By Paul Osborne

The inaugural students at the RIOU have been awarded their Master of Sport Administration qualifications ©RIOUThe first set of graduates at the Russian International Olympic University (RIOU) have today been awarded their Master of Sport Administration (MSA) qualifications after they all successfully completed the University's Olympic-focused 10-month programme of study.

The course began on September 16 last year, and welcomed 27 students from 14 nations across the globe - Russia, Uganda, Armenia, Ukraine, India, Poland, United States, Germany, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Botswana and Korea.

The students were a mix of National Olympic Committee (NOC) representatives, sports industry employees and athletes, including Polish Olympic champion Otylia Jędrzejczak, US Olympic ice hockey medallist Molly Engstrom and Botswana sprinter Obakeng Ngwigwa.

The 10-month course saw students study a wide range of modules within the sports and Olympic Movement, including economics of sport and the Olympic Games; governance, politics and the Olympic Movement; research methods in sport management; sport and the Olympic Games as a business; and sport marketing and communications.

These modules were all taught in English by leading lecturers from Russia and across the world.

Speaking of the course, Polish swimmer Jędrzejczak, who recently announced her retirement from the sport, said: "I decided to come and study at RIOU because I have always wanted to stay in the sports industry after my career in swimming was over.

"The MSA course was the right choice for me as it gave me an opportunity to achieve my goals of advancing my personal knowledge of the sports industry and building up my sports management skill base.

"I felt myself improving in these areas every day; it was great to be developing at a fast enough speed to see your improvements."

RIOU's first MSA graduates flank RIOU Rector Professor Lev Belousov (centre in red) on RIOU's Sochi-based campus ©RIOURIOU's first MSA graduates flank RIOU Rector Professor Lev Belousov (centre in red) on RIOU's Sochi-based campus ©RIOU

The MSA course was unique across the world in that it prioritised giving students a wide range of practical experience, with this inaugural set of students given the opportunity to see first-hand the preparations and operations for Sochi 2014.

With International Olympic Committee's (IOC) approval, the students received on-the-job training at Olympic venue across Sochi, while also holding meetings with the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee in order to further their study.

"I've learned a huge amount about the operations of the Olympic Movement and the Olympic Games in my time at RIOU," said Russian student Ivan Belyaev.

"The practice programme during the Games absorbed all my focus and fascination and was an invaluable experience which a lot of my future competitors on the employment market simply don't have.

"My year in Sochi has been the best year of my life so far and I have made a lot of friends.

"There is a great inquisitive atmosphere at RIOU amongst the students and professors, and this comes from the University's cultural diversity.

"This will remain one of my lasting impressions of RIOU, as well as the Games of course."

During the Games, students completed a research project surveying athletes and press representatives in order to gain valuable feedback on the 2014 Paralympic Games.

This feedback was then taken back to the university for further analysis, before being sent to the International Paralympic Committee Academy.

Olympic silver medallist Molly Engstrom recieves her MSA qualification from RIOU Rector Professor Lev Belousov ©RIOUOlympic silver medallist Molly Engstrom recieves her MSA qualification from RIOU Rector Professor Lev Belousov ©RIOU

Congratulating the graduates at a special ceremony, RIOU Rector Professor Lev Belousov said: "In September 2013 you came to Sochi to study at RIOU.

"And that was an important moment for us - one we had been preparing for, for a number of years.

"We built the campus, developed the MSA course, attracted the best lecturers and adjusted the University's operations to accommodate you all.

"We have had a successful start together by working very hard together throughout this year.

"I have no doubts that you will always remember the time you spent at RIOU because the ordinary routine of studies was enlivened by so many thrilling and colourful events - making friends with students from other countries and continents, meeting renowned professors and experts, famous politicians and sport leaders.

"And, most importantly, the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games!

"The practice programmes at the Olympic venues gave you professional skills on a new level.

"The academic knowledge from the course and the invaluable practical experience have equipped you for a completely new chapter in your careers and lives.

"I would like to wish you good luck and every success on this new path!"

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