Putin echoed the nation's disappointment with its performance at the Vancouver Olympics and ominously suggested 'organisational conclusions' might be pursued.
With just 13 medals and three golds going into Friday's events, Putin said Russia's sports establishment needs to get its act together in time for the 2014 Winter Games it is hosting in Sochi.
"Of course we expected more from our team, but that's not cause to throw up our hands, wear a sackcloth and ashes or beat ourselves with chains," Putin said at the opening of a judo centre in the Siberian city of Tyumen.
"It's cause for serious analysis and conclusions, including maybe organisational conclusions," he said, using a bureaucratic euphemism for dismissals.
Russia must "fix the situation and create all conditions for a worthy performance at the Sochi Olympics in 2014," Putin said.
Newspapers, lawmakers and the public have been lamenting Russia's unusual lack of success in Vancouver.
The biggest blow came in the men's ice hockey competition with a 7-3 loss to hosts Canada in a quarter-final match on Wednesday.
President Dmitry Medvedev had hinted he would travel to Vancouver if Russia made the hockey final. Medvedev's foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, said on Friday that he will not go.
Prikhodko said Russia's results so far were "beneath any criticism" -- and that he had won a bottle of brandy betting against Russia in the ice hockey match with Canada. He stressed he had made the wager as a sports fan, not a state official.
The Vancouver Games also brought the end of a dynsasty, with a Russian or Soviet couple failing to win gold in the pairs figure skating for the first time since 1964.
At the 2006 Winter Olympics, Russia won 22 medals, eight of them gold. In 1994 -- at a time when Putin has suggested Russia was on its knees after the wrenching Soviet collapse -- it ranked first with 11 golds and 23 medals.
Putin paid tribute to Russia's Vancouver medallists on Friday, saying "we certainly must not forget those who have achieved outstanding results, those who won gold or came within a step of it."
A judo black belt, Putin has urged Russians to play sports and lead healthy lives, setting an example and burnishing his own image with prominent appearances on gym mats and ski slopes.
He led Russia's successful campaign to win the 2014 Games for Sochi, a Black Sea resort city where most of the Olympic venues are being built from scratch.
Meanwhile, the Russian media attacked their much-fancied ice hockey team, ranked number one in the world, for a 7-3 drubbing by Canada at the Vancouver Olympics.
"A massive grave," blared a front-page headline in Friday's daily Sport-Express a day after world champions Russia suffered their worst defeat in Olympic competition.
"The Canada quarter-final was our worst game ever in Russian hockey history, a real nightmare."
"It was men against boys. No contest," said business daily Kommersant, adding that Russia's best players, Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk had had a poor game.
Television commentators and analysts were just as critical.
"They beat us at our own game. They showed greater speed, more aggression, more power," said former coach Sergei Gimayev, who commentated on the game for Russian state television RTR.
The hockey fiasco added to the gloom across the country following Russia's disappointing showing at the Vancouver Games, already dubbed "the cursed Olympics" by local media.
The Russians, who beat Canada in the final of the last two world championships and in the quarter-finals of the Turin Olympics four years ago, had been confident of pulling off another victory over their arch-rivals.
This time, the Canadians came out roaring, scored three goals in the first 13 minutes and never looked back.
"The game was practically over even before the first period ended," said Gimayev. "We may have the world's best players but they had more desire, more will to win. They came to war and were ready to die. We weren't ready to fight them."
Gimayev hoped the Russians would learn their lessons in order to redeem themselves at the 2014 Games on home ice in Sochi.
"The Canadians did their homework after losing to us on three straight occasions. Now we have to do the same so in four years' time in Sochi we can pay them back," he said.