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Russians unhappy over Olympic judging

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (CNN) -- Russians are protesting what they say has been a string of bad decisions by biased judges at the Salt Lake City Winter Games.

President Vladimir Putin, the country's parliament and other Russian officials have weighed in on the controversy.

Russian officials Friday said the judging of the women's figure skating final won by 16-year-old American Sarah Hughes was biased and demanded that the Russian skater who finished with silver get a gold medal.

The Russians submitted a protest to the International Skating Union, disputing the judging that gave Irina Slutskaya second place and American Michelle Kwan -- who had been the favorite but stumbled in her routine -- third. The ISU rejected that protest late Friday.

Has judging at the Winter Olympics been fair?

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Leonid Tyagachev, president of the Russian Olympic Committee, said that Slutskaya had an "absolute possibility" to win the competition.

"As far as this issue was corrected during the Canadian pair competition, we feel that it will be most likely to be possible to be corrected this time as well," Tyagachev said.

In the pairs figure skating competition last week, officials granted a gold medal to the Canadian skaters, who first received a silver after skating a technically perfect final routine while the Russians, whose performance had technical flaws, won the gold medal. Artistic expression is also judged but is a subjective call.

The second gold medal was awarded after allegations that a judge in the competition acted improperly and was pressured to lean toward the Russian skaters. The Russian skaters kept their gold medals.

At a news conference, Hughes deflected a question about the results of her competition and the Russian protest. The bubbly teen-ager said that, in her heart, she knew she skated her best. But she said she didn't expect to win going into the final competition.

"I was so sure that I couldn't win," she said, adding that she felt unburdened and simply skated for the joy of it.

Hughes received the gold after skating a perfect, technically difficult routine, while Slutskaya made minor slips in a less difficult one.

Dorothy Hamill, the U.S. Olympic gold medalist in women's figure skating in 1976, said that Hughes "skated magnificently."

"We were all hoping for Michelle still yet to come, but you know, Sarah Hughes skated to win [Thursday] night," Hamill said. "She was the best, and it was just so nice to see somebody that came in and let it all go and she deserved it. She really did."

The complaint is the latest of several by the Russians.

On Thursday, Russian Olympic officials threatened to pull all their athletes from the 2002 Winter Games if new concerns over judging and drug tests are not investigated.

"We believe that the attitude toward our team is not objective," Putin said in Moscow. "This situation to a large extent has to do with the change of a generation in the International Olympics Committee. As we all know, Juan Antonio Samaranch left, and he was replaced by Mr. [Jacques] Rogge.

"And unfortunately, we have to state that for the new leadership of the International Olympic Committee, the first try was not successful."

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia "addressed" the IOC leadership "to take proper measure to ensure a normal atmosphere for the Russian athletes."

Skier disqualified

Russians also are complaining about the disqualification of Russian cross-country skier Larissa Lazutina, who tested positive for an elevated level of hemoglobin in violation of doping rules.

Her removal Thursday knocked the entire four-woman Russian team -- a top contender -- out of the 20-kilometer relay event.

In addition, Russian officials made nonspecific complaints about the refereeing of Wednesday night's Russia-Czech Republic hockey game. They said poor judgment calls nearly forced their team to lose the 1-0 victory.

The Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, passed a resolution calling on Russian athletes to boycott the Closing Ceremonies unless the IOC reruns the cross-country race, bars North American hockey referees and apologizes to the Russian Olympic team.

At the same time the Russians lodged their complaints, South Korea protested a decision in Wednesday night's 1,500-meter short track final that saw South Korean Kim Dong-sung disqualified after crossing the finish line first. Officials ruled he had improperly blocked a U.S. skater.




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