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Published: Saturday, 2/23/2002

Olympic officials should take a cue from the athletes

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah - I wish all this nonsense would end.

All the bickering, all the back-biting, all the finger-pointing, all the name-calling, all the he-said/she-said controversies that have replaced what the Winter Olympics are supposed to represent.

And you think the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is a mess. The BCS has nothing on the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The IOC's speedy decision to award gold medals to the Canadian pairs figure skating team after it was revealed that a judging fix was in set off a firestorm of accusations, denials, complaints, and counter-charges.

Russia, Korea, Japan and Lithuania feel slighted; those countries believe their athletes also have been wronged by judges and officials, and they have all made formal protests to the IOC. They want satisfaction and they want it now.

Russia has threatened to boycott tomorrow's Closing Ceremony if certain demands haven't been addressed.

The Russian Parliament voted 471-0 in favor of a boycott if North American officials were not removed from yesterday's USA-Russia semifinal hockey game, if the women's 4x5-kilometer cross-country skiing relay was not replayed after the Russian team withdrew because of a failed drug test, and if the IOC failed to issue Russia an apology.

“It is not only Russia. We are not the only country that is humiliated,” Russian Olympic Committee president Leonid Tyagachev said. “China is humiliated. ... Ukraine. ... Korea. In other words this is a very serious topic.”

The two North American officials - both from Canada - were not removed from the hockey game, as Russian officials requested.

Coach Slava Fetisov said he did not speak to Tyagachev about whether Russia should not play the game against the U.S.

“Nobody talked to me about the situation,” Fetisov said. “It was kind of a distraction.”

After the U.S.'s 3-2 win over Russia, a game in which the Americans scored three power-play goals, several Russian players confronted referee Bill McCreary, an NHL official since 1982. Defenseman Danill Markov was suspended for today's bronze-medal game for gross misconduct and verbal abuse of an official.

Russia was penalized six times in the game. The U.S. had four penalties.

Fetisov said officials failed to call two penalties against the U.S. in the second and third periods.

“They [officials] didn't help us, that's for sure,” Fetisov said. “I know we have a big disagreement with the Olympic Committee. They're professional referees, they live here, they know the players, Americans and Canadians. I know, in crucial situations, it's human reaction. In those situations they are not going to call it a penalty. It's Canada and the U.S. in the finals.”

Have the Olympics hit rock bottom? Let's hope.

On the next-to-last day of the 2002 Games, the reward that's being offered isn't a shiny medal.

It's hope.

Hope is what we can take from these Olympics. Hope for a better tomorrow and a better Winter Games in 2006.

I hope the tremendous pride and character that is supposed to be the signature of the Olympics is real. I hope the pride and character demonstrated over 17 days by the world's best athletes rubs off on some of the movers and shakers.

The way the athletes have conducted themselves has been mostly inspiring. It says something about the integrity and sense of purpose they have. It says something about how committed they are to their sport.

But I'm not sure it says a thing about addressing the problem.

It's important that the IOC makes Russia and Korea feel they will be treated as fairly as the U.S. and Canada. Like it or not, there's a perception that exists outside North America that the Winter Games are not being judged or officiated fairly.

Again, all we're left with is hope.

We can hope that the leaders of the Olympic movement will make decisions with everyone's best interest at heart. We can hope that Russia will reconsider its threats.

You don't change people's minds or attitudes in a day, a week, or during the Winter Games. But you can pour the foundation for change.

There's still time to correct old hurts. There's still time to heal.

John Harris is a Blade sports columnist. E-mail him at jharris@theblade.com.



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