(HOST) Commentator John Morton has some friendly advice for the Russian President – about the best way to prepare for the next Winter Olympics.
(MORTON) I sympathize with President Medvedev, and his frustration over the performance of Russia’s Olympians at the recent Vancouver Games. In a bold move, he has publicly demand the resignation of Russia’s Olympic administrators. And I can relate to that, since I was a competitor and have ever since been involved in biathlon, the only Olympic sport in which the USA has never won a medal.
But I don’t think Russia’s Olympic problems can be cured by a simple change in personnel. In my view, the current state of affairs is a result of at least three major factors, none of which will be easily resolved. The first is the double challenge created by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I remember speaking with one of my friends on the Soviet biathlon team back in the mid-70’s. He explained that the Olympics were relatively easy for him because, in those days he only had to beat three of his Soviet teammates, a handful of Scandinavians and a couple of central Europeans.
Getting there was the hard part. With 120,000 registered biathlon competitors in the Soviet Union at that time, there were often dozens of other Soviets who might beat him at their national championships or Olympic tryouts. That changed dramatically in 1990 when competitors from the former Soviet republics of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, Belorus, Kazakstan, and others no longer competed for the Soviet Union. Even worse, almost overnight they were competing against Russia.
Then there was the loss of hundreds of highly qualified coaches who had been the backbone of the Soviet sports dynasty. They took their knowledge and passion for sport to the nascent Olympic movements in their new nations. And with the emergence of a democratic government in Moscow, many other experienced coaches accepted offers to coach in the west. To some degree, we here in the States owe at least some of our improved results in Nordic skiing to several former Russian coaches who have relocated to America.
I also believe that Russian results have slipped because drug testing has become more sophisticated. I suspect that unethical Russian athletes, coaches and sports doctors, desperate to maintain the façade of international sporting dominance, some time ago succumbed to winning by whatever means necessary – including illegal doping. Prior to the Bejing and Vancouver Olympics, dozens of cheaters were caught, an alarming number of them Russians.
Finally, I think the medal count is actually the wrong goal. A better focus would be to influence the organizers of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, to insure that they are fair and well organized, that the natural beauty of that region is featured, and that the hospitality and generosity of the Russian people is made evident to visitors and television viewers alike. If that happens, Sochi will be a tremendous success – and no one will care about the medal count.