Russia embraces role as Beijing dark horse
By Matt Hodges (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-08-14 07:00
It will take a stroke of luck to edge past China and the US on the gold medal table at the Beijing Games but Russia thinks it's a chance as the 2008 Olympics' dark horse.
The home country's neighbor believes it can spring a few surprises at the games which already is widely considered a three-horse race.
"They are the two countries most likely to be on top, but who is going to win? We shall see. Hopefully they will leave us some chances," Lev Savin, Russia's deputy chef de mission, said in reference to the Chinese and American teams during an exclusive interview with China Daily.
"We hope that maybe we'll be second or even first.
"We will be fighting, and we will be doing our best to be among the top two."
Russia (27) finished third in the gold medal count at the 2004 Athens Games behind the US (36) and China (32) but ranked second overall in the total tally.
Even the British Olympic Association has acknowledged the big three won't be beaten when London stages the 2012 games, while the US is tipping China to win at home next year.
Savin called 30 gold medals a realistic target for Russia in 2008 but added that 32 was "too little" for China.
The US mined 20 golds from just two sports in Athens, track and field (8) and swimming (12), and has shown no sign of loosening its grip on either sport at recent world championships.
Russia will prepare furiously to improve its chances of triggering a "miracle" in Beijing after by packing its squad off to a final two-week training session in Siberia in the country's far east next year, where the climate and time zone are similar to those in China's capital.
"Say, in diving, if a miracle happens and China only wins five or six gold medals, then we can win two or three more, but personally I think China will get all eight," Savin said.
"If we can beat the US and China in shooting and artistic gymnastics, then we will have some advantage."
Russia will focus on poaching medals from its two chief rivals within this golden triangle but acknowledges that China's grip on badminton, table tennis and light-to-middle-class weightlifting is "impossible to beat".
Meanwhile, China seized its maiden Olympic medals - both the most precious colour - in tennis and canoeing at the Athens Games, both sports the 1980 Olympic host is targeting. Archery is also in the former Soviet Union's cross hairs.
Notable, China has recruited Josef Capousek, one of the world's most successful coaches, to train its canoeing team in a bid to further raise its prospects.
Savin said nothing could be taken for granted given his rival's secretive sports regime.
"We only know of one track-and-field athlete, but maybe China has some secret weapons and they'll show them in Osaka," he said, referring to the world championships in Japan later this month.
Like China, Russia benefits from extensive state funding and contributions from local governments.
Since 2005 it has been rapidly upgrading sports facilities nationwide to improve its people's health on an unprecedented scale, a project that took on greater resonance when Sochi won last month's bid to host the 2014 Winter Games.
Last week US Olympic committee sports performance head Steve Roush said the ramifications of this project, and similar moves by China, would be felt at future Games. But Beijing may be a step too soon.
"In two years it is impossible to prepare good athletes," Savin said.
"But yes, maybe we will be stronger in the future.
(China Daily 08/14/2007 page22)