Russia’s Paralympic breakthrough in Vancouver
After just three days of competition, the team has won fifteen medals, which is twice more than that of its closest rival, Ukraine.
The Russians’ success is way ahead of expectations, with the country’s athletes only being favorites in two of the five Paralympic events.
However, they are not getting carried away, as there is still more work to be done.
“We will celebrate after the competition is over and for now concentrate on the rest of the Games. I’m glad that we are in first place – it is exactly what we expected,” says Nikolay Polukhin, two time 2010 Paralympic silver medalist.
“I don’t think this is the limit,” adds Anna Burmistrova, two time gold medalist. “We can do even better and lead over other teams. I really want to believe it and hope it will happen.”
After the third day, Russian Paralympians have racked up six gold, six silver and three bronze medals in contrast to the country’s Olympic team, which came away with a meager three gold at the same venue just weeks ago.
The sixth place result turned out to be the worst-ever performance for Russia at the Winter Games.
Their failure was not for lack of funding, having spent 3.5 billion roubles ($120 million) on preparing the team for glory.
Concern about the dismal performance has gone right to the top in Russia, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggesting that the money was either wrongly invested by those in charge of the Olympic effort, or spent according to their own whims.
Heads have rolled, but some sports analysts say it is a mystery how the cash was spent.
“Give one person a rouble, and he might double it, and then increase it even more, helping him and others along the way,” says sport commentator Vasily Solovyev. “Give another guy ten roubles and he wouldn’t be able to do anything at all. So it’s very important to control spending, or lack of it, because I really don’t understand where the money went.”
It is not only the money, however, but motivation also which breeds success.
Disability means that every Paralympian has to face a daily battle in their lives.
Some believe the Games have given them the added hunger and determination for success – something missing from their able-bodied sporting counterparts.
“Just like in Russia, Paralympians in Canada or the US are also limited as to what they can do,” says Vasily Solovyev. “The reason that we win is that our disabled persons lead a completely different life. In those countries, Paralympic athletes are usually calm, self-assured and financially stable. For our athletes, competition is like a door that rarely opens, and when they get through they are ready to conquer and win.”
Russia’s desire for Olympic success will be intense in four years’ time when the country hosts the Winter Games in Sochi. Those in charge might take a leaf or two out of the Paralympic team’s book.