- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY Russia threatened to pull out of the Olympics yesterday and South Korea said it might boycott the closing ceremony over a string of decisions against their athletes.
The two nations complained bitterly about favoritism, plunging the Salt Lake City Games into controversy once again with only three days to go before the closing ceremony.
Russian Olympic officials, upset over the disqualification of a cross country skier and still smarting over the pairs skating controversy, threatened to go home and said they might not compete in the Athens Games if their concerns are not addressed.
South Korea was just as unhappy, and said it would pursue legal action to overturn a gold medal won Wednesday night by Apolo Anton Ohno when a judge ruled a Korean skater illegally blocked the American.
Shortly afterward, the International Skating Union rejected the Korean protest.
The Russian men's hockey team is scheduled to play the United States in the semifinals today, and a 30-kilometer women's cross-country event is set for Sunday.
"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.
After meeting with Tyagachev, IOC 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.
"He knew President Putin was concerned and had expressed his own emotions," IOC director general Francois Carrard said. "President Rogge wrote to express sympathy, to say he has been in contact with the sports federation and that the decisions are absolutely correct."
Tyagachev said he told Rogge that his nation was "greatly unappreciated" in the Olympics.
As for the South Korean complaint, ISU spokesman Pierre Eymann said there is no provision in the short-track rule book for overturning a judgment call by the referee.
"It cannot be reviewed," he said.
Before the ISU rejected its complaint, South Korea said it would do "whatever necessary" to correct the speedskating decision.
"We can take various measures, including not participating during the closing ceremony," said Park Sung-in, head of South Korea's Olympic team.
IOC leadership met last night in special session to discuss the issues raised by the Russians and South Koreans.
"We're watching it very closely, checking with the federations seeking reassurance on their judges and trying to calm the various groups," IOC vice president Kevan Gosper said.
Rogge had spoken with the presidents of skating, skiing and hockey "and was reassured that their judges are acting in accordance with the rules," Gosper said.
The Russian threats came hours after one of the nation's top athletes, cross-country skier Larissa Lazutina, was disqualified from the 20-kilometer relay because of high levels of hemoglobin found in a pre-race blood test.
Gosper said Rogge noted in his talks with the Russians that the Lazutina case "is a health issue" and that no duplicate golds would be awarded in that case.
"At the same time, we understand from the Russians that their people at home are very unhappy, as are the Koreans," Gosper said.
That unhappiness 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 "not 24 hours or 48 hours."
Tyagachev said that while Lazutina'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 today; she was scheduled to compete in the 30-kilometer race.
Lazutina, who has already won two silvers at these games to increase her career medal total to nine, last raced on Feb. 15 in the 5-kilometer pursuit.
She was hoping for a record-tying 10th medal, but her disqualification knocked four-time defending champion Russia out of yesterday's relay event.
But 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 Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.
Tyagachev also referred to what he said was a high number of Russian athletes picked for drug tests and an unspecified ruling by a goal judge in ice hockey.
"I think we are seeing a witch hunt," he said.
The Ukrainian team also did not start event because Valentina Shevchenko failed a blood test. Ukrainian officials declined to comment.


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