01 May, 2015

Russian madness

I could not believe my eyes when I saw this. A member of the Russian parliament introduced a bill which aims at limiting the participation of Russian athletes to just two Olympic Games. The reason for this, at least in part, is to avoid what happened in the Sochi, 2014, winter Olympics with figure skater Yevgeni Plushenko. 

In Sochi, Plushenko, participated at the team event placing second at the short program and first at the free one helping Russia win the gold medal. However his back injury worsened and he deiced to withdraw from the individual competition. He underwent surgery after the Olympics and is now thinking about returning to competition.

The bill introduced by Yegor Anisimov in meant to give younger athletes their chance at an olympic participation. In Anisimov’s own words:

“There is no doubt that Plushenko knew about his health problems earlier on, but he didn’t remove his candidacy to compete at the Olympic Games, thus depriving other athletes of the chance to take part.“

But it is a known fact that Plushenko himself had declared in December 2013 that he wanted to compete in the team event and not the individual event.

Anisimov’s argument is that his bill, if approved, will allow other, younger and no less talented athletes to take part in international competitions at high level.

This is pure bullshit.

The reaction of top Russian athletes was prompt. Plushenko himself said

"I think the suggestion has no place and is impossible to understand. I think such questions should be decided by experts.”

For Vladimir Salnikov, a multiple olympic gold medalist in swimming, 

"The person who comes up with this idea will be someone who does not have a clue or anything to do with sport.”

Finally the great Yelena Isinbayeva, multiple Olympic, World and European champion did not mince her words:

"This is complete idiocy from someone who knows nothing about sport. This legislation has no bearing on real life.”

Let us for a moment imagine such a rule valid since ever and not only fo Russians. Al Oerter would have had to contend himself with just two gold medals. The same goes for Saneyev and Zelezny. (And, no, I am not forgetting Carl Lewis. I am going to write a full post on “King” Carl sometime soon. It’s the one I am itching about for quite some time now).

Wait, there’s worse. For some athletes success may come late. Alain Mimoun, somebody for whom I have a sincere admiration and deep respect, had to wait for his third Olympiad. It was not until Melbourne, 1956 that he managed to win the gold medal he was running after for years, beating in the process his friend, the great Emil Zatopek.

But there’s more. Suppose I am a coach with a promising young athlete who manages to make the minima and qualifies for the coming Olympics. Am I going to risk one participation, out of the precious two, on an athlete who has not yet fully matured? Isn’t it better to wait for another four years hoping that by that time my athlete would be really competitive? But how about the unique experience a participation at the Games is providing? And how about a situation where a non-participation decision is taken and then injuries deprive the athlete of any chance for future participation? In this case we would have squandered a unique chance because of some stupid calculation.

And if Mr. Anisimov’s logic is pushed to the limit, why restrict the participation to the Olympics and not extend the measure to World and Continental championships? In this case the career of an athlete would be a mere four-year one. If it comes to this, why bother? Let’s stop doing individual sports and start sending our kids to football academies. At least, if they have talent they may become rich.

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