#Winning Social media make history at Sochi

Adelina Sotnikova of Russia competes in the women's free skate figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo / Ivan Sekretarev)
Adelina Sotnikova of Russia competes in the women's free skate figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo / Ivan Sekretarev)
Posted: February 26, 2014

Like most big events, the Sochi Winter Olympics was two sets of events in one: the actual Games (curling, hockey, the highly puzzling biathlon) and what social media made of them. Failed rings! Fashion uprisings! Mammalian hoaxes! The fastest-growing (and most hopeless) petition in Change.org history!

Over on TV, the Games were great for NBC. Prime-time viewership averaged 22.1 million through Friday. U.S. teams had a bad last weekend, so viewership faded, but it should still land between the 2010 Vancouver Games (24.4 million) and the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy (20.2 million). Plus, it buried all competitors.

NBC's parent Comcast Corp. said Sochi will turn a nice profit - unlike Vancouver, which lost NBC $200 million. The company paid $775 million for the rights to Sochi, with expenses of about $100 million. At the start of the Games, NBC said national ad sales already were past $800 million, with more sloshing in.

Meantime, much was the social media silliness. An Olympic ring fail at the opening ceremonies became a meme. U.S. slopestyle silver medalist Gus Kenworthy befriended homeless Russian puppies, started an adoption campaign, and won hearts and retweets worldwide. A Russian skater, Olga Graf, won a bronze medal, and, forgetting she was unclothed under her suit, unzipped her top in victory.

Dumb? Trashy? Sometimes. It's social media, after all. But that's also what makes it worth examining. These venues have given millions control over what they like, dislike, don't understand, or want to know. Immense waves of posts, videos, tweets, and retweets tell us much about what human beings do, want, and . . . are.

The biggest viral story by far was that petition. In women's figure skating, Russia's Adelina Sotnikova won gold with a sparkling performance, beating Yuna Kim, the South Korean skater looking for her second gold in a row. Just about the whole world realized Sotnikova deserved to win.

Not South Korea. On Change.org, a site that lets you start public petitions, one arose titled "Open Transparent Scores and Remove Anonymity from the Judging Decisions of Women's Figure Skating at the Sochi Olympics." Poor Change.org! The site crashed around the 1.5 million signature mark. As of this writing, the petition has more than 2 million. Ninety percent are from South Korea. No sign it will do anything at all - except provide a forum for national disappointment.

For the second straight Winter Games, the Norwegian men's curling team poked out the sporting world's eye with the sharp stick of their lunatic fashion sense (bit.ly/1aRew3r). In a pre-Sochi gambit designed for Twitter, their official group shot, in uniforms of unspeakable blue, white, and red zigs, zagged around the globe. In competition, they kept changing pants, treating us to the craziest pant art ever. They became the darlings of the curling and social media worlds.

Alas, it didn't work. In 2010, Norway took silver. This year, the particolored pantaloons got skunked.

Speaking of mammals, got wolves? On Feb. 20, U.S. luge lady Kate Hansen posted a video captioned "Wolf in my hall?!? #SochiProblems #SochiFail." In the video (youtu.be/3qZA-xOeQmE), a canine roams a hall. Some folks fell for it.

There's a reason. Even before the games kicked off, #SochiFail was a big hashtag, as athletes, journalists, and others whined about bad plumbing and half-built hotel rooms. Bobsled guy Johnny Quinn, locked in a bathroom, punched his way out, an image retweeted about 30,000 times, favorited more than 17,000. It became a meme: "Quinning" - or #Quinning - the act of busting something open. (Later, the same guy got stuck in an elevator. Even his best Hulk smash was no good.) As for the wolf, Russia's wolf population is estimated at 30,000.

Turned out (a) the canine was probably a husky, a dog, related but not identical to a wolf; and (b) the video was a prank, created by ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, with Hansen as coconspirator.

Hansen, by the way, herself went viral, for her earphoned warm-ups, shakin' it to Beyoncé. Thus were born a hashtag - #katehansen - and a lot of admiring video clips (bit.ly/1di7NAY).

Speaking of viral ladies, U.S. figure-skater Ashley Wagner's face was zipped around the globe. "The many faces of Ashley Wagner" became a meme, as her face registered determination, barbed disagreement (with the judges' rulings?), and up to 43 other faces (according to a slide show by Yahoo! Sports at yhoo.it/MUHpmO).

So what is it to be human? To be human is to love beauty: By far the greatest number of tweets shared images of spectacular ceremonies, and barely believable feats on slope, halfpipe, or ice. To be human is to like suspense, crave sensation, and cheer achievement. As the Olympics, real and viral, remind us, to be human is to live life and love it.


215-854-4406 @jtimpane

For more social-media Olympic highlights, see Daniel Rubin's column "The Talk": http://data.inquirer.com/thetalk/the-sochi-social-olympics

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