Heads to Roll Over Poor Olympic Results
- By Alexandra Odynova
- Mar. 02 2010 00:00
- Last edited 21:33
President Dmitry Medvedev promised Monday that heads would roll after Russia suffered its worst-ever performance at the Winter Olympics, warning "fat cat" sports officials to quit or be fired.
Russia ranked 11th with only three gold medals at the Vancouver Games, a stunning fall from its fourth-place finish with eight golds at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics. Making matters worse, Russia is the host of the next Winter Games in Sochi.
* Two silvers were awarded in the men’s biathlon 20km individual event and no bronze.
United Russia officials promised to personally make sure that Russian athletes would be ready to compete in 2014.
"The responsible officials should take the brave decision and sign a resignation letter," Medvedev said at a meeting with senior United Russia officials. "If they can't, we will help them."
Medvedev, who scrapped a planned trip to the closing ceremony in Vancouver amid Russia's lackluster showing, did not name any names. But other politicians have placed the blame squarely on Russian Olympic Committee head Leonid Tyagachov and Sports, Tourism and Youth Policy Minister Vitaly Mutko.
Neither official gave any indication Monday that they might resign.
Russian Olympic Committee spokesman Gennady Shvets said his committee was not at fault for Russia's performance because it only filled "representative functions" and the main responsibility lay with Mutko's ministry, Russian News Service reported.
Ministry officials were not available for comment. Many of them, including Mutko, were either in Vancouver or flying back to Moscow.
Mutko is scheduled to deliver a report on the Olympics to the State Duma on April 7.
The pro-Kremlin Nashi youth group said Monday that it would help Tyagachov make up his mind by sending him a resignation letter to sign.
At least one official has already lost his job, albeit a non-Russian. Russian Ski Jumping Federation chief Vladimir Slavsky told reporters last week that he had fired German coach Wolfgang Steiert, who had trained the Russian team for the past six years.
Russia took a total of 15 medals in Vancouver, including three gold, five silver and seven bronze. Previously, its worst performance was at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, where it won five golds and a total of 13 medals.
Medvedev said Monday that the government had funneled "unprecedented sums of money" into preparing for the Vancouver Games but money could not fix everything.
"We have benefited from Soviet achievements for a long time. At some point they ran out. We have lost the Soviet sports school, it is simply gone, but we have not formed our own system," Medvedev said.
He also hinted at corruption, saying a new system must be developed in which athletes, not sports officials, gain from government spending.
"The athlete, not federations, those fat cats, must be given priority," he said.
The state has poured tens of millions of dollars into training for the Winter Olympics, including $25 million last year and $22 million in 2008, according to the Sports, Tourism and Youth Policy Ministry.
Last week, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Russia needed to learn a lesson from Vancouver, but he did not mention any shakeup of sports officials.
Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov told Medvedev on Monday that United Russia, whose executive council he chairs, would supervise preparations for the Sochi Games.
"In fact, the team's victory in Sochi in 2014 is a national project for Russia," Gryzlov said, according to a statement distributed by United Russia.
He said a radical approach should be developed to train athletes, without elaborating.
Gryzlov, 59, is known as a sports fan and even wrote a football anthem in support of Russia's national team two weeks ahead of the UEFA European Football Championship in 2008, when the team unexpectedly made it to the semifinals.
Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov, a United Russia member who was elected last year in a race decried by the opposition as unfair, accepted the Olympic flag at the closing ceremony Sunday. Russian-born model Natalya Vodyanova hosted a short presentation of Russia's plans for the Sochi Games. It made no mention of how many gold medals Russia hoped to win.