Russians going home?
February 21, 2002 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Russians going home? Apparently, Russian Olympic Committee president Leonid Tyagachev said there was a 24-hour window to address the situation, and that if Russia left Salt Lake City it probably would not compete in Athens in the next Summer Games.
posted by mr_crash_davis (34 comments total)
Hmm.. I don't really what their problem is. I didn't watch the pairs skating competition, but from what I've read, it does sound like a good deal was made, the judges messed up and it left a sour taste in everyone's mouthes. I've read that the russians are also not perfoming as well this year, kind of behind in medal count.. so this could be a way to throw a fit to save their face or something. Ofcourse I don't know how the winter games go, in terms of schedule, it could be that the russians simply didn't participate in many events thus far.

The olympics have been declining for.. ahh.. a while, and the latest scandal hurt a lot, if the russians withdraw, it would be a big deal. The opening ceremony showed that russia had one of the largest teams coming.

Ofcourse, I'm russian, so.. I don't know.. I never liked the olympics.. fairly boring stuff.. my mum says that the russians are being cheated . I try not to argue with her too much. :)
posted by tiaka at 7:52 PM on February 21, 2002

Smirnov warned against taking his country's complaints too lightly.
"Without Russia, the Olympic Games will be lost," he said.

Rubbish. No one country's loss would hurt that much in the long run. The Olympics recovered nicely from the American and Soviet boycotts in the 1980s. I'd miss them if they didn't compete in Athens, but there are great athletes from all over the world.

The Russian complaints sound like an unthoughtful response to events, but they may have a point about the cross-country ski controversy. It doesn't appear that today's blood-test results are anywhere near the final word, and it seems odd that their racer was disqualified before all the evidence was in.

Still, the Russians boycotting Athens because a few decisions don't go their way? I can't imagine it happening, and I hope they're not that shortsighted.

[tangent]It does seem that the controversial decisions in Salt Lake are benefiting mostly Western nations -- the figure-skating thing, Apolo Ohno's victory in the 1,500 last night after the South Korean winner was disqualified for interference, and now the skiing decision that led to a German victory. I can see how people could think the deck was stacked.[/tangent]
posted by diddlegnome at 8:17 PM on February 21, 2002

I didn't see the Ohno call until long after it was made, but I was listening on the radio on my drive home, and even the American announcers seemed surprised at the disqualification of the Korean skater. I recall clearly one of them mentioning that he'd seen a lot worse examples of blocking and bumping in the semifinal heats.

Once I got home and was able to see the replay, however, it looked like a clear case of blocking to me. Of course, had I been the first-place skater I would no doubt have tried the same tactic. It's not supposed to be easy to pass.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:25 PM on February 21, 2002

I think we're all being cheated.

I have watched some of the Olympics. Recently I've been trying to avoid it. Even David Letterman's talking about the damn thing and he's on CBS!

The judging system is more biased in the skating competitions because it's artistic, subjective criteria. Also the judges are each representing different countries. This is supposed to make it fair. No one country is supposed to be able to get an edge over other countries, since no one country can master a majority. However, we've learned with the admission of the french judge that this is not the case. This time it didn't succeed, but who's to say this hasn't happened before more successfully?

Since that pairs skating freakout, I've noticed fewer russians winning anything. Even the competitions that are allegedly based on objective criteria like stopwatches. Sure it's all coincidental I guess, but the objectivity of the Olympics has always been under scrutiny. Now, use of the word "tarnish" seems somehow.. a kind description.

When American Jim Shea won the gold medal on the skeleton, he was behind until the last second. It seemed to even surprise the commentators. Shea celebrated, pulled out the picture of his grandfather for the cameras (he'd kept it in his helmet for support) and one of the first things he did was run to the nearest NBC cameras for an interview.

It was supposed to be a touching moment, but it seemed rehearsed. Then he said "It's not about the gold, man! It's about the competition!"

Uh-huh. From the look of NBC's coverage, I think it's really about Coca-Cola.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:37 PM on February 21, 2002

It didn't seem like much of a block to me, but apparently the South Korean broke a rule about changing "lanes" at the wrong time. Ohno's little acting job (throwing up his hands as he backed off) probably didn't hurt his chances, either. The TV announcers were surprised at first, too, but after they saw the replay they agreed with the decision. The guy clearly blocked Ohno, but to my uneducated eyes it just looked like good, hard racing. Guess not.
posted by diddlegnome at 8:38 PM on February 21, 2002

Well, considering, the Russians just lost the women's figure skating gold questionably, they are gonna be pissed.
posted by McBain at 8:45 PM on February 21, 2002

What confuses me is their argument about the officiating in the Russia/Czech game. Am I missing something? They did win it, didn't they?
posted by mkn at 8:49 PM on February 21, 2002

The Russian woman came in second, but that was not a questionable decision. She damn near fell at one point and didn't do as many complex jumps as the gold medallist. Her presentation wasn't the best either.

But they might still bitch over it, even though the pressure that was placed on their skater as a result of today's shenanigans may have been a factor in her sub-par performance.

[ObCanada: WOOHOO Canadian women's hockey team!!]
posted by maudlin at 8:49 PM on February 21, 2002

I guess it's getting pretty pervasive worlwide now that if a group-member gets caught doing something underhanded the group gather to put the blame on the enforcers' prejudices rather than look at the facts squarely.
posted by semmi at 8:59 PM on February 21, 2002

The Russians would be foolish to withdraw now or from any future Olympics; that would hurt no one so much as their athletes.
posted by palegirl at 9:47 PM on February 21, 2002

I don't think the russians (or americans for that matter) all feel the Olympics are for the athletes. Some of them are still in the cold war and this whole thing's about politics and commercialism.

I'm amused that the russian skaters as a rule still do not perform their entire routines during practice in the arena. As a result their skaters are not as confident prior to performance and though their routines are more complex they screw them up more. It's like it's still 1976 and they don't want anyone to see what they've got under their sleeves before the performance.

I just wanna slap the whole human race in the face and tell it to grow out of puberty. Humanity is still acting like a prepubescent male who can't get a date.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:59 PM on February 21, 2002

For the sake of every other competitor from every other country, I hope Russia doesn't drop out of the next few Olympics.

Any doubt that your gold medal may be silver because of a Russian who wasn't allowed to compete would just leave a bad taste in my mouth.
posted by Mark at 10:26 PM on February 21, 2002

feh, sounds all pretty silly to me, and contrary to pop opinion here, i like watching the olympics. i'm the dork who ends up getting nervous for every last athlete (and silently routes that someone falls, *shrug* because i'm jealous). i think part of the whole silly russian stance is a bit reactionary since it's their judge that was accused of attempting to persuade the french judge in the pairs. maybe they're now trying to take the high ground. also watched the speed skating race and again, thought it looked pretty cut and dry about the south korean being "unsports-man-like." ohno attempted to pass first on the right and then on the left and was blocked both ways by the south korean. first with a shoulder, and then with the other shoulder, arm and skate out of his own lane... in that respective order... and i should think that's cause for disqualification when it's all done as deliberately as it appeared. for the most part, ohno's response was a bit dramatic, but not out of reality, if he had touched the skater in front of him, or if the south korean had fallen, ohno would probably have been blamed and it can be grounds for disqualification depending ... he might be fast, but falling on the ice isn't a stranger to him. as for the female ice skaters, i think the results were fair. sarah hughes skated the kind of long program tonight that inspires little girls the world round.
posted by eatdonuts at 10:51 PM on February 21, 2002

I think I see the future of the Olympics.

Eventually the Olympics will become a contest of athletes under contract to non-national sponsors. Coke, IBM, Greenpeace, Roman Catholic Church, US Democratic Party, UK Tories, etc., might each pay to house and train a team of athletes. Big manufacturers of snowboards will naturally field a snowboarding team and try to get the world's best snowboarders under contract.

A country (or group of countries) will still be able to field a team, but only as another sponsor, like Coke and IBM. The Olympics Committee Inc. won't care which passports the athletes hold.

Athletes will just have to declare a team loyalty (show a signed contract) a certain amount of time before the events, and will not be able to change teams until after the events. You will even be able to sponsor yourself -- Team Mary Smith or Team Fred Jones -- but to weed out the jokers, they will make athletes compete and do well at various preliminary rounds at international events.

Sports that no one gives a monkey about might disappear, or they might be supported by companies that don't hope to compete in the more popular sports.

The site of the Olympics will simply be a matter of bidding.

And the athletes will still be amazing and will still go down in history as the fastest or highest or loveliest or whatever of that year.
posted by pracowity at 12:24 AM on February 22, 2002

My guess is the Russian IOC president doesn't have the authority to drag their athletes home, and certainly doesn't have the authority to make any pronouncements about '04.

I like watching the Winter Olympics, too. I just wish NBC would use the three channels they have to show the competitions in whole, instead of giving me taped highlights. Need taped highlights for primetime? Great, but show the competition live on MSNBC during the day.

Heck, show the stuff you can't show live in full during the day on overnight programming, and those of us that care will tape or TIVO the damn thing.

How much money can they make from the infomercials they show during that time slot?

And Saturday was the lowest, with no coverage on MSNBC or CNBC until after the Daytone 500 was over on NBC. Why? Because NASCAR runs two races at Daytona every year, and NBC needs to set viewership for future advertising rates, and the Olympics is only every four years. Daytona advertising rates are more important than putting any Olympic coverage on air on a Saturday afternoon. Pathetic.
posted by dglynn at 12:35 AM on February 22, 2002

Pracowity: "I think I see the future of the Olympics..."

Isn't this already happening? The site of the Olympics is already a matter of bidding. I've noticed many Olympians making a point to pose for the camera immediately after they complete their event as they wait for their standings. They hold their equiptment showing the brand name. One woman even brushed snow off her board and stood there as if she were conveniently leaning against it. I've found it rather amusing to watch. It's not just the Americans either. Many countries' participants do it. Looks fake to me.

Most of these kids don't have a lot of money and depend on their sponsors, so naturally they're going to pose for their sponsors and appease them. I'm surprised the skaters don't have bumper stickers on their butts. In fact the Chevy commercials poke fun at that, showing two advertising dudes slapping the backs of hockey players as they hit the ice, and we see they've slapped Chevy insignias on the whole team. Then the referee.

Then NBC doesn't have NBC Olympic Moments. They have NBC's CHEVROLET Olympic Moments. As if the name Chevrolet is one of those more obscure greek gods that your college instructors forgot to mention. It's sickening, but considering how international politics have repeatedly dirtied the Olympics over the years, maybe if we burned all the national flags and replaced them with brandnames, perhaps that'd be the best thing that could ever happen to the Olympics. At least the goals of the corporations more closely match those of the athletes - good, clean performances that audiences will want to see.

However, then you'd start seeing the antagonism and controversy between performers even more orchestrated and faked than they appear to be now. The Olympics would become more like WWF or XFL.

EatDonuts: "...since it's their judge that was accused of attempting to persuade the french judge in the pairs..."

That's not entirely accurate.

NBC reported that it was the French Skating Federation that pressured her. She didn't make the call. She was following orders. In any case, I haven't heard anyone directly accuse the russians of cheating. However, someone somewhere (allegedly from the Russian Skating organization) strongly urged the French to go easy on them for the Olympics and in turn the russians would go easy on the french in some other world championship later this year.

However, it quickly deteriorated into a he said/she said mudslinging crapfest and apparently the lady french judge lost the crapfest. Either she had no evidence to back up her claims, or she was an expendable scapegoat. I went to Babelfish looking for the french translation for plausible deniability, but it ain't talkin'.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:52 AM on February 22, 2002

How does one say "sour grapes" in Russian? And the freaking arrogance of Smirnov -- "Without Russia, the Olympic Games will be lost." Please. Half the posts in this thread suggest what many of us already think, namely that the Games are already long since lost to consumerism. Broadcasting of the events has been replaced with a flurry of sponsor banners, true-to-form American-style over-the-top displays of patriotism, and melodramatic, agonizingly ineloquent docu-dramas showcasing athletes who have overcome adversity. And commercials. Lots of commercials. Ugh. Can't wait for the World Cup.

ZachsMind, love the Chevy commercial example. Had not seen it. I'm convinced we're only a few years away from things like, "Bang Zoom to the Moon, Atlantis!" a premier space shuttle launch brought to you by Budweiser.
posted by Bixby23 at 1:09 AM on February 22, 2002

Meanwhile, the Russian team drops its threat after Putin reportedly urged them to stay.

Personally, I wished the Dutch skating team had threatened to leave unless that no-good announcer (let's all do the wave!) shut up during the races.
posted by thijsk at 1:31 AM on February 22, 2002

[sarcasm] well if South Korea and Russia would just adopt english (or maybe french) as their national language, then they'd fit in with the international clique and this wouldn't be a problem. [/sarcasm]

I just saw the women's figure skating competition on NBC's latenight "encore" presentation. Insomnia. I figured it'd put me to sleep. I mean I already knew how it was gonna end, but Sarah Hughes' performance was... worth a couple hundred thousand adjectives. Wow! And everyone else other than Slutskaya just fell on their butts! The russians can't whine about that one. Hughes simply won because she was the best. No one gave Hughes a 6.0 in her marks, but I didn't see any errors. I don't know how much more perfect a figure skating performance is supposed to be. Since Hughes came into the whole thing from behind, no one really expected her to win until she graced the ice. It was an actual nail biter.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:34 AM on February 22, 2002

I think the Russians are smarting over the fact that they simply don't hav the money or resources to co-dominate the medal count with the Americans anymore. It's gotta be tough to be hurled off the superpower platform so far that the Olympics mean *so* much.
posted by xyzzy at 3:54 AM on February 22, 2002

No one gave Hughes a 6.0 in her marks, but I didn't see any errors. I don't know how much more perfect a figure skating performance is supposed to be.

Hughes didn't deserve a 6.0. She did deserve to win, clearly. But errors aren't just "falling on your butt," and she did not give a perfect performance. She has some posture problems, and she continues to take off for her lutz jump from the wrong edge, which is a somewhat serious basic problem. (Tara Lipinski did the same thing but beat Michelle at Nagano, and much the same way -- by skating with joy and abandon. Still, it's ironic to see Tara called a "lutz expert" in the Home Depot ads when she "flutzed" it so badly.) She also has some general presentation issues that really need to be worked on. But tonight, she skated like she had nothing to lose and she was having fun. When Kwan is on, Hughes can't touch her -- Kwan's basic quality level is much higher. But Kwan wasn't on.

I suppose this is off-topic, though, so I'll stop. ;)
posted by litlnemo at 4:02 AM on February 22, 2002

How bold is it, really, to pull out of the Olympic Games when they're already 85% over? Are there any more events, besides hockey, in which they're real contenders for medals? Will they give back the medals that they've already won in the last two weeks?
posted by warhol at 4:51 AM on February 22, 2002

I believe Lazutina was disqualified because a high hemoglobin count is not only an indicator of blood doping, but also a danger to health. I saw that somewhere; am I mistaken? That would at least be a plausible reason why she wouldn't be allowed to ski, rather than a ski-first, disqualified-later scenario.

The Russian histrionics seem to me to be a calculated smokescreen. When faced with allegations of judge tampering and blood doping, their response is to throw their weight around indignantly. Complain about a conspiracy, threaten to withdraw. Bring up pairs figure skating (again), complain about the hockey officiating, and hopefully nobody will notice that a nine-time medallist in cross-country skiing just might coincidentally have been showing signs of blood doping just before a race.

Also worth noting that they brought up hockey officiating, even though, as this article points out, no formal complaint was made about the officiating in the game in question, and a Russian journalist watching that game didn't see anything wrong.

Russia's medal count is surprisingly low at 14 (at the moment); but it's interesting that they're in so few sports. Five of them are in figure skating, six are in cross-country skiing and three are in biathlon. That's it. For whatever reason they're not showing up in other sports. Looking at the tables at (no direct link; frames), these sports, plus speed skating (and hockey), have been their strengths historically; they've never won many medals in alpine skiing or ski jumping, for example. Their winter-sports presence has been as a result of massive dominance of four or five sports. (Which makes them vulnerable if something funny goes on in one or two of them, I suppose.)

(As for the South Korean response, I keep thinking about what happened with boxing in Seoul. That's not fair of me, of course; if someone threw the Ben Johnson incident in my face I'd be pissed, but at least Canada didn't ignore the obvious and tried to do something about the problem.)
posted by mcwetboy at 5:01 AM on February 22, 2002

I can't blame the Russians for feeling cheated after last night's skating. I doubt any country's media would critisize the judgment, when their own athlete won and so be it, but nonetheless...

Hughes' skating was by NO means perfect. In fact she only completed ONE of her much vaunted tripples - in the others she didn't complete all her revolutions. But she was great at hiding this, making it seem fluid anyhow. The Danish commentators were very critical of her technical ability and the Swedish commentators were speechless that the Russians didn't get gold (no chance of watching NBC in Denmark unfortunately). Slutskaya's technical scores should have been way higher than Hughes'.

Hughes' showmanship, however, was unparalleled. And I guess, she is the charming, all american, girl-next-door upset that everybody loves. I dare say, that if this had been a Japanese kid in Nagano the merits of her win might have been scrutinised a bit further.

But with that said, WOW what a showing from the American skaters; Cohen is going to rule in the next game, far better technical skill than Hughes, agility superior to all the other skaters and a great potential for jumping. When she starts doing quads NObody is able to compete with her. A promising future for the U.S.A. team!
posted by cx at 6:05 AM on February 22, 2002

Then NBC doesn't have NBC Olympic Moments. They have NBC's CHEVROLET Olympic Moments.

Because Chevrolet pays millions to NBC for the privilege of having their name on the "Moments." And NBC pays millions of dollars to the IOC for the exclusive right to broadcast the games (such that they do) in the U.S. And the IOC counts on that money, as well as the money from other worldwide broadcasters and all of those worldwide corporate sponsors in order to pay the millions and millions that the games cost -- an amount which grows each time around.

The only way that the games can continue is through these corporate ties. You can focus on them and rail about how horrible they are, or you can look past the opening folderol and the company names on your screen to focus on the performance of a bunch of really incredible athletes. When I see Sarah Hughes flying through the air and landing on ice on a blade 1/4" wide, or when I see Jimmy Shea sliding down a ice track at 80 mph with his chin 3 inches from the ground, I'm transfixed. I see the glory and the effort I could never dream of undertaking, I don't see the logo up in the corner.
posted by Dreama at 6:23 AM on February 22, 2002

Something to keep in mind is that the ideal of the fully amateur competition favored the independently wealthy. Going pro was something that broke athletes did. Corporate sponsorship allows a meritocracy of the best. (Anyway, many of those early athletes were privately sponsored under the table. It was just as sleazy.)

I've seen amazing displays of athleticism and sportsmanship, and the corporate logos are just part of the reason it's possible for that to happen.

I'm just trying to think of the fictional world that some people seem to think existed at one time. You all realize that just like your local softball team is sponsored by Joe's Tavern, the semi-pro and pro teams were simply sponsored by larger businesses until they became fully professionalized sporting leagues? Go to a local AAA or AA game and see hard-working athletes kicking butt even though they're not as good as the famous guys, all for a minuscule salary, and everyone in the park from the players to the chicken suit guy to the hot dog vendors doing everything they can to pay the bills. But do the same thing by slapping a Chevrolet logo on an insignificant fluff piece, and people go ballistic.
posted by dhartung at 7:05 AM on February 22, 2002

cx: I can't blame the Russians for feeling cheated after last night's skating.

Except that they were feeling cheated before last night's skating; all of this noise was being reported before the final flight of skaters. There was some speculation that Slutskaya and Butyrskaya might not even skate because of this hoo-ha.

This has nothing to do with Slutskaya getting the silver, folks.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:35 AM on February 22, 2002

You find out more about a person watching how they handle defeat than how they handle victory. . .I have no idea how I would bear up to the dissappointment of working for years for a moment and then not doing my best, as was the case with Kwan last night.

She handled it in a very stand-up manner and showed that pure class is more important than medals, although I'm sure she'd like to have that 4 minutes back.

She lost but there is absolutely no "loser" in her.
posted by Danf at 8:27 AM on February 22, 2002

Let the Russians leave. They hurt no one but their own athletes. As a few folks said above:
1. Their ice skating federation is supposedly the one who pressured the French. Talk about "irregularities!"
2. Notice their "timeframe for leaving" isn't until the Men's Hockey is done and the women's figure skating is done. Hmmm...coincidence?

They are a sad, declining, pathetic nation that is just trying to show off their blustery "superpower" status that they just don't have any more. Grow up. You lost. Your pairs figureskaters won cuz the scoring was thrown. Your female ice skater skated almost fell, didn't complete 7 triples, and looked like she was agitated the whole time. She didn't deserve the gold any more than Michelle did. Your hockey team still won. As for the games being "lost" without them, baloney. Leave, no one will notice you're gone but your own country and athletes.

As for the Koreans, I agree their guy seems robbed. But I guess their sport doesn't allow for contesting the judges so they're SOL. HOwever, to deny their whole team for one guys seems a bit much to me.
posted by aacheson at 9:06 AM on February 22, 2002

I stand corrected: the Russians have added a gold for Slutskaya to their shopping list.

The one sad thing about the whole Salé/Pelletier imbroglio is that it's given some people the idea that if they whine, threaten, stamp their feet and hold their breath long enough, they'll be given a gold medal. Which, public reaction notwithstanding, is not what I think happened in pairs figure skating, though the way it was resolved — something I did not like or approve of — certainly lent itself to such a conclusion. (I would have preferred a decent inquiry and reform to a gold medal that might foreshorten either and be seen as a sop to public opinion.) These games have disintegrated into a prolonged temper tantrum.

Russia has five figure skating medals, two gold, three silver. The U.S. has three. Everyone else (Canada, China, France, Italy) has one. Russia is the only country to medal in each figure-skating event. Someone explain to me how Russia is being cheated here.
posted by mcwetboy at 9:18 AM on February 22, 2002

"Screw you guys... I'm going Home-ski."
posted by owillis at 10:43 AM on February 22, 2002

mcwetboy, they're not being cheated, they're just unhappy and trying to hold themselves out as being victimised by a system which supposedly harbours some grudge against them for their many years of supposed athletic superiority. The thing was, in the Sale/Pelletier case, there was some foundation upon which to build the case of unfair treatment (the French judge's allegations) though the details have been somewhat muddled.

In the remaining issues -- especially the Women's Figure Skating -- the only questions or complaints being raised are by the Russians themselves. No one else has suggested that anything untoward has occurred, no one can point to anything suspicious whatsoever. Their cross-country skier's blood tests were abnormal in a manner which calls for disqualification. Their hockey players were racking up penalties left and right. And they have nothing to back up their qualms with the skijump judging at all.

They didn't win. This is sour grapes and it's the most destructive, nasty kind -- it won't impact the people complaining nearly as much as their "underlings" who don't have any recourse when their "leadership" goes around droping ultimatums and threats of boycotts and program suspensions.
posted by Dreama at 11:02 AM on February 22, 2002

Scott Hamilton said something last night about if there's a three way tie in the long program, Hughes would get the medal because of where they all placed in the short program, but it was damned close. Slutskaya didn't fall on her butt. Sasha and Michele both did, even though all three of them excelled in the short program where Hughes fell short.

If the canadians could get a gold in the pairs competition, I don't see why they couldn't offer three golds in the ladies skating competition. Now that the precedent has been set, I fear all three winners of every competition in the future will end up getting golds and the whole concept will deteriorate.

It's no longer about being the best for the athletes. Again, the athletes are getting sidelined and forgotten in the wake of all this controversy and political crap.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:43 PM on February 22, 2002

To be honest, I think Hughes was pretty harshly marked in the short program, not that it matters at this point. Her performance was rather rigid, but the marks were surprisingly low for the technical difficulty. I should probably rewatch it before commenting but I do recall being distinctly surprised at how much they took off for the most seemingly-minor things. That, plus she skated as one of the first competitors, which is tough in and of itself. All that aside, it was a great competition to watch.
posted by evixir at 2:58 PM on February 22, 2002

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