The head of the Russian Olympic Committee is very optimistic about the national team in Athens
Summer Olympics open in Athens today. Leonid Tyagachev, the chairman of the Russian Olympic Committee gave an interview about the participation of the Russian Olympic team in the Games.
How do Russian Olympic athletes feel on their way to the major sports competition? In which mood are they going?
Of course, they are going to Greece in a cheerful mood. They are all prepared to compete and win. Our goal is to take the first place in the unofficial all-teams test.
Russian athletes will have to clinch at least 30 gold medals to come first. Russia's major competitors, the USA and China, will have to earn fewer medals. Is it real?
It is definitely real. Russia has not lost its positions in sports accomplishments. According to the results of recent summer sports championships Russia won 35 gold medals! China won 27 and the USA – 33 gold medals. Russian athletes feel they can win – it is the most important thing, which gives an optimistic hope. Our headquarters Athens-2004 that I chair predict the Russian team is able to win 37 or 38 gold medals. This quantity would be enough for the team's victory. I understand it sounds rather dreamlike, but real men must be ambitious, in an amicable way.
Our competitors, however, possess huge economic, medical and organizational resources to fortify their preparations for the Games.
We did not sit on our hands either. We have done a lot too. We have put the Olympic training base in order, provided sports and medical equipment. Olympic team members receive the special monthly presidential $500-worth allowances. This is also a good incentive to work hard.
Can you give at least an approximate estimation of the Olympic gold medal? How much is it necessary to spend on an athlete to make him or her an Olympic champion?
Costs differ a lot, there is no average number. Let us assume a Siberian Hercules has come to Moscow. He trains for six months, goes to Athens and wins the shotput gold medal. The Russian government will pay him the $50,000 bonus. One has to add training costs here too. This is virtually the minimum spending, the reality is totally different. As a rule, it takes an athlete five or even ten years to win a gold medal. The expenditure can be really considerable.
Do you think these costs are justifiable?
They definitely are. Olympic medal is absolutely profitable. It brings obviously political, social, economic benefits to the state. Olympic champions work for the country's image, their example makes thousands of other people start doing sport, and winners give an incentive for the development of the sports industry.
What is the budget base of the Russian Olympic movement?
There are two main sources: the state budget and the funds the Russian Olympic Committee attracts. Regional governments and ministries help too – they build and back up sports constructions, hold competitions, take care of their fellow-athletes.
Are their a lot of people or companies willing to become sponsors or partners of the Russian Olympic team?
We had over 20 business partners and sponsors at Winter Olympics in 2002. There are more of them now. To be honest, certain business spokespeople surprise me with their position. They spend huge money on sports clubs, but they forget about the national Olympic team, and keep talking about their patriotism. A middle-class club team consumes more money than all national Olympic squads on all kinds of sport altogether.
Notorious tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky sponsored the Russian Olympic team at Winter Olympics 2002.
First off, it was not Mikhail Khodorkovsky who sponsored the team, but the company Yukos, which implies hundreds of people. Secondly, all these so-called oligarchs made their fortunes on the national wealth – oil, gas and energy carrier. People own this wealth. That is why, this is the national money.
What reward will Russian medal winners receive when they return to Russia from Athens?
It will be 50, 30 and 20 thousand dollar rewards respectively. In addition, regional governors will add not less than $30,000 on winners' accounts. Our sponsors agree to reward our Olympic champions with expensive gifts – cars and apartments, for example. The world champion will receive $100,000.
Some sports stars are afraid of going to Athens because of terrorist threats.
Greek special services will provide security in Athens, they have been trained accordingly. Russian FSB special agents will be included in the Russian delegation too. They will guarantee security to Russian athletes outside the Athens Olympic Village. Bodyguards will accompany athletes everywhere outside the village. They will protect athletes and prevent any unfriendly action attempted against them. They will look out for a black sheep among Russian athletes too. Someone may add something in other athletes' meals. It can be highly demoralizing for the whole team. Nevertheless, there will not be any tough and total control.
Will Russian athletes be allowed to meet foreign ones? To exchange pins, talk about the weather, for example?
They will be allowed to fall in love and marry them.
Leonid Tyagachev was interviewed by Igor Zemlyansky
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