SOCHI, Russia — Irina Rodnina, the three-time Olympic figure skating gold medalist who was one of the two Russian sports legends to light the Olympic cauldron at Friday's opening ceremony, apologized Monday for a racist tweet that appeared on her Twitter site five months ago about President Obama.
"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," she wrote on Twitter.
"My account was hacked and I should have shown better judgement in my initial response and handling of the event."
Last September, Rodnina, who is 64, posted an image on her personal Twitter account of Obama that was photoshopped to include a banana.
U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul wrote on Twitter that Rodnina was guilty of "outrageous behavior, which only brings shame to her parliament and country." A spokesperson for the U.S. embassy even quoted Thomas Jefferson in response to the tweet: "Bigotry is the disease of ignorance."
Rodnina deleted the photograph but refused to apologize at the time, saying, according to the Guardian newspaper of London, it had been sent by friends in the United States.
"Freedom of speech is freedom of speech, and you should answer for your own hang-ups," she wrote.
The day after the opening ceremony, the head of the Sochi organizing committee sidestepped questions of the propriety of having her involved with the torch lighting.
"She is a three-time Olympic champion, one of the most respected in the world of Olympic athletes," organizing committee president and CEO Dmitriy Chernyshenko said at a regularly scheduled news conference. "I want to stress that Olympics is not about politics, and any political talks about discussions are inappropriate."