Russians Won't Leave Olympics

Published February 23, 2002

| Associated Press

The Russians have agreed to stick around for the closing ceremony after two bad days on and off the ice left the country an embarrassed also-ran at the Winter Olympics.

Russia backed off its threats to pull out of the games Friday despite losing protests of decisions that might have cost the country gold medals in figure skating and cross-country skiing.

South Korea decided to march in Sunday's closing ceremony, too, though it was equally unhappy over a referee's decision that gave a speedskating gold to American Apolo Anton Ohno.

International Olympic Committee officials spent much of the day trying to placate the two angry nations, but said the concessions they offered will not change the results of the events.

"We are confident for the closing ceremony both delegations will be there in attendance," IOC director general Francois Carrard said.

Tensions were just easing late Friday when Russia's hockey coach leveled another blast, claiming referees conspired to make Sunday's hockey gold medal final an all North American affair between the United States and Canada.

Slava Fetisov's comments in the wake of Russia's 3-2 loss to the Americans in a semifinal game reflected the high level of frustration felt by a country that is normally a winter sports power but has only 14 medals here, fifth best.

"There's not much you can do about it right now," Fetisov said. "You have this final, you have NHL referees. ... They live here and they know the North American players."

Earlier, Russia lost a demand for a second gold medal for figure skater Irina Slutskaya and got nowhere in an effort to have a cross country race rerun so that star Larissa Lazutina could compete. The nine-time Olympic medalist had to withdraw from Thursday's race because of blood test irregularities the Russians claimed were inaccurate.

Despite an uproar that reached all the way to the Kremlin, though, Russia said it would not leave the games early.

"We will stay at the games," said Guennadi Shvets, a Russian delegation spokesman. "Everybody understood we had to stay."

Carrard said Russian and Korean concerns would be presented to the IOC executive board Saturday, but any action would be taken after the Olympics.

"We do not expect any changes in the results," Carrard said.

IOC president Jacques Rogge met with Russian officials in Salt Lake City much of the day to hear their concerns. In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin suggested Americans were doing well in the games -- a record 30 medals so far -- because they had the judges on their side.

"North American athletes receive a clear advantage," Putin said.

The South Koreans agreed, even as they also backed off their protest of a referee's decision that cost a Korean a gold in short-track speedskating.

"The IOC should have more control as far as the Olympic Games are concerned," said Kim Un-yong, IOC member from South Korea. "This hurts the IOC, it hurts the Olympic Games."

The Russians had tried to use the same tactic employed by Canada in the pairs skating scandal to whip up public frenzy over Thursday night's figure skating final won by American Sarah Hughes.

But the International Skating Union denied the protest, and the IOC said it considered the competition closed.

Russia's problem in making the protest was that Slutskaya didn't skate an error-free program like Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier did in pairs.

"You couldn't beat that program last night without being perfect and Irina wasn't," said Hughes' coach, Robin Wagner

The judges who scored the figure skating final didn't stray far from the Cold War days when loyalties were divided East against West. Slutskaya got her highest marks from judges from Russia, Slovakia and Bulgaria, while the Canadian and American judges helped Hughes win.

It wasn't just the Russians' protests that had Olympic officials scurrying to pacify them with condolences and promises that they would be treated fairly. It was the tone that was surprising.

Olympic officials had hoped that these games -- which were born in a bidding scandal -- would come quietly to a close with athletes basking in the glory of their achievements.

In Russia, though, there was outrage over the way the country has been treated at the games.

Alexei Volin, deputy chief of staff of the Russian Cabinet, said Russian athletes were practically being "mocked." Renowned film director Nikita Mikhalkov told a Russian television network that this year's Olympics were "a continuation of the Cold War."

"Perhaps it is caused by fear among the American people after the horrible day of Sept. 11 or fear that we (Russians) now have hope of climbing out of the hole we have fallen into and could be dangerous, so they have to humiliate us," he said.

URL

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