During a stellar floor exercise of the silver medalists at the women’s gymnastics event in Beijing this week, the classic Russian tune “Dark Eyes” reverberated through the stadium.
Team America was on the floor.
Nastia Liukin was raised in Texas, where her father operates a gymnastics academy. She speaks flawless American English and studies at Southern Methodist University. But her father and mother were both Soviet gymnasts, born and raised in the USSR, so the Russian music was appropriate as she helped the United States take a silver medal after parrying valiantly with China for gold, two of its leading team members laid low by injuries at the last moment.
The contrast between Nastia and another Olympian expat, Becky Hammon, could not be more stark. Becky, a U.S. citizen and a member of the San Antonio Silver Stars professional basketball team, is competing for Russia although she doesn’t have a drop of Russian blood, doesn’t speak Russian and has never lived in Russia — a country that both before and after the Olympics she couldn’t give rat’s ass about. She has no more intention of moving to Russia than tennis star Maria Sharapova does.
While Nastia’s family chose to live in the United States (much the same way Sharapova’s family did), the only reason Hammon is playing for Russia is that she wasn’t good enough to be selected for the dominant U.S. national team and was desperate for a shot at an Olympic medal. Russia, it seems, is equally desperate, and doesn’t care how it gets one (Russia’s men’s national team has also relied on an American import to reach international success, as we’ve previously reported).
So Russia had no problem handing “citizenship” to Hammon so she could compete for “Russia” and increase Russia’s chances of competing for a medal even though Hammon refers to herself as an “All-American girl.” The bizarre nature of this relationship of convenience, with Hammon knowing and caring nothing about Russian culture and Russia setting aside its rabid hatred of forgeigners generally and Americans in particular for the sake of nationalistic greed, serves to emphasize profoundly the chasm between the U.S. and Russia in terms of social status.
Unforunately, Russia’s attitude towards citizenship isn’t nearly as flexible where dark-skinned people such as those in Chechnya (or for that matter China) are concerned. Those folks get murdered on sight in the subways no matter what passport they hold.
Tens of millions wait patiently for years to enter the “golden door” of the U.S.A., including tens of thousands from Russia. Travel to San Francisco or New York City and you can visit large “little Russia” communities filled with recent immigrants. Go to Moscow or St. Petersburg and try to find “little America.” Good luck with that — there isn’t one. Nobody from any remotely civilized country, who isn’t a Russian being kicked out of a former Soviet state where they are no longer wanted, is waiting for a chance to become a Russian citizen. And that’s just fine with Russians, because unlike in America foreigners are simply not wanted in neo-Soviet Russia.
Except, that is, when Russians can try to use them to manipulate the system and reap illusory ego gains in athletic competitions.
In the last Olympics, the U.S.A. won the individual all-around gymnastics competitions on both the men’s and women’s sides using athletes who were born in the country, conclusively showing that it doesn’t need foriegn imports to win gold. This year, Russia was totally shut out of the team medal count in both men’s and women’s events, while America stood on the women’s silver medal podium with a Russian in their midst.
Currently, Russia is in a pathetic 7th place in the overall medal count, with nearly 1/3 the total medals of China and the U.S. Tiny Georgia has the same number of gold medals as Russia.
So this is how Russia chooses to eke out its existence. Instead of actually building a country that foreigners would want to come and live in, Russia prefers to rely on illusions and outright fraud the same way the old USSR did.
Can we expect Russia’s fate to be any different than that of the USSR?