Russians big on biathlon

HARRY E. WALKER / MCT Russia's Viktor An , after winning bronze medal in 1,500-meter short-track skating.
HARRY E. WALKER / MCT Russia's Viktor An , after winning bronze medal in 1,500-meter short-track skating.
Posted: February 12, 2014

APPARENTLY, THE biathlon is to Russia what curling is to Canada.

The quirky sport that is a combination of cross-country skiing and target shooting is one of the early breakout events on Russian television at the Sochi Games.

A recent poll conducted by the Russian pollster, Levada-Center, showed that 37 percent of respondents named the biathlon as the winter sport in which they were most interested. They put it second behind figure skating (42 percent) but ahead of hockey (34 percent).

While attendance at some early events has been disappointing, the biathlon stadium was packed with fans and lined with Russian flags.

Apparently because of the nature of the sport, the biathlon in Russia is broadcast more like a soap opera than a sport, adding to the entertainment value.

"Biathlon is being popularized in a completely artificial way," said Dmitry Efimov, head of the Russian junior hockey league. "It goes to show that you can make just about any sport interesting."

For as big as the gun culture is in the United States, biathlon is the only Olympic winter sport in which the USA has never won a medal.

Russia has won 25 biathlon medals, including 11 gold.

"I feel sorry for the Americans," said 39-year-old Dmitry Guberniev, the broadcaster for Russian biathlon. "Maybe all the chicken wings they eat during American football prevent them from understanding the biathlon."

But a 3-year gold-medal drought in the world championships has Russians, who are expecting some of the 11 gold medals awarded in biathlon events, on edge.

Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov heads the Russian biathlon federation and has invested close to $3 million in biathlon schools across Russia.

A temporary reprieve

According to the BBC, some of the thousands of stray dogs roaming around Sochi and targeted for extermination have received a stay of execution.

Oleg Deripaska, one of Russia's wealthiest men, told the BBC that he decided to fund a quickly built shelter in the hills above Sochi because, "My first dog I found in the street of my village, the tiny village . It was a very close friend for almost 5 years."

Approximately 150 dogs are at the shelter waiting for adoption, but there are still an estimated 2,000 dogs and cats who were left after the builders completed work on the Olympic venues.

Those animals are still on the hit list.

Alexei Sorokin, who is the director of the company tasked with the culling, described the dogs as "biological trash," adding that Sochi "has an epidemic of rabies.

"I am for the right of people to walk the streets without fear of being attacked by packs of dogs," he said.

Who's that Russian?

Three years ago, Viktor An wasn't Russian. In fact, he didn't even exist, and he certainly didn't exist as a member of the Russian short-track skating team.

But yesterday, Victor An won Russia's second-ever short-track medal, getting the bronze in the 1,500. Technically, it was Russia's first, as the 1992 medal came as part of the Unified Team.

Back in 2006, An was Ahn Hyun-Soo when he won three gold medals for his birth-nation South Korea at the Torino Games.

But he missed the 2010 Olympics because of injury and then defected to Russia in 2011 and became Viktor An.

An was able to compete for Russia in Sochi because he hadn't competed internationally for South Korea in 3 years.

He said he took the name Viktor after Russian Korean rock star Viktor Tsoi, who was born in Leningrad and died in a car crash in 1990 at 28.

Gold isn't so golden

Winning an Olympic gold medal can lead to a marketing landfall in endorsements, but the medal itself doesn't have that much value.

Even though the gold medals awarded at Sochi are among the largest ever, they are not the most expensive.

According to Forbes magazine a Sochi gold is worth $566; the ones at the 2012 London Summer Olympics were worth $708.

The Sochi gold weighs 531 grams, but contains only 6 grams of gold with a 999 hallmark. The other 525 grams is silver with a hallmark of 960.

The silver, which is all silver, is worth $323, and the bronze is worth $3.35. Of course, the sentimental value of winning one makes them all priceless.

Medal of the day

The Netherlands has long been a dominant force in Olympic speed skating, but going back to the inaugural Winter Games in 1924 no Dutch skater had ever won a 500-meter competition.

It was the only one of the six individual distances they had not won, until yesterday.

Not only did the Netherlands win its first 500 meter, the Dutch swept the podium, a first in the event.

Michel Mulder took gold in a two-race time of 69.31, with Jan Smeekens taking silver at 69.32. Ronald Mulder, who is Michel's twin, got the bronze.

For about 10 seconds, Smeekens thought he was the winner. As he crossed the finish line, his flashing time put him in the lead, but the final arbiter was the photo finish.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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