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Poor Olympic showing angers Russian president

MOSCOW - President Dmitry Medvedev demanded yesterday that Russian sports officials step down over the country's dismal performance at the Winter Olympics.

Russia, a traditional winter sports powerhouse, won only 15 medals - with only three golds - in one of its worst performances ever. Officials said before the Games that 30 medals and a top-three finish in the medal standings was the target. Russia placed 11th for golds and sixth in the overall medal count in Vancouver.

In televised comments, Medvedev said if those responsible for preparing the athletes don't resign, then the decision will be made for them. He did not mention anyone by name.

"Those who bear the responsibility for Olympic preparations should carry that responsibility,'' Medvedev said. "It's totally clear. I think that the individuals responsible, or several of them, who answer for these preparations, should take the courageous decision to hand in their notice. If we don't see such decisiveness, we will help them."

In post-Soviet history, Russia had never finished outside the top five in the medal standings and won fewer medals only once before, in 2002 at Salt Lake City. Russia was the top nation at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, earning 23 medals - 11 gold.

In nine Winter Olympics from 1956-88, the Soviet Union failed to top the medal standings only twice, finishing second on those occasions.

Medvedev lamented that Russia "has lost the old Soviet school . . . and we haven't created our own school - though the amount of money that is invested in sport is unprecedentedly high."

The results leave Russia particularly red-faced as it takes the torch for the next winter games in its Black Sea resort of Sochi in 2014.

"Without messing around, we need to start preparations for Sochi,'' Medvedev said. "But taking into account what happened in Vancouver, we need to completely change how we prepare our athletes."

In an interview with the newspaper Vremya Novostei, sports minister Vitaly Mutko blamed several factors for the flop. New sports such as freestyle skiing that "no one takes seriously" in Russia have allowed other countries to race ahead, he said.

Mutko also claimed luck was not on the country's side, saying in several events Russia lacked "a shot here, a second or a point there," singling out Evgeni Plushenko, who took silver behind Evan Lysacek of the United States in a closely contested men's figure skating competition.

Doping bans also had deprived Russia of several leading medal contenders, he said.

Several Russian politicians have called for Mutko, who was appointed sports minister in May 2008, to step down.

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