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Winter season ends with moans and groans, Sochi 2014 prospects disquiet

Aleksey Kiselev-Romanov's Column

Published time: May 18, 2011 11:21

The Ice Hockey World Championships, which concluded this weekend in Slovakia, marked the end of the winter sports season. Quite symbolically, the tournament turned into a real blunder for Team Russia. Against the odds, they failed to earn a medal. It has been much the same in the whole post-Olympic season for most of the country’s sportsmen.

Casting a brief glance at the results of this year’s winter sports World Championships I caught myself thinking that Russia’s 2010 Vancouver failure was a godsend compared to what we are witnessing now. If the Winter Olympics had been held in 2011, Russia would have finished 14th in the overall standings, with just two gold medals in snowboarding and bobsleigh, far behind such “great winter superpowers” as China and Australia, claiming three golds each. That compared to Norway’s 14 golds or Canada’s 13.

Some would argue that the first post-Olympic season is not properly illustrative for a number of reasons, mostly because some of the Olympic medalists retire, some prefer to take a break before meeting new challenges, while others recover from injuries or opt to spend time with their families. At this moment, quite often new young talents start to pave their way to victories and fame, as did, for instance, Norwegian biathlete Tarjei Boe, 21, or Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan, 20. Both won World Championships in 2011 and rushed into the top flight of winter athletes.

But it’s a bit different story with Russia this time. After the Vancouver fiasco, Russia’s sporting authorities, quite reshuffled, announced their determination to reach the top spot of the medal table in Sochi. This year was meant to shed more light on Russia’s winter sports prospects. But in fact, it left a bunch of new questions unanswered.

Since the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Russia’s winter sport has been steadily regressing – nine gold medals and third overall place in 1998, compared to three golds and 11th spot in 2010, and now it’s in the worst state ever in the country’s modern history.

What puts me even more on my guard now is that Russia has lost dominance in all the disciplines it was once strong in – Nordic skiing, biathlon, figure skating and speed skating. A layman would see the recent results of the Russian sportsmen and say that Russians are on the sidetrack rather than struggling for medals. Specialists see the problem deeper – Russia is significantly trailing Germany, Norway, Canada or the US in terms of sporting methodology and coaching skills.

In this respect, the latest trend of inviting foreign specialists (in biathlon, Nordic skiing, freestyle skiing, curling, bobsleigh, luge to name just a few) seems to me the only positive moment so far. But the sporting Varangians are not crisis managers. No one of them would guarantee Russia winning at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. They are here to rebuild the whole system, or to be more precise, to oil the medal-winning mechanisms in the sports they are responsible for, which may take much more than three years remaining till Sochi.

So my advice to those who are still looking for Russia’s numerous wins in Sochi: forget about it. But don’t worry – nothing could be worse than what we see now, and things can only get better from here.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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