November 01, 2000

Olympic Dreams

Olympic Dreams

The untold story of the 2000 Sydney Olympics is this: the winner in the overall medals race was not the US, but the USSR. Sure, the USSR no longer exists, but that is just “a technicality.” The lingering shadow of the huge Soviet Athletic Machine was apparent at Sydney. Taken together, the states that once comprised the Soviet Union brought home a total of 163 medals, 48 of them gold (see chart, page 20). And this does not even count former Soviet athletes competing for non-CIS states (including the US) ...

Of course, today, 9 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, little is left of the Soviet Athletic Machine. Heavy state funding is gone and so is the promotion of talent at the grassroots level “regardless of family income.” There are still some leftovers from the infrastructure and the coaching staff, but lots of sportsmen no longer subordinate their individual interests to those of the team. Which is why head coach of the Russian handball team, Vladimir Maximov (who brought the Unified CIS team a gold in Barcelona-92 and now a second gold in Sydney) said he cannot take a vacation. “Because when you come back from vacation, you may find neither the sports sites nor the players,” he quipped.

Nostalgia aside, even given the travails of the past decade, Russia proved its mettle in Sydney, coming in a strong second in the overall medals ranking. Such an outcome was not a foregone conclusion. Early in the games, Russia was in ninth place, and with just three days to go, Russia trailed both the US and China. But a strong final weekend, where Russian won more golds (8) in one day than any other country on any other day at Sydney, pushed Russia into second place.

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