Sochi Winter Olympics: Southern California athletes compete; local skater disappoints

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Southern California athletes were competing Saturday in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, including figure skater Ashley Wagner. She received a disappointing figure skating score in team competition after previously facing controversy over whether she should be allowed on the Olympic team, thanks to a struggle at the U.S. championships where she finished fourth.

Her short program was more representative of her talent, according to the Associated Press, although she two-footed a landing that cost her points.

"That performance for me was incredible," Wagner said, the AP reports. "I needed that, for myself, for my confidence. I needed to put out that performance."

The Winter Olympics kicked off in earnest at Friday night's opening ceremonies, and NBC4's Whit Johnson reported from Sochi and spoke with KPCC.

Johnson said he spoke with several Southern California athletes, including Yucaipa bobsledder Cory Butner, who used to work for SoCal Edison. Johnson said Butner described the Winter Olympics as "unlike any other experience he's ever had in his life."

Everyone he spoke with said it was a humbling experience, according to Johnson.

Johnson said that Lolo Jones, who made her name as a summer Olympian, told him, "It doesn't matter what you've done in your career. The opening ceremony brings you down to Earth and you realize that it's about so much more. It's about pride in your country; it's about the world coming together."

Johnson was also on hand Friday night for the opening ceremonies.

"Suddenly, you can hear sort of these booms and roars of applause coming from Fisht Stadium," Johnson said.

He said the lighting was incredible, and once the Olympic cauldron was lit, there were fireworks and the athletes and spectators came pouring out of the stadium. Not that controversy can always be avoided — the athlete who lit the cauldron received attention last year for tweeting what was seen as a racist tweet about U.S. President Barack Obama.

While there's been controversy around issues including the relationship between the U.S. and Russia, whether Sochi was ready, terrorist threats and Russia's anti-gay propaganda law, Johnson said it was an important moment for the Russian people.

"They were misty-eyed, and they were just thrilled about this opportunity to host the world," Johnson said.

California locals will continue showing up in the Olympics — short-track speed skaters who live and train in Southern California compete early next week.

With contributions from Mike Roe and AP

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