Russia claims bias in women's figure skating finalsPosted: Friday February 22, 2002 10:29 AM
Updated: Friday February 22, 2002 10:56 AM
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Russian officials have filed a formal protest of the women's figure skating finale, saying the Russian silver medalist should get her own gold medal because of biased judging.
The protest was signed by Russian Figure Skating Federation president Valentin Piseyev and sent to the referee of Thursday night's free skate won by 16-year-old American Sarah Hughes.
It singled out the judging that gave Hughes the win after she placed fourth in the earlier short program. Russian Irina Slutskaya finished in second and Michelle Kwan took the bronze.
"We filed the protest last night because we think the judging was biased," the head of the Russian delegation in Salt Lake City, Viktor Mamatov, told The Associated Press on Friday. "Canadian pairs skaters were awarded their gold medals. Now that subjective judging harmed us, we want the same for Slutskaya."
Asked whether he thinks Slutskaya will be awarded a gold medal, Mamatov said: "Right now, I don't think anything. We'll wait for the protest to be evaluated, then we'll see."
Ottavio Cinquanta, president of the International Skating Union, said he had been told of the protest.
"For us, this is not so important," said Cinquanta, whose organization is investigating allegations of judging misconduct in last week's pairs competition.
Mamatov refused to speculate whether the new controversy would prompt the Russians to leave Salt Lake City before the end of the games. Russian officials first threatened to walk out Thursday, citing favoritism and unfair treatment from Olympic officials and judges.
"If decisions are not made and issues we raised not resolved, the Russian team will not play hockey, will not run 30 kilometers, will look very negatively on other factors," Russian Olympic Committee president Leonid Tyagachev said.
He said a high number of Russian athletes had been picked for drug tests and referred to an unspecified ruling by a goal judge in ice hockey.
"I think we are seeing a witch hunt," he said.
Russian anger boiled over on Thursday after nine-time Olympic medalist Larissa Lazutina was disqualified from the 20-kilometer cross-country relay following a blood test.
A short time later, South Korea said it might boycott Sunday's closing ceremony over a judge's decision that gave a short-track speedskating gold to American Apolo Anton Ohno.
The latest Russian protest came only hours before the Russian men's hockey team faced the United States in a semifinal on the 22nd anniversary of the Americans' stirring victory over the Soviet Union at Lake Placid, N.Y.
After meeting with Tyagachev on Thursday, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin to assure him the games were fair and that his nation's anger was understood.
"President Rogge wrote to express sympathy, to say he has been in contact with the sports federation and that the decisions are absolutely correct," IOC director general Francois Carrard said.
It may have worked: Putin said there was bias at the games but indicated that Russia won't walk out.
"North American athletes receive a clear advantage," Putin told journalists at the Kremlin. "Let us see how the Olympic Games end. Let us hope that the IOC leadership will manage to solve these difficulties."
However, the lower house of Russia's parliament passed a resolution 417-0 calling on Russian athletes to boycott the closing ceremony unless the IOC reruns the cross-country race, bars North American referees from the hockey game and apologizes to the Russian Olympic team.
Tyagachev said he told Rogge his nation was "greatly unappreciated" in the Olympics.
South Korea unsuccessfully protested an International Skating Union referee's decision Wednesday night that gave the 1,500 meter short-track gold to Ohno. He finished second to a South Korean skater but got the gold when the Korean was ruled to have interfered on the final lap.
"We can take various measures, including not participating during the closing ceremony," said Park Sung-in, head of South Korea's Olympic team.
With just three days before the closing ceremony, IOC leaders met Thursday night to discuss the issues.
Rogge spoke with the presidents of skating, skiing and hockey "and was reassured that their judges are acting in accordance with the rules," IOC vice president Kevan Gosper said.
Lazutina was disqualified because of high levels of hemoglobin found in a pre-race blood test, a move that knocked four-time defending champion Russia out of the event. Tyagachev said that while the skier's hemoglobin count was just above the legal limit, she was not guilty of doping.
"We are clean," he said. "We have nothing to hide."
A urine test on Lazutina will determine whether her case will be considered a drug positive. Results were expected Friday. Lazutina, who already has won two silvers at these games, is scheduled to compete in the 30-kilometer race Sunday.
Gosper said Rogge noted in his talks with the Russians that the case "is a health issue" and that no duplicate golds would be awarded in that case, as in the pairs' skating decision last week.
Carrard also said the IOC had no second thoughts on its decision to award duplicate gold medals to Canadian pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier after the ISU found there had been misconduct by a judge.
"Human nature is understandable," he said. "There is a lot of emotion building up and these protests are a result of that emotion."
The emotion was evident when Tyagachev said there was a 24-hour window to address the situation, and that if Russia left Salt Lake City it probably would not compete in Athens in the next Summer Games.
"Once you leave, it is not easy to come back in," he said.
Later, Vitaly Smirnov, an IOC vice president from Russia, tempered Tyagachev's remarks, saying there was no ultimatum.
Tyagachev was upset by more than the Lazutina case. He made repeated references to the figure skating judging dispute, in which Russia's Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the pairs' competition but had to share the gold medal with Sale and Pelletier in a deal reached in a hotel room meeting between the IOC and the skating union.
"This was a new decision that was practically unprecedented," he said. "We went along with the decision and tried to look at it objectively. ... But we have only so much patience."
Tyagachev said if the same rules that led to duplicate golds in pairs skating were applied to the cross-country relay, Russia should share that gold with race winner Germany.
"I told Rogge that since the Canadian figure skaters were awarded a second gold medal, by the same logic our relay should get a gold, too, since it's been dominant for so long," he said. "Or if this is not an 'objective' solution, why not stage a new relay on Saturday?"