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  • Tuesday Talk -- Russian Olympics Chief on 2014 Preparations, Medal Hopes


    Russia NOC president and deputy prime minister Alexander Zhukov at the Durban IOC Session. (ATR)
    (ATR) Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov tells Around the Rings the Guatemala IOC Session at which Sochi won the Games feels like "the day before yesterday" to him.

    Zhukov, also a deputy prime minister, cut his teeth on the Olympics as the lead minister for the bid. In the wake of a disastrous performance by Russia at the Vancouver Games, he was then handed the presidency of the NOC, charged with making sure the home team is ready for the first Winter Olympics in Russia.

    Next April he’ll get the chance to ratchet his profile a little higher in the Olympic world when Moscow plays host to the 2012 ANOC Assembly.

    Read on for Zhukov's take on preparations for 2014, Russian medal hopes, the choice of PyeongChang for 2018, bidding for 2020 and more.

    Around the Rings: How’s it going at the Russian Olympic Committee? It’s been a year now for you. Have you been able to make the kind of changes you want?

    Alexander Zhukov: First of all, we’re going to be more active in international sport. Now we take part in different commissions of the IOC. I became a member of the International Relations Commission and my deputy Akhmed Bilalov also became a member of the Marketing Commission.

    We’re trying in Russia to have more different world championships and big events. You probably know the figure-skating championships this spring, then in 2013 we’ll have the Summer Universiade in Kazan and also the world championships in athletics. In 2016, we’ll have ice hockey in Russia, and we’ll have the FIFA World Cup in 2018.

    So our policy is to have more big championships in order to promote a healthy style of life in Russia and to have more children in different kinds of sports. This is our aim as an Olympic committee and as an Olympic Movement in Russia.
    Zhukov says "maybe" to a bid from St. Petersburg for the 2024 or 2028 Olympics.

    ATR: What’s the thinking about another bid, a summer Olympic bid perhaps from St. Petersburg?

    AZ: It’s a little early to think about because we have the Games in Sochi first, but I think it’s possible, not for the next Olympics but the next next.

    ATR: 2024 or 2028?

    AZ: Maybe.

    ATR: And then you have the ANOC meeting next year in Moscow?

    AZ: That’s right. It will be in Moscow probably in mid-April 2012. It’s not finalized.

    ATR: Where will it be held?

    AZ: It’s not decided yet, but it will probably be at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow. It’s one of the best hotels.

    ATR: How about your preparations for Sochi? One of the reasons you’re now Russian Olympic Committee president is to help get the Russian team on a stronger path to the Winter Olympics.

    AZ: That’s right. You know the last results of our winter team were not very good, but now we have a special program to prepare our athletes for the Sochi Games.
    Russian athletes won 15 total medals in Vancouver but only three gold, good enough for sixth in the overall medal table. (Getty Images)

    This year, actually, we found a couple of very very good young athletes in different sports – for instance, figure skating – so it’s possible for them to compete in Sochi for the gold medals.

    ATR: Will you set a medal target for Sochi?

    AZ: Of course, we would like to win as a team. To be the first, we probably need to have more than 14 gold medals, 14 or 15 probably, so this is our goal.

    ATR: And what is different about your preparation for Sochi as compared to how you prepared for Vancouver?

    AZ: We’re trying to create a special program for each athlete with different kind of specialists – not just coaches but also physicians and psychologists and scientists even. This is quite new for us.

    ATR: And how about London? Next year, we have the first team you’ve prepared for the Games.

    AZ: I think it will be a very tough Games. Of course, the Americans and Chinese athletes are very strong and also the British.

    But if we look at the latest results from world championships and European championships, our team is getting better than we were in Beijing. So we hope to be in the first three places in team competition.

    Bolshoi Ice Palace is a key component of the “big build” needed for these Games. (Sochi 2014)
    ATR: And then Sochi itself? The preparations for Sochi and the work that’s going on?

    AZ: It’s on schedule. I think everything is going OK.

    ATR: There seem to be no issues or problems despite how big the work is?

    AZ: Of course, we have a lot of problems, but no problems that we couldn’t resolve.

    ATR: You’re happy with the way things seem to be proceeding?

    AZ: You know, Mr. Killy and Mr. Felli control everything.

    ATR: They’re always in touch with you. They’re always telling you what to do.

    AZ: They know everything about our Games.

    Jean-Claude Killy is the IOC's chief inspector for 2014. He's keeping an eye on Sochi alongside Olympic Games executive director Gilbert Felli. (Sochi 2014)
    ATR: As far as Sochi, what is the biggest problem or thing that you worry about most being ready?

    AZ: The problem of transportation. We spend a lot of money to build roads and railroads, but it’s on schedule.

    ATR: I’ve heard some complaints from environmental groups about the work that’s taking place.

    AZ: Now we have a special environmental program with ecologists.

    ATR: Some people, though, will never be happy and never be satisfied. You’ll always have criticism.

    AZ: It happens everywhere, but it’s not a big problem.

    ATR: What about Alexander Zhukov? You’ve been doing a lot of work getting these events to come to Moscow, to come to Russia, and also preparing the team. It suggests to me that you have the possibility to do other things in the Olympic Movement besides just being Russian Olympic Committee president.

    AZ: I’m very proud and happy to help the Olympic Movement, not only in Russia but all over the world. I will do my best to help the Olympic Movement.

    ATR: IOC member one day, maybe?

    AZ: I don’t know.

    ATR: How do you feel about the choice of PyeongChang, and what advice do you give them?
    Sochi bid leaders celebrate at the 2007 IOC Session in Guatemala. (Getty Images)

    AZ: I think it’s a good choice because it was the third time to compete for them, and they already had very good bids in Guatemala and Prague. Now it’s even better the third time. It was the right decision of the IOC, and I’m sure the Koreans will have very good Games.

    ATR: And how did you feel the day after Sochi won?

    AZ: I feel like Guatemala was the day before yesterday. These four years were just like one day to me. I was even a little bit nervous during the 2018 host vote, but I think it’s a very good family, the Olympic family.

    Interview conducted by Ed Hula.

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