MOSCOW, July 25 (Reuters) - Unlike previous years, Russia has set relatively modest goals for the 2012 Games, hoping to match its medal haul of four years ago and cling to a third-place finish in London.
With most of the state’s attention and financial resources directed toward the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, some local media have even dubbed them “the transition Games”.
Seeing their national soccer team flop at Euro 2012 and fearing the worst, Russia’s Olympic bosses have tried to lower expectations, saying third place over-all is the best they could hope for in London.
Alexander Zhukov, president of the national Olympic Committee (ROC), said Russia would aim for at least 23 gold medals to match its tally in Beijing where it finished a distant third behind China and the United States in the medals table.
“Of course, we’d love to challenge for the top spot but you have to be realistic,” Zhukov told local media last week.
“Realistically, our goal would be to hold on to that third place, especially with Britain (fourth in Beijing) expected to significantly increase their medal haul on home soil.”
Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, mindful of the consequences previous bosses had to pay for past Olympic failures, was even more forthright.
Leonid Tyagachyov, Zhukov’s predecessor as ROC chief, and deputy sports minister Gennady Alyoshin, Mutko’s right-hand man, were forced to resign following Russia’s dismal showing at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
“It would not be a national tragedy if we finish fourth in London,” said Mutko before the team’s official send-off in the Kremlin over the weekend.
Russia is sending a 436-strong team to London, including several proven campaigners such as pole vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva, middle-distance runner Yuri Borzakovsky and modern pentathlete Andrei Moiseyev as well as Olympic newcomers like tennis player Maria Sharapova and gymnast Viktoria Komova.
Isinbayeva and Moiseyev will each aim for their third consecutive Olympic title, while 2004 champion Borzakovsky, now a veteran at 31, will try to upset Kenyan 800-metre world record holder David Rudisha over the two laps.
The Russians can also count on their usually strong teams in boxing, wrestling, weightlifting and synchronized swimming, with Anastasia Davydova going for her fifth gold after sweeping both of the synchro titles (duet and team) in Athens and Beijing.
Sharapova said she was looking forward to competing in her first Games after failing to qualify in 2004 and missing the 2008 edition with a shoulder injury.
“Since I was a little girl I have dreamed of taking part in the Olympics, having watched it on television back home,” said the French Open champion, who was given the honour of carrying the country’s flag at Friday’s opening ceremony.
Sharapova will also be glad to return to her favourite green lawns of Wimbledon, where she won her first grand slam title as a virtually unknown 17-year-old in 2004.
Komova, 17, will be going for her first global title in North Greenwich after narrowly losing the women’s individual all-around crown at last year’s world championships in Tokyo. (Editing by Greg Stutchbury)