So who is outwhining whom

Posted: Friday, February 22, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- And to think we were getting along so well with the Russians.

If you had been putting together a list of countries we disliked, they wouldn't have even made the Top 10.

I mean, they gave us vodka (ITALICS) and (END) Anna Kournikova.

We like the Russians.

Or at least we did.

Just when it looked like it was going to be hard to muster much emotion for last night's U.S.-Russia hockey game our millionaires against your millionaires! -- Russian Olympic Committee president Leonid Tyagachev called a press conference.

On the eve of the game, he and nine other members of the Russian delegation called the judging here "disgusting" and "malicious." They said they were the subject of a "witch hunt." They threatened to not show up at the hockey arena, to pull out of the Games, to pack their bags and head home.

"There is a limit to everybody's patience," Tyagachev said.

It was if they were pulling a Bobby Knight, working the refs, trying to make sure the last-minute calls went their way.

International Olympic Committe officials shrugged it off, saying it was the heat-of-the moment frustration. Let them sleep on it, they said.

The Russians did. And then they woke up and filed another protest, this one for women's figure skating.

They say that Irina Slutskaya was robbed Thursday night at the Delta Center when 16-year-old American Sarah Hughes jumped from fourth to first. They also, I believe, say that Sonja Henie doesn't deserve that gold she won at St. Moritz in 1928. Or something like that.

I apologize. It's hard to keep track of the protests and lawsuits being filed.

Russians, Koreans, Lithuanians. Take a number.

Not that I blame any of them.

I blame the IOC.

This all goes back to what happened on Feb. 15, when four days after the Russians won the gold in pairs figure skating, the IOC announced it was handing out a second gold.

That opened Pandora's box ... and out popped, among others, the Lithuanian ice dancing team.

Never mind that that they finished fifth. They wanted one of those frequent-whiner upgrades that everyone in Olympic Village was talking about.

Fine. But if we're going to try and right some wrongs, why not start at the front of the line? Why not give the 1972 U.S. basketball team a gold? And how about boxer Roy Jones? And every female swimmer who finished behind some steroid-enhanced East German in the '70s?

This is why the our sports leagues stand behind their botched calls (see Tom Brady and The Fumble.) You open one door and before you know it St. Louis fans are standing there, asking to replay Game 6 of the 1985 Series.

In the past, the IOC also took a tough-luck approach, but here in Salt Lake City, the squeaky online poll gets the grease.

So this is why, during this final weekend of competition, the United States must step up its whining.

When the Games began, we appeared certain to dominate the whining. Our bobsledders were feuding. Our short-track skaters were filing lawsuits. Our hockey team was coming off its hotel-trashing performance in Nagano.

Nobody was going to out-whine us.

Then the Canadians surprised everyone. It started with the pairs figure skating and worked its way to Wayne Gretzky, who complained that everybody was rooting against the Canadians. As he said this, hundreds of people were lined up for hours at the nearby Roots store, fighting over everything Canadian.

Just when the Canadians appeared to have built an insurmountable lead in the Whining Count, up stepped Russia. Just in time for the big game. Just in time to raise an age-old question.

Do you believe in protests?

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