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As Olympics approach, pressure on Prokhorov to succeed biathlon

Christophe Pallot/Agence Zoom

Just before Mikhail Prokhorov bought into the Nets, he agreed to take over the Russian biathlon program, assuming the presidency of the Russian Biathlon Union. He installed his chief sports adviser, Sergey Kushchenko, as the sports' executive director ... and does what he usually does, spend, and spend, and spend.

Now, the biathlon union leads the world in technology, training facilities and doesn't just fly first class. Everyone flies in charter airliners. Their coach is among the top coaches in the sport. Sound familiar?  It does to the New York Times, who profiles Prokhorov's tenure as the head of the skiing and shooting sport  .... and how oligarchs like Prokhorov are financing Russia's Olympic sports.

He took the helm of the biathlon federation in 2008, a year after Sochi, Russia, was selected to host the Games, and has showered the team with money — just as he has in Brooklyn with the Nets. He has turned the program into a gold-plated machine in hopes of re-establishing Russian dominance when the Olympics open next month.

The Russian team will fly to Sochi on three chartered jets.  Prokhorov had provided cash bonuses to coaches, managers and athletes (which he can't do under the CBA). He built a training facility the likes of which the sport has never seen.

“For Prokhorov, it is very important to allow his sportsmen, those guys on the international team, to think and focus only on the training and the competition and not think about the beds or something,”  Kushchenko, now a member of the Nets' board of directors, told the Times' Sam Dolnick.

The goal is as ambitious with biathlon as it is with the Nets: two gold medals or he'll quit.  (Something like an NBA title in five years or he gets married.)  His spending has caught the attention of his competition, including Tim Burke, America's best bet for a medal.

“The Russians travel with an enormous team, more coaches and staff than athletes,” Mr. Burke said. “They fly a lot in their private jets from World Cup to World Cup.”