President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues, the Winter Olympics in Vancouver are just ahead of us, and all preparations for the Games have been completed. I hope that we are fully ready; we are all anxiously waiting to see what will happen – clearly, the athletes are especially anxious, but all fans and sports lovers watching will be at the edge of their seats. So please brief me on our athletes’ preparedness, on what has been done, and give me your outlook for our possible results.
Minister of Sport, Tourism, and Youth Policy Vitaly Mutko: Mr President, I would like to thank you for your attention to and support of Russian sports. We once again adjusted preparation plans for our national team following a discussion at the Council [for the Development of Physical Culture and Sport, Excellence in Sports, Preparation and Organisation of the XXII Winter Olympics and XI Paralympics in 2014] meeting in Sochi, where you participated. I would like to report that today, all the preparation phases are complete, and the Russian team of 179 athletes has been assembled. We will be participating in 77 events to compete for medals. There are nine Olympic events in which we will not be competing.
Dmitry Medvedev: How many events are there all together?
Vitaly Mutko: There are 86 events in 14 different sports. There are only 9 events that we will not participate in, but we will compete in all the others.
As compared to the Turin Olympics, out national team has grown by one athlete.
Nearly all the athletes trained in accordance with our comprehensive plan. The time difference was also properly taken into account, so right now our athletes are at the final phase of adapting to the new time zone.
In every sport, the teams have fulfilled the training and preparation plans set. Currently, the teams have been formed and we have submitted our application to the International Olympic Committee for 179 athletes. The average age among these athletes is 26.5, with a slightly lower average age among women: 25.5 years. The average age for men is slightly higher and our youngest competitor is Vera Bazarova, a figure skater from Lipetsk, who just recently turned 17.
Dmitry Medvedev: What is the age of our oldest athlete?
Vitaly Mutko: About 37 years old.
I would like to note that 55 of our team members are merited masters in their sports, athletes of the highest degree, as only outstanding world records are the grounds for awarding such titles. I would like to report that actually all matters in organisation, logistics, and supplies have been resolved by our staff office headed by Deputy Minister [of Sport, Tourism, and Youth Policy], and deputy head of office was vice president of the [Russian] Olympic Committee. The staff worked as a consolidated team. Now, we have determined the makeup of our delegation, and we have already worked out a schedule for flights and accommodations.
I can assure you once again that overall our national team is ready for the Games. We certainly expect a high level of performance by all our athletes, although there are some sports where we traditionally perform well, while in some others we may be less competitive.
Still, I shall reiterate that in general the training and preparations of our national team have been successfully completed and serious efforts have been applied. Our athletes are fully determined to come up with really good results.
Dmitry Medvedev: Are there any complications particular to training and competing in Canada that we had not anticipated?
President of Russian Olympic Committee Leonid Tyagachev: There will be some difficulties due to the fact that the slopes are not yet ready – neither the downhill skiing slopes, nor the biathlon routes. There is no snow there.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, I heard about that.
Leonid Tyagachev: So Canada is now ready to import snow from all over the world.
Dmitry Medvedev: We could supply snow from Sochi, although when I was skiing there, there wasn’t much snow either, it should be better there by now.
Leonid Tyagachev: The Canadians just realized that they do not have snowmaking machines able to produce snow at +10 or +15 degrees Celsius [50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit].
Dmitry Medvedev: What were they counting on? On lower temperatures?
Leonid Tyagachev: They were counting on standard, average snow and weather conditions, on temperatures between +10 to +15 degrees Celsius with traditionally abundant snow on the ground. Nevertheless, nearby Vancouver there is snow and there are slopes.
Our athletes – the biathlon competitors, skiers, and figure skaters – are already there. The biathlon and skiing have been our traditional sports, and this year, we have strong snowboarders – our women’s team won three rounds in the World Cup and we hope that when you arrive, you will be able to watch the Olympic finals in snowboarding, where three of our women will be competing for medals for the first time.
Dmitry Medvedev: I would also love to watch the hockey finals.
Leonid Tyagachev: Making it into the hockey finals is every Russian’s dream. Certainly, our hockey players believe that they are the best Olympic team in Russian history.
Dmitry Medvedev: Touch wood. True, our ice hockey team is outstanding. In recent years, it has evidently proven itself as the best team in the world. But anything could happen at the Olympics.
Leonid Tyagachev: Yes, but we are in high spirits as never before. This is due in part to your involvement, Mr President, as well as that of Mr Putin; you have given us so much attention, and this is reflected in our overall mood. It was also very special for us to be received by the Patriarch and to have a heartfelt conversation with him, to hear sincere words inspiring patriotism and sports ambitions. We appreciate everything that could help us, so the address of the Patriarch was certainly most important to our team.
I think that when our athletes compete for gold medals, when the top three champions are all within a tenth of a second, with few hundredth of a second making the difference, we all dream of the joy of receiving a gold medal.
You rightly noted that the last few days before the competition are very critical. In order to ensure that spirits are high at the start of the biathlon and figure skating competitions, Mr Mutko and I have drafted a schedule for attending all competitions so that our athletes are never mistreated and we have a clear cut action plan for any circumstances.
Dmitry Medvedev: Indeed, if our athletes are mistreated, I understand you will straighten it out. But at the same time, the athletes themselves must know how to stand on their own. I refer to their proper training.
We believe in our athletes and count on their strongest inner motivation possible. In sports, there is always a component of luck, but perseverance, hard work, and training play a much bigger role indeed. In other words, the greatest factor that affects performance is proper regular training. We will certainly watch all competitions with the greatest attention and will support our team.
If any problems come up, please let me know, and we will try to resolve them – even at the political level, if necessary, because sports are not just about athletic competition, they are about politics as well.
Leonid Tyagachev: Yes, you helped us out at the beginning of the Beijing Games. At the time, it was Mr Putin who was there. I think that everything should go well now and that our athletes will really try to do their best to win.
Dmitry Medvedev: Let’s hope. I want to repeat that we all will be rooting for our athletes, all of us here today, the journalists – everyone.
Now, I would like to talk about summer sports. I want to thank Mr Mutko for everything done in recent years to develop football in our nation – which has been quite a lot. We have had a number of football victories, although, unfortunately, there were defeats as well as they are inevitable. Nevertheless, we have had more victories than in the previous years, and those victories are due in large part to your efforts [in 2005–2009, Vitaly Mutko was the President of the Russian Football Union].
I expect the new executives of our [football] federation will do everything possible to ensure many new victories in football, and I am counting on you as Minister to supervise these processes. You are no stranger to football and I hope that you will look after it the way you do with all the other sports, since this is one of your direct professional duties.
Vitaly Mutko: Thank you, Mr President. I think that what’s most important is that with your support, we could give football some serious momentum for development as our main sport. You supported the [Physical Culture and Sports Development] Federal Programme which will allow us to build many football fields – we should have 500 new football fields by 2015.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, It is very important, particularly in the context of our ambitions for holding the World Football Cup, among others. But it is no less important that football has always been a most popular national sport. We all kicked around a ball in our yards, but in many places now football has gained a new technological basis, because we have never before had so many fields of high quality to play football right near our homes and our schools.