Olympics Earn Low Score From Russians

Cold War rhetoric dominated Russia's media coverage of the Atlanta Olympics, bringing official anti-Americanism back into vogue. The Russian Olympic Committee formally complained about everything from Olympic village living conditions to American television coverage and greasy junk food, from what they called unfair doping tests to what they believed were skewed judging procedures -- and their athletes seconded them at every turn.


"I hate America!" Russian gymnast Svetlana Khorkhina told Argumenti i Fakty after a judging panel -- containing one American -- gave her a low score in the freestyle competition. She won the gold medal anyway but complained about having to eat "too much McDonald's" in the Olympic village.


The United States' emergence as the victor in the medal count was a particularly rich source of bile, prompting discontent at the highest level of Russian sports leadership.


"If there had still been the Soviet team, we would have won the medal count easily," said Vitaly Smirnov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee.


Smirnov in the first week of the Olympics had complained that American newspapers were showing the United States as the medal leader when they trailed in the gold medal count. At the end, he cited the total medal count as the true indicator of victory.


Technically, Smirnov is right: The former Soviet Union teams had more medals. Their total medal count was 120, easily bettering the U.S. total of 101.


Still, the United States had more golds than all the Commonwealth of Independent States countries combined, winning 44-39, nearly doubling Russia's total of 26. And though the CIS won many silver and bronze categories, Russia's sports leadership admitted that the Soviet Union's breakup made this result inevitable.


"With the breakup, you have more participants in each sport from these countries," said Yury Yurigin, president of the Russian Wrestling Federation.


But who won and by how much was not necessarily the issue at these Games. At times, not only Russians but athletes and officials from all around the world were moved by the Atlanta spectacle to something deeper than mere discontent.


Chinese Sports Minister Wu Shaozu, who blasted the International Olympic Committee last year when Sydney won the bid for the 2000 Olympics over Beijing, railed at the "overly commercial" Atlanta Games.


"Chinese accomplishments were made overcoming one difficulty after another, including unfriendly U.S. media and troubles with living conditions, security and referees," he told the Chinese Sports Daily.


Russian television coverage was relentlessly anti-American. The knockout victory by American boxer David Reid over Cuban Alfredo Duvergel resulted from "too fast a count," according to Russian commentators.


Describing U.S. tennis player Gigi Fernandez, who has won seven grand-slam doubles titles with Belarussian Natalya Zvereva and four without her, Russian commentators said, "Fernandez is a great player, but in her doubles team Zvereva clearly is the leader."


When the U.S. women's 4x100-meter relay team won gold against Russia's fourth place finish, commentators said that the Russian team would have won had 28-year-old Irina Privalova run at the start and not at the anchor leg.