Medvedev Fumes After Russian Team Disappoints
By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ
Published: March 1, 2010
MOSCOW — The Olympic flame in Vancouver had barely been doused before President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, angered over his country’s disappointing performance at the Winter Games, began calling for athletic officials’ heads.
“Those who are responsible for training for the Olympics must take responsibility,” Mr. Medvedev said on Monday. “They must have the courage to submit their resignation,” he said. “And if they do not have this resolve, we will help them.”
Such language from the typically measured Mr. Medvedev underscores the extent of the frustration here with Russian athletics just four years before Russia hosts the next Winter Olympics in the resort town of Sochi.
Russian athletes took home just three gold medals from Vancouver, compared with eight in the last Winter games. Russia came in a disappointing sixth place in the overall medal count with 15, trailing far behind its former Cold War athletic rival, the United States, which led with 37.
For Russians used to seeing their athletes dominate international competitions, the last two weeks have been agonizing. Russian figure skaters fell, Russian bobsledders flipped, and in a final embarrassment, Russia’s much-vaunted hockey team was smacked by Canada 7-3, and left Vancouver without a medal.
“Let’s put up a bunch of guillotines and gallows,” Vyacheslav Bykov, the team’s coach was quoted as saying last week. “We have 35 people on the hockey team. Let’s go to Red Square and dispatch with them all.”
It was unclear which athletic officials Mr. Medvedev would like to see dismissed. Less than a week into the Games, politicians and the media were already calling for resignations of Vitaly Mutko, the sports minister, and Leonid Tyagachyov, the head of the country’s Olympic Committee.
On Monday, Gennady Shvets, the spokesman for the Russian Olympic Committee blamed Russia’s poor showing in Vancouver on the disintegration of Russia’s athletic infrastructure that began after the Soviet collapse.
“If we make a list of all those who should be held responsible, then it would be half the population of the country because, unfortunately, many took part in the destruction of athletics or passively looked on,” he said on Russian radio. “In the 1990s everything was destroyed. When stadiums were turned into markets and pools into VIP saunas, athletics collapsed.”