By Duncan Mackay in Vancouver

February 18 - Russia has blamed its disappointing start at the Olympics here on the suspicions about their team following a series of positive drugs tests that have undermined their preparations.

Russia has always ranked among the top five nations overall since making their debut in the Winter Olympics at Lillehammer in 1994 following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

But after six days of competition here they are currently ranked 11th in the medals table and until yesterday had failed to win a gold.

That poor run was ended by the success yesterday in the men's cross-country sprint of Nikita Kriukov, who won ahead of team-mate Alexander Panzhinskiy.

Until then the team's solitary medal had been won by speed skater Ivan Skobrev, who had claimed bronze in the 5,000 metres.

The team has been set of target of 30 medals here, which would have been its best-ever performance, and set a high benchmark for the 2014 Olympic when Sochi will host the Games.

Russia's team, particularly its skiers, have been hit by a series of high-profile positive drugs tests that led to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge approaching Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about the problem.

Svetlana Zhurova, the 2006 Olympic 500m speed skating champion, and now State Duma Deputy with the ruling United Russia party, said during a television interview last night that the team's performance looks "sad" and claimed that the frequent doping tests they are being forced to undertake may be negatively influencing the team.

Yury Charkovsky, the coach for the cross-country skiing team, claimed four of his athletes were woken up at 6am by anti-doping officials seeking samples. 

But he admitted that the team could not complain because of the number of its competitors who had previously tested positive.

He said: "I don't believe in a bias approach of anti-doping [officials].

"We are to blame ourselves."

The biggest disappointment so far has been the failure of pairs skaters Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov to win a medal on Monday, the first time since 1964 that neither a Soviet nor Russian duo had finished in the top three.

The biathlon team, meanwhile, were criticised by Mikhail Prokhorov, head of the Russian Biathlon Union (RBU), after they failed to win a medal.

Prokhorov, Russia's 40th richest man with an estimated fortune of $9.5 billion (£6 billion), had helped bankroll the team's preparations.

He said: "The results of the sprint were strongly affected by the weather conditions, but it should be admitted that the athletes looked very weak in the last round."

But there was support for Russia's team from Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko.

He said: "There is no need to hurry up with the criticism.

"The Olympics have just begun."

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