Olympics: New Cold War as frosty Putin hits out at Winter Games

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The Independent Online

It may not quite be the Cold War, Act II, but it sure feels like it. A Russian president proclaims his country to be the victim of American "bias and unfairness" and nationalist politicians demand that the country's Olympic team be recalled "at once" from Salt Lake City with "a spit in the face of the hosts".

The bear, in short, is growling and angry as hell.

In a remarkable outburst by a man famous for his cool head, Vladimir Putin berated the International Olympic Committee yesterday, accusing its new president, Jacques Rogge, of incompetence and bowing to commercial pressures.

Last night the Russians appeared to have dropped the threat in an official communication from the Kremlin. A Russian withdrawal would be the biggest Olympic tiff since the United States and the Soviet Union staged boycotts of each other's Games in 1980 and 1984.

But their fury has scarcely abated. The Russians claim they have been picked upon – first in the pairs' figure skating rumpus last week, then in an ice-hockey game (which Russia won), and then with the banning of their women's cross-country ski team after "abnormalities" were found in a blood sample.

Others suspect a case of sour grapes, pointing out that Russia has had a lousy games thus far, with just 14 medals, against 18 last time and 23 in 1994. More cynical souls suggest the whole thing has been a ploy to psyche up Russia's ice-hockey players ahead of their semi-final against the US.

It so happens the game falls on the 22nd anniversary of the shock Olympic win by the Americans over the all-conquering Soviet hockey team at the height of the Cold War.

Yesterday, in a classic case of "tit-for-tatski", the Russians filed a complaint about the second place awarded to their female figure skater, Irina Slutskaya, who was behind the American Sarah Hughes. After all, if the Canadians – with the US press cheerleading – could be elevated to gold in the pairs' figure skating, why not Irina?