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Putin Wants Russians To Exercise, Joseph Stalin–Style

Vladimir Putin announced plans to use money left over from the Sochi Olympics — seriously — to revive a Soviet-era physical fitness program.
Photo by Paddy2706

It’s a well-known fact that the Sochi Olympics cost Russia a ridiculous $51 billion — less well-known, however, is that there was somehow money left over. And this week, Vladimir Putin announced his plans for all those extra rubles: a program encouraging Russians to employ Joseph Stalin's fitness regimen.

That is to say, not Stalin's personal gym routine, but a sweeping physical fitness program first instituted by Uncle Joe in 1931 and called “Ready for Labor and Defense of the USSR” (the Russian abbreviation is GTO). At one point, more than 200 million Soviets of all ages were participating in the program, which awarded medals for officially achieving varying levels of physical fitness by passing a series of tests. Stalin's purpose for the GTO was to make sure all comrades were physically prepared to both work and fight tirelessly for the Soviet Union. Putin, an unapologetic fan of both physical fitness and the USSR, said that he wishes to “pay homage to our national historical traditions.”


Stalin's program, which officially ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 but was carried on locally in some parts of Russia, required citizens between 10 to 60 years old to compete in traditional fitness tests like running, jumping, and … grenade throwing. Those who did well in the events progressed up the ranks of five skill levels: “Courageous and Adroit,” “Sports Successors,” Strength and Courage,” Physical Perfection,” and “Cheerfulness and Health.”

The program will target all Russians above the age of six, and Putin will receive annual reports detailing the overall fitness of Russian citizens.

During the Soviet era, athletics were no joke, as international competitions served as proxies for the Cold War. The 1972 Munich Olympics are best remembered for the Black September attack that resulted in the deaths of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team. But they were also the scene of (arguably) the worst case of officiating and/or cheating in Olympics history, when the USSR beat the US in the gold-medal basketball game after the final few seconds were played and replayed three times until the Soviets were finally able to sink a winning basket. And the 1980 "Miracle on Ice," in which the underdog US Olympic hockey team beat the heavily favored Russians, is generally thought of as America's greatest athletic triumph.

Putin said he plans to spend the extra Sochi money — again, that is not a typo — on building and maintaining sports venues, encouraging healthy lifestyles, and promoting fitness training. The program will target all Russians above the age of six, and Putin will receive annual reports detailing the overall fitness of Russian citizens.


Putin honored the organizers, architects, coaches, and other leaders behind the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics during a ceremony at the Kremlin on March 24.

Putin has already said he wants to not only make Russians live longer, but also bring the country's population back to what it was during the Cold War. Russia has about 5 million fewer people than it did when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 — though it did just pick up a quick 2.5 million new citizens when it rescued Crimea from the fascist clutches of Ukraine.

In 2011, Putin pledged to spend $53 billion to raise the average life expectancy in Russia to 71 years. Last year, he doubled down and vowed to increase Russian life expectancy to 74 by 2018. He also imposed laws restricting smoking and drinking in an effort to keep Russians healthy.

The average life expectancy in Russia is about 70, which is almost 10 years lower than that of America and the EU — but one year higher than that of Ukraine.

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