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Once Sochi captured the bid for 2014, Russian federation officials compounded the problem by thinking more money would provide a quick fix.

“They spent at least $200 million more ahead of Vancouver than in Torino. They spent three times what anyone else did,” Roush said, “instead of taking a realistic look at how much their facilities and programs were degraded. … That’s why the results (in Vancouver) mystified so many Russians.

“It’s the first time people realized how bare the shelves were. It’s why,” Roush said finally, “they started getting rid of people and cleaning house.”

It’s also why Putin has quietly lowered expectations and sports officials have offered every gold medalist a $122,000 bonus, overseen investment in new ski-jumping, bobsled and curling training facilities recently, as well as hiring foreign coaches.

In one interesting ploy, former South Korean short-track speed-skating champion Victor Ahn became a Russian citizen, a move that paid off last month when he helped his new countrymen capture the 5,000-meter relay at the European championships. In another, a tear-jerker released last spring about former hockey great Valeri Kharlamov titled “Legend No. 17” seeks to remind Russians about their Big Red Machine - which won six of eight Olympic gold medals in one stretch and nearly stunned Canada in the 1972 Summit Series - and perhaps inspire a new version.

Much of the rest of the world remembers those teams as bullies, but in “17” the tables have been turned. It’s the Canadians who are portrayed as uncaring thugs and Kharlamov and his mates as cuddly sportsmen playing for the love of the game while fighting off the blandishments of greasy capitalist sports agents.

“I always dream I’m about to play a game with Canadians and kick your ass,” Kharlamov says in a trailer for the movie with English subtitles, “together with my national team.”

Those were the days.


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at and follow him at