Russia endure dark days of rifts and failure
Tuesday, 19 August 2008

BEIJING, Aug 18 (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - Russian gymnasts are facing their worst Olympic showing, with silly errors and rifts in the team pointing to a crisis in the sport's former superpower.

Dominant for four decades as the Soviet Union, Russians used to bringing home sacks of Olympic medals, but are now scrabbling around for the scraps and have just one Beijing bronze so far.

"It is such a black period, I don't even know what to think," Anna Pavlova, who destroyed her chance of a vault medal on Sunday after one of her efforts scored zero because she failed to wait for a green light to start her run-up, told Reuters.

"As team captain I feel responsible."

The only Russian to stand on the podium has been Anton Golotsutskov, who came third in the floor exercise. He, however, has made headlines for other reasons after accusing team mate Maxim Devyatovskiy of not trying hard enough in the team final.

"It is not that Devyatovskiy performed badly, everyone has bad days," Russian media quoted Golotsutskov as saying. "I said that he did not put his all into the performance, there is a big difference. At the moment we are not speaking."

Devyatovskiy had already been ostracised last year, when he was banned from national training camps for failing to complete the world championships all-around final because of injury.

"A member of the Russian team, no matter that he has only one leg, must finish," head coach Andrei Rodionenko said at the time.

RUSSIAN DEMISE

Their last Olympic women's team gold was as the unified CIS in 1992, having won the top prize in every Games they competed in, as the Soviet Union, before that. The men's last team gold was in Atlanta in 1996.

They started to struggle at world championships before coming home without any Olympic golds for the first time in Athens four years ago. There they collected two bronzes and a silver and if they do not match that here, it will be their worst showing.

The demise has coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, investment in sport has declined and good coaches have left to work abroad.

Look at the list of gymnasts competing and there are plenty of Russian-sounding names but they are representing other countries—and winning medals.

American all-around champion Nastia Liukin is a case in point. Her father and coach, Soviet Union gymnast and double Olympic champion Valery Liukin, left for the United States where the career opportunities were better.

There are still six more apparatus finals and Pavlova hoped there would be an opportunity for more Russians to feature on the podium after Golotsutskov's medal lifted spirits.

"I'm very pleased for Anton who was able to make things a little bit better," said Pavlova, whose last chance for a medal is in Tuesday's balance beam final. "I hope this blackness lifts and we do better."

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