The Russian Olympians Foundation, financed by 15 of the nation’s wealthiest businesspeople, presented the Audi sedans to the Olympians on Wednesday.
After a closed ceremony in the Kremlin hosted by President Vladimir Putin, the athletes ventured out onto Red Square, where 129 black Audis, accompanied by 129 hired drivers, ties flapping in the wind, were waiting on the cobblestone slope behind St. Basil’s Cathedral.
The Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko mingled with the athletes and their trainers, not forgetting to congratulate the female Olympian.
Then the cordon was opened and the athletes percolated through the lot, each claiming a car.
Gold medal winners received Audi A8s, which sell new for $120,000. Silver medalists got A7s ($75,000), and bronze medalists got A6s ($50,000).
The fund’s executive director, Alexander Katushev, said the cars were acquired at a ”Significant discount”
He added that elite athletes deserve elite cars.
“A fine athlete in a crappy car is like a beautiful girl who cusses. The exterior doesn’t match the interior, and this won’t do,” he added.
In addition to the cars, the fund is giving cash prizes to the medalists: 4 million rubles ($125,000) for gold, 2.5 million rubles for silver, and 1.7 million rubles for bronze.
According to some of the athletes, getting cars and cash prize didn’t motivate them to win.
His teammate, Alexander Volkov, carefully folded his towering, 210-centimeter frame into the back seat of one car. “Plenty of room here,” he said, hunching forward awkwardly.
One by one, the athletes were driven away by the hired drivers, with the exception of several wrestlers, who insisted on getting behind the wheel.
Gymnast Alina Makarenko, 17, will only be sitting shotgun for the foreseeable future — she doesn’t have a driver’s license. Makarenko said her mother would drive the A8 until she received one.
“I think if they had been Russian cars, nobody would have shown up,” said pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who won bronze after taking home gold in the last two Olympics.
The Russian Olympians Foundation includes Russia’s richest man, Alisher Usmanov, as well as tycoons Roman Abramovich, Viktor Vekselberg and Oleg Deripaska.
The nation finished fourth in the total medals count, with 82, including 24 golds, 26 silvers and 32 bronzes.