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Russia sees red after Olympics drubbing

Its Olympic team was once the pride of the nation, its sportsmen and women nurtured to bring medals back to Mother Russia and show the world that the Soviet Union was as capable of sporting triumph as its capitalist rivals.

Not any more. Russia has been left stunned by the worst performance of its Olympic team since the Soviet empire collapsed in 1991.

The squad won just three gold medals and only 15 medals overall at the Winter Games in Vancouver, despite predictions that its athletes would bring home as many as 31.

Amid fears that Russia will be humiliated when it hosts the next Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, furious fans have called for team chiefs to be dismissed, and Vladimir Putin has led a chorus of political complaints. Russia languished in 11th place in the medal table, far below its previous worst of fifth in Salt Lake City in 2002.

Sports administrators had told the Kremlin that Russia could win 11 golds in Vancouver and achieve its biggest medal haul since the last Soviet team competed in 1988.

Instead, as the Olympic flag was passed to Sochi at last night's closing ceremony, Russians were left wondering if they would ever again be a sporting superpower.

"It has become clear that today we cannot compete with the leading sports powers," mourned Izvestia newspaper.