10 OCT 1999 General News Moscow, Russia

Russian Prime Minister meets track stars

Svetlana Masterkova celebrates her 1999 World Championships 1500m win (Getty Images)Svetlana Masterkova celebrates her 1999 World Championships 1500m win (Getty Images) © Copyright

The economy of Russia is in ruins. Corruption is at its peak. The military operation in Chechnya is in full swing. But in spite of all the troubles the 47-year-old Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin invited the champions and the medal winners of the last IAAF World Championships in Sevilla for a friendly meeting at the White House.

It was the first time in the long history of our sport that the athletes and the leaders of the team were invited to the governmental premises and were honored by the Prime Minister himself.

Strange as it may seem, Putin was deeply touched.

In his short speech he praised the athletes for their performance, especially stressing the point that it was the first time that Russians who were not regarded as potential leaders managed to win six gold medals. Putin said he was happy that the team of Russia gained the overall second place. He personally presented the athletes and their coaches with souvenirs and roses.

Then the double Olympic and world champion Svetlana Masterkova took the floor. Elegant as always in her black dress and on high heels the tall blonde addressed Putin on behalf of the Russian team. She expressed deep gratitude for his support and then raised an important question. It was the same old problem for the Russian track team. That is lack of training camps and the absence of a good standard track for runners.

"We have only one 400m track not more," Svetlana said. "So, please, do give your order for those responsible for the construction to make a new modern track for us in our old training camp in the town of Podolsk near Moscow. It will even save the country a lot of money for instead of training abroad we stay here, at home." And Putin promised to help.

Valentine Balakhnichev, the president of All-Russian Track-and-Field Federation presented Putin with the official outfit (uniform) of the Russian national team. The Prime Minister dressed in the team strip posed for photos. The uniform turned out to be too large for Putin and he joked, saying that he was too small for it but nevertheless would do his jogging in it anyway.

The meeting ended with champagne drank for the health of the guests and their future victories in Sydney. It was promised that at least six golden medals would be won.

Nickolai Dolgopolov for IAAF