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Three-time Olympic figure skating champion Irina Rodnina is responding after a doctored, racially charged photograph posted to her Twitter account in September went viral among Western users.
On Monday, Rodnina said her Twitter account had been hacked at the time she posted the photograph, which depicts President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama with their mouths full, staring at a banana that has been digitally inserted into the frame.
"I respect the Obama family and apologize for not clearly stating earlier that I don't support the tweeted photo or racism in any form," Rodnina wrote in English on Twitter. "My account was hacked and I should have shown better judgment in my initial response and handling of the event."
That was far different from Rodnina's previously flippant answer to Russian critics, who condemned her for the post in September. "Freedom of speech is freedom! Answer for your own hang-ups!" she responded.
On Saturday, Rodnina's Russian-American daughter Alyona Minkovski wrote on Twitter that her mother was "neither a racist nor a homophobe" but did not deny Rodnina had tweeted the photo, which she called "insensitive." International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams has defended the selection of Rodnina as torchbearer, saying she was chosen for "what she's done in sport," not her politics.
Sensitivity to racial issues is not widespread in Russia, where football fans occasionally toss bananas onto the field when African players are present. But Rodnina, who now lives primarily in Russia and has a seat in parliament as a member of Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, has spent many years living in the United States.