LONDON (Reuters) - Russia will catch up in the last days of the London Olympics and win at least another 15 gold medals before the closing ceremony on August 12, the team’s deputy chief Mikhail Kusnirovich said on Monday.
Kusnirovich, who is also the chairman of retail group Bosco, the team’s official kit supplier, said Russia traditionally won four fifths of their gold medals in the final days of competition, when medals are given out in the sports at which Russians excel.
On Day 10, Russia have so far won just five gold medals, 17 silver and 15 bronze, triggering a discussion about whether sports are being developed properly at a grassroots level in the country that will host the Winter Olympics in two years.
Russia’s best performance since the breakup of the Soviet Union was 32 gold medals at the Sydney Games in 2000.
“The hope is for 23 to 25 gold medals,” Kusnirovich told Reuters.
“I think we can win at least 20 gold medals and that would be great,” said Kusnirovich, whose relaxed manner is a far cry from that of the stereotypical Soviet-era sports administrator.
“In the last five days we will catch up. Then we will win 80 percent of our gold medals. There is still synchronized swimming, wrestling and gymnastics.”
Kusnirovich’s company also provides kit to the Ukraine and Spain Olympic teams, seeking to exploit the global television audience at the Games to enter the European retail market.
He said Russian athletes should not be stressed.
“We want to demonstrate that Russia is not just vodka, bears and tanks,” said the burly entrepreneur with a loud laugh.
“I want to see smiles and they should not be under stress to win. Our motivation is to win in a friendly and clean way.”
For Kusnirovich, more medals means more cash.
“I am personally very happy when a Russian athlete is on the podium. More medals is better business, more sales,” he said.
“I am not disappointed if it is not gold. It can be silver or bronze.”
Bosco, which has produced Russia’s kit since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, have a vested interest in Russian sports with 75 Bosco shops already in existence back home, in Ukraine and in Britain.
The company will be providing the official uniforms for Sochi, Russia’s first Winter Olympics, as well as for the 2014 torch relay, and designing the overall look of the Games.
Their trademark vibrant swirling patterns have attracted attention since the 2006 Turin Olympics. But the comments have not always been flattering.
The uniforms did not enjoy a positive reception in Spain, in particular, and Spaniards also asked why a Russian company was the official kit-maker.
“Our kits are unusual and different,” said Kusnirovich. “They are quite unforgettable. No one can say they did not see them. They may like them or not like them but they cannot say they have gone unnoticed.”
As for those who questioned the selection of Bosco for Spain, Kusnirovich pointed out his company was paying the Spanish Olympic Committee, and not the other way around.
“That is a question that should be answered by Spanish authorities. Spain does not spend money. It gets money. We do not take away Spanish jobs, we create jobs,” he said.
Kusnirovich said the company would open up two shops in the coming months in Madrid and Barcelona, viewing Spain as a gateway to South America.
“That is the reason for going to Spain. Rio de Janeiro hosts the 2016 Olympics. So Spain is like the patriarch for South America.”
He said the company, which already supports several Russian sports federations, was also looking to sign up individual athletes, including tennis players, as well as other Olympic national teams.
“We have good relations with the former Soviet republics. We are in talks with Serbia and Scandinavian countries,” he said.
“We started with Olympics and for us that is a top marketing case.”
Editing by Sonya Hepinstall