Russian prez: Heads should roll

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev demanded yesterday that his nation's sports officials step down over the country's dismal performance at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Russia, a traditional winter-sports powerhouse, won only 15 medals - with only three golds - in one of its worst performances. Officials said before the games that 30 medals and a top-three finish in the medal standings was the target.

Russia placed 11th for golds and sixth in the overall medal count.

In televised comments, Medvedev said if those responsible for preparing the athletes don't resign, then the decision will be made for them. He did not mention anyone by name.

"Those who bear the responsibility for Olympic preparations should carry that responsibility. It's totally clear," he said. "I think that the individuals responsible, or several of them, who answer for these preparations, should take the courageous decision to hand in their notice. If we don't see such decisiveness, we will help them."

In post-Soviet history, Russia had never previously finished outside the top five in the medal standings and only won fewer medals once before, in 2002 at Salt Lake City. Russia was the top nation at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, garnering 23 medals - 11 gold.

In nine Winter Olympics from 1956 to 1988, the Soviet Union failed to top the medal standings only twice, finishing runner-up on those occasions.

Medvedev lamented that Russia "has lost the old Soviet school . . . and we haven't created our own school - despite the fact that the amount of money that is invested in sport is unprecedentedly high."

The results leave Russia particularly red-faced as it takes the torch for the next Winter Games in its Black Sea resort of Sochi in 2014.

"Without messing around, we need to start preparations for Sochi. But taking into account what happened in Vancouver, we need to completely change how we prepare our athletes," Medvedev said.

In an interview with the newspaper Vremya Novostei, sports minister Vitaly Mutko blamed several factors for the Vancouver flop. New sports such as freestyle skiing that "no one takes seriously" in Russia have allowed other countries to race ahead, he said.

Mutko also claimed luck was not on the country's side, saying in several disciplines Russia lacked "a shot here, a second or a point there," singling out Evgeni Plushenko, who took silver behind Evan Lysacek, of the United States, in a closely fought men's figure skating competition.

Doping bans also deprived Russia of several leading medal contenders, he said.

Several Russian politicians have called for Mutko, who was appointed sports minister in May 2008, to step down.

Noteworthy

* Sunday's gold-medal hockey game attracted a massive North American television audience, making it the most-viewed hockey game in the United States in 30 years and the most-viewed show of any kind in Canadian history.

On NBC, the United States-Canada game drew an average of 27.6 million viewers and 15.2 percent of homes, the best such figures for hockey since Feb. 24, 1980, when Team USA beat Finland in Lake Placid for its last hockey gold medal.

It was the third-biggest U.S. hockey audience, trailing only that Finland game (32.8 million viewers) and the "Miracle on Ice" 2 days earlier against the Soviets, which attracted 34.2 million, even on tape delay.

Sunday's viewership peaked at 34.8 million from 5:30 to 6 p.m. Eastern time, an audience size only football usually can attract among American sports.

The average viewership surpassed those for any day of the most recent World Series, NBA Finals or NCAA Final Four, as well as the Masters and the Daytona 500.

* Houston will host the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on Jan. 14, 2012, the first time one city will host the event for men and women in the same year. *