Russia’s best gold medal prospects at the Beijing Games
Can Russian athletes earn a top-three finish at the Winter Olympics? There are high expectations – with figure skating, ice hockey and skiing among its strongest hopes
With the Winter Olympics just around the corner, speculation about possible medal-winners continues to grow, fueling excitement about the highly-anticipated event where Covid restrictions mean that favorites and underdogs are particularly liable to swapping places this time out.
The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) is expected to be in the top five best nations, with optimists predicting it will be in the top three. It will compete under a neutral flag due to the sanctions imposed on the team four years ago by the World Anti-Doping Agency over alleged doping violations.
In 2018, before the Winter Games in PyeongChang, the squad was savaged by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which disapproved dozens of its leaders – including clear gold-medal contenders – for questionable doping offenses.
As a result, the diminished team – which lacked its leaders in biathlon, skiing, skeleton, short-track, and bobsleigh – won just two golds, finishing in 13th place and registering one of the lowest results in the country’s Olympic record.
In Beijing, there will be a full lineup once again – and it won’t require final approval from the IOC.
According to the ROC boss Stanislav Pozdnyakov, Russia is aiming high: “We are planning to win over 30 medals of different value,” he said.
“We have a good team which includes winners and medalists of the world and European championships. I think we can fight for the top three places in the standings. Of course, not everything depends just on us – but we’ll apply efforts to help our athletes show their best in China.”
So who exactly are the Russian gold medal prospects expected to shine in the Chinese capital over the next two weeks?
Figure skating powerhouse Russia is expected to provide athletes who dominate the event in Beijing, with hopes pinned on both the pairs and the women’s singles skaters.
Out of the five sets of medals that will be contested in China, Russan skaters will battle for four, with just one event – the men’s singles skating – being the country’s weak point.
The team event, which was introduced at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, is widely predicted to bring Russia its first gold at the Games.
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Pundits have already branded the nation’s star-studded roster “very powerful and almost unbeaten.”
In the women’s singles skating, which has been a source of national pride for the past two Olympics, fans expect a clean podium sweep from the Russian trio of Kamila Valieva, Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova, who will each vie for the Olympic crown.
The uncompromising battle for gold in ice-dancing will likely occur between the reigning world and European champions, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov from Russia, and the French duo, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who claimed silver at the last Winter Games.
ROC pairs Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii and 2021 world gold medalists Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov will have a tough task to outscore home favorites Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, the two-time world champions and 2018 Winter Olympic runners-up.
In one of the most thrilling and nerve-wrecking Olympic team events, ice hockey, Russia is considered among the leading contenders to grab the title, after North America’s National Hockey League confirmed it would not be sending its players to the Games due to Covid-19 concerns.
In 2018, the Kontinental Hockey League squad – which comprises member clubs based in Belarus, China, Finland, Latvia, Kazakhstan, and Russia – won gold in a nail-biting thriller against surprise finalist Germany under the leadership of Stanley Cup winner Pavel Datsyuk.
Four years on, the Russian Red Machine will be redoubling its efforts to defend the title that it took in South Korea.
Russia’s biggest hopes in cross-country skiing are pinned on just one athlete: Alexander Bolshunov.
He was the only competitor who managed to undermine Norway’s dominance at the 2021 world championships, where he took gold in the 30km skiathlon.
While Russia’s results in biathlon have taken something of a slow nosedive in recent years, fans and pundits alike still believe national competitors could still fight for podium places, with Eduard Latypov and Alexander Loginov being named as candidates for medals.
Reigning world champion Maxim Burov will lead the team in the men’s aerials.
He is heading to the Games with four confident world cup wins this season.
Last year, 17-year-old Sofia Nadyrshina became the youngest competitor to win the world title, after dominating the women’s parallel slalom event at the 2021 global championships.
This season, she has registered three podium places at world cup events and is third in the current standings.
Still only 21, Dmitry Loginov has already scooped three world titles. He’s considered one of the hot contenders to win medals in Beijing.
Last year, Russia claimed the overall FIS Snowboard World Cup parallel slalom mixed team title for the first time in their history.
Making his Olympic debut, multiple world champion and world record holder Pavel Kulizhnikov is another medal-winning prospect.
Four years ago, Kulizhnikov was denied a chance to compete at the Winter Games because he didn’t have a clean doping record.
Now, having no obstacles in his way, the athlete will try to post the fastest results at his favorite sprint distances.
Russian skeleton rider Aleksandr Tretyakov, who was also prohibited from competing in South Korea in 2018, will now have a chance to make his Olympic dream come true after being included in the national squad.
Tretyakov won at the 2014 Games in Sochi but later had his gold medal annulled after the publication of the controversial doping report, which claimed his doping probes had scratch marks.
Tretyakov triumphed at the 2021 European championship in Winterberg, claiming his second European title 14 years after the first.
A total of 109 sets of medals in 15 sporting events will be up for grabs in Beijing, with Norway considered the uncontested frontrunner to win the unofficial medal contest at the Games.