LONDON — After a miserable first week in the gold medal stakes, traditional powerhouse Russia is showing signs of a revival — though not enough to avoid its lowest Olympic finish in 60 years.
While some of Russia’s strongest events are still to come, the team looks likely to finish outside the top three in golds for the first time since the Soviet Union began competing in the Olympics in 1952.
It’s a worrying sign for a country that will host the next Olympics, the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, and follows Russia’s worst-ever performance at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.
“Sure, we would like to have more gold medals,” Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov told the RIA Novosti news agency. “But this is sports, and in many sport events we just lack a bit of luck and good fortune.”
After lagging in 10th for total gold medals won in London behind even North Korea and former Soviet republic Kazakhstan, Russia started to come to life Monday, picking up three gold medals to move into a tie for sixth place with Italy with seven. Alan Khugaev won a gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling, Yuliya Zaripova captured the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase and gymnast Aliya Mustafina won the uneven bars.
China and the United States are 1-2 in golds with 31 and 29, respectively, and host Britain third with 18.
Despite the shortage of gold, the Russians have been racking up other medals — 17 silver and 18 bronze for an overall count of 42. They have moved two ahead of Britain into third place in total medals.
Russia’s recent decline has coincided with China’s rise as an Olympic superpower and continued dominance by the United States.
The Russian daily Sports Express said in a front page commentary Monday that Russian sports was “frozen” between the Chinese and American systems. It blamed a shortage of state funding and lack of oversight and control over national sports federations.
“It’s very far from China, where the watchful Communist Party is eyeing the selection process starting from the kindergarten stage, builds giant sports arenas and finances powerful medical research — and harshly demands results,” the paper said. “We must admit that we stand even further from the American model, and the distance keeps growing. Because it would be deadly if we end state involvement in sports as they did.”
There’s room for Russia to bring home plenty more in the final days of the games, which end Sunday. Russia has good medal chances in wrestling, synchronized swimming, gymnastics and boxing, among others.
“Historically, we win 80 percent of our gold medals in the last five days,” Mikhail Kusnirovich, deputy head of the Russian team, said. “If we finish with 20 gold medals, it would be great.”
Barring an amazing set of circumstances, Russia will not be able to catch Team GB in the gold medal race. The hosts, who already have 11 more golds that Russia, have strong contenders ahead in track cycling, boxing, equestrian, sailing and track and field.
Russia finished third in both medal counts at the past two Summer Olympics and had been widely predicted to do the same in London.
Before that, the Soviet Union or Russia had always been first or second going back to the 1952 Games in Helsinki.