Homefield Advantage For Russia
With the closing ceremony of the 22nd Winter Olympic Games last Sunday, the most expensive Olympics games to date finally came to an end. For all of the initial problems and criticisms that Putin and the Russian Olympic committee had to deal with, the actual games that went on during the two weeks were relatively successful, especially for the Russians.
With a record total of 33 medals, 13 of them being gold, Russia’s Olympic athletes were first in total medals and gold medals, rising from the ashes of their embarrassing disaster at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where they managed only 3 gold medals and finished a mediocre sixth with 15 total medals. Up until the second week of the games however, Russia had only two gold medals and was near the bottom of the medal count standings.During the second half, Russia’s remaining athletes went on a medal binge and brought home the most medals and bragging rights for the country.
The Tale of Two Vic-tors: Russia’s Hired Guns
An interesting fact from the Sochi Olympics: Almost half of Russia’s gold medals were won by two men, both of whom were not actually born in Russia. Korean-born speedskater Victor Ahn and US-born snowboarder Victor Wild won a total of 5 gold medals. Both Ahn and Wild were unable to compete with their original countries and were subsequently recruited and funded by the Russian Olympic team. Wild was out of a spot in the Olympics after the US shut down its alpine snowboarding program. Instead of retiring he decided to leave the country, married a Russian snowboarder, and then applied for Russian citizenship to compete in Sochi.
Ahn on the other hand, left South Korea’s speedskating program due to injuries and the plethora of younger speedskaters that South Korea had available to them. Ahn had suffered a fractured knee in 2008 and had failed to qualify for the South Korean team during their Olympic trials in 2010. Since it was made clear that South Korea would not take a chance on a incredibly decorated but injured star, Ahn decided to move on and compete for Russia. He ended up winning three golds and one bronze, and cemented his legacy as one of the greatest short track speedskaters ever.
The two foreign born athletes raised some criticism from the international community that Russia was importing it’s Olympic success rather than using it’s own talent pool. Without the medals from Ahn and Wild, the Russians would’ve dropped to 5th in the Gold medal count with 8 (Although in overall medal count it would’ve still been one medal higher than second place Norway). Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko was forced to reassure the international community that Russia would not rely on imported foreigners to win Olympic medals. Russia technically won those medals, but it wasn’t an exclusively Russian effort.
But it wasn’t just the foreign imports that brought glory to Russia. Russia produced plenty of it’s own athletes that showed their talent in Sochi. In a very controversial result, 17 year old Adelina Sotnikova edged out heavy favorite and reigning champion Kim Yuna of South Korea in the women’s short program for figure skating. Despite an online petition being signed worldwide protesting the results, Sotnikova kept her gold medal for Russia.
Russia’s flagbearer from the opening ceremony, Alexander Zubkov, won the last medal of the Olympics for the Russians in the 4 man bobsled. Up against the likes of reigning Olympic champ in Steven Holcomb (USA) and Latvian great Oskars Melbardis, Zubkov proved to be the man to beat, and he was completely untouchable. It was his second gold medal in the Olympics, having won the two man bobsled a few days earlier. He was the sixth bobsled pilot ever to sweep those two events in the Olympics and the only bobsledder to win both in his home country.
Despite all the signature moments of triumph for the host nation, they didn’t win every medal that they wanted. To read Part II where we take a look at those Olympians who failed to deliver the goods to Putin, CLICK HERE