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Medvedev Seethes as Flag Rises In Sochi

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, speaking with Russia's Paralympic athletes during the flag-raising ceremony at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday, March 26, 2010. The Olympic flag was hoisted in Sochi, the Russian Black Sea resort that will host the nation's first Winter Games in 2014. Mikhail Klimentyev

As the Olympics flag was hoisted in Sochi, President Dmitry Medvedev said Friday that he was considering an investigation into how sports officials spent millions of dollars to prepare athletes for the Vancouver Games and warned them to secure more gold medals in 2014.

"You must work 24 hours a day, not just wear out the seats of your pants, and rove abroad," Medvedev told the presidential sports council at a meeting in Sochi, which will host the 2014 Winter Games.

Russia was left red-faced after its team placed 11th with only three golds in last month's Winter Games, its worst-ever performance at an event where it long excelled.

"The problem is not so much a lack of resources as their ineffective use," Medvedev said.

"The Audit Chamber on my order is already checking the use of budget funds aimed at preparing for the Vancouver Olympics," he said. "According to the results, we will decide what to do with [the report] — just to hear it or send it to the prosecutor's office."

The results may not be known until September at the earliest. Medvedev asked the Audit Chamber to carry out the checks fr om April to September and to cover the Russian Olympics Committee, the Sports, Tourism and Youth Policy Ministry, sports federations and several small sports agencies, RIA-Novosti reported.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggested earlier this month that state funds had been misused and complained that Vancouver had cost five times more than the 2006 Turin Olympics, where Russia finished fourth with eight golds.

The government spent about 3.5 billion rubles ($118 million) over three years to prepare for the Vancouver Games.

Medvedev warned on Friday of a shakeup in the country's sports bodies, saying the presidential sports council might close several sports federations. He did not elaborate on the reasons for the possible closure, RIA-Novosti reported.

He also threatened to fire top sports officials who engaged in infighting. "If I find out that the bosses, including the new ones, again start fighting each other, I will have to reshuffle the cards again," Medvedev said.

State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov lashed out at sports officials for infighting and corruption at the meeting. United Russia, which Gryzlov leads, has promised to personally make sure that Russian athletes are ready to compete in 2014.

"We are witnessing a complete collapse of the Russian Olympic Committee," Gryzlov said. "Many sports federations are corrupt, and the sports ministry is helpless. The system of financing sports is corrupt from the top to the bottom."

Several senior sports officials have resigned in the wake of the Vancouver flop, including the head of the Russian Olympics Committee. Late Thursday, Medvedev removed Valentin Piseyev, president of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia, from the presidential sports council.

Seven of the 12 federations for Olympic sports will have new leaders after the previous leaders resigned over the Vancouver Games, RIA-Novosti reported.

Medvedev, meanwhile, said Russian sports officials needed to boost their profile in international sports organizations to defend Russian athletes caught in doping scandals. "Let's not forget that doping scandals are to a certain extent an element of score-settling and an element of global sports competition," he said. "We must know how to defend ourselves and not offer the other cheek."

A total of 343 Russian athletes, including 31 in international competitions, were caught doping from 2006 to 2009, Sports, Tourism and Youth Policy Minister Vitaly Mutko said.

At the flag-raising ceremony, a special train transported the Olympic and Paralympic flags from the airport to downtown Sochi, wh ere Olympic and Paralympic champions carried them to the main square.

Medvedev met separately with the Paralympians, who finished first in Vancouver this month with 38 medals, including 12 golds, the Kremlin said in a statement.

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