Olympics: Russians staying on to the bitter end

Winter Olympics: Walk-out is off, but semi-final loss to US whips up another storm
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The Independent Online

The Games, which had been threatening to to descend into fractious chaos over their last few days, should have a harmonious, if not entirely happy, ending after Russia withdrew their threatened boycott, despite two further national setbacks.

The Games, which had been threatening to to descend into fractious chaos over their last few days, should have a harmonious, if not entirely happy, ending after Russia withdrew their threatened boycott, despite two further national setbacks.

First the country's ice-hockey players were beaten by the old enemy, the United States, in a controversial semi-final. Then a protest against the judging that brought Irina Slutskaya a silver medal in figure skating was rejected by the International Skating Union. The Russians claimed Slutskaya deserved the gold, which was won in a surprise result by the 16-year-old American Sarah Hughes.

The Russians had also expressed outrage at nine-time Olympic medallist Larissa Lazutina's disqualification from a cross-country relay after failing a blood test. Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, said North American athletes were being favoured and the lower house of the Russian parliament urged a boycott unless the relay was rerun.

But the Russian delegation spokesman, Gennadi Shvets, defused the situation late on Friday, saying: "We will stay at the Games." The Russians took the decision ahead of a meeting with the International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge. "At first it was emotional," Shvets said. "But everybody understood we had to stay." Rogge promised to discuss the Russian complaints, but ruled out a rerun of the relay.

The IOC's director general, François Carrard, said he was confident that both the Russians and South Koreans, who also threatened a boycott, would take part in the closing ceremony. "After this wave of strong emotion and frustration people started saying, 'We have to reconsider'," he said

South Korea threatened to walk out when their short-track speedskater Kim Dong-sung was disqualified in the 1,500 metres after finishing ahead of the eventual gold medallist, Apolo Anton Ohno. But later the head of their delegation, Park Sung-in, said their protest was against the skating judges, not the IOC or Salt Lake organisers.

After all the politics, the attention on the Russia-United States ice hockey semi-final matched the famous meeting 22 years ago to the day at the Lake Placid Games between the US and the Soviet Union. The Americans' victory here was not without controversy either as the Russians complained bitterly about the refereeing of NHL official Bill McCreary – one of seven NHL officials working here.

The Russians appeared to score a late equaliser, but McCreary refused to review the play despite vehement protests by the entire team and their coach, Slava Fetisov, whowas upset by several no-calls made by McCreary in the last 10 minutes.

"They [the referees] are professionals, but they get paid here, they live in North America, they know the people and they work for the NHL," Fetisov said. "It's a human reaction that they won't call penalties in crucial situations. It was designed to be a US-Canadian final and now they have it."

Canada, the pre-tournament favourites, beat Belarus 7-2 in the other semi-final.

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