Russia’s Total, Olympian, Collapse
Even for a country whose history is littered with as many humiliating, disgraceful moments as Russia’s, the 2010 Winter Olympics were a startling new low. As we’ve often said, sport is a perfect metaphor for wider failure on the part of Russia’s incompetent Kremlin, and there are signs of a silver lining for Russia in this disaster: The government is catching plenty of flak from outraged, humiliated citizens, who at least for a few moments can see their naked emperor in all his inglorious shame, despite furious neo-Soviet attempts to lie, rationalize and otherwise explain away this pathetic failure. All intelligent Russians are asking: If the Kremlin has bungled Olympics preparation this badly, isn’t it possible it is bungling other things as well, things we don’t know about because the Kremlin won’t say? Whether Russians will carry this through to regime change is, of course, anybody’s guess.
Russians bragged about their expectation of a whopping 30 medals at the Vancouver Olympiad. In the last go-round, 2006 in Italy, Russia had collected 22 medals, 8 of them gold, so arrogant, preening Russians were expecting more than a one-third improvement on the way to the Sochi games of 2014 that Russia, if the world continues its insanity, will host. It sounded like crazily demented bluster to many of us, but we gave Russia the benefit of the doubt and waited to be impressed as Russia walked the walk. We remained silent.
Yet, when the dust had settled, Russian athletes clutched just 15 total medals, only 3 of them gold, a one-third reduction in total medals, the exact opposite of what Russians had claimed would occur, and a two-thirds reduction in gold medals. The USA, by contrast, won 25 medals in 2006, and improved to a whopping, devastating 37 medals in Vancouver, significantly enhancing its own medal count without any advance bluster. In other words, it was the USA, not Russia, that ended the games actually doing what Russia had claimed, holding more than 30 Olympic medals. Ouch.
Russia did not even make the top 10 in the gold medal count, coming in at #11, and placed 6th in the total medal count — Russian officials had openly admitted that anything worse than 4th place would have meant absolute failure for Russia at the games. The US finished in dominant first place in the count, with three times more gold medals and more than twice as many total medals as Russia. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.
And even if Russia had actually won the 30 or more medals it planned on (something neither Russia nor the USSR had ever done), the Olympiad would still have resulted in shame and disgrace for Russia beyond the worst stereotypes imaginable. One need look no further than the appalling misconduct and failure of Russian figure skater Yevgeny Plushenko to see the evidence.
Touted as one of Russia’s leading sportsmen, Plushenko engaged in shockingly vulgar taunting of his American rival before the medal contest was waged, lost, then made things even worse by shabbily attacking the victorious American like a thug from the gutter. Plushenko claimed that the American did not deserve to win gold because he did not perform a “quadruple” spin during his routine, but in fact the evidence shows with absolute clarity that long before the contest was staged the judges had already decided that the showy move was not essential to win. Even Russian experts agreed that Plushenko’s performance was inferior to the American. Faced with this proof, Plushenko cracked up completely and awarded himself a “platinum medal.” The media reaction was beyond scathing (phrases like “sore loser” and “whiny little bitch” were flying).
Plushenko was simply out-skated by his American opponent, and bitterly lashed out, unable to accept reality. And why should he, when his own government supported his shocking, vulgar antics. KGB strongman Vladimir Putin himself lashed out at the “anti-Russian” judges who “stole” Plushenko’s victory. Pravda was even more crude and pathetic. We find it genuinely sad that Russians can’t understand how these petty, neo-Soviet antics make them appear before a slack-jawed world. It seems the Russian dictionary lacks an entry under “sportsmanship.” Maybe, the word doesn’t even exist in the Russian language.
And then it got worse. Oh, so very much worse.
Plushenko, at least, took home a silver medal. In Russia’s most prized event, pairs figure skating, Russia did not manage any medal at all and the female half of its most potent team was . . . Japanese! In ice dancing, Russia settled for a pathetic bronze medal while watching Americans and Canadians take silver and gold respectively with performances that left the Russian pair eating dust.
There was more failure for Russia across the board in Vancouver, and before the first week was even out there was vicious Stalinesque sniping back home looking for scapegoats after a prediction had been made that Russia would take down 30 medals and had collected only a measly four. Even we Russophobes were embarrassed for Russia by Plushenko’s cowardly, childish behavior.
Russia failed to take any medal in the individual biathalon events, previously a Russian strong point, and its athletes blamed the weather. It was non-competitive in ladies figure skating, and it lost an early men’s match in hockey to Slovakia. Its women’s hockey team was brutally crushed by the United States and then by tiny Finland and then by even tinier Switzerland. Yes, Switzerland beat Russia in hockey. Ouch. By the end of the first week, Russian athletes had humiliated themselves in every event where they were viewed as highly competitive, every event that Russians held in highest regard, and failed to take any gold medal in figure skating for the first time in half a century.
Before his big match with Canada, Russia’s top Olympian, hockey star Alex Ovechkin, stated: “We have probably the best country in the world. Everything is the best: hockey players, cars, girls.” Now nobody, of course, can argue that the Lada, Volga and Zhiguli are far superior to the Mercedez, Lexus and Corvette. But as for the hockey players, it turned out that Ovechkin had spoken too soon.
In the middle of the second week of the Olympiad, the Russian men’s hockey team faced Canada in a quarter-finals elimination match. For only the second time in the past half century, the Russia side allowed four goals in a single period, the first. By the end of the second, Canada’s advantage was even larger than it had been after that historic first, up 4 goals compared to 3. The game had become an utter rout as Canada overwhelmed the hapless Russians in checking, muscling them off the puck and driving it again and again past the clueless Russian goalie. Russia never closed the four-goal gap, ultimately getting blown off the ice in one of the country’s most humiliating athletic defeats in its entire history.
It was only the second time in half a century that Russia had lost to Canada at the Olympics in hockey. Russia had been out-shot 28-42. An ocean of red-shirted Canadian fans in the stands went wild with jubilation. Russia would have no medal at all when, weeks before, its nationalists had arrogantly predicted gold. One dejected Russian player called it the country’s worst sport’s perfomance ever. The Wall Street Journal quoted Anton Berdov, a 22-year-old producer of television commercials, analyzing the debacle: “Maybe it’s because we’re Russians. For two years our guys are world champions, so they think they’re stars and lose their team spirit. It’s unbelievable, but this is the Russian mentality.”
Finally, so-called “president” Dima Medvedev put a sour cherry on this fetid sundae of failure by refusing to attend the closing ceremonies to claim the Olympic flag for Sochi, yet another shocking display of childish misconduct.
There is simply no way that Russia’s performance in the run-up to the Olympics it will host could have been any worse. Russia disgraced itself before the eyes of a slack-jawed world in every way imaginable, setting historic records for failure and poor sportsmanship, and it crawled away from the games with its tail between its legs.
This is what Vladimir Putin hath wrought. If Russians make him president for life, this is their future. The choice is theirs to make.