Thursday, February 21, 2002
Updated: February 22, 8:14 AM ET
Russia gives IOC 24 hours to address concerns
SALT LAKE CITY -- Angered by a string of decisions against its athletes, Russia threatened Thursday to pull out of the Winter Olympics and might not compete in the Athens Games if its concerns are not addressed.
Russian Olympic Committee president Leonid Tyagachev said he told IOC president Jacques Rogge that his nation was "greatly unappreciated" in the Olympics.
The comments came at a news conference just hours after one of the nation's top athletes, cross-country skier Larissa Lazutina, was disqualified from the 20-kilometer relay because of high levels of hemoglobin found in a pre-race blood test.
"If decisions are not made and issues we raised not resolved, the Russian team will not play hockey, will not run 30 kilometers, will look very negatively on other factors," Tyagachev said.
He 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.
"Once you leave, it is not easy to come back in," he said.
Later, Vitaly Smirnov, an IOC vice president from Russia, tempered Tyagachev's remarks, saying there was no ultimatum "not 24 hours or 48 hours."
However, he said the Russian team wanted Rogge to write a letter to Tyagachev "and address our concerns."
After meeting with Tyagachev, Rogge sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin to assure him the games were fair and that his nation's anger was understood.
"He knew President Putin was concerned and had expressed his own emotions," IOC director general Francois Carrard said. "President Rogge wrote to express sympathy, to say he has been in contact with the sports federation and that the decisions are absolutely correct."
The Russian men's hockey team is scheduled to play the United States in the semifinals on Friday, and a 30-kilometer women's cross-country event is set for Sunday.
Tyagachev said that while Lazutina's hemoglobin count was just above the legal limit, she was not guilty of doping.
"We are clean," he said. "We have nothing to hide."
A urine test on Lazutina will determine whether her case will be considered a drug positive. Results were expected Friday; she was scheduled to compete in the 30-kilometer race.
Lazutina, who has already won two silvers at these games to increase her career medal total to nine, last raced on Feb. 15 in the 5-kilometer pursuit.
She was hoping for a record-tying 10th medal, but her disqualification knocked four-time defending champion Russia out of Thursday's relay event.
But Tyagachev was upset by more than the Lazutina case.
He made repeated references to the figure skating judging dispute, in which Russia's Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the pairs' competition but had to share the gold medal with Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.
"This was a new decision that was practically unprecedented," he said. "We went along with the decision and tried to look at it objectively. ... But we have only so much patience."
Tyagachev also referred to what he said was a high number of Russian athletes picked for drug tests and an unspecified ruling by a goal judge in ice hockey.
"I think we are seeing a witch hunt," he said.
Smirnov warned against taking his country's complaints too lightly.
"Without Russia, the Olympic Games will be lost," he said.
Tyagachev said he would meet with top officials of the International Ice Hockey Federation, the International Skating Union and the international ski federation FIS to discuss his complaints.
"We defend our honor," he said.
He also said that if the same rules that led to duplicate golds in pairs skating were applied to the cross-country relay, Russia should share that gold with race winner Germany.
"I told Rogge that since the Canadian figure skaters were awarded a second gold medal, by the same logic our relay should get a gold, too, since it's been dominant for so long," he said. "Or if this is not an 'objective' solution, why not stage a new relay on Saturday?"
The Ukrainian team also did not start event because Valentina Shevchenko failed a blood test. Ukrainian officials declined to comment.
Germany won the gold medal, Norway took the silver and Switzerland got the bronze.
The Russians planned to protest the race.
"This is a scandal. They are specifically hunting out Russian sportsmen," team leader Gennady Ramensky said.