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Bitter lessons of the Vancouver games

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A ski marathon and the ice hockey finals, which are among the most spectacular winter sports, were held on the last day of the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

A ski marathon and the ice hockey finals, which are among the most spectacular winter sports, were held on the last day of the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

Russians did not participate, as Maxim Vylegzhanin and Alexander Legkov, although they fought valiantly to the last, did not receive any prizes, and the routing of the Russian hockey team in the quarterfinal is still a very painful memory, especially after Canada beat the Americans 3-2 in overtime of the decisive match.

At first the Americans were losing 0-2 but then they scored a goal and later tied it less than a minute before the end of the game, showing to everyone, including the Russians, how one must fight during the Olympics.

The Canadian ice hockey team, whose best games reminded me of the Soviet hockey triumphs, scored the sudden death goal in overtime and received Olympic gold.

The Olympic flag has been sent to Sochi, which will host the next winter games, the athletes have left, statisticians have entered their achievements and losses in their registers, and experts have started analyzing the games.

Canada set a new record with 14 gold medals, one medal more than the previous record-holders, the Soviet Union (Innsbruck 1976) and Norway (Salt Lake City 2002).

That record, just as the medals lists published during the Vancouver games, is considered unofficial because the International Olympic Committee does not keep an official record of the number of medals or scores won by the national teams. But the teams and countries do, finding a certain pride in leading such lists.

Canada has improved on the previous unofficial record largely with "support" from the Russian team, which won only three gold medals in Vancouver and ended 11th by the number of medals. This is an extremely poor result for a country that has always been considered, with good reason, one of the global leaders in sports capable of fighting for top places during the Olympic Games, world and European championships and other tournaments.

Russia's rivals have surged ahead while it has slowed down and is now running behind the North American (Canada and the U.S.), European (Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands) and Asian (South Korea and China) national teams. Canada has nearly five times more gold medals than Russia, the United States and Norway have three times more gold medals, while Germany has twice as many gold, silver and bronze medals as Russia.

Why? What have the Russian athletes done wrong? Sports officials, fearing that they would be fired, say there is nothing to worry about, that the Vancouver games were only a warm-up ahead of the Sochi Olympics. They also blame our losses on bad weather, ski wax and unsatisfactory meals, hard snow, managerial problems, a biased attitude of judges and doping control officers, and lack of experience. Outrageously, they say that the Russian team has won quite a few fourth places, which "is very close to medals."

But analysts will certainly reject all of these far-fetched reasons because all the other national teams had the same conditions but they still did better than the Russian athletes.

There are many young talents and good coaches in Russia, but the authorities have not created proper conditions for the training of top athletes (who live abroad for years, training in ski sprint and jumps and bobsleigh, skeleton and biathlon races). Nor is there a system in place for training children and teenagers.

The trouble is that too much attention is given to, and too much money is spent on the "high achievement sports," including for political reasons. Sports authorities are expected to ensure medals and records, and nobody wants to know how they do it.

The training of the Russian national team for the Olympics allegedly cost $1 billion, which is considerably more than the countries that surged ahead of Russia in Vancouver spent on their teams. I wonder if all of them taken together (Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands), which have won 97 medals, including 38 gold, 30 silver and 29 bronze, spent $1 billion on the training of their national teams?

The system of sports administration in Russia must be overhauled. Russia's National Olympic Committee says that it is a representative body that has nothing to do with training athletes. As for the Ministry of Sport, Tourism and Youth Policy, obviously it is too difficult for it to manage three sectors simultaneously; it has too many commitments and is overly preoccupied with getting as many medals as possible, neglecting its most important mission - to take good care of physical fitness and mass sport movement.

It is sports federations that should train athletes in their fields, as it is being done in the countries that did better and even those that did worse than Russia in Vancouver. It is also crucial that the sports federations are made completely autonomous and independent of double subordination.

Indeed, why should billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, the current president of the Russian Biathlon Union (RBU) who is investing considerable funds in this sport, and RBU Executive Director Sergei Kushchenko, Russia's best sports manager, be accountable to some ministry officials?

They know better which coach has the skills to apply modern standards and use progressive methods to gauge the potential of the athletes they see during numerous training sessions and competitions.

Alexander Gorbunov is a commentator with sports daily Sport Den za Dnyom.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

MOSCOW (Alexander Gorbunov for RIA Novosti)

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