The unholy spectacle of a Russian coach berating a fifteen-year-old figure skater after an epic public fail shadowed by a doping scandal cast a pall over the recently-concluded Winter Olympics in Beijing. Or at least it did for me, since I watch the Winter Olympics solely for the heart-stopping beauty of figure skating.
Perhaps I would have cheered up if only I had known more about a different Russian athlete: twenty-six-year-old Yulia Kanakina, a competitor in skeleton, that terrifying sport in which athletes lies on their stomachs on tiny bobsleds and hurtle headfirst down the track at breakneck speeds.
“In her free time, Julia [sic] draws, studies English, goes to the movies and travels,” the online publication Russia Beyond reported earlier this month. “Her favorite books are Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Dear John by Nicholas Sparks and Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.”
The piece seems less concerned with exploring Kanakina’s literary interests than with highlighting how incredible she looks in a bikini, so we are offered no further information about her Janeite affiliation -- certaintly not enough to gauge whether she's a genuine Janeite or just someone name-checking P&P as an inoffensive badge of classiness.
Either way, Kanakina's apparently excellent taste in books (well, semi-excellent: Nicholas Sparks?) wasn’t enough to power her to Olympic glory: Kanakina finished eleventh out of twenty-five, almost two and a half seconds behind the gold medalist.