Russians claim bias but won’t walk out

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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SALT LAKE CITY – At the start of the Winter Olympics, organizers feared protesters on the streets. Instead, the protests are coming from Olympians themselves.

In a two-page handwritten fax, Russian officials claimed “unobjective judging by the majority of the panel” cost figure skater Irina Slutskaya a gold medal Thursday night. The International Skating Union denied the Slutskaya protest Friday night.

It is at least the fifth time the Russians have complained about unfair judging at these Games, which they say has become a “witch hunt” against their athletes.

Friday’s protest came on the heels of Russian Olympic Committee President Leonid Tyagachev’s statement on Thursday that his team would pull out of the Olympics early – as well as probably skip the Athens Games in 2004 – if their complaints were not satisfactorily dealt with quickly.

Along with the two figure skating controversies, Russia has protested the officiating in its 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic in the men’s hockey quarterfinals, said judges were biased in freestyle aerials, and alleged that a women’s cross-country skiing competitor was unfairly disqualified for failing a blood test Thursday.

After an 80-minute meeting Friday with Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, Russian officials said that they would not pull out of the Games.

“The national team will stay,” Russia’s IOC vice president Vitaly Smirnov told Reuters news service. “It will take part until the very end. Russia will take part in all events, in all competitions and will take part in the closing ceremony.”

But the lower house of Russia’s parliament took a different approach, voting 417-0 on a resolution asking Russian athletes to boycott Sunday’s closing ceremony unless Olympic officials apologize to the team.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin said North American athletes had a “clear advantage” in judging.

IOC Director General Francois Carrard said late Friday the Russian delegation has requested the IOC review a list of “points we should consider and talk over with the heads of the international sports federations.”

The Russian complaint had demanded that Slutskaya, who won the silver behind American Sarah Hughes, be given a second gold medal to share with Hughes. That’s a clear reference to the first prominent protest of the Games, when Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were upgraded from silver to a shared gold with Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. An investigation found evidence that a French judge had been improperly pressured to vote
for the Russian pair.

The ISU announced Friday they will have a hearing in April to make a final decision on accusations against French judge Marie Reine Le Gougne and ISU council member Didier Gailhaguet in the case.

Unlike the earlier Canadian protest, however, the Russians have provided no evidence of individual misconduct by a figure skating judge.

The Russians haven’t been the only ones expressing doubts about judging.

Korean officials have filed protests over short-track speed skating decisions against their athletes, including the men’s 1,500-meter race in which Apolo Anton Ohno of the United States was awarded the gold medal when Dong-Sung Kim was disqualified. The International Skating Union rejected their protests, and the Koreans said Friday they would appeal the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. A decision is expected Saturday.

Lithuanian officials also filed a complaint over ice dancing judging that was denied by the ISU.