President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Dear friends,
I wish you a warm welcome and congratulate you on your Olympic medals. It is a great pleasure to see you. Our team’s overall results were modest and did not live up to the hopes we placed in these Olympics, but nevertheless, all of you present today put on excellent performances and your achievements are indisputable. Once again, I congratulate you on these achievements.
Of course, the purpose of today’s meeting is for me to present to you these state decorations, but this is not all. I would like to discuss with you, as our best athletes, what we can do to prepare for the Sochi Olympics, after all, who better to discuss this subject with than you?
Of course, top-level sport is always a huge amount of hard work plus a little bit of luck. But clearly, without concrete and systematic effort, and without unflagging will to achieve results, you would not have succeeded in doing what you did, and you displayed precisely this kind of will in Vancouver.
I want to address a separate thanks to your coaches. They are always there not only to help the athletes develop their physical capabilities but also maintain them in good mental shape too – it is essential for the athletes after all to be able to keep a balanced state and withstand the intense psychological pressure they come under. The Olympics, of course, represent the peak of this kind of pressure, and so the coaches also made a very important contribution to your victories.
It is no secret for anyone that sport in our country is going through a change in generations today. In one sense, you could say that a change of generations is always taking place, of course, only sometimes it happens quicker, and sometimes it is a slower process. But whatever the case, many of our young athletes have shown that our Olympic team does have good potential, that our young sportspeople do have talent.
I will cite the names of some of those present, but do not get upset if do not cite everyone’s names. My words are addressed to all of you, but I nevertheless want to note the memorable performance that we saw from young Olympic medal winner, cross-country skier Alexander Panzhinsky. As far as I know, tomorrow is Alexander’s birthday. He will be turning 21, and we hope that tomorrow will find him in the best of spirits. We will put him in a good mood today and tomorrow can add to it. Congratulations! Strictly speaking, it is not in Russian tradition to wish a happy birthday ahead of the actual date, but you could say that today, we are celebrating not your birthday, but your performance.
It is very important to see that our athletes are also competitive in what are relatively new sports for our country. We got confirmation of this when Yekaterina Ilyukhina won our country’s first ever silver medal in snowboarding, and when Alexander Tretyakov won bronze in skeleton. Of course, the gold medals won by skier Nikita Kryukov, and by Yevgeny Ustyugov in biathlon were a real delight for our fans and once again confirmed the Russian school’s strong standing in these sports, in which we do have very solid traditions. It is an excellent synthesis when we win medals in sports in which we have never achieved high results in the past, and also win medals in the sports in which we have always been strong.
The example set by the renowned masters in the team also played a big part in these victories. We saw this in the stubborn determination that Anna Bogaliy-Titovets, Olga Zaitseva, Olga Medvedtseva and Svetlana Sleptsova displayed in the biathlon, for example. In Vancouver you repeated the triumph the Russian team enjoyed in Turin, and this was really excellent to see. Of course, I also want to note the tremendous strength of will and determination shown by Yevgeny Plushchenko, who returned to the ice after a long break and put on a virtuoso performance, taking the silver medal. We all couldn’t help but feel upset, of course, but that subject has already been thoroughly discussed.
I congratulate too and note the success of everyone whose names I did not cite, and I want to say that you all did extremely well.
We are analysing the Olympics’ results, both objective and subjective. We have already made a number of personnel decisions and they will not be the last. I will soon hold a meeting of the Presidential Council for Sport, which will likely take further decisions, above all regarding the sports federations. But the most important thing now is not even to examine what we overlooked and who is to blame – though this is important too, but the main thing now is to set our sights on preparing for the next Olympics and take the necessary decisions. I hope to discuss this matter with you too today after the decorations are presented.
Overall, you have excellent potential. No matter how much emotion gets vented on our team, on specific heads of federations, on sports officials, you know that we all realise what you are capable of, and we clearly have enough time to prepare for the Sochi Olympics so as to put forward our best team and put on our best performance, all the more so as this will be our Olympics. I hope that by then everyone who will be competing will be familiar with all the nuances of the facilities. As they say, at home the walls are a help too. Canada’s example makes this absolutely clear, anyway. As it happens, our Paralympics team is competing there right now. I think we should also wish them success. They have done well, work hard and are doing everything possible to achieve results and show what our country is capable of.
We have a lot of work ahead. I think we will come back to this question. Now, let’s move on to the official part of the ceremony – the presentation of the state decorations.
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Dear friends, as I was presenting the decorations, I thought about how we always need to give maximum attention to the brilliant results our outstanding athletes produce, in other words, results such as you have given us. One reason I say this is because I was just told that a number of decorations awarded for earlier achievements have not actually been presented yet. This is absolutely not the right way to do things. I have now broken this tradition for the first time, and I think that it was the right decision that the decorations you deservedly earned for your performances in Vancouver be not just officially approved and signed within the year, as was the case in the past, unfortunately, but be presented in what amounts to ten days after the Olympics’ end. I think this is only proper. I think this is better because the memories are still fresh in our minds and all the emotions from the experience are still deep in your hearts and souls. We as fans are also still riding on the emotion, and we should thank you for your wonderful results while this wave of feeling is still strong.
You have done very well, and I say this not because it is something I am supposed to say as president of our big and complex country, but because you really did achieve victory in very difficult conditions. Your victories are not in the least tainted by any kind of corrosion, and are not in the least connected to the organisational process or any of the oversights for which the sports officials must take responsibility. You performed to the best of your ability, and our people love and value you for this.
Once more, I congratulate all of you sincerely on what is perhaps a very significant occasion for most of you. For those of you who have never received decorations before this is the first time, and I hope it will be not be the last. And for those of you who already have decorations to their names I hope this will be another event to remember.
I wish you my sincere congratulations! I will invite you soon to join me for a cup of tea and discuss the development of sport in our country.