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Olympic Spectators React to Controversies - 2002-02-23


A string of official protests at the Winter Olympics has drawn responses from spectators that range from indifference to annoyance.

Russian Olympic officials say they have been humiliated by what they call unfair judging, and Russian president Vladimir Putin agrees.

South Koreans were outraged when one of their short track skaters was disqualified for blocking an American, Apolo Anton Ohno, in the men's 1,500 meter speedskating event. Thursday, both the Russians and South Koreans suggested they may leave the Olympics, but appeared to back off from the threat in statements Friday.

The protests started, of course, with Canada, which argued that its pairs figure skaters should have been given the gold after a French judge said she was pressured to vote for the Russians. The Russian pair were initially named the winners. Both teams went on to share the gold medal.

Jim Martin of Minnesota says that was a mistake and the start of the problem. "I do think that the Canadians skated superbly, and I certainly have nothing against the Canadians," he says. "It seems to me to be backtracking, though, when you award a second gold medal."

Donna from Morgan Hill, California, disagrees and says Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier should have been given the gold in pairs figure skating, but not the Russians. "I really don't think they should have gotten the gold because Sale and the Canadian couple had a perfect performance, and I totally agree," he says. "If they [the Russians] are not happy, they should leave."

Karen Hostetter of Sandy, Utah, believes that overall, the judging in the Olympics has been fair. "I think you're going to get protests no matter where you are, and I think it's just part of it [the Olympics]. Of course, I'm a novice," she says. "I don't know anything, but from what I've seen, I just think it's been very, very fair."

Cathy Kacir of Portland, Oregon, says there have probably been some problems in the judging of figure skating. "I think that in this day and age, it's hard to be fair in every aspect. I think the judges are handling it quite well, and I think that changes will come from this Olympics, for sure," she says.

Mitch Meyer, also from Oregon, says the delegations are complaining too much and the games are becoming too political. "We're starting to drag our athletes down with the politics. All the countries are. Of course, it's disappointing when we don't get the gold and we end up with the silver, or we don't even place," he says. "For the countries to start threatening each other about the next games and the vote trading and all this, I don't even understand. I think it's ridiculous."

Laurie Cortes of West Jordan, Utah, is serving as a volunteer escort for athletes and visitors at the Olympics. She thinks officials are doing a good job as they handle the protests on a case-by-case basis. And she says from her perspective, the games are going well. "Salt Lake opened their heart to the world, and the world came and we have just enjoyed having every single country and athlete, she says. "Two weeks ago, I was at the airport and I was one of the first Americans to greet the ski jumper from Germany that got the gold medal and I wished him good luck, and I still say that's the reason why he got it. But it's just been a wonderful time for the United States and we're very proud here in Salt Lake that we've been able to go forward, as President Bush wanted us to do, and show the world that we are going to show them a good time, a peaceful time."

And that is happening, says Ms. Cortes, is in spite if the protests.

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