Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Will the West use Sochi Games to settle scores with Russia?

Western media have been trying to downplay the importance of the World Athletics Championships in Moscow from the very beginning. European reports pushed the Moscow event into the background, next to weather forecast and news from the British or Spanish remote regions. The few existing reports only included short messages on the success of U.S. athletes, followed by one line description of Russian victories. Even the Russian victory in the team competition was crammed into the end of a sports issue, and also in a short mention.

The Russian national team won the World Athletics Championships for the first time in 12 years. Despite some flaws, Russia has proven to skeptics its ability to host major sports forums. In addition, the organizers managed to make the championship a sporting event rather than a stage for political speculation.

The events in sports arenas were mesmerizing. However, some in the West were interested only in using the sports festival to settle political accounts with Russia. Russian athlete Isinbayeva was asked a provocative question about the law banning the propaganda of homosexuality so they could trash her and the entire host nation.

Nails painted rainbow colors, dedication of medals to fellow gays and even calls to strip the great jumper off the status of Goodwill Ambassador of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have taken place. Yet, the atmosphere of a holiday was not ruined. For example, Isinbayeva's detractors were straightened out by a great former Scottish jumper Jonathan Edwards who said that she was a product of the society where she lived, where over 90 percent of the population would agree with her words.

Australian Tristan Thomas was even more explicit. He said that he did not want to say anything bad about the country that arranged such a wonderful event. In a perfect world everyone would be comfortable to be who they are and have the views that they have, he added. Lastly, the Belgian president of the IOC Jacques Rogge made it clear that he would not allow using the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi as a platform for political protests.

The World Athletics Championships is an event of great importance. 47 sets of medals were awarded, more than in any other sport. Great runners, jumpers, javelin throwers and race walkers from all over the world came to Moscow to compete.

No other world championship gathers as many Olympic champions from such a large number of countries - over 200. This is why in the world athletic hierarchy this championship stands above any other world championship, and significantly above the Universiade. It is on the same level as Winter Olympics, and Summer Olympics and the FIFA World Cup are the only events above it.

Russia fought for the right to hold this event because it is an opportunity to once again declare itself not only in sport, but also on the political, economic, and cultural map of the world. The event was well-organized. Athletes and coaches did not have to spend hours in "traffic jams", and had all necessary conditions for training.   

The only disappointment was half-empty stands in the first days of the competition. Even when Yelena Isinbayeva was jumping, the Luzhniki stadium was half empty. This was clearly a consequence of the lack of publicity. Perhaps some officials decided that the tournament's strongest athletes were somewhat secondary in relation to the Universiade in Kazan and a sort of "addendum" to the Olympics in Sochi. That, to put it mildly, is not true.

Small stickers were placed only in subway trains. There were very few large billboards informing about the championship. The largest TV channels spoke little about the preparation for the event. In terms of advertising Russia has a lot to learn from Europe, the U.S., Japan, and Australia. If a city there conducts world championship in any Olympic sport, the event is advertised everywhere.

However, in the end the attendance picked up. In the last three days, the Luzhniki stadium that holds 80,000 was filled nearly to capacity. The Russian public behaved, and no one was booed, but everyone was cheered. Naturally, Russian athletes were cheered with particular enthusiasm. Fans from Ukraine who occupied two large sectors stretched a poster on the last day of the event expressing gratitude to their Russian "colleagues" who were rooting for the Ukrainians nearly as much as for their own.

The Russian national team did not disappoint. In recent years, athletics has turned into a major supplier of the Olympic gold in Russia, and the hosts of the competition confirmed their high class. For the first time in 12 years, the Russians managed to take first place in the team standings, winning seven gold, four silver and six bronze medals. It could have been better, and under different circumstances the number of gold medals could have reached ten.

Race walkers Alexander Ivanov and Elena Lashmanova became world champions in Moscow. The one and only Yelena Isinbayeva took gold in the pole vault. High jumper Svetlana Shkolina managed to take the baton from a winner the Olympic champion Anna Chicherova. Once again, Tatiana Lysenko was the best in hammer throwing. Alexander Menkov won in the long jump category. Finally, four incredible women ran in the relay 4 × 400 meters.

In a sense, Russia has taken a step back, because at the London Olympics Russian athletes won eight gold medals, and in the previous World Championship they won nine. However, competition has tremendously increased, and medals are distributed over a larger number of countries. Russia and the U.S are no longer the only competitors in the unofficial team standings.

Russia and the United States win in a variety of disciplines such as running, throwing, and jumping. However, the "narrow" specialists are also not standing still. Thanks to its incredible sprinters Usain Bolt and Shelly Ann Fraser, Jamaica won six gold medals, the same number as the Americans. Kenya and Ethiopia are traditionally strong in the medium and long distances. Five and four gold medals, respectively, went to the two African countries.

Germany that won four gold medals is gradually regaining its lost position. Britain won three awards, and this number could have been even higher had some of its athletes not taken a break after the home Olympics. For the first time in many years, two gold medals were won by the Czech Republic. Countries that won one gold medal include France, Poland, Sweden, Ireland, Colombia, Uganda, New Zealand, and others

The Ukrainian team deserves a special mention. In the past, its representatives have made a huge contribution to the victory of the Soviet Union. Over the last years it has been winning one or two gold medals. In Moscow they won two as well. Anna Melnichenko won in the women's heptathlon and Bogdan Bondarenko in the high jump. Bondarenko's victory was one of the highlights as he stormed the 18-year-old world record, and could have broken it had he not had an injury.

Athletes from Europe, America and Australia were doing their thing getting ready for the competitions and trying to win them. Most of them had no interest in the political showdown. They were part of a large celebration, many of them exploring Moscow and going sightseeing. For example, the Poles were interested in Russian Orthodox churches, Africans were running on the Vorobyevy Hills, and some athletes were spotted in the Tretyakov Gallery.

The sports festival in Moscow was a success, and the majority of foreign visitors to the city will gladly admit it.

Vadim Trukhachev


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