ROSA KHUTOR, Russia, February 6 (R-Sport) - The Sochi Winter Olympics saw what could be the first protest by an athlete Thursday when a Russian snowboarder competed with a design on his board apparently resembling a member of the opposition punk group Pussy Riot.
Slopestyle rider Alexei Sobolev was the first Russian to compete at the Sochi Games, finishing tenth in a qualifying heat, riding a board displaying a female figure in a balaclava wielding a knife.
Pussy Riot, three of whose members were imprisoned in 2012 for a performance in a Moscow cathedral that was classed as "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred," is an all-female punk group opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin whose members typically perform wearing balaclavas.
“Anything is possible,” Sobolev said when asked if the design was a homage to Pussy Riot, adding: “I wasn't the designer.”
Sobolev, who will next compete in the snowboard slopestyle semifinals on Saturday, said it was “positive, unusual and pleasant” to be the first Russian to compete at the Sochi Olympics, which run through February 23.
The Olympics have been preceded by criticism of the Russian government from domestic and foreign activists. Some gay rights campaigners have called for a boycott of the Games over a law banning "gay propaganda" to under 18s, though it has gone totally unheeded by the athletes.