High expectations

Sky Sports News' Geraint Huighes reports from Sochi on how Russian athletes are planning to make the most of 'home advantage' at the 2014 Winter Games


Last Updated: 08/02/13 10:06am

In one word, Russian expectations are 'high' at next year's Winter Games.

Many are seeing Sochi 2014 as a chance to put the country back on the map in sporting terms. Russia, when allied with many other now-independent states, was among the world's elite sporting nations but has not been as dominant since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The break-up of the Union left Russia with surprisingly few sporting facilities considering its size and performance has suffered as a consequence; now the president of the Russian Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, says the aim of the Russian Team at the Sochi Games is to top the medal table with a target of 40 medals.

New sporting facilities have been the subject of great investment, especially winter sports, and Sochi has benefitted. Thanks to the world class venues at their disposal, huge numbers of Russian athletes have taken part in the many test events, using every advantage available to them.

Ilia Chernousov is one of Russia's best Nordic Combined athletes, with cross country skiing a speciality. I asked him about his hopes next year: "They're good, I really want to perform at a home Games, it means an awful lot to me... I have probably raised my performance in the last few years because Sochi was coming up. It's gold that I want."

It's not just the athletes raising their games; so are the coaches and so are the National Associations. If the best coach for the job isn't Russian, it doesn't matter. Money doesn't appear to be an issue.

Reto Burgermeister is a former swiss Nordic Combined athlete-turned-coach and is employed by the Russian Team. "They have great ambition, I think they will do very well at Sochi," he told me.

In almost every aspect of Sochi 2014, the success of London 2012 spurs them on. They don't want to be seen as the disappointment after London, and that's where Team GB triumphs are enthusing 'Team Russia'.

Dmitry Grigorev, a venue manager at the Olympic Park, visited London last summer as a fact-finding observer. Team GB's medal success, inspired by competing in front of partisan crowds, has served to motivate Russian athletes, coaches, support teams and supporters.

They saw how home success snowballed (excuse the pun) and Russia want a bit of that as well.