Passions Run High As Olympics Close
Published: February 26, 2002 (Issue # 748)
I attended the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and saw first hand some of the issues raised by the Russian Olympic Committee.
I congratulate [Alexei] Yagudin and [Yevgeny] Plushchenko on their splendid performances in the men's figure-skating competition. They are very deserving of the medals they received and are to be commended.
I watched with great anticipation the ice-dancing original program, and without a doubt the Russian pair - who ultimately took silver - should have been placed first. The French pair was also talented, but in my opinion the Russian pair was superior. I did not have an opportunity to watch the free dance, and therefore cannot render my opinion.
Now on to the bigger problems. The Russian pairs figure-skating team did not deserve the gold medal. I have seen them skate before, and had they skated up to their potential on that particular day, they would have won the gold medal. But they did not. They lacked luster, their timing was off, their jumps were not perfect. The Canadians were, in my eyes, the winners.
In the women's program, Irina Slutskaya had a mediocre performance. I have seen her skate before, and she is amazing, but she was not amazing for the long program. It was almost as if she were taking for granted that she would be the winner. Sarah Hughes was not only flawless, but technically and artistically superior to Slutskaya.
Whether it is a U.S. team, Russian team, French team or otherwise, I like to see the best win.
I remember watching the Protopopovs, who are legendary, as is Oksana Baul and Viktor Petrenko. All were deserving of their medals. I wept when Baul beat Nancy Kerrigan for the gold, but she won outright. She was the best on that day.
I think the performance should be looked at and not the nationality of the skaters.
Rose Mary Rogers
From an Expert
I think that the International Skating Union was very premature in awarding any medal to the Canadians, let alone a second gold.
As a former member of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, I have never seen a gesture similar to this. This is unprecedented, especially since the actual investigation hadn't taken place when they decided to award this medal.
According to the latest press statements, the French judge denied ever collaborating with anyone or being pressured into changing her vote. She stated that she voted for the Russian pair as they were, in her opinion, the best. So that must stand. If changes are needed in judging this must take place in future Olympics. You may not award a second medal.
As for the so-called face-saving measure, this was to protect the Olympic committee and International Skating Union, not the Russian Olympic committee. After all, since when has the Russian committee ever backed down from an investigation or any controversy?
It appears this is a Canadian Olympics and that crying can get you anything. Shame on Canada, its skating and Olympic committees and the International Olympic Committee for bowing to public pressure and not investigating this issue first.
Long Beach, California
The media, politicians and officials are all missing the point of the ideals and spirit of friendly athletic competition. It is time to depoliticize the Olympics. Let's do away with the flags, anthems, country medal counts and team officials.
For all events that are decided by subjective judging rather than objective measure, let's improve the method of judging to eliminate the potential for bias.
Let's increase the number of judges and diversify the regions from which they come. Let's then have random selection of a moderate number of the judges' scores and average them. That way no one will have any idea whose scores were included in the final tally. And, with a larger number of judges, the possibility of fixing or bias will be reduced, especially if no one knows which judges' scores will even be included in the final count.
Let's ban for life anyone involved in doping, be it the athlete, the coach or the doctors. Let's publicly shame anyone who attempts to cheat. Let's test all participants, before the competition and after.
Not long ago I was impressed by President Vladimir Putin's forthright declaration that Russia's population is dying off at an alarming rate. Putin's new policy emphasis on promoting sports seemed extremely wise.
How surprising, then, to see Putin and his government lambasting the world for a massive anti-Russian conspiracy to deprive Russia of medals at the Olympics, in tried-and-true neo-Soviet fashion, rather than looking inward for the cause. No one who listened to the president's earlier warnings should have been surprised by Russia's poor Olympic results, and yet Putin himself was shocked and eager to find a scapegoat.
Even if there were a conspiracy, one might hope Russians would think to ask why the whole world would want to gang up on them, rather than simply threaten to run away from the game.
Outraged and Sorry
I wish to express my outrage and contempt for the International Olympic Committee as well as the U.S. news media for their treatment of Russian athletes. I love my country, but I am truly ashamed of the U.S. media for their prejudicial and distorted reporting practices. Half-truths, omissions and overt bias punctuated the entire event, and it became apparent that the United States and its Olympic cronies used every conceivable means to subvert the legitimate efforts of the Russians. Like everything else here, it seems the last vestige of true competition has finally succumbed to the influence of the almighty dollar.
First let me say that I am a very patriotic American. It is this patriotism that moves me to write this apology for the horrid treatment of the Russian men's hockey team during and after their loss to the U.S. team.
We were supposed to be a host country, not the home country. The chanting of "U.S.A., U.S.A." during the match embarrassed me. The waving of our flag over the heads of the Russian players as they exited brought me to anger. I've always been puzzled as to why we are viewed as arrogant. I see why now.
I wish Russians could understand that the media and those who could afford tickets to watch the Olympics are not a true representation of this country. You should understand that our media are located in a few major cities on the east and west coasts of this vast country and seldom, if ever, reflects the attitudes of the majority of Americans between the coasts. Those who were privileged to attend this hockey match do not represent the average American, and they showed this by their arrogance.
We are not an arrogant people, although you would not know it by our media and the mob mentality shown by some during and after the hockey match.
So please accept this apology for the conduct of the minority of Americans. We who are in the majority are ashamed of it.
No doubt you will have many letters concerning the Winter Olympics and the lack of fair play by U.S. officials and corporate interests. Please add mine to the pile in support of [Yelena] Berezhnaya and [Anton] Sikharulidze for winning the gold in figure-skating pairs. The IOC capitulated to the childish complaints of the Canadians and Americans. Likewise, I support [Irina] Slutskaya in the women's singles. She outperformed the other competitors in the short program by a lot. The hockey refereeing disgrace in a game Russia would have won, if not for the efforts of U.S. officials, proved once and for all that North Americans will drag their win-at-all-costs philosophy out of the political and corporate arenas and tarnish the Olympics without regret. And I will not go into the farce in the Nordic events.
As far as I'm concerned, Berezhnaya, Sikharulidze and Slutskaya are to be congratulated on their gold-medal performances. North Americans may whine, but dignity, integrity and fair play are still Olympic ideals cherished on the remainder of the planet.
Carl Wayne Ferry
Round Lake Beach, Illinois
Nation of Whiners?
It seems that Russia's new favorite pastime is whining. Russians act as if there is a grand conspiracy against their country. Hello? The Cold War is over. We are not in a pact with Canada to make you look bad. In fact, Russia is doing a grand job of that all by itself. Sarah Hughes won the gold. Irina Slutskaya won the silver. It was not even as close as the judges' scores suggest. Sarah Hughes skated the performance of a lifetime. Russians should be embarrassed for their skating federation's attempt at tainting such a beautiful performance.
I think Russia's Olympic protests reveal more about Russia than they do about the Olympics. Persecution? "Methinks the lady doth protest too much" said Hamlet of his mother, who truly had something to hide.
Is it possible that cheating and corruption have become so endemic to Russian society - one thinks of Gogol's "Dead Souls" - that the Russian people are practicing the self-justification of the guilty? Isn't it ironic that Russia's fury over these Olympics happens as the first honest International Olympic Committee president in years takes office? The IOC wants and needs to clean up the Olympics.
Russia is not being persecuted, it is just more resistant to the new rules than many other nations. Russia should join the new Olympic movement.
Over the past century, Russia's own literary giants have painted a striking portrait of a country wrestling with corruption. Now it's time for Russian leaders and citizens to do the difficult job of maturing as a nation and to outgrow the persecution complex that has developed after so many generations of being disenfranchised.
Russia has been a great nation; it should be one again.
The innovations it has made to hockey, for example, are the greatest the sport has ever seen. It deserves credit for revolutionizing the game. I wish Russia could do this as much as I once wished Canadian hockey players could stop being brutes. If you've noticed, since Wayne Gretzky came along, we've learned to play (and sometimes win) as skilled sportsmen. When we lose, we look within and try to improve.
That's all we ask of Russia today.
I am saddened by Russia's behavior during the Winter Games and its negative reaction to any decision perceived to be against Russian athletes. The incident with the Canadians was unfortunate. With hope, this will lead to judging reform in the near future before figure skating is tarnished further.
Watching Sarah Hughes skate last night was spectacular, and she clearly won. Irina Slutskaya made mistakes pure and simple, and while she's a great skater, her program last night lacked the grace and artistry of Hughes'. To claim a bias because you don't like the decision is ridiculous, petty and immature.
At these games all athletes must take drug tests. Certain athletes have failed these tests, including Russian athletes, and this has not been disputed. To claim a bias against Russian athletes because of mandatory drug testing is factious and facile.
The simple fact is that Russia itself has become somewhat insignificant on the world stage, having had setbacks and blows like the tragic loss of the Kursk. The economic climate in Russia has also played a role.
This is now reflected in the public mood, where any perceived slight is taken as a slap in the face.
When life lets you down, blaming others may seem to be a panacea, but false pride will be Russia's downfall. Russia, along with South Korea, is rapidly becoming the laughingstock of the games. Russia should stop behaving so immaturely, for the sake of the games, for the message it sends to all, and most importantly, for its own sake.
I, like many people in the United States, believe the judging to be fair and impartial, and if it results in our athletes doing well, that may simply be because we have some darned good athletes, and perhaps Russia doesn't have as many as it did since it does not have the resources to devote to sports that it once did.
Gig Harbor, Washington
Enough is enough. I know there are legitimate complaints concerning cross-country skiing and some other events, but now every single event in which a Russian does not win the gold is automatically assumed to be the result of a conspiracy. Last night's women's figure-skating final is a perfect example. Any person watching the free skate knows that Sarah Hughes gave the performance of a lifetime, and that everyone else was, by comparison, decidedly underwhelming. She performed two triple-triples for the first time in the history of women's competition. Starting in fourth place, she skated with the ease and brilliance that one often sees from someone who doesn't feel they have anything to lose. In contrast, [Irina] Slutskaya, [Michelle] Kwan, and [Sasha] Cohen skated with greater pressure on them, and it showed. None of them skated their best on the night it counted most. That's the nature of the Olympics.
The Koreans and the Russians are both making fools of themselves. If you want to talk about cheating Olympic referees, all you need to look at are the two biggest rip-offs in the history of the games. The first was in 1972 when Soviet officials gave the Soviet basketball team three chances to sink the winning shot, and the second was at the 1988 games in Seoul when Korean boxing judges stole the gold medal from U.S. middleweight Roy Jones and awarded a beat-up Korean fighter the medal. Afterward, Roy Jones was given the award as the best boxer in the tournament. What goes around comes around.