Russians retrench for Sochi Olympics

Vanquished in Vancouver, but home-based Games beckon

As Russia enters a bitter postmortem over the poor performance of its sports teams at the Vancouver Winter Olympics — where it came sixth in the medals table — preparations for television coverage of the next Games it will host in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in 2014 are still in the early stages.

After a Winter Games in which Russian athletes won just three gold medals — the smallest number since 1994 — President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a review of training.

Medvedev — who canceled plans to attend the Feb. 28 closing of the Games, saying he was “too busy” — hinted that heads would roll unless trainers and officials deemed responsible for the debacle stepped down.

“Those responsible for the team’s training for the Olympic Games must answer, now. They must have the courage to step down. If they haven’t, we will help them,” Medvedev told members of Russia’s ruling United Russia party the day after the Vancouver Games ended.

In that atmosphere, Russian broadcasters kept their heads down, while the head of Russia’s Olympics committee, Leonid Tyagachev, had reportedly checked into the hospital after his return from Vancouver for treatment of pneumonia — his wife, Tatiana Tyagachev, told reporters he was “not responsible” for the team’s poor results.

A source who wished to remain anonymous at the country’s top public station, Channel One, says it is “too early” to talk of preparations for television coverage of the Sochi Games, Russia’s first-ever Winter Olympics. Despite the fact that the Games are four years away — not a long time in terms of big TV event planning — no detailed planning sessions had yet taken place.

In Sochi, calls to the official organizing committee press “hotline” failed to go through, although an item on its website describing a visit last November of international sports journalists gave a glowing report of the progress being made on “key features … the Bolshoi Ice Palace, which will host ice hockey, and the Sochi Olympic Skating Center — the stage for figure skating and short-track speed skating in 2014.”

The Kremlin had allocated $7.6 billion this year for the construction of sports facilities, with some $580 million due to be spent building and modernizing telecommunications in the region — long a tourist area but not noted for its modern communications technology — and Jacques Rogge, head of the Intl. Olympics Committee says he is satisfied with the progress being made in preparing for the Games.