The mascots for Sochi 2014's Winter Olympics were unveiled Saturday and, among the three winners, is a snowboarding snow leopard. With a huge, benevolent grin on his face and his snowboard always nearby, the leopard won 28-precent of the votes in an online poll open to all Russians and broadcast live on TV's "Talismaniya Sochi 2014 - The Final" on Channel One.
The other two main Sochi 2014 mascot winners are a polar bear and a hare. The use of three mascots is meant to mirror the places on an Olympic medal podium. Mascots were chosen from over 24,000 ideas submitted.
Just as snowboarding in the Olympics has always been steeped in controversy, the choice of the snowboarding leopard is now a loaded topic -- even if snowboarding has little to do with it. Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin named the leopard as his mascot preference, telling students on his visit to Sochi: "(The snow) leopard is a strong, powerful, fast and beautiful animal. Leopard species had been destroyed around here but now they are being regenerated. If the Olympic project, at least in some way, should help the local environment, then it (picking a leopard) would be symbolic."
Putin's support for the snow leopard is now being questioned because the leopard was not a fan favorite in early voting. Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, on Moscow Echo radio, said: "Just after Vladmir Putin showed his sympathy for the leopard, its votes climbed sharply... "