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A Long Jump: Russia Claims Moral Victory From Rio Olympics

  • Tom Balmforth

Long jumper Dariya Klishina was the only member of the Russian athletics team allowed to compete.

Long jumper Dariya Klishina was the only member of the Russian athletics team allowed to compete.

MOSCOW -- Russia's medal haul at the Summer Olympics in Rio was the country's smallest since the 1912 games in Stockholm, but that did not deter various officials and pundits from spinning the result as a victory for Moscow -- or a moral one, at the least.

With much of its delegation, including nearly its entire track and field team, banned from competing due to a massive doping scandal, Russia placed fourth in the medal count behind the United States, the United Kingdom, and China.

Russia's tally of 56 medals --19 of them golds -- pales in comparison to the 78.8 medals it averaged in the five previous Summer Olympics that Russia has been in since the collapse of the Soviet Union. (Russia competed as the Unified Team with other former Soviet republics in 1992.)

Yet Moskovsky Komsomolets took a positive line, noting that Team Russia's fourth-place finish in terms of gold medals was the same as in London 2012. (Russia finished third in the overall medal count in London.)

"We got a brilliant result without swapping samples or cocktails," it noted.

Others went farther, casting the results as a triumphant victory in the face of Western attempts to sabotage Russia's Olympics by embroiling its athletes in doping allegations.

Some argued that the results showed that Russians had not cheated in past Olympics, an issue that is still being played out amid claims by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that "A" samples from the Beijing and London Olympic Games had revealed that some Russian medal winners had tested positive for drug use.

Aleksei Pushkov, chief of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, pointedly targeted the roles of WADA, the International Olympic Committee, and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in banning 117 Russian athletes from competing in Rio.

"Despite the monstrous pressure, disgraceful decision of the IAAF, and the evil machinations of WADA, our sportsmen showed a shining result in Rio. Well done!" he tweeted.

"As hard as the management of WADA tried, they didn't manage to ruin Russia's 2016 Games. Most important: In Rio we showed that our victories are not linked to doping."

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin slammed Bild, Germany's most popular newspaper, for deliberately omitting Russia from its medals table.

The tabloid had promised -- amid the allegations of a Russian state-sponsored doping program leveled by WADA -- to exclude Russia from its rankings.

Rogozin posted an image of the table on his Facebook page with this comment:

"That moment when a newspaper considers its readers idiots. These scribblers probably wrote in 1945 that their country had risen to honorable second place."


Vladimir Markin, spokesman of the Russian Investigative Committee, penned an ultrapatriotic opinion piece for the LifeNews website, alleging that the U.S. "party of war" had cooked up the doping scandal to rob Russia of its medals ahead of presidential elections.

In an elaborate theory, Markin argued that this was the "icing on the cake" of the Anglo-Saxon bid to be world policeman, an alleged joint U.S. and British effort that he said had fallen flat in Ukraine, Syria, and Turkey. Markin also coined a new slur for the United States and the United Kingdom by reversing the first two letters in "Anglo-Saxons" to read "Naglo-Sax" -- roughly translatable as "Brazen-Saxons."

In conclusion, Markin wrote: "Therefore, to the question of who won or lost in Rio, the answer is clear: Russia did not lose and showed character, while across the ocean, the initiators of this large-scale provocation lost the last vestiges of respect and trust, lost what is most important in the modern world -- their reputation."

On Russian state TV, the popular Vladimir Solovyov talk show hailed Russia's performance at the games and ripped into the West.

"We are being punished through WADA for Crimea, for Syria, for our opposition to American hegemony," Dmitry Kulikov, a political analyst and journalist, told the show on August 21. "They can't punish us on the battlefield. They've found a place through which they think they can punish this country. Through you," he said, pointing to athletes in the studio hall.

"In 1980, the Americans directly declared their boycott. This time they were even too scared to act directly!" he said. "They came up with WADA! They hid behind WADA!"

He thanked the athletes who had nevertheless "held on by their teeth," meeting to thunderous applause from the audience.

Host Solovyov weighed in by declaring that "every medal won by our athletes is a precision-targeted rocket launched against Russophobia and against attempts not to recognize our state."

Smirking slightly and raising his fist, he began to add that "every gold medal is..."

Before an off-camera guest finished his sentence to more applause with: "...a rocket with a nuclear warhead!"

The state Vesti TV channel, meanwhile, reveled in the performance woes of brother-turned-foe Ukraine, whose finish in 30th place in the gold-medal rankings (it finished 25th in the overall medal count) was described as Ukraine's "worst" result in 25 years of independence.


Komsomolskaya Pravda had a wholesome "victory-for-sport" take on the games in Brazil, but with an anti-British kicker.

"In any case the most important result of the games is that sport has triumphed over all the unending scandals," it began.

But it then suggested Russia could have caught second-placed Great Britain if not for the banning of Russian track-and-field athletes and weightlifters.

"Looking at the team medal rankings, it is immediately clear who we could have caught," the paper wrote. "So, hello to British [International Association of Athletics Federations] President Sebastian Coe who, as it is now clear, simply removed the direct competitors of his team. Unsporting!"

The influential business daily Vedomosti focused its attention closer to home, musing whether President Vladimir Putin will now finally dismiss Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who has been the public face of Russia's recent sporting scandals.

"It is known that Putin does not fire his subordinates under external pressure. But if it is considered beneficial because of the [upcoming Duma] elections, for instance, or within the framework of the campaign to make the cadres younger, Mutko can entirely honorably focus on the Russian Football Union and conducting the 2018 World Championship (FIFA World Cup)."

Russian liberals like Echo Moscow radio presenter Vladimir Varfolomeyev breathed a sigh of relief: "Finally the Olympics are over. The scandals and political fussing seriously damaged the impression of the games."

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at