Russian Olympic Champion Says Racist Obama Photo Was Work Of A Hacker When It Really Probably Wasn’t

Irina Rodnina, a Soviet figure skating legend who lit the Olympic flame in Sochi, tries to distance herself from a controversial tweet. That defense worked so well for Anthony Weiner.

In September, Russian ex-Olympian figure skater and pro-Putin parliamentarian Irina Rodnina tweeted this doctored, blatantly racist photo of Barack and Michelle Obama.

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After a flurry of abuse on Russian Twitter, Rodnina claimed she had been “sent the picture from the U.S.” and wrote at the time: “Freedom of speech is freedom! Answer for your own complexes yourself!” She then deleted the tweets.

Via Twitter: @EvgenyFeldman

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U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul condemned her tweet, but the controversy quickly died down in Russia, where casual racism is widespread.

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On Friday, however, the incident caught the attention of the wider public after Rodnina lit the Olympic torch to open the Winter Games in Sochi.

Rodnina and three other ex-Olympian torchbearers, all of whom are members of parliament in President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party, also voted for the controversial “gay propaganda law” in June and a ban on adoptions of Russian orphans by Americans the previous winter. Pool / Reuters

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Rodnina finally apologized on Monday…

I respect the Obama family and apologize for not clearly stating earlier that I don't support the tweeted photo or racism in any form. (1/2)

— Irina Rodnina (@IRodnina)
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…and employed the “I was hacked” defense previously used by former congressman and sexting scandal star Anthony Weiner.

My account was hacked and I should have shown better judgement in my initial response and handling of the event. (2/2)

— Irina Rodnina (@IRodnina)
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Two days earlier, however, Rodnina’s daughter, HuffPost Live host Alyona Minkovski, responded to “Twitter hate” by implying the tweet was real.

My mother is neither a racist nor a homophobe. I think the tweet was extremely insensitive, and we've addressed it as a family. (1/2)

— Alyona (@AlyonaMink)
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That doesn't change the fact that she's a great mother and watching last night I was proud. (2/2)

— Alyona (@AlyonaMink)
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Minkovski, a former host on Kremlin propaganda channel RT, also immediately retweeted her mother’s apology tweets, which were written in a style more reminiscent of Alyona’s Twitter feed than her mother’s.

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Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71
Contact Max Seddon at max.seddon@buzzfeed.com.

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