- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2002

Anger over Olympic skating scores and referee rulings is reverberating far beyond the rinks and slopes of Salt Lake City.
From Russian-American relations to a South Korean fighter jet deal to parliamentary elections in Ukraine, the Winter Olympics yesterday proved once again the power of sports to spill over into international politics.
Russian Olympic officials yesterday formally protested Thursday night's women's figure-skating results, in which the judges awarded the gold medal to 16-year-old American Sarah Hughes, ahead of Russian skater Irina Slutskaya.
And South Korean officials vowed to file a lawsuit over the disqualification of South Korean speed skater Kim Dong-sung in Wednesday's 1,500-meter final, which gave second-place finisher Apolo Anton Ohno of the United States the gold medal.
"North American athletes receive a clear advantage," Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Moscow yesterday.
Russia's parliament unanimously passed a resolution that accused the International Olympic Committee of bias and urged the Russian team to boycott closing ceremonies.
Russian officials said yesterday the president has been closely following the fortunes of the national team in Salt Lake City, which briefly considered withdrawing from the Games altogether after a series of adverse official rulings for its skating, hockey and skiing stars.
Mr. Putin "told us that we must be more forceful and make a much stronger stand in defending our athletes," Russian Sports Minister Pavel Rozhkov said in Salt Lake City earlier this week.
The Olympic ideals of fellowship and friendly international competition often take a back seat when issues of national pride or lucrative commercial endorsements are at stake.
Once channeled through Cold War politics, the new generation of Olympic controversies often presents a more nakedly capitalistic face.
Russian Aluminum, the second-largest producer in the world and a corporate sponsor of the national team, declared itself ready to underwrite legal challenges by Russian athletes to the judging, saying the lost gold medals were a direct hit to its own bottom line.
"A brand's reputation grows with each victory and medal," the company said in a statement. "Preventing Russian athletes from winning medals through behind-the-scenes machinations reduces the value of sponsorship."
Russian and South Korean Web sites reported a surge of hits yesterday, as users logged in to protest what they saw as biased or dishonest judging at the Winter Games.
The popular Korean Web bulletin board run by Daum Communications Corp. said it had five times as many hits yesterday as on September 11, virtually all protesting the speed-skating decision. The FBI has revealed that it is investigating threatening e-mails sent to Mr. Ohno in the wake of his contested victory.
At the South Korean National Defense Ministry's Web site, some angry correspondents urged the government to exclude Seattle-based Boeing Co. from the bidding for a contract for a new fighter jet, the Bloomberg News agency reported. The contract is one of the most lucrative on the international market right now, valued at some $4 billion.
Even countries that don't have a beef with the Olympic judges have seen political fallout from the Winter Games.
The unexpected medal shutout for Ukraine once a fertile source of champion athletes for the old Soviet sports juggernaut has proved an embarrassment for one of the country's leading political parties heading into next month's parliamentary elections.
A United Ukraine, a party close to Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma and the official sponsor of the country's Winter Games delegation, has adopted the slogan "Our team wins" for its campaign.
Opposition parties have been quick to seize on the country's poor performance in Salt Lake City, saying it is one more reason to vote against the governing party.
And the divergent fortunes of their athletes have sparked gloating in Norway and hand-wringing in Sweden, Scandinavian neighbors who share a complicated historical rivalry.
Norwegian sports officials say one reason for their athletes' success has been the country's drive to identify and cultivate its best talents, unlike egalitarian Sweden.
A leading Norwegian newspaper tracks not only the number of medals won by Norwegian Olympians, but also the number of days 2,918 as of yesterday since Sweden last won a gold medal.
But the popular discontent is most prevalent in Russia, in sharp contrast to the wave of pro-American sentiment in the days after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Russians point to what they say are a series of athletic injustices during the past two weeks, including the disqualification of a champion cross-country skier, the women's figure-skating finals and the awarding of a second gold medal to a Canadian figure-skating pair after a Russian pair initially was declared the winner.
Mr. Putin himself complained that the referees in the Olympic hockey tournament were biased against his country because they were all drawn from the National Hockey League.
Nikita Mikhalkov, an Oscar-winning Russian director, complained in a Russian television interview yesterday that the Winter Games represented "a continuation of the Cold War."
"Perhaps it is caused by fear among Americans after the horrible day of September 11 or fear that [Russians] now have hope of climbing out of the hole we have fallen into, so they have to humiliate us," Mr. Mikhalkov said.

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