MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Dmitry Medvedev ordered Russian Olympic officials to quit or be fired on Monday and demanded drastic changes to training procedures after a poor showing at the Winter Games dented national pride.
Once mighty Russia limped in 11th in the medals table with just three golds, its worst ever tally. The result was especially embarrassing because Russia is due to host the next Winter Olympics in 2014 at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
“Those responsible should take the brave decision and sign a letter (of resignation),” Medvedev said in televised comments. “If they can’t we will help them.”
“We must drastically change the training of our athletes, judging by what has happened in Vancouver,” he said, complaining at what he described as colossal spending before the Games.
“The athlete, not federations, those fat cats, must be given priority,” Medvedev said.
At the Turin games in 2006, Russia was in the top five, with 22 medals, including eight golds, demonstrating a continuation of the sporting prowess that the Soviet Union had developed to symbolize its superpower vitality.
“For a long time we have benefited from Soviet achievements. At some point they ran out. We have lost the Soviet sports school, it is simply gone, but we have not formed our own system,” Medvedev said.
Russians who stayed up all night to watch the Games had their hopes crushed when their ice hockey team lost in the quarter finals and the renowned figure skating team failed to win a single gold.
“It’s very upsetting, especially as our patriotism has been linked to sporting achievements,” said Olga, a sports fan who works for a Moscow marketing organization.
“There are so many questions, about where the training money went, about what will happen in Sochi, but not many answers.”
Opposition politicians had already demanded resignations and the media raised doubts about Russia’s preparedness to stage the Sochi games and the ability of its athletes to use the home advantage to triumph.
“In order to avoid a national disgrace, you could relocate the Olympic Games to another country,” wrote one analyst in the daily Vremya Novostei.
State-controlled broadcasters led their main Sunday evening bulletins with reports highlighting the poor training facilities for athletes and echoed earlier comments from the country’s paramount leader, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
“Of course we expected more from our team,” Putin said, while the games were nearing their close on Friday. “But that’s not cause to throw up our hands, wear a sackcloth and ashes or beat ourselves with chains.”
Editing by Angus MacSwan