Russia on defensive after failure at home swimming worlds
KAZAN, Russia (AP) With President Vladimir Putin looking on at the opening ceremony, Russia's first home world aquatics championships started with optimism but ended with disappointment and infighting.
A resurgent sports power, Russia was keen to turn home advantage into the sort of force that propelled it to the top of the medal table at last year's Winter Olympics in Sochi. But the promised breakthrough never happened.
Of Russia's two top swimmers, Vladimir Morozov left without a medal, while Yuliya Efimova, recently back from a doping ban, won the host nation's only swimming gold in the 100 meter breaststroke.
Efimova, who trains in the U.S., ended the championships with fierce criticism of Russia's coaches, saying they failed to listen to swimmers and ignored their fitness, tiring out medal hopefuls by forcing them to swim unnecessary relay preliminaries.
''I was really disappointed and angry with our federation,'' she said. ''They made the wrong calls and there was very, very much besides. ... That's why things turned out as they did.''
As the championships ended Sunday, the recriminations began and the head of the Russian Swimming Federation was forced to deny he would resign.
''We're developing along our own lines,'' insisted Vladimir Salnikov, who touted Russia's increased number of top-20 finishes and a smattering of world junior records as evidence of ''a critical mass that'll lead us to the results'' at next year's Olympics.
One bright spot was a bronze medal in the 200 backstroke for 18-year-old Evgeny Rylov, and another Russian prodigy, 16-year-old Daria Ustinova, took a solid fourth place in the women's 200 backstroke behind three multiple world champions.
Away from the swimming pool, Russia also faced disappointment in the other sports on the program. On the day of the opening ceremony, Putin met with Russia's water polo players, but they were a particular disappointment with the women's team finishing eighth and the men 14th.
In 22 events across diving, high diving, open water swimming and water polo, the host nation won just two silver and two bronze medals.
Russia's only strong sport was synchronized swimming, where the host nation won eight of the nine gold medals available.
However, even that dominance was tinged with disappointment as Russia had swept all the gold medals at the previous two world championships and expected to do the same in Kazan.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who has hiring and firing powers at many sports federations, vowed Sunday to look for solutions, saying: ''I hope fans are not ashamed of our national team.''