Olympic Politics Stoke Winter Games Rivalries

APVyacheslav Fetisov
TURIN, Italy -- Russians blame the Chinese for stealing their training techniques.

Europeans complain the Americans win the "new sports" with money and judges and the Americans are gunning for the Austrians in the Alps.

The Olympic political map is by no means simple.

New enmities are born out of old friendships, and with the United States winning more medals at Winter Olympics, rivalry between two continents has become fierce.

"They train much like we did, they train people to be champions," Vyacheslav Fetisov, former captain of the Soviet ice hockey team, told reporters, explaining why China had come so close to the Russian pairs at the figure skating.

Tatyana Totmyanina and Maxim Marinin struck gold to capture Russia's 12th successive pairs title on Monday but just pipped their main rivals, China's Zhang Hao and Zhang Dan -- who crashed heavily after an attempted quadruple twist throw went wrong.

"I'm very glad we are part of history right now, but I don't think we are the last ones," Totmyanina said when asked whether Russia would lose its dominance in the sport.

"There are so many pairs in Russia right now. They should just work a bit harder."

Fetisov said Russia was ploughing money into sports -- building rinks, swimming pools and training facilities for youngsters to try to recapture the success of the Soviet Union.

Looking westward, the Europeans are scared of losing out to U.S. athletes in the sports that they have traditionally thought themselves to be dominant in.

The downhill has become a perilous stage for a U.S. campaign to unseat the Austrians.

"In these Games, they still do have a chance. It's not shaping up as great right out of the gate as we expected it to, but you never know, that could spin the other direction. The [U.S.] team is going to be the best in the world," said Picabo Street, a U.S. downhill champion who won an Olympic Super G gold in 1998.

"And to be honest, if they perform at their best, they are by far the best in the world." The Austrian downhill team gets government money, while the U.S. team relies on sponsorship deals to survive, she said.

But the Austrians won their first medal on Wednesday and reveled in that success.

"Today, I won the first medal for Austria," Michaela Dorfmeister said after winning the downhill and beating off a highly publicized challenge from the U.S. team's Lindsey Kildow. "This time we are favorites."

In the so-called new sports, like snowboarding, European riders complain that U.S. sponsorship means it is almost impossible to nudge them off the medals' podiums.

Norwegian Kjersti Buaas, bronze medalist in the women's snowboarding halfpipe on Monday, said: "They have really good conditions in the U.S.

"Good pipes and good weather. We have to go there to practice. They are ahead of us [Europeans]," she said.