Mud-fighting shall be made Olympic Sport

All World Records Shall Be Ours! Soviet poster of 1948
All World Records Shall Be Ours! Soviet poster of 1948

In totalitarian-minded societies athletes, willing to sacrifice their health for the prestige of their country, are seen as heroes. Like soldiers, dying to expand the empire or to protect its size, sportsmen serve as living proof that the Supreme Ruler or Ideology of the Empire is doing the right thing.

The Ruler’s policies make his country stronger than its adversaries; his care fosters men and women who are mightier, faster, and jump higher than people from enemy states.

When I was a kid, each sports event was a war waged by the soldiers of athletes. Commies vs. Imperialists. I guess it was the same on the other side of the great divide. Did the West feel Russkies were enemies during Olympic games?

I was so relieved when I thought it was over (not least because China made it meaningless).

I was wrong.

It is no longer Socialism vs. Capitalism, though.

It is the Eastern Capitalism vs. Western Capitalism now. How ironic.  

Once again, Russian television foams with hysterical commentary about the achievements of Russian sportsmen and failures of Team US or Team GB. I want to watch the Olympics, but I can’t, unless my TV is on mute. I want to watch sportsmen from different countries doing mogul skiing. not listen to a commentator chupa-chupsing the assumed grief of a skier from the US who didn’t make it to the top three in the finals.

From what I hear about television in the US, it is not that much different. It keeps savouring the twitterised failures of Sochi: rusty water or two lavatory bowls installed instead of a lavatory bowl and a bidet, and the ring that failed to open, of course. The news of an athlete who got stuck in the elevator make front pages. It must be pretty sour from the US end too, I guess. Again, it is all hearsay, so correct me if I am wrong.

If there’s a sport these Games are missing, it is Mud-Fighting.

I understand why it is happening. Putin wants to project the image of Russia that – in the opinion of most foreigners and a sizeable share of Russians – is not the real Russia, but his vision of the Great Russian Empire. A vision that no one outside of Russia wants to see re-emerging from the heap of the USSR debris. These games are seen by many as an illusionary screen, a mask, constructed and manipulated to hide a great ugliness. Like the one used by Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible IV to sneak up to a security guard inside the Kremlin.


Who wouldn’t love to poke the illusion and see it collapsing?

A lot of it is true. Sending an unlit torch to a space station does look a perfect illustration to “empty ambition”. Having a former Olympic champion who lately became infamous for twittering a racist Obama photo and voting for the law that banned adoption of Russian children by Americans (and whose children and grandchildren, accidentally, happen to live in the good ole’ U.S.A) carry the torch to its final ceremonial destination was a perfect example of bureaucratic callousness.

So, I understand it.

It doesn’t mean I appreciate it.

A lot of money’s been spent on making a grand sports event when few – if any – other countries could afford spending the equivalent amount of money. Even if a half of it was stolen, the facilities are there. Athletes from across the globe are there.

And still this Cold War rhetoric threatens besmirch the two weeks when Mankind should be rejoicing through peaceful competitions, the joy of being human, and promoting respect towards each and every nation and race populating this planet. Even those nations that cut heads off gay men. Even those nations that believe prostitution is OK. Even those nations that believe setting a few countries on fire by the torch of democracy is a noble deed. Even those nations that can’t do anything without pocketing a half of everything to fuel their personal flame for greed.

I know the mud-fighting won’t stop, but I hope it just may subside.

That was politics, but this is an art blog. Artistically, I am disappointed that Sochi is an imported product. 

Ninety nine percent of everything in Sochi was planned, done, made, produced by European or US designers. From slopes to the design of uniforms to the opening ceremony. It was financed by Russians, no doubt about that, but I am saddened by the lack of local talent, or rather the lack of trust in local talent.

Previously, when the Soviet Union was young and was organising its own Olympic games, called Spartakiada, Russian artists were at the forefront of things.

It was 1928.

Varvara Stepanova, Rodchenko’s wife, produced designs for sports uniforms:

Varvara Stepanova. Uniform design, 1928
Varvara Stepanova. Uniform design, 1928

A Moscow gallery is exhibiting uniforms that they made according to some of those designs:


It was a fashion bomb in 1928.

Posters, promoting the games were the topmost achievement in collage (author: Gustav Klutsis, Postcards for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event, 1928)

A weaving mill near Moscow was producing sports-themed fabrics – and the design, I have to say was revolutionary:

12360694635_6407ca014e_o 12361132414_4906c64155_o

And of course, like as now, a lot of what was done for the games back then was a smoke screen. With the only exception: people genuinely believed in what the screen was showing, not in what it was hiding.

It is different this time: with all the grandeur of the Sochi games, few people believe in what is painted on the facade of Russia.

It is all right.

Can we have some Olympic fun now?

To sample this blog, click on About at the top. It has links to some of my best or typical posts. There’s an Art & Fun shelf if you feel like in need of a laugh.

PS You may want to check Sochi’s unofficial sexist (but sexy) calendar that continues the sports&arts series.


  1. Здравствуйте,

    разговаривал тут с Арсением и распылился тирадой о том, что я не вижу особой трагедии в приглашении иностранцев на такое событие. Это обидно со стороны бесконечного патриотизма, но это не так критично и более того, это кажется очень естественным процессом. Хотя в нашем случае он немного и преувеличен, но тому есть причины!

    Дизайн всего и вся давно всюду стал общемировым трендом, да может и плохо, что наших не допустили, но когда на кону стоит лицо всей страны и качественный результат Царю нужен в кратчайшие сроки, то лучше доверять проверенным профессионалам с запада, чем в очередной раз устраивать липовые конкурсы для всех, где выиграют опять те же самые иностранцы. Нету ныне такого правила: хата моя, я и шью ковер, глобализация, где мы пока полные аутсайдеры.

    Стоит благодарить фантастические времена Хрущева, который в свое время заявил, что архитектор – это не профессия, и за всем этим прикрыли всю нашу ооочень славную школу всего творческого (кроме музыки и рисования, видимо). Дизайн, архитектура, пространство и так далее – это в философии той давней власти оказалось рудиментом, которые не попадает в рамки запланированного муравейника-фабрики.

    Пример с женой великого Родченко – это одголоски не советского мышления/дизайна, это отголоски той великой поры, когда наша страна была впереди планеты всей – начало 20го века, когда был невероятный прорыв во всех сферах, появились все эти гении от кандинского до стравинского, где мы создали конструктивизм, где шумел дягилев с русскими балетами, а черный квадрат малевича убил кубическую музу пикассо (весьма спорное заявление, но все же). Родченко из той плеяды, как Мельников, как Щусев, как Татлин и так далее. (не мне Вам рассказывать, правда)

    Советы при Сталине в новый невероятный подъём эмоциональный и физический тогда создал очередную плеяду гениев, которые создавали много интереснейших вещей в 70-е, 80-е… а потом лавочку прикрыли одним махом.

    Только последние годы видится какой-то качественный сдвиг в этой сфере: эти дизайнеры и архитекторы, международного уровня, только начнУТ появляться, когда появились Стрелки, МАРШи и так далее. Мне кажется, что ждать еще лет 20, чтобы у нас снова гении пошли на поток, которые смогут на равных строить Олимпиады. Посему сегодня Сочи может и кажется Потёмкинской деревней, но очень честно отражает действительную ситуацию в нашей стране.

    P.S. фантастическое открытие Олимпиады все же невероятно наш продукт, сколько бы там дизайнеров иностранных занято не было, ведь как минимум главный постановщик совсем-совсем наш. Ведь в Ладе тоже работает ого-го какой иностранный дизайнер, а все равно же это ведро наше!

    1. Сева, привет, и спасибо за твой эмоциональный комментарий! Отсутствие отечественного дизайна есть не патриотическая обида, а расстройство. Нет больших общественных идей, следовательно нет и творцов с идеями производными, следовательно нет и дизайна. Наличие идей не обязательно связано с “впереди планеты всей”. Важно наличие творцов, искренне исповедующих большие идеи.

      То, что Эрнст, являясь поклонником и собирателем отечественного авангарда (порождения концепций давно уже выброшенных), подкинул очевидную (на самом деле) идею, которую профессионально реализовали британцы, не позволяет мне “заклеймить” открытие сочей “отечественным продуктом”.

      Меня расстраивает отсутствие современного авангарда. Причины его отсутствия мне понятны. Но жаль )

  2. I think this article raises some great points, and I think the best one is that the Olympics are supposed to represent international unity not national supremacy. Unfortunately, in our society no one is content with equality. Sure we eliminated slavery, but did we really? Ever since we have always had to be superior to some other people or country. Whether it was with nationalism or imperialism, we always need to feel better. Anyway sorry for the rant, loved your article.

    1. I totally loved what you wrote here, so thank you – for taking the time to write your thoughts. We don’t have to be “we”, right? We can say to ourselves, “oh, wait. I don’t want to feel superior, I want to cheer that guy from the country which name I don’t quite remember, who seems to have sacrificed a lot to finish among the top ten!” )

  3. very well work done…keep going…i liked it…its nice…as am a new blogger in this world and i wrote just 1 blog (story)( and unable to find my viewer (38 viewers in 2 days) like you, can u please help me by reading my 1st blog what wrong with my writing…is really something wrong with my writing or am just expecting too early…your helpful comments will really inspire me… and please follow me…

      1. I can only dream people in Russia also understand how important it is not to begin believing in right the opposite as well (especially given all the dirt and lies they can read and see about their country these days). I wish someone as talented as you could use his talent to help it one day. ‘Time, it needs time… i’ll be there’ how Scorpions sang ))

  4. Hi Art

    Here in the land of OZ with much blazing sunshine and in the height of our summer many of us don’t follow the winter Olympics. Russia, the former USSR, China, Great Britain and even Australia all put on a façade to try and show their cities and therefore their countries in the best possible light. That is only human nature I guess.

    You are right though when you say that we should come together in the spirit of peaceful competition. Sadly it is not just the track and the field where the competition is now fought. The Sochi winter Olympics seems to be about shoring up political support on the home front, proving to the world that Russia is now an active and valuable member of the nations of the world. and giving your leadership a platform from which to appear impressive.

    The spin that western media puts on the arrest of the Pussy Riot members, the jailing and murder of your oligarchs and press barons and the crackdowns and victimisation against your homosexual community make it very hard for Russia to get a positive message out to the western world.

    Personally I hope the Russian people enjoy their moment in the sun and that the games are a huge success. My concern is just like the media in the west, like the Russian media will be influencing public opinion and selectively reporting the issues and not actually documenting the news.

    Stay True

    1. Dear Sir, I can not but appreciate your balanced view, which must have been reached with much blazing sunshine and an ocean view. In summer, with sunshine and a sea waiting to embrace the body cooled by a glass of orange juice, who wouldn’t want to not give a damn about winter sports! Oh, it has been some 6 months since I last saw a real sea, and it is some 5 months to go. We can’t do much about media these days, huh? Except, of course, we can try not to believe everything it shows )

      Russia is – in some ways – similar to the Wicked Witch, whose intentions – as we now know from the musical – have been largely misunderstood.

      Raising the glass for the glorious country of OZ –
      Kyrill (not really Art)

    2. I’ve watched nearly every minute of prime-time coverage of the Winter Games by NBC. The games themselves have been excellent. The coverage–meh.
      I’m glad you brought up the media. I’ve decided to all but ignore the barrage of unsubstantiated editorial claims about any of the countries including our own. I can’t remember the last time a source was sited that I could actually verify for myself. In all probability, the athletes from all the nations are there, celebrating sport, achievement and artistry with each other. Just as most of us “regular” folk would do in their shoes. Don’t let commentators steel the games away from the best use–the spreading of inspiration, joy, and peace.

  5. I don’t think the U.S. is justified in pointing fingers at Russia for being so corrupt, especially when everything here is controlled by shadowbosses too. Then again, by “here” I mean the greater Chicago region.

    1. It is the scale of corruption that is different, I suppose ) And the way it permeats the society from top to bottom. I don’t think you have it in the greater Chicago area, really. But it is time to enjoy the Games, and fight corruption later.

  6. A lot of people believe in what is painted on the façade of the US, does it make the reality behind the façade better? Most of stuff there are produced in China. They are not racists anymore but they bomb other countries and say f*** you to the rest of the world. There is so many disappointment and manipulations from all sides that sometimes I feel it became a religion – you’ll never know where the truth is but you have to believe in something or be a critic of everything. I’m happy to know where I am and happy to hear how RU commentators are praising foreign sportsmen (US and Canadian figure skaters for one) and people applauding to them like crazy. Though I doubt we can get the same there- I know how my ‘western’ foreign colleagues perceive ‘eastern’ people and even colleagues, and though I know personally I’m not that kind and noble as most Russians. I love showing Russia to foreigners and see their inspired eyes. I’m happy my university mates are in Sochi building it, I’m happy to hear sportsmen who are welcomed like this in their own country etc. etc. I know the long journey starts from the first step ) PS I’m so tired from the gay stuff discussion that even canceled following my gay friend in social network – he happily posts 100 erotic/porno pics each day on web, I’m not against I’m just tired.
    I should probably appologize for that long comment )

    1. Never apologise for your thoughts. If someone posts porno pics on a social network, I doubt it has anything to do with sexual orientation, but is rather an addiction diagnosis. You were lucky to get a decent commentator for the figure skating show )

      1. I’ve never appologized for my thoughts ) Agree – not always connected, but I know exactly, he used to be quite laud about this and his head is with him)) Shame you didn’t have that good one for the mogul, things happen )

It would be grand to hear from you now!

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