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Russian Sports Officials Reject Latest Charges that 2002 Olympics Were Rigged

Russian sports officials are angrily denying that the figure skating results in the 2002 Olympics were rigged. The comments came after an alleged Russian mafia member was arrested for trying to influence the outcome of two figure skating events.

Top Russian officials dismissed allegations that Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov engineered the results of the Olympic pairs figure skating and ice-dancing competitions.

Gennady Shvets, a spokesman for the Russian Olympic Committee, said in an interview with VOA that figure skating is such a closed community, it would be almost impossible for an outsider like Mr. Tokhtakhounov to infiltrate it.

Mr. Shvets dismissed the charges against Mr. Tokhtakounov as nonsense. He said the accused was known in the Russian sports world, but simply as a man who wanted to help athletes.

The Italian police think differently. They have portrayed Mr. Tokhtakounov as a high-ranking member of the Russian mafia.

He was arrested on Wednesday in Italy over an alleged plot to award a Russian couple with a gold medal in pairs figure skating at the Salt Lake City Olympics last February. According to the charges against Mr. Tokhtakounov, in return, a French couple would be awarded the gold-medal in ice dancing.

During the Salt Lake City Games, Russian figure skaters Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze narrowly beat Canadian skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier for the gold medal in pairs figure skating.

The Canadian skaters were later awarded a gold medal after a French judge said she was pressured into voting for the Russian skaters.

The incident was portrayed in Russia as a plot against Russian athletes. It caused such an outcry here that the Russian Olympic Committee threatened to pull its athletes out of the Games altogether.

Mr. Sikharulidze, part of the Russian pair that won gold in Salt Lake City, said he and his partner won fair and square. Mr. Sikharulidze said in his opinion people should simply be glad the Canadian couple was given a gold medal at all.

The Russian skater said he and his partner are planning to sue American television companies for showing pictures of the skaters in stories about the alleged mafia gangster.

The Russian Olympic Committee met Friday to discuss the situation and said they will support their skaters in any way they can.