MOSCOW, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko on Friday angrily defended Russia's pairs figure skating gold medal winners, who have been at the heart of the biggest scandal over judging at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games.
Speaking to reporters on the eve of her departure for the United States, where she will cheer-lead the Russian olympic team, Matviyenko accused the Canadian and U.S. media of stirring up a "disgraceful fuss" over the gold medals awarded to pairs skaters Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.
"The International Olympic Committee should get to the bottom of this and not allow the mass media in North America to give performance marks to our skaters," Matviyenko -- the most senior woman in the Russian government -- said.
At one stage, the brouhaha threatened to overshadow Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien's visit to Moscow, as Russian officials found it hard to hide their irritation with Canada for daring to dispute Russia's first gold medal of the Winter Olympics.
President Vladimir Putin was diplomatic, playing down the scandal during his talks with Chretien, but made clear he would not look kindly to any review of the results as he publicly congratulated the Russian winners with their "undisputable" victory at the games.
Russian newspapers and television networks have reacted with outrage to the accusations made by second-placed Canadian figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier that the judges' voting was unfairly favoring the Russian pair.
The respectable Izvestia daily accused Canadian mass media of conducting a campaign to discredit the Russian winners, while Sport Express, Russia's leading sports daily, carried a headline: "The case is closed. The hysteria continues!"
Most sports commentators agreed that Canada had little chance of reversing the line-up of winners, but the Canadian Olympic team is still pushing ahead, with the Court of Arbitration for Sport scheduled to rule on the dispute and the International Skating Union placed in hot water as judges, national olympic teams and the media launch verbal attacks from all sides.
The International Olympic Committee, desperate to avoid a scandal that may tarnish the games and the sport of figure skating, is seeking a resolution to the crisis, which may be settled once and for all by Friday night.
Meanwhile, Russian figure skaters proved their mettle by winning gold and silver in the men's figure skating event, with Alexei Yagudin's performance receiving top 6.0 marks from judges Thursday, making him the undisputed leader in the sport.