Notes from Sochi: Putin visits athletes at Olympic houses

  • Updated: February 14, 2014 - 7:51 PM

NOTES

Why yes, Mr. President, come in

Russian President Vladimir Putin made unannounced visits to the Olympic houses of at least two Western nations Friday, and from the pictures posted on Twitter by athletes, the visits were something of a surprise for most.

Putin visited USA House and Canada House, dropping in with his healthy security detail at the gathering spots for athletes and their families in Olympic Park. Word of Putin’s tour quickly spread on Twitter and was documented in fun “selfie” photos.

“Just hanging out at the USA house in #Sochi with Putin! No big deal!,” tweeted U.S. luger Preston Griffall, who posted a photo in which Putin is seen over Griffall’s left shoulder sitting on a couch chatting with Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

“It was an unexpected visit,” Blackmun said. “We talked about mostly our impression of the Games. He was genuinely interested on whether we were having a quality experience at the Games.”

Plushenko faces fallout

Four days after being praised as a hero for helping Russia win its first gold medal at the Sochi Olympics, Evgeni Plushenko on Friday was taking criticism for dropping out of men’s figure skating.

Plushenko had just one big backer: Putin.

Plushenko’s strong performance in the team event brought wide accolades for his determination to overcome injury. But on Thursday he withdrew before the men’s short program, complaining of back pain during the warmup.

Among his critics was longtime rival Alexei Yagudin, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist. He told the R-Sport news agency he supports “people who go to the end.”

Putin wouldn’t join the Plushenko-bashing.

“He performed in the team event and showed his best result,” Putin said, according to Russian news agencies. “He really does have a big problem with his health; he has had several operations.”

Vieira is next Costas stand-in

Bob Costas is getting a new substitute on NBC’s Olympics broadcast on Friday. It’s Meredith Vieira.

Costas will be sidelined for a fourth day as NBC’s prime-time host because of an eye infection, and Matt Lauer filled in for him three days in a row. But with Lauer also anchoring the “Today” show — and making himself available for such stunts as a luge ride on Friday’s show — Olympics producer Jim Bell said he needs a break.

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