Exposing Russian Failure at the Olympics

Writing in the Moscow Times columnist Georgy Bovt makes the point we made a week ago, namely that Russia failed miserably, by its own standards, at the Beijing Olympiad (it didn’t even play soccer, its men’s basketball collapsed in humiliating fashion, it was whipped head-to-head by the USA in men’s volleyball and women’s basketball, and it failed to produce a single memorable athletic performance).  And then he explains why this happened, seeing a connection between the fact that Russia is a sick nation (its male population doesn’t reach age 60 on average) and its lame atheletic performance.  A certain insane commenter who shall be nameless (because he is brainless) previously claimed nobody but LR could claim Russia had failed in Beijing, so although our mission is in fact to be far ahead of the curve on Russia, we admit to a special relish in publishing this post.  We’d say nice try, dummy, but it wasn’t even close. Those who rationalize failure in Russia are its worst enemies. Those who call up on it to rise and meet challenges are its best friends.

With the Olympic Games over, we can now take a look at whether Russia achieved the status of athletic superpower.  Unfortunately, our athletes did not fulfill the medals quota set by the president of the Russian Olympic Committee, Leonid Tyagachyov. Russia’s track and field athletes were the only ones to meet the quota, largely because a modern stadium was built in Irkutsk for them to train in before the games so they could adapt to the Beijing time zone.

This raises the question of the connection between the country’s third-place finish at the Olympic Games and the low level of support for athletics and fitness among the general population. As before, most bureaucrats who oversee the country’s athletics sector believe that there is almost no connection. They are convinced that the government can create national Olympic champions by recruiting highly paid trainers and by investing a lot of money in a few select athletes and teams.

This is a flawed approach. Widespread involvement in sports at all levels is the best way to breed future champions. Although the government indeed might be able to find a handful of talented athletes among the few good sports programs scattered around the country, for a better selection, athletic programs need to be instituted nationwide, and they should include a full range of sports. Parents should want to involve their children in them — not because they want them to become future Olympic champions, but because it is a healthy activity in and of itself.

In Britain, a country with a population less than half that of Russia, you cannot find a school without an diverse sports program that goes far beyond soccer and rugby.

It is the same in the United States, where sports long ago became an integral part of popular culture. I remember visiting a large sports complex at Ohio State University. It had a stadium comparable in size to Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium. At the university’s numerous athletic facilities, I saw hundreds of students working out on various fitness machines, running on the track, swimming in three different pools, playing tennis on a dozen courts and playing soccer on three separate fields. University sports programs are also ideal breeding grounds for future champions. What’s more, no U.S. tennis champion has ever come to Russia to train, although Russia’s champions often train in the United States.

I was also impressed after my visit to Beijing, where I saw hundreds of thousands of people doing calisthenics in the parks, playing ping-pong or badminton and running. This was the nation’s breeding ground for China’s first-place finish in the Olympics.

In Russia, people who want to play a sport run into huge difficulties because there are so few public athletic facilities available. Although many private health clubs have opened in the last few years, they are hardly affordable to Russia’s middle and lower classes.

As a result, the overwhelming majority of young Russians do not have the athletic opportunities that even the poorest American children enjoy. When Russian teenagers hang out in their courtyards looking for recreation, they are limited for the most part to listening to music, smoking and drinking beer together. They have to look very hard to find even a rundown outdoor basketball court within 2 kilometers of their home.

As long as this is the situation in courtyards across the country, we will never become a healthy nation — not to mention an athletic superpower.

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8 responses to “Exposing Russian Failure at the Olympics

  1. With all due respect. The article is (implicitly) more about, the Russian state providing little support for its athletes in comparison to others not the failure so much- after all Russia finished third in terms of gold medals. One should also note that both in the USA and the UK- where I live, although there are a lot of people involved in sport (I still doubt if it as many as in the USA as a percentage) there is also an astronomical number of severely overweight people that have nothing to do with sport, or almost any form of physical movement, far greater than in other countries that are more or less as wealthy.

    LA RUSSOPHOBE RESPONDS: With all due respect, you’re simply wrong. Lack of support is the REASON Russia did not meet its OWN EXPECTATIONS for medals in ANY CATEGORY except track and field. Moreover, failure to support IS FAILURE. Duh. You ignore Russia’s total failure in team sports and its total lack of star athletes who captivate the world’s imagination. You ignore the HUGE gap between Russia and second place in the medal count; it was DOMINATED by the USA and China, as well as its pathetically low gold medal tally. In short, you did not give a fair reader to either post. You rationalize Russian failure instead of calling for improvement. As such, you are an enemy of Russian success. Your own personal impressions are totally meaningless. You give no data to support them.

  2. 1) I don’t know what Russia’s expectations were, they might have been totally unrealistic. Moreover it is not clear what the difference between expected and won medals is. It is one thing to expect five medals and win three and another to expect four and win three, these things happen.
    2) There is no reference to failure to support. In paragraph 3 there is mention of a flawed approach, an approach that wasn’t successful (?)
    not cutting down on spending due to a lack of money. It is more a matter of choice.
    3) I may ignore Russia’s failure in team sports but you also ignore its record in total medals. As I allegedly ignore the huge gap between Russia and second place in medal count you likewise ignore the difference between the USA and first place in terms of gold medals which you yourself emphasized in your article. Duh… ( or should I say Да)
    4) What do you mean when you say i did not give a fair reader to either post? Is there a word missing here?
    5)Define pathetically low gold medal tally. Low in terms of what? Population, GDP per medal? What? It would still be better than the USA in terms of both. In fact both China and the USA would lag behind many countries in terms of the above. Does that mean the UK also has a pathetically low tally of gold medals?
    6) I am an enemy of Russian success? You’ve got a blog titled LARUSSOPHOBE not me.
    7) I rationalize because I use my brain that’s all.
    It’s what most normal people do.
    8) My own personal impressions are not the subject of this article nor my comment. If anybody wants to they can google up something on obesity in the USA and the UK.
    P.S. Please don’t be so insulting next time.

  3. I lived in Russia for 5 years and I don’t think I ever saw a single tennis court. Then I realized they were just hiding them in Florida.

  4. General Khlynov

    Well, if Bovt is right, Russia’s performance is even more impressive: considering how little support there is for sports in Russia, particularly when compared to the US, it is amazing it has won – per capita – more medals than the US.

    Divide population by medals, and the country with the smaller result has done better – less people per medal.

    Again, La Russophobe was wrong – and Bovt makes it even more clear why that is so.

    Less support per capita – more medals per capita.

    From this perspective, China did actually quite lousy.

    Argue your way out of this one, Russophobe (if you dare).

  5. Golds medals were won as follows:

    China – 51
    USA – 36
    Russia – 23

    Firstly I don’t see how 23 golds can be seen as ‘pathetic’. Secondly the US in second place is closer to the Russian 3rd place total (a gap of 13) than it is to the Chinese 1st place total (a gap of 15). Of course if you take the total number of medals than there is a more substantial gap: USA 110, China 100, Russia 72. Is this really so bad, though? In terms of medals per head of population or per unit of GDP Russia vastly outperformed either USA or China. Russia is not the Soviet Union but a middle income nation of 140 million, well under half the US population. Why on earth should this particular nation be considered to be a failure for not ‘dominating’ the games or for not being in the first two? And it wasn’t only on track and field – to give just one example they won all three medals in women’s tennis. The Russian public may well have had unrealistic expectations of their team. Not meeting unrealistic expectations does not constitute failure.

    Fianlly why do you keep using the word ‘total’ all the time – ‘total failure’, ‘total lack’, etc. ? Are you ex-Trots or something? .

  6. During the Cold War period, the Soviet Union and East Germany owned the Summer Olympiad, in part because the two were in a firm position to economically afford to feed, train, and house prime athletes. In those years, the second- and third-place U.S. howled that the USSR was unfairly coddling it’s amateur athletes. Today the U.S. olympians live in the lap of luxury and are overnight millionaires, and yet we hear no such condemnation of our athletes on the part of our ordinary people–even though our middle-class is significantly declining and in danger of becoming obsolete.

    You would’ve known this if you had completed your history lessons, La Russophobe. Indeed it’s highly likely you’re too young to recall our past successes (should I say “unsuccesses”?) in the Olympic Games, my friend. Obviously you weren’t alive when the Russians and East Germans owned us in the Summer Olympics–to say nothing of the Winter Games.

  7. To M.R.:

    You have obviously never heard of a little performance-booster known as STEROIDS, now have you? How can you not even know about how athletes were doped up in Soviet-bloc countries, especially in East Germany? Why do you think they were able to win so many gold medals, you ignoramus?

  8. I would like to know why the subject of obesity is so prominent.

    In my humble opinion, I would rather live in a country that has enough food to feed even the most spoiled poor people the world has ever known, than live in a country that decides that you have to go on a diet, so you don’t get the same rations.

    It’s all relative isn’t it.

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