Olympics: Russia announce strong squad for Sochi Games

Russia's Olympic Committee (ROC) announced on Thursday a strong squad to represent the country at the Winter Olympics next month at the southern resort city of Sochi.

The Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov told a news conference that the ROC executive board has approved a 223-athlete squad for the Games that will take place February 7-23.

"The approval of the Olympic team's line-up was the main point of today's meeting," Zhukov said.

"The team for the Sochi Games is the biggest in the country's history ever. Even in the Soviet times the country has never had such an impressive squad.

"223 athletes will go to Sochi, it's significantly more than at any of the previous Games."

Zhukov added that the ROC expected the country's athletes would battle for the medals in 11 of the 15 sports on the Games programme.

"Our athletes will aspire for medals in 11 events on the Games programme," the ROC chief said.

"However, we haven't set any medal targets for our athletes for these Games."

Success in Sochi is of huge importance for the Russian government after the country won only three gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games, a humiliation for a country used to sporting dominance.

The men's ice hockey team, which its manager Zinetulla Bilyaletdinov formed from 16 NHL players and nine representatives of the Russian-based KHL, is one of the country's main medal hopes.

But they will have to show their best to overcome the opposition of defending champions Canada, the 2010 runners-up, the United States and the reigning world champions Sweden.

The women's biathlon relay team are also among the country's medal hopes.

The squad which united Olga Vilukhina, Olga Zaitseva, Irina Starykh, Yana Romanova, Yekaterina Glazyrina and Yekaterina Shumilova are capable of winning a number of Olympic medals including golds.

The naturalised Russian citizen Viktor Ahn, who has won three Olympic titles under the South Korean flag, is also highly favoured for winning a short-track medal, while the country's hopes in snowboard parallel giant slalom are built around Yekaterina Tudegesheva.

In sliding sports, the Russian squad also have several gold medal candidates.

The veteran luger Albert Demchenko and experienced bobsleigh pilot Alexander Zubkov have fair chances for winning medals as well as 2008-09 skeleton World Cup winner Alexander Tretiakov.

The new Olympic discipline, which makes its debut at Sochi -- women's ski jumping -- can also bring Russia an Olympic medal as the country's best ski-jumping athlete Irina Avvakumova is currently among the World Cup leaders and will likely battle for a place on the podium.

In men's figure skating Russia's hopes are heaped on 31-year-old three-time world and seven-time European champion Yevgeny Plushenko, who will compete at his fourth Olympics.

The 2006 Turin Olympic champion, who also won two silver medals at the 2002 and 2010 Games says this will be the curtain-closing competition of his sparkling career.