if you are a beginner or a seasonal political writer looking to jump-start your career, do this: type P-u-t-i-n, add colon, open quotation marks — and then write whatever you want.
What did Putin say?