Putin spearheaded the Sochi Olympic bid by making an impassioned speech in English to International Olympics Committee (IOC) members in Guatemala in 2007.....With the Olympics less than two years away, the country is nearly ready. All 200-plus stadiums, slopes, jumps, runs, roads, tunnels and the essential miscellany should be complete by year-end, as 50,000 workers toil 24 hours a day at coastal and mountain venue clusters, in the biggest building project in Europe for decades costing a total of at least $ 30 billion....The progress already made in Sochi is settling a lot of nerves when it comes to the World Cup (indeed, FIFA recently commented that Russia is today better prepared for the 2018 World Cup than Brazil is for the 2014 edition), but there is one factor that is mostly out of Putin’s control that will go a long way in determining the success of these events. Putin needs to produce athletes to match. In the event of a Vancouver 2010-style medal flop, or the football team crashing out in the group stage, praise of fantastic organization will be of little consolation to Russians whose memory of the unstoppable Soviet sports machine is fading rapidly. “I don’t doubt for a second that we will put on these events magnificently,” said Igor Kots, the editor in chief at Russia’s oldest sports daily, Sovetsky Sport. “But our sporting chances are alarmingly low. If we were to hold the Olympics tomorrow, for example, we wouldn’t appear anywhere on the medal table,” he said. “The performances of our athletes have been distressingly bad over the last two or three years. Our alpine skiers are nowhere to be seen, and we have just put on the worst showing at the biathlon world championships in the last 15 years. As a simple Russian sports fan, this worries me,” Kots added....In figure skating, where Russia comes second only to the United States historically, the country’s men must try to shed their dependence on Evgeny Plushenko for success. The 2006 Turin gold medalist and runner-up in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010 is coming back to the sport after injury and disqualification, looking for gold in Sochi to end his career with a suitable flourish. But Plushenko will be 31 years old by then, putting more pressure on youngsters such as 18-year-old Artur Gachinski to take up the mantle. Gachinski leads a 17-strong Russian team at this month’s world championships in Nice, France, where they must cope without Plushenko, who is recovering from knee surgery, in attempting to better last year’s result of one silver and Gachinski’s bronze. Success in Sochi will be expected from upcoming pairs team Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, and teenagers Elena Olinykh and Nikita Katsalapov. The country is trembling with excitement over the potential of Adelina Sotnikova and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, two junior champions who will be 17 when the games begin.