Olympic ski star makes Putin wish
Skiing sensation Veronika Stepanova narrowly missed out on the sprint final at the Winter Olympics but said her team hoped that Russian President Vladimir Putin was watching the action at the Beijing Games.
Newcomer and junior world champion was the only Russian to reach the semifinals of the sprint section in China, narrowly missing out after her third-placed performance in the second heat was not enough to gain a lucky loser shot at a medal.
"I didn't kiss my boyfriend before the start," rued Stepanova to Match TV, adding that she would have raced the same way given a second chance, albeit with a send-off from her lover.
"This is where the problem is. I think about it. This is the whole point. When I'm at the stages, he is with me, but here [he was not]."
Stepanova added that she had made a mistake at the finish line but was proud of her result alongside coach Egor Sorin.
"That's for sure," the 21-year-old said in response to a suggestion that she had performed commendably. "Egor and I [discussed it] and the minimum task was completed.
"I think it was possible to compete for the final. It's a pity but it p*ssed me off. I can't wait for the next race."
After teammate Natalia Nepryaeva won the first Russian Olympic Committee medal at the 2022 Games by taking silver in the women's skiathlon on Saturday, world champion Alexander Bolshunov went one better to emphatically earn gold in the men's version on Sunday.
Stepanova is optimistic that their performances have ignited the Russian head of state and noted sports fan's enthusiasm for skiing.
"I hope that Vladimir Putin will watch the ski races," she said. "I was offended when he said that his favorite sports are figure skating, hockey.
"Why is there no cross-country skiing? I will do my best in the relay, the girls too.
"Sasha Bolshunov, [Nepryaeva] – everyone is trying to get the president to watch the skis."
Photogenic Stepanova has also addressed articles she has been sent while "rooting for our girls and getting ready for my races".
"They send me links to some kind of 'athlete attractiveness ratings'," she told her thousands of Instagram followers, dismissing reports which described her as enjoying spending her spare time socializing, watching films and relaxing in hot countries.
"I just haven't been able to go out with friends for three years now. And I have never been to hot countries with beaches and I’m unlikely to [get to].
"In general, this is some other [person], apparently... from the alternate reality of the authors of these articles.
"I meet friends only on social networks, I go to the gym to grow muscles and go on vacation to places that 'breathe with history.'
"A separate question is who makes up the 'ratings of the most attractive athletes' in 2022? Will there also be a rating of the most beautiful male athletes, for gender balance?"