Smarting from perceived injustices, Russia threatens to walk
Russia tried its best yesterday to resurrect the cold war. In a rambling tirade long on bluster and short on specificity, Russian Olympic officials addressed grievances from these Olympics and hinted at other complaints reaching back two decades. In doing so, committee president Leonid Tyagachev said that his athletes have been treated so unfairly that "we're ready to leave the Olympic Village."
Where judges and officials have ruled against the Russians, Tyagachev sees conspiracies. First came pairs figure skating, in which Anton Sikharulidze and Elena Berezhnaya eventually shared the gold medal with David Pelletier and Jamie Salé of Canada. Then came Russia's 1-0 victory Wednesday over the Czech Republic in men's hockey, a game in which an official gave a 10-minute misconduct penalty to forward Ilya Kovalchuk. Last came yesterday's women's cross-country 4x5-km relay, a race that the Russians have won in three consecutive Olympics. Shortly before the relay, however, Larissa Lazutina, who skied on each of those winning teams and has nine medals to her credit, failed her prerace blood test. The hemoglobin in her blood surpassed the limit of 16 grams per deciliter by eight tenths. A similar fate befell Valentina Shevchenko of Ukraine. Because neither team received news of the failed tests until after the two-hour deadline for submitting start lists, neither could furnish a substitute, and both were disqualified. (Germany won the gold.)
The Russians took their fight to the court of public opinion. "In every sport," said Tyagachev, "we defend our honor." Indeed, yesterday's speechifying may have been a preemptive strike at the next controversy involving a Russian athlete -- a strike fueled at least in part by Russia's realization that its power within the Olympic movement has been eroding since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Last night, though, the IOC made clear that Russia and its concerns were far from unimportant. "The stakes are high, the emotions are high," said IOC secretary general François Carrard. "These protests are part of these emotions." Hopefully, what happens next will be based on reason.
Brian Cazeneuve and Ivan Maisel
When Gianni Romme takes to the ice in the 10,000 meters this afternoon, some of his most boisterous countrymen won't be on hand to watch. Instead, they'll be comfortably ensconced in an orange-bedraped dining room a few miles away, in the clubhouse of the West Ridge Golf Course, eating cheese sandwiches, drinking Heineken and watching their hero on six big-screen televisions.
The Holland Heineken House is the official hangout for fans and athletes from the land of Hans Brinker, who take their partying almost as seriously as they take their speed skating. The club serves three meals a day, provides a shuttle to and from the Utah Olympic Oval, houses a late-night disco and publishes a daily newsletter.
On Tuesday orange-clad rooters filled the upstairs dining room to watch Jochem Uytdehaage attempt to win his second gold, in the 1,500. When Uytdehaage crossed the line in world-record time, the room erupted. When his mark was bettered by Derek Parra of the U.S. about an hour later, the crowd again cheered. "I'm a speed skating fan," said one Dutch reveler. "The best must win. Tonight, we will still have a party."
The table was set for Todd Hays. He had the speed and, as is required of this year's feel-good Games, he had the story. But so far the bobsledder doesn't have a medal. Nor -- which is why we consider him now, after his fourth-place finish in his best event, the two-man last Sunday -- did he have an excuse.
Well, he had an excuse; he just didn't use it. Hays, the 32-year-old ultimate fighter turned bobsled driver from Del Rio, Texas, was competing without his longtime pusher, Pavle Jovanovic. His partner and friend, with whom he'd torn up the World Cup circuit and become an Olympic favorite, had been suspended barely two weeks before the Games after testing positive for a steroid. As a replacement, Hays chose Garrett Hines, a seasoned brakeman.
But bobsled is a sport timed in hundredths of a second. All the advantage accrues to the team with the best push start, and Hays and Jovanovic may have been the best in the world.
After a dismal start in their second preliminary run left Hays and Hines in fifth going into the final, Hays blamed himself, saying he had been late getting into the sled. On Sunday he and Hines put together two blistering runs and seemed set for the bronze. Then the Swiss team came down and edged them out by .03 of a second.
Afterward Hays stood in the cold and defended the result and his team, which is why we consider him now, fourth place and all. (He will go again in the four-man today.) Would he have won with his old partner? Hays demurred. "I didn't drive well enough to win," he said.
Today he gets another chance.