Russia Stacked Team With Stars for World University Games

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Correction Appended

MOSCOW -- The World University Games are a sports competition drawing student athletes from around the world for tests of strength, endurance and dexterity. At this summer's Russian version, there was a new contest: getting creamed by the hosts.

Most countries treat the biennial games as something of a good-will exchange for amateur athletes, but not the Russians, who fielded a star-studded team stacked with 18 gold-medal winners from the real Olympics who were ostensibly also studying at a university somewhere.

The Russians won 155 gold medals over the 11 days of competition. The Chinese, no slouches when it comes to international competitions, were a distant second with 26 golds, and the American team finished way back in seventh place with 11.

With people in the stands cheering and stomping for the home team in the Volga River city of Kazan, the Russians took victory lap after victory lap, leaving their winded and bewildered student competitors from around the world to stagger off the field in defeat.

"We came well prepared," Aleksandra V. Lyskova, the spokeswoman for the Russian team, said in a telephone interview as she explained how the Russians trounced everybody else so badly.

The Russian haul of gold medals, about half the total available, was a record for the University Games, also known as the Universiade, which have been held since 1924. Russia surpassed even China's haul of 75 gold medals, which raised some eyebrows at the last games, which were held in China.

The Russians took the games seriously in other ways too, spending $4.5 billion to prepare, according to the International Association of Student Sports.

The Russians considered the student games a warm-up for the Winter Olympics next February in Sochi, where the Kremlin longs to win the medal count and showcase the revival of Russia's once-fearsome sporting reputation.

As the competition of student athletes progressed, non-Russian students began to whisper among themselves. While limbering up before swimming or stretching at trackside, they could hardly help noticing their Russian competitors appeared far more muscle-bound, serious and mature.

Even within Russia, though, the fielding of Olympic champions in a student competition and the predictable result -- winning six times as many gold medals as the nearest competitor -- did not go uncriticized. Vedomosti, the Russian business newspaper, ran a front-page editorial suggesting that Russia had fudged the rules.

"In a country with imitations of many other institutions, there's no surprise here," the newspaper said. "The Universiade is like an election: a little administrative resource, a little busing and stuffing, and you can serve up 146 percent."

Team U.S.A. did include some Olympic athletes, including a weight lifter and two synchronized swimmers, but none of them won medals. The more typical American competitors were represented by the water polo team from the University of California, Los Angeles, and the volleyball team from Springfield College in Massachusetts.

"Because we were playing these guys who were obviously bigger than us, we had to play better defense," Paul Pickell, a senior sociology major on the U.C.L.A. water polo team, said in an interview, adding that he cherished the chance to play against such elite competitors, and lose. "When you play against a guy who is better than you, you get better. We were really fortunate."

Correction: July 18, 2013, Thursday

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the name of the Massachusetts college whose volleyball team took part in this summer's World University Games. It is Springfield College, not Smithfield College. 

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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