‘The fact NHL refused the Olympics increases our hockey players’ chances’

Vladimir Leonov summed up the post-pandemic sports year

At a new skiing and biathlon venue, Tatarstan Minister of Sport Vladimir Leonov summed 2021 up and voiced plans for the upcoming Olympic year 2022. This year made Tatarstan athletes happy with five medals in Tokyo, in 2022, there will be three world championships, two of which are swimming competitions. There is already a bird in the hand in the person of the FINA flag, perhaps, it will be possible to get two in the bush, that’s to say, Beijing medals. Read more in Realnoe Vremya’s report.

Like Ronaldo

Vladimir Leonov started the traditional meeting with journalists by pushing bottles aside: “I will do like Ronaldo.” The allegation of the high-profile story with the Portuguese football player who pushed the worldwide known company’s drink aside at the Euro was clear.

Another thing was important. In more than 20 years, Kazan and Tatarstan have seen almost all legendary athletes of the modern era, same Cristiano Ronaldo has been here and wasn’t considered a man from another planet like it was before. In his speech, the Tatarstan sport minister periodically cites some last names as if he was juggling with them, and he had the full right to this: if the Tatarstan capital isn’t in the centre of international sport it is certainly in its orbit. A huge number of sports venues, a lot of already hosted and scheduled competitions, an incredible amount of stars of the world sport who run, jumped, skated on the ice and lied on the football pitch can be provided as evidence of this.

20 Tatarstan stars have participated in the main competition of the last four years, which for the first time in history turned into a five cycle period, and won five medals. It is clear that the best athletes of the year were chosen among the medallists with volleyball player Maxim Mikhailov and, as it was easily forecasted, epeeist Marta Martyanova, the hero of the 2020 Tokyo Games.

“The incredible victory of Marta Martyanova, the silver medal of our volleyball players who lacked just a bit to repeat the scenario of the London Games in 2012, which provided the republic with another three silver medals,” Leonov addressed the Olympians. “Alexander Krasnykh who didn’t get to the final but looked decently in the semi-final has a silver, we are happy for him. While those who were a step far from medals cause regret: it is both Veronika Kudermetova and Nikita Shleikher, who didn’t perform the last dive well. The most important thing is to try to forget this, we talked both with him and his coach Pavel Muyakin and I will say that Nikita will continue his sports career.”

Photo: Maxim Platonov
“The incredible victory of Marta Martyanova, the silver medal of our volleyball players who lacked just a bit to repeat the scenario of the London Games in 2012”

“I won’t make any forecasts, don’t even ask me”

Leonov’s mood was festive. Yes, the Olympics in Beijing is ahead, who knows what the upcoming year is preparing for us, but the results in 2021 were good. If not Kudermetova and Shleikher, the results could be named great. Also, 2021 compared to 2020 has provided positive dynamics in all aspects, both in the bigger number of Tatarstan athletes on the country’s teams and the amount of medals and competitions held.

Though Leonov himself jokingly noted that any comparison with 2020 would provide positive dynamics. With the Winter Games, there is light not at the end of the tunnel but the road we have to take. NHL will miss the hockey players’ Games, while Tatarstan started to hope for a potential medal, perhaps, various. At the moment, Leonov said this in the context of Ak Bars Hockey Club’s performance during the season:

“Ak Bars had some problems during the season, but we continue believing in the team. And the fact that NHL representatives refused to compete in the Games increases our lads’ chances of being selected for the country’s team. There are deserving lads, some of them have already played for the national team, we hope the coaching staff will use those who they already invited, but we hope for more.”

But these words can become prophetic in 1,5 months. And the fact that there won’t be NHL in Beijing is their problem: as people say, it is always the fault of the absentee.

In general the topic of Beijing is discussed (a big meeting took place in the Russian Ministry of Sport on 22 December), but forecasts aren’t made. Leonov said: “Now our list has 12 athletes from four sports, hopefully, they will compete in the Games. But the Paralympic team already has two competitors: it is Paralympic champions and medallists Rushan Minnegulov and Marta Zaynullina.”

Photo: ak-bars.ru
“Ak Bars had some problems during the season, but we continue believing in the team”

“Sintez, Dynamo Hockey Club and KAMAZ-Master are our champions”

We could again compare the year with 2020 remembering the performance of Tatarstan team in Russian championships:

“Sintez that has repeated its last year’s success is our champion, though water polo is our pain when it comes to the national team, but we aren’t talking about the national team, we are talking about our republic, while here we have one of the best schools and today’s best Russian club. Dynamo’s men’s field hockey team that won the 19th gold of the country’s championship as well as KAMAZ-Master that won the Dakar rally marathon,” Leonov enumerated those “knights” of Tatarstan team sports that retained their leadership during the post-COVID-19 year.

Mr Leonov talked about the champions little. Only one thing was said about the Olympic medallist: “The incredible victory of Marta Martyanova.” Perhaps, the minister saved emotions for the award ceremony of the Best Athlete of the Year, perhaps, he rooted for those who were still on their road to victories.

“In my practice, this has been one of the best seasons at UNICS: the confidence of the club’s President Yevgeny Bogachyov, the new coach, the selection of players allow saying that the team is in good shape and there will be shown a worthy result. Almost everything is clear in volleyball, both in the men and women’s teams there were invited some new players, they are getting used to each other, that’s normal. Rubin is causing a lot of talks, scepticism, and now it isn’t in the place we would like to see it. But we believe in Leonid Slutsky’s talent as coach. As for the difficulties with Ak Bars Arena stadium voiced in an interview in September, I can say that we solved all the problems. There is no confrontation between the club, stadium and us. We agreed on everything, and now the pitch is in due state. The pitch is now sleeping, speaking the agrarian language, we will wake it up a week to the championship. There are all technologies for this. We will hope for some resetting at Rubin and will continue rooting for it.”

This isn’t everything that was said about Rubin, which took the minister much more time to talk about than other teams. On the one hand, it is better to routinely win that lose being much-maligned.

Photo: rubin-kazan.ru
Rubin is causing a lot of talks, scepticism, and now it isn’t in the place we would like to see it.But we believe in Leonid Slutsky’s talent as coach

“There is a community out there in which something is happening”

Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent brought up the topic of Russian figure skating, it is good that the Russian Figure Skating Championships began where a record high number of students of the Tatarstan school are competing (six), Leonov switched to the gifted oratory to the genre of mimicry and gesture trying to explain his attitude to Russian figure skating in a clear way.

“There is a community out there in which something is happening. I don’t want to join this community, since it has its own interests, politics. Yes, perhaps an athlete was born here but received an offer that couldn’t be denied. If they feel fine there, what we can do then. If some of the athletes want to compete for Tatarstan, welcome.”

It turns out that everything is “complicated,” like the youth say. On the one hand, if the ice turns into water, here it becomes easier, clearer and more pleasant. For instance, this is the evaluation of the FINA Centre’s performance by Leonov: “We are very proud of the FINA Centre created here three years ago. As a result, 10 students of this centre competed at the Olympics in Tokyo, while there were 12 competitors at the World Championships. It is a big success, through which we want to expand the activity of our centre, including through the arrival of synchronised swimmers.”

He talked about the upcoming season. “We will host five key competitions traditionally together with FINA, including the FINA World Short Course Championships, which we decided not to postpone, though its data coincided with the period of Russia’s disqualification launched by WADA. But the start of the competition didn’t change, it is on 17 December, since it would be difficult for both FINA and athletes to postpone the participation in the world championships. Plus, the 2022 World Junior Swimming Championships will be here in August. It will be some showcase of those who will then come to compete in the FINA World Championships in 2025.”

Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
We will host five key competitions traditionally together with FINA, including the FINA World Short Course Championships, which we decided not to postpone

We can say be my guest, and not figuratively speaking, since Leonov was handed over the FINA flag in Abu Dhabi as a representative of the host of the next FINA World Short Course Championships.

Jaudat Abdullin