July 01, 2000

From Atlanta to Sydny

The “mighty Soviet colossus” once excelled at many things. But today, it is only in sports that Russia has retained anything like its former glory on the world stage. As three-time Olympic Champion Alexander Karelin said recently, “if in all other spheres we are ‘done’ and ‘smashed,’ in the world sports arena Russia hasn’t yet given up its position.”

Logically, this does not make sense, however. The Russian government is spending relatively little to support its athletes—just $20 mn on the national Olympic team, vs. Australia’s $200 mn or the US Olympic Committee’s $1 bn. And yet, the Russian Olympic Committee is still making “medal plans,” just like in the halcyon days of Soviet Sport, when Soviet athletes regularly out-medaled their Cold War rivals from the US, providing a non-military yardstick with which to measure the superpowers’ prowess.

“There is nothing to be ashamed of when making such plans,” said Anatoly Kolesov, the Olympic wrestling champion who is now head of the Russian National Olympic Committee’s Operational Headquarters for the 2000 Olympics. “Everyone makes such prognoses—us, the Americans, the Germans, the Chinese. At present, we forecast three groups of Olympic leaders—the Russians and Americans will each win approximately 35-37 gold medals and 85-87 medals overall; Germany and China: 23-25 and 82-84, respectively; Australia and France: 20-22 golds and 55-60 total medals.”

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