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Russia's Olympic 'humiliation'

By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
BBC News, Moscow

In a country that spends half the year shrouded in snow the Winter Olympics is a very big deal indeed. Russians expect great things of their Winter Olympians, and in the past they have not been disappointed.

Canada celebrate

Canada stun Russia in men's ice hockey

From the 1950s to the 1980s the Soviet Union led the medals table at seven Winter Games.

The Soviet ice hockey team won virtually every Olympic and World Championship for four decades. And in figure skating a Soviet or Russian pair has won gold at every Olympics since 1964.

But this week in Vancouver Russia has watched as its team heads for Olympic humiliation.

When Russia's figure skating super star Evgeni Plushchenko failed to win gold he, and many Russians, refused to accept the result.

"Unfair marking" by the judges had stolen victory from him, he said.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladmir Putin agreed, sending a telegram calling him a "true champion".

But on Thursday night there was no questioning the result. Russia's ice hockey stars were comprehensively defeated by Canada by a resounding 7-3.

Losing at figure skating is one thing. But ice hockey is a Russian national obsession.

"We didn't just lose, we lost tremendously, historically," wrote Russian TV presenter Vladmir Solovyov on his blog.

"Russia was thrashed by Canada," wrote another commentator on the popular website Gazeta.ru. "We have completely failed in Vancouver."

Olympic 'tourists'

Mr Putin is a fanatical sportsman. He has vowed repeatedly to rebuild Russia's sporting prowess.

Russian sports officials thought they had created a secret formula. Spend millions on PR, and promise athletes top dollars for winning. It turns out it takes more than this to win medals

Russian commentator

Over the past 10 years his government has spent millions of dollars on new training programmes. Now people are starting to ask why there is nothing to show for it.

"Before the games the government propaganda machine convinced Russians that they should expect triumph in Vancouver," wrote another commentator on Gazeta.ru.

"Russian sports officials thought they had created a secret formula. Spend millions on PR, and promise athletes top dollars for winning. It turns out it takes more than this to win medals"

Meanwhile, Mr Solovyov has turned his ire on the multitude of Russian sports officials attending the Olympics in Vancouver.

"Our sportsmen are forced to hasten home, as there is no money for an extra night in a hotel," he writes.

"Instead high-ranking 'tourists' arrive. How many of these 'people's servants', their wives and lovers are at the games?" he asks. "And who is paying for all of this?"

None of this bodes particularly well for the next winter Olympics in 2014.

On Sunday the Olympic torch will be passed on from Vancouver to the city of Sochi. For the first time ever the Winter Olympics is coming to Russia.

But with three days to go, its athletes have won just three gold medals, only one more than very unwintry Australia.



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see also
Canada thrash Russia to make semi
25 Feb 10 |  Ice hockey
US stun Canada in hockey showdown
22 Feb 10 |  Ice hockey
Winter Olympics weather
26 Feb 10 |  Vancouver 2010


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