November 01, 2004

Shooting for Gold



In the morning of August 24, less than one week before the Olympic Games were set to end, the Russian National Team, despite winning six golds, was in 11th place in the overall medal count, trailing not only the US, China and Australia, but also Romania and Ukraine. Talk raged about a Russian Olympic fiasco. But then there was a breakthrough. In the last two days, Russia won 10 gold medals in wrestling, boxing, track and field and artistic gymnastics. As a result, the team ended up third in the overall medal count. Now that the dust has settled on the Athens games, Mikhail Ivanov suggests it is time to examine the lessons Russia must heed, if it is to remain in the ranks of the world’s sports elite – without having to count on miracles, that is.

The sports elite comes
from the masses

“It’s all too logical,” the brethren of Russian journalists joked in Athens. “They shoot editors, governors and legislators en masse in Mother Russia now, so now we have our first gold medal – in shooting [won by Alexei Alipov].” Indeed, Russia’s marksmen were the country’s only victors during the first, dark days in Athens. The journalists’ humor may be black, but, as they say, in every joke there is an element of truth. And it is hard to argue with the simple axiom: results in elite sports depend on the development of the sport among the masses. When was Russian soccer at its peak? In the 1950s and 1960s, when Russian boys were kicking around balls after school as devotedly as kids in Brooklyn today play basketball. When did Russian hockey dominate? In the 1970s and 1980s, when skating rinks were being built in every Russian dvor and pucks were regularly breaking first floor windows in apartment houses. Now, hockey rinks are vacant and it is only empty plastic bottles of Klinskoye beer that bounce off neighborhood windows. Meanwhile, it is mainly hounds and not youth that are “doing their thing” on soccer pitches. So, can the journalists really be blamed for their macabre humor?


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