MOSCOW – The Russian Olympic team competes abroad in unmarked uniforms without the country’s flag – much like the Russian military during its unrecognized military incursions, as a joke circulating in Moscow notes.
When a Russian wins a gold medal and steps to the top of the podium, the country’s national anthem is not played. Instead, part of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 celebrates the winner.
“Let them listen to classical music,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a video released by the ministry to encourage the not-exactly Russian team.
With humor and pride, the Russians celebrate their athletes’ many medals this summer despite a ban on national symbols at the Tokyo Summer Olympics – a punishment for blatant doping offenses in the past.
“Will this stop our guys?” Social media influencer Tina Kandelaki wrote on Instagram. “No. The Olympics becomes one of those situations where you want to prove and show everyone that you are Russian.
Indeed, sports fans and sports commentators have no trouble seeing through the thin fiction of their team’s weird and bureaucratic nickname – ROC, an acronym for the Russian Olympic Committee.
“No one is bothered by this situation,” said Dmitri Kozika, bartender at Probka, a sports bar, of Russian sports fans.
Through the warm twilight of a recent summer’s evening in Moscow, fans sat on leather-covered bar stools, sipped beers, and kept tabs on reruns from Tokyo. When Russians are hoarding gold, which happens quite often at any Olympics, customers cheer, Kozika said.
On the contrary, he said, the close scrutiny of their team, which had to go through a rigorous drug elimination program, gave Russian sports fans a renewed sense of pride in the victories that followed. “They checked our guys very thoroughly,” Mr. Kozika said. “They are clean.”
Roman Pritula, a paramedic taking a well-deserved break at the duty bar from Covid-19, also ignored the strange name of the Russian team.
“This does not prevent us from being proud,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they compete under the Olympic flag. They are still Russians. And when they win, it causes positive emotions.
And even officials who once bitterly complained about anti-doping restrictions have made a habit of lightly poking fun at what was supposed to be a humiliating situation.
The Foreign Office video, for example, ended with the percussion of Queen’s rock song “We Will Rock You” – which of course is rendered in writing under the title “We Will ROC You”.
The massive victory over the United States in women’s team gymnastics, said Russian Olympic Committee President Stanislav Pozdnyakov with pride, will inspire a new generation of Russian girls to become gymnasts.
Russians Lilia Akhaimova, Viktoria Listunova, Angelina Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova won gold medals after American star Simone Biles withdrew from the competition, saying she became dangerously disoriented during a jump and that she was not mentally ready to continue.
“Honestly, I am full of emotions,” Pozdnyakov told the Tass news agency. “It’s been a long time since we dominated gymnastics like this. This is really important in team disciplines because it inspires and fills the other teams and motivates the young people.
National Channel 1 sports commentator Dmitry Guberniyev was so inspired by the Russian victory – sorry, ROC – that he suggested declaring a national holiday.
“We just need a Russia-wide celebration,” he said. “The team was just amazing. We create miracles.
Lidiya Ivanova, commentator on Match TV, a Russian sports channel, could not dampen her enthusiasm as Russian gymnasts won gold.
“What are you doing, our daughters! You are the best because you are Russian! You have defended the honor of the country, ”she said. “I adore you. Everyone adores you.
And the Russians have more to expect from the ROC: some events that Russian female athletes have historically dominated with overwhelming mastery, including artistic swimming and rhythmic gymnastics, get ahead.
The Russians proudly pointed to the actions of a fencer, Marta Martyanova, regardless of the name of her team.
Ms Martyanova refused to bow out despite trauma to her leg painful enough to make her cry and jump on one foot. At this point, no substitutes were allowed in the team competition, and the withdrawal would have cost the Russians a chance at a medal, so his stoic endurance saved the day. The Russian team won the gold medal.
“A real young woman heroine,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov said.
Anti-doping restrictions have weighed on Russian sports for years, to the point that Russian sports fans no longer pay attention, Aleksei Durnovo, a Telesport commentator, said in an interview.
“They just want to watch sports, not think about what’s going on in medical labs,” he said.
The roots of the restrictions lie in one of the worst cheating scandals in sports history: During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, coaches, athletes and Russian security services campaigned for exchange contaminated urine samples for clean samples.
The violations ended up involving more than 1,000 athletes, coaches and sports officials in Russia and led to blanket bans on Russia’s participation in international sports, including the Olympics.
Russia has spent years trying to overturn the bans and in December won a partial victory at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which allowed 330 Russians to compete in Tokyo, but not in national uniform, despite officials’ objections. anti-doping.
Many Russians are just happy to see their gymnasts, swimmers, riders, archers and other athletes attempting for medals. But on a darker note, beating doping restrictions for some Russians has also become something to be encouraged this summer.
Russian propaganda and even some members of the team have thumbed their noses at the form of light punishment of doping regulators.
A mural in Moscow, for example, shows a martial arts practitioner in a kimono emblazoned with a bear emblem knocking down a competitor in a kimono with the insignia of WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The Russian artistic swimming team attempted to compete in bear-themed swimsuits, but that plan was rejected by Olympic officials for the obvious reference to a Russian national symbol.
Team member Alla Shishkina complained bitterly, RT reported. “It annoyed us,” she said. “Bears live in many countries, not just Russia. It could have been any bear! A grizzly, a panda, whatever. But they banned it just for our country.
But she added: “We just got a little pissed off in the locker room, that’s all. The most important thing is to perform well.”
Oleg Matsnev contributed reports.