Thursday, February 21, 2002
S. Korea threatens to pull out of closing ceremony
SALT LAKE CITY -- The International Skating Union rejected a protest by the South Korean Olympic team, which threatened to skip the closing ceremony over Apolo Anton Ohno's speedskating gold medal.
The South Koreans protested the disqualification of World Cup champion Kim Dong-Sung, but the ISU turned them down Thursday. 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," Eymann said.
The South Koreans also appealed to International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, hired a Salt Lake City law firm and said they might boycott the closing night of the Salt Lake City Games.
"We will use all measures necessary to rectify the misjudgment," said Park Sung-in, leader of the country's Olympic team.
The South Koreans believe Kim should be awarded a short-track gold medal for crossing the finish line first in the 1,500 meters Wednesday night. An Australian referee ruled that Kim improperly blocked Ohno with a half-lap to go, disqualifying Kim and giving the gold medal to the 19-year-old American.
Ohno, who graciously accepted his fate when a last-lap crash cost him a chance to win the 1,000, said he can't understand why the South Koreans are so upset.
"You get off the ice and respect the referee's decision," he said. "It's happened to me so many times."
Before learning of the ISU decision, the South Koreans said they also would go to the IOC and Court of Arbitration for Sport. In addition, they plan to sue chief referee James Hewish.
The South Koreans aired their complaints at a news conference immediately following a briefing in which Russia threatened to pull out of the Salt Lake City Games and said it might not go to the 2004 Athens Games.
The Russians are upset by decisions in cross-country skiing, hockey and figure skating.
Asked if his country was considering such drastic measures, Park replied, "We will do anything possible, including not participating in the closing ceremony."
He would not dismiss the possibility of pulling out of the remaining events in Salt Lake City and boycotting Athens.
"We're not commenting on Ohno's performance," Park said. "He's an excellent skater. What we don't agree with is the referee's misjudgment."
The IOC sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin to address that country's concerns, but director general Francois Carrard said the South Korean protest "is a different matter."
"That concerns the ISU," Carrard said. "We've all seen the event one way or the other. This is a matter for the ISU to decide on. At this time, the IOC has received no proposal and taken no action."
The disqualification of Kim drew angry reactions in South Korea.
"Kim Dong-Sung was robbed of his gold," said the headline of Dong-A Ilbo newspaper. "Olympic spirit is dead," was the headline in the Hankook Ilbo newspaper.
Park wouldn't specify if he believes Kim should be given a gold medal and Ohno bumped to the silver, or if both skaters should be given golds -- a precedent set by the IOC in the disputed pairs figure skating competition.
"The gold should be awarded to the athlete who finished first, not the athlete who is the crowd favorite," said Rocky Yoon, deputy secretary general of the Korean Olympic Committee.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Olympic Committee revealed Thursday that Ohno received threatening e-mails after his first race, when he crashed to a silver in the 1,000. The threats were turned over to the FBI for investigation.
Another 16,000 e-mails regarding Ohno, mostly from South Korea, crashed the USOC's Internet server early Thursday, spokesman Mike Moran said. It took more than nine hours to restore service.
"I'm not worried," Ohno said.
In the 1,000 last Saturday night, the teen-ager from Seattle was leading going into the final turn when a four-skater crash sent him careening into the boards. Ohno, whose left thigh was cut by his own skate, managed to crawl to the line for silver.
On Wednesday night, Ohno burst past three skaters into second place with less than two laps to go. He then darted to the inside with hopes of passing Kim.
But Kim blocked his path, prompting Ohno to throw up his hands and back off.
Ohno said Kim was guilty of "cross-tracking" -- improperly changing his path to interfere with another skater -- and the referee agreed.
"I've been called for that in World Cup," Ohno said. "There's a thin line when it comes to cross-tracking, but I thought he definitely came over on me."
The Koreans took a different view in their letter to the ISU, saying Ohno made a "strange and appealing gesture as if he had been blocked unfairly, improperly and deliberately when he realized he could not overtake Kim."
"I'm not really sure what they're protesting for," Ohno said.