Medvedev wants heads to roll

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MOSCOW, March 2 – President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday called for officials in charge of preparing Russian athletes for the Winter Olympics to resign after the country suffered its worst-ever performance in Vancouver."Those in charge of preparation for the Olympics must take responsibility right now. The responsible persons should take the courageous decision and submit their resignation," Medvedev said in televised remarks.

"If they cannot do it we will help them," he added, speaking at a meeting with leaders of the ruling United Russia party.

The Russian squad recorded a deeply disappointing performance in Vancouver, finishing 11th in the Games’ medal table and clinching only three gold medals and 15 overall.

Russia’s poor showing was a bitter blow to a country used to dominating the Winter Olympics since Soviet times.

Medvedev urged improvements in the training of Olympic athletes ahead of the 2014 Games, which Russia itself will host in its southern Black Sea resort town of Sochi.

In unusually scathing comments, Medvedev slammed the country’s sports officials as "fat cats."

"We need to think about how to change the system of preparing athletes. Its main focus needs to be the athlete himself, not the federations, which seem sometimes like fat cats," Medvedev said.

Following the Vancouver Games "we had very negative emotions, but we need to move forward," he added.

In an echo of Medvedev’s criticism, Russian parliament speaker Boris Gryzlov called the Vancouver Games a "systemic failure" for Russia, the Interfax news agency reported.

Russia, accustomed to being a winter sports powerhouse, has experienced a humbling decline in its Olympics performances since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its generous financing of athletic training.

The Vancouver Games were particularly painful for Russia because of losses in sports such as figure skating and ice hockey, in which the country has traditionally enjoyed success.

Russia’s figure skaters finished without an Olympic gold medal for the first time in 50 years, while Russia’s men’s ice-hockey were knocked out of medal contention last week in a humiliating 7-3 loss to Canada.

Medvedev’s call for resignations came after similar comments last week from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who hinted at personnel changes to ensure a better performance in Sochi.

"Of course, we expected more," Putin said. "But all the same it’s not a reason to lose heart, scatter our heads with ashes and beat ourselves to exhaustion with chains."

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