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Saturday, February 23, 2002
Updated: February 25, 2:46 PM ET
 
USOC accuses Russia of 'anti-American' crusade

Associated Press


SALT LAKE CITY -- The president of the U.S. Olympic Committee accused Russia's top Olympic official Saturday of waging an "anti-American" crusade in a string of protests over results at the Winter Games.

Vitaly Smirnov, an IOC executive board member, was upset by a poorer-than-expected medals showing by Russian athletes and turned his displeasure to the host country, USOC president Sandy Baldwin said.

Saying that "every games needs a little drama," Baldwin said the protests from such countries as South Korea and Canada over figure skating, skiing and speedskating were part of the Olympics and helped attract attention around the world.

But the Russian protests, including an aborted threat to pull out of Salt Lake City, were another matter, she said.

"I haven't felt, except for the Russians, that it was anti-American," Baldwin said. "That was unfortunate. It doesn't have anything to do with the athletes, the referees or the United States.

"I think we may be seeing a lot of Mr. Smirnov's feelings about a shift in fortunes of Russian athletes."

Russia has won 15 medals in Salt Lake City, half the U.S. total.

A visibly upset Smirnov denied Baldwin's accusation.

"It's not anti-American," he said. "No! The answer is no! She's wrong!"

Smirnov said he had personally praised American preparations and management of the games, including telling Salt Lake Organizing Committee chief Mitt Romney that these were among the best games he has seen in 31 years on the IOC.

"I congratulated him for fine Olympics," Smirnov said. "This is a very well-organized Olympic Games. The Russian team and myself have nothing, no criticism, for the United States or SLOC."

Smirnov has been a frequent visitor to the United States and generally a moderate voice in East-West sports discussions, even at the height of the Cold War. He said those who question Russia's motives should look at a worldwide picture.

"What sometimes is seen as extraordinarily good can be seen otherwise in other countries," Smirnov said. "I have to explain the opinion from our part of the world."

He said he would talk with Baldwin about her statement, made to reporters after her first meeting as an IOC member.

The exchange was the latest development in what have become the Games of Protest, starting with anger over judging that gave Russia's Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze the gold in pairs figure skating. The IOC later awarded duplicate golds to Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, a decision the Russians unsuccessfully protested and blamed on Western media influence.

"We have enacted a very dangerous precedent with that awarding of medals," Smirnov said.

The Russians then were denied an appeal to award a duplicate gold to Irina Slutskaya, who finished second to American Sarah Hughes in women's figure skating. They also complained about judges' action in a hockey game they won over the defending champion Czech Republic.

But aside from remarks by coach Slava Fetisov that referees with a North American bias helped the United States beat his team 3-2, none of the Russian criticism was aimed directly at U.S. athletes or administrators. The women's skating appeal boasted of Slutskaya's performance but did nothing to denigrate Hughes.

Still, that appeal seemed to irritate Baldwin.

"The criticism of the judges was misplaced in their votes for Sarah, although Irina skated beautifully," she said. "I don't take it personally. The United States doesn't take it personally."

Smirnov said the Russians were "disappointed with some of the federations" that run the sports at the Olympics. He said that when his nation complained that a blood test administered by the international ski federation just before a cross-country relay cost it a medal when superstar Larissa Lazutina was disqualified, it did so on behalf of the fans -- including Americans.

"The titlist was not allowed to compete," he said. "I think the spectators, who traveled to see our champion compete, were cheated."