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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Olympics: Less Gold, More Hope

As they watch their athletes parading at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Atlanta on Friday, many Russians may feel some disappointment.


For decades, the Olympic Games were a great celebration of Russia's, or at least the Soviet Union's, status as a great power. Soviet athletes regularly captured a huge medal tally, dueling with the United States for first place among nations.


The results for the Russian team this year are likely to be much more modest. Russian Olympic officials hope to win 37 gold medals, a huge drop in the tally of the old Soviet team.


For many, this will be just another sign of the geopolitical and economic uncertainty that has afflicted Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the start of free-market reforms.


Russian sports have suffered because of the collapse of the old state-subsidized and controlled system of training. Similarly, with the breakup of the Soviet Union, key training facilities and many great athletes now belong to new countries other than Russia.


In fact, the situation could well get worse before it gets better. Most of the athletes who will win medals at Atlanta were trained under the old Soviet system. No new structures have yet been created to train great athletes and it is hard to see Russia performing as well in the year 2000 in Sydney.


All of this is potentially saddening for Russian sports fans, especially nostalgic ones, but they would do well to remember the adverse side effects of the old Olympic system and start considering the future.


Even the most die-hard Soviet sports fans would realize that the old superpower rivalry was unhealthy. The Olympic Games, supposedly the celebration of human perfection, were turned into an ugly battle of two competing ideologies. This rivalry destroyed two Olympic Games in 1980 and 1984 and made a mockery of the rest.


As Russia has turned its back on the Soviet era, so it will have to find a new basis for its sports. In a way, these games should mark the first step in that process.


In Barcelona in 1992, the issue was fudged by the unwieldy fusion of a "United Team," but this year Russia will be on its own.


The new Russian sporting establishment will have to win a new funding base. This will continue to include considerable state funding but also the new sources of corporate sponsorship and marketing.


Athletes and trainers themselves will have to develop a new psychology too. Rather than relying on the old Soviet system where they were effectively state employees, they will be forced to draw harder on their own enthusiasm and determination.