While You Were Sleeping: The Olympic Storylines You Might Have Missed

Katie Burke
Katie Burke



skiing-down-mountainUnless you've been living under a rock, you've likely heard a lot about American ice dancing pair Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and deservedly so -- they are equal parts adorable and talented. The Olympics highlight reel has also been dominated by Julia Lipnitskaia, the 15-year-old Russian who skated circles around the competition to warm the hearts of Olympics fans everywhere. And every single day has been marked with new rumors, speculation, or commentary around potential security issues.

Between those three storylines and Bob Costas's pink eye, it's easy to get inundated by the same old Sochi stories. So below, we've outlined seven stories you might have missed -- but definitely shouldn't -- with narratives ranging from a German underwear company to some seriously tricked out pants worn by Russians on ice.

1) The Tongan Luger Named After a German Underwear Company

Bruno Banani is the name of a well-known German undergarment company with a reputation for cheeky (no pun intended) advertisements and fashion-forward boxers and briefs. Prior to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Fuahea Semi was a Tongan computer science student with no Winter Olympics ambitions -- and who could blame him? The country of Tonga is a haven for rugby players, not skiers or snowboarders. In fact, the weather never gets below 50 degrees.

Yet, when the princess of Tonga decided the country needed a winter Olympian for the Vancouver Games, she partnered with a local radio station for auditions, and 20 Tongans showed up. Semi was one of them, and the only one who emerged as the man for the job.

There was, however, a catch: The princess had partnered with a new public relations firm called Makai. Makai had identified a loophole amidst the very stringent Olympics rules and regulations that would provide Semi with the resources to train and compete for Tonga with the exposure the country wanted. To do so, Semi had to be willing to make a significant sacrifice: He'd have to legally change his name to Bruno Banani. "Bruno" missed the Vancouver Olympics narrowly, but managed to qualify for Sochi.

He's certainly not favored to contend or medal, but regardless of whether you think the move was a sports marketing coup or an elaborate hoax (or somewhere in between), it's worth cheering on a guy from an island in the South Pacific barrel fearlessly on ice.

2) The Beer Wars: Holland vs. Canada

Everyone knows that any event as big as the Olympics is bound to have some epic parties. Usually, the trick is in who you know, but at the Olympics, your nationality is core to your options for apres-ski (and snowboard and skating) refreshments.

On one hand, Molson has built its brand on being the authentic brew of Canadians everywhere, but in Sochi, the company has taken that pride to the next level, unveiling a beer fridge that can be unlocked only with a Canadian passport. Our neighbors to the North are currently number one in the overall medal count, so one can safely assume whatever ratio they are currently following of drinking and training is working for them.

On the other hand, Holland's Heineken House played host to none other than President Vladimir Putin and has its own trailer on YouTube and boasts a Slomo of the Day for every day of the Games, which suggests some pretty epic party planning, if I do say so myself.

Judging by Dutch athlete Sven Kramer's selfie during his tour of the Heineken House, I'd say the Netherlands wins in terms of sheer party size and scope, while the Canadians win for exclusivity. However, both nations seem to have taken after-partying to the next level, which is something worth toasting regardless of which nation you hail from.

3) The Biggest Russian Celebrity You've Never Heard Of

Evgeni Plushenko has been a darling of the Olympics and figure skating for the past 16 years. That fact, combined with the stark reality that the man has not aged a day since Torino, makes Evgeni himself a predictable Olympic storyline.

But wait ... there's more!

Did you know Evgeni is married to movie producer and Russian starlet Yana Rudkovskaya? In case, like most Americans, you are not familiar with Yana's body of work, here are some highlights of her bio: After studying skin and venereal diseases in college (nope, not kidding), Yana started her own spa, then her own line of boutiques, then her own music production company. A serial entrepreneur, Yana is also a savvy marketer: Her business prowess and good looks have landed her on the cover of many-a-fashion magazine.

So what does this have to do with the Olympics? Well, like any savvy marketer, she knew the camera would be on her in Sochi, so she did what any famous wife of a Russian figure skater would do: She brought a rollout poster of herself and Evgeni kissing and used it to inspire other Russian athletes. If a "my heart is with you" wedding photo of someone else's nuptials doesn't get you fired up to skate, dance, and win, what does, really? This photo will go down as one of my favorite buried gems of this Olympic games.

4) The Dude Press Conference

As marketers, many of us focus on crafting the perfect message, delivered with the perfect cadence, at the perfect time. The American gold medalists in Slopestyle don't sweat that stuff at all. In fact, as Grantland's Katie Baker observed, American Sage Kotsenburg uttered the word "stoked" 14 times in his post-race presser. Jamie Anderson, who dominated Slopestyle for the American women, pursued a similar path, recounting her time "soul-shredding" on the mountain during her first day in Sochi and describing her Bavarian Spirit Grandma as her inspiration. Jamie's calm demeanor is even more remarkable given that she had a scary crash during a training run, but the setback clearly didn't impact either her skiing or her positive outlook after stepping off the podium.

To me, this story is underrated because it's a great reminder that the best moments of the Olympics aren't scripted and because, ultimately, athletes need to be true to who they are and the culture of their sport. And to those of us who stress every day about scripted messages and perfect story alignment, it's a good reminder to "do some mantras" Jamie Anderson-style and loosen up a bit.

5) Curling Pants (That's Right)

We live in the region that made Nantucket red pants famous, so loud preppy pants aren't exactly a shock around here. However, the uniforms sported by the Russian and Norwegian curling teams in particular are truly remarkable. It looks like both teams are attending a college theme party the rest of us weren't invited to, particularly when combined with high, sporty socks. The curling gents must have realized their sport's shining moment would coincide with New York Fashion Week, so they did not want to be overshadowed by the likes of Gisele.

For what it's worth, they are in good company in the Olympic fashion department. This Mashable article highlighted the best and worst of the Opening Ceremony uniform choices, while NBC commentator Johnny Weir is showing that nothing (not even retirement) can diminish his passion for fashion and that he can pull off a statement ring like it's nobody's business. Finally, the New York Times documented a common frustration point (finding jeans that fit) and its particular challenge for skiers, whose gluteal muscles often far outpace those of their less athletic counterparts. Hold on to your curling pants, because the Olympic fashion fun is just getting started.

6) For the Love of Sportsmanship

I'm a sucker for great rivalries and great sportsmanship alike, so this story of a Canadian coach coming to the aid of Russian cross-country skier Anton Gafarov really warmed my heart.

Gafarov fell and broke his ski during the race, making it extremely challenging to continue on the course. Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth was watching the race from the sidelines and noticed Gafarov's struggles. He quickly ran on to the course and offered him the ski of Alex Harvey, a Canadian skier not currently racing, allowing Gafarov to finish the race in front of his hometown crowd. Although Gafarov finished last, he did not have to suffer the humiliation of walking to the finish line and instead was greeted by Russian fans who cheered him as he completed the race.

Wadsworth is not the first coach to assist another country's athletes. During the 2006 Olympics, Norwegian coach Bjornar Hakensmoen gave Canadian skier Sara Renner a pole to replace her broken one. Renner went on to win a silver medal, while the Norwegians ended up fourth. In other words, Hakensmoen's sportsmanship could have cost his country a medal. His heroism, however, did not go unnoticed: He received 8,000 cans of maple syrup and a prime seat to watch the Calgary Stampede, among other accolades.

May all your sportsmanship be rewarded with vast amounts of syrup and international media attention, Justin Wadsworth -- you deserve it.

7) The Beyonce Warm-up

Who runs the world? Beyonce (duh). So it's no surprise that when luger Kate Hansen wants to feel like a champion pre-race, she rocks out to Sasha Fierce in style. This isn't your average dance warm-up -- it's the sort of thing that makes you want to be friends with Kate Hansen and get out of your seat while you cheer her on. However, one announcer decided to embody the word "hater" in perfect fashion by questioning whether the warm-up was "sport-specific" enough to prepare her muscles for competition. The Twitter responses to said Beyonce-hater were absolutely priceless:

I think we can all agree that dancing to Beyonce is the ideal warm-up for any activity, regardless of whether you're competing in luge or delivering a keynote speech, so I hope more people add Kate's dancing style to their pre-game repertoire.

Adorable sibling stories, like Phil and Amanda Kessel competing in men's and women's hockey, the Dufour-Lapointe sisters winning gold and silver in Moguls, and Alex Bilodeau's moving words about his brother Frederic, deserve every bit of the attention they are getting, as do the remarkable stories of athletes who have triumphed after injury or significant hardship. But after so much discussion of hotel rooms and pink eye, we thought we'd share some underrated highlights of these Olympic games.

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